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Keeping Australia safe? The reality is that Australia, by its inextricable links to the American war machine, and the latter’s activities in Iraq and Syria, is furthering the spread of terrorism, says James O'Neill (Image via @TurnbullMalcolm)

The mainstream media narrative that Australia is “fighting ISIS” in Syria and Iraq to “keep Australians safe” is utterly naive, says barrister James O'Neill.

WHEN THE Australian Government announced in September 2015 that its armed forces were going to join the United States led “coalition” in the Syrian War, the official explanation was that it was to assist the U.S. in fighting the terrorists, who had by that stage captured large swathes of both Iraq and Syria, including major cities.

That explanation was never particularly persuasive, not least because there was already at that time a significant body of evidence available that ISIS, the principal targeted terrorist group, was essentially a creature of the America’s allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. With the passage of time, it became even more apparent that the U.S. itself was playing a significant role in arming and otherwise supporting the terrorist groups.

A detailed 2 July 2017 report by Bulgarian investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhiev for the Trud newspaper revealed the CIA was allegedly using a variety of front organisations to supply ISIS and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Congo, Syria and elsewhere. Weapons were sourced from mainly European manufacturers and then delivered to the terrorists using the Azerbaijani airline, Silk Way Airlines, using diplomatic clearances. The weapons were distributed to various NATO bases and then transited to the terrorist groups. None of this was reported in the Australian media.

The other explanation for Australia’s involvement in Syria was given by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop when asked for the legal basis by the ABC. Bishop stated that it was pursuant to a request from the Iraqi Government and under the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter. The Iraqi Government promptly rebutted the first of these claims and the second was manifestly legal nonsense. Unsurprisingly, the Government has advanced neither justification since.

Notwithstanding the lack of any legal right under international law to actually be in Syria, that involvement has continued to this day. On the rare occasions when the issue is ever raised in the mainstream media, the standard explanation is that Australia is part of the “U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS”. Details about the actual activities of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) have not been forthcoming. One exception to the general rule of silence was in September 2016 when the RAAF admitted being involved in a “coalition” attack on Syrian Government soldiers in Deir ez Zor, killing more than 80.

That attack was described as a “mistake”, although it was difficult at the time to see how that was possible in the particular circumstances. More significant than the “mistake” was that the U.S. led attack simultaneously allowed ISIS forces to launch an attack on Syrian Government positions. This precise coordination between the air attack by the coalition and the ground attack by ISIS led to the inference that the two attacks were, in fact, coordinated. The Australian mainstream media has never raised such an allegation, even when the evidence for such assistance to the terrorists becomes compelling.

That evidence is simply never discussed in the mainstream media — as when the Bulgarian report was published and met with a deafening silence. Shortly after the Bulgarian report was published, President Trump ordered the CIA to cease supplying weapons to the terrorist groups in Syria. 

One might have thought that a cease and desist order was compelling evidence that it had been happening, but again there was silence.

There is currently a battle raging for control of the city of Deir ez Zor and its eponymous province. Further evidence of collaboration between “coalition” forces and ISIS was demonstrated by the Russian military, who on 24 September 2017 released photographic images purporting to show U.S. troops moving freely in areas controlled by ISIS. Despite this evidence being reiterated by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, our mainstream media again chose to ignore it.

The importance of Deir ez Zor is that it contains Syria’s major oil and gas resources — control of which is critical for Syria’s post-war reconstruction. In order to mount an effective attack to reclaim Deir ez Zor city and the oilfields in the Euphrates Basin, it was necessary for the Syrian Army to cross the Euphrates from east to west.  This was achieved by Russian engineers constructing a pontoon bridge, which they did in two days despite being under continuous fire from ISIS positions on the east side of the river.

Not only was there no passing of intelligence from coalition forces to the Syrians and their Russian allies, there was no attack upon those ISIS forces by members of the coalition. In fact, for a whole week surrounding the building of the pontoon and the movement of Syrian Government forces across Deir ez Zor province, coalition planes ceased operations in that area entirely. This enabled the ISIS forces to move relatively unhindered from the southeast and, at the same time, the U.S. supported Kurdish militia units and forces of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), also supported by the coalition in their war against the Syrian Government, moved down from the north.

The movement of approximately 6,000 terrorist troops, together with their armored equipment and vehicles, from the southeast reinforced the terrorist positions. It is impossible for a movement this large to be undetected by U.S. satellites in geostationary orbit over the area. There are also coalition aircraft, including that of Australia, equipped to detect such movements. The RAAF acknowledges this role in their Syrian operations (Operation Okra).

According to a report by Alexander Orlov on 3 October 2017, the Americans have also made an arrangement with local tribal leaders to ensure that ISIS can move through their territory unhindered. This arrangement was facilitated by Brett McGurk, a U.S. Special Presidential Envoy.

As the fighting has progressed, the Kurdish militias have seized the oilfields along the east bank of the Euphrates, including al-Omar, Syria’s largest field. This occupation is continuing even as ISIS is forced to retreat in the face of Syrian and Russian attacks. This sequence of events is not happening by chance. The U.S. has had plans going back at least until 2006, when the U.S. Armed Forces Journal published an article by Colonel Ralph Peters setting out the plan for control of key energy corridors in the whole of the Middle East that required, inter alia, the wholesale redrawing of national boundaries and the creation of a Kurdish State that was perceived as a strong U.S. ally.

Middle East borders, as re-imagined by  Lt. Col. Ralph Peters in 2006 (Map via armedforcesjournal.com)

Israel’s Yinon Plan, published in 1982 in the Hebrew journal Kivunim (translated as Directions) was a plan for a Greater Israel, which meant incorporating, wholly or in part, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria. More recently, papers published by the Brookings Institution in 2012 and 2015 planned for the dismemberment of Syria into “safe zones”, that included American control of the oil resources and “regime change” for the Syrian Government.

A further geopolitical objective is to deny the Syrian Government control of the Syria-Iraq border and hence prevent the Syrian Government from establishing a land link through Iraq to Iran. Such a land link would be invaluable for Iran to be able to supply Syria with men and equipment in its fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Iran, unlike Australia or the U.S., has a mutual defence treaty with Syria.

Again, unlike the U.S., Australia, or any other member of the “U.S.-led coalition” Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah and Russian forces are in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian Government and therefore acting in full compliance with international law. Unlike Australia’s fanciful interpretation of Article 51, this is real collective self-defence in operation.

The final factor that should be noted in this context is that Iran-Iraq-Syria are an important component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a massive infrastructure program that will enable, inter alia, the transport of Iranian gas to Europe and China. The U.S. is determined to thwart this massive project, and control of Iraq and Syria are integral to that wider geopolitical objective.

None of these issues are discussed in the Australian mainstream media, which prefers the naïve narrative that Australia is “fighting ISIS” and thereby helping to “keep Australians safe”. The reality is that Australia, by its inextricable links to the American war machine, and the latter’s activities in Iraq and Syria, is furthering the spread of terrorism. The evidence of ISIS being a tool of U.S. geopolitical objectives is just one manifestation of this.

Ignoring that evidence by promoting a false narrative in the mainstream media only ensures that Australia will continue to join one harebrained American military misadventure after another, untroubled by either a questioning Parliament or a media doing what it is supposed to do. 

Australians need to be better informed than is currently the case if they are to be able to formulate an informed judgment about whether or not particular policies are truly in the national interest.

James O'Neill is a former academic and has practised as a barrister since 1984. He writes on geopolitical issues, with a special emphasis on international law and human rights. He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au.

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