“He who controls the present, controls the past.” - George Orwell
Narratives shape our world. The deeper meaning of Orwell's words becomes clear when we know the true nature of Syria's crisis.
Two important events took place this week concerning the crisis. First, the western media pronounced the death of the Islamic Caliphate when US-backed forces dislodged ISIS from its last territorial hold in Syria—indirectly diverting credit for ISIS's defeat to the west. Before moving onto the second, let's look at some of the facts that needed to be drowned out by the fictional narratives created to make such portrayal possible.
When these facts are many, the manipulation of truth becomes all the more insidious. As Dr Tim Anderson, Senior Lecturer of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, wrote in his book—compiled from the information he gathered during his visit to Syria—The Dirty War in Syria: “To this day, many imagine the Syrian conflict is a 'civil war'... or some sort of internal sectarian conflict. These myths are... a substantial achievement for the big powers which have driven a series of 'regime change' operations in the Middle East region, all on false pretext.”
Syria was on the west's regime change wish-list long before its crisis began. In one leaked US diplomatic cable from 2006 published by WikiLeaks, William Roebuck (at the time stationed in Damascus), now serving as the Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, talks about a plan. The plan was to foster tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in Syria, to cause the government to overreact by increasing paranoia of an imminent coup, and use that to urge Islamic extremists to act against the Syrian government. Sounds familiar?
But the flaming of conflict didn't end there. In 2017, General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, said this on CNN: “ISIS got started through funding from our [US's] friends and allies”—General Martin Dempsey, former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted the same to Congress in 2014.
In 2015, The New York Times revealed that the CIA also “sometimes inadvertently financed the very militants it is fighting.” But that too was well documented by then. A cable WikiLeaks published already exposed how “the CIA... armed Jihadists with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons from Libyan armouries that the agency smuggled by ratlines to Syria via Turkey.” Later, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh uncovered yet more details about the ratlines and how they were used to smuggle chemical weapons into Syria for use by the “rebels”.
But it wasn't only the US and its Middle Eastern allies that were involved. According to former French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Roland Dumas, top officials in the UK had told him they were plotting something in Syria two years before the conflict started. For those who might be shocked by that, here is what legendary journalist and filmmaker John Pilger had to say about it: “If you... go back and read the declassified MI6 dispatches from Syria they've been trying to do this [overthrow a pro-Russian government in Syria] since the 1950s.”
This new “Great Game” for power and control has been a costly one for Syria. The annihilation of its infrastructure, death and displacement of its civilian population, will take years if not decades for it to recover from. Additionally, according to multi-award-winning journalist Robert Fisk, “a staggering 60,000 soldiers of the Syrian Arab army” had died by March 2016 in a country with an army of about 220,000 at full strength.
After all that, the second important event that happened this week was the signing of an order on March 25 by US President Donald Trump, recognising Syria's Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967 but recognised internationally as a part of Syria, as Israeli territory. Having soaked up but survived the costly destabilising attempts from outside, this order is a huge insult to Syrians who, through immense united effort, fought back and defeated ISIS after eight devastating years of fighting. Whose common rallying cry throughout these difficult times had been: “every inch of Syria [shall be liberated].”
In a 2015 interview, Julian Assange, while discussing WikiLeaks' leaked cables concerning Syria and the various forces involved there, said that Israel was also a party to the conflict mainly because it believed it could permanently “keep the Golan Heights” if Syria was “sufficiently destabilised”. Now that ISIS has finally been defeated, that is exactly what this order seeks to do—which makes these two events, coinciding in the same week, all the more satirical on the one hand and tragic (for the Syrian people) on the other.
But why did Trump take such a move in violation of the UN Charter that protects the sovereignty of nations—Syrian sovereignty in this case. The main reason behind his decision is Israel's discovery of oil in the Golan Heights and a company called Genie Energy that was set up to extract it. Among its board of advisers are powerful people such as world banker Jacob Rothschild, descendent of one of the main creators of Israel, Media Baron Rupert Murdoch, ex-Vice President of the US Dick Cheney, the man responsible for the US invasion of Iraq, and ex-CIA Director James Woolsey.
Although the US has no need for the small amount of oil in the Golan Heights being the world's largest crude oil producer, it wants to deny Syria the oil that it desperately needs. That is why the US continues to occupy parts of Syria east of the Euphrates, as that is where the majority of Syria's oil is located (other than the Golan). To prevent Syria from being able to rebuild itself and to permanently cripple it.
It is for this reason Israeli troops received wounded Al-Qaeda fighters during the Syrian conflict, treated them in Israeli hospitals, and sent them back to fight the Syrian army in Syria, as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015. That was the purpose behind Israel providing weaponry to Syrian rebel groups—such as the Al-Nusra Front who would then pass them on to Al-Qaeda—as admitted by the former Chief of Staff for the Israel's Defence Forces in an interview with the UK's Sunday Times in 2019.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan, the head of Israel's Mossad said that Israel had no problem working with Al-Qaeda because it never attacked Israel. Israel's Intelligence Chief, Major General Herzi Halevy, said during a speech that Israel would “prefer” an ISIS victory in Syria—rather than a victory for the Syrian government over ISIS.
In spite of all this, Trump signed the order for the US to recognise Syria's Golan Heights as Israeli territory. And he justified his decision saying that Israel's national security was being threatened by Syria. How? Simple: through narrative control.
Because narratives are what shape our world. And so, to create a world where left is right and up is down, all you need to do is draw up fictional narratives that would drown out the facts that reveal the true nature of reality—the truth about the crisis. A world where, “war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength,” as described by Orwell.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.
His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal