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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Answering the conspiracy theorists on Syria

Both the London Sunday Observer, and the Economist's Jerusalem correspondent Gideon Lichfield advance what can best be described as a conspiracy theory regarding Israel's September 6 alleged attack on what was apparently a Syrian weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facility. I'm using Lichfield's formulation since at least he isn't ready to call it a conspiracy - yet:

The operational details [Uzi Mahnaimi in the Times of London CiJ]he reveals are probably accurate. The nukes claim, which seems to have been fed both to Uzi and to his Washington colleague, is more questionable. Newsweek today reports that, yes, Israel showed satellite photographs of northern Syria to officials in Washington, suggesting that they revealed a nuclear project; but that other anonymous US officials “say they’ve seen no credible evidence yet of nuclear ties between North Korea and Syria”.

So the alternative view going around is that this news cycle is all part of a big conspiracy by Washington hardliners - with ex-UN ambassador John Bolton at the fore - and Israel to push the Iran-Syria-North Korea connection, with the media gullibly playing along.

Thus, the Sunday Times cites Bolton saying that “I’ve been worried for some time about North Korea and Iran outsourcing their nuclear programmes,” but Newsweek gets him to admit that he “never saw proof North Korea was sharing nuclear technology with Syria.” Joshua Landis, who has also clipped several other useful pieces on this issue, lists reasons to think that Bolton is “shooting from the hip”, and Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy’s blog argues that

If this sounds like the run-up to the war in Iraq, it should. This time it appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement. Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.

I’m suspending judgement. Launching an air strike at Syria, especially if there were indeed ground commandos, was risky. It’s hard to imagine Israel would have done it just to lend credibility to a neocon claim about nukes or prevent US-Syria dialogue (if anything, Washington is even more sceptical of Syria’s intentions than Jerusalem is). An alternative hypothesis is that Israel really believed that Syria might have the hot stuff, but only because the neocons led Israel by the nose. But I still can’t figure out why keep the Israeli media muzzled, unless it’s just that they’re less likely than the US press to buy into the spin. At any rate, stay sceptical. Not everything is clear yet.

Let me add a few more reasons not to buy into the conspiracy theory. First, as Lichfield points out, Israel would not have (apparently) risked pilots' (let alone ground troops if some of the accounts are to be believed) lives to lend credibility to a neocon claim about nuclear weapons or to prevent US - Syria dialogue. Second, Israel has its own intelligence sources that are independent of the US, including the Ofek 7 satellite with which Israel likely verified for itself what was going on in northeastern Syria. Third, the Israeli media is muzzled (and yes, the military censor is likely active here) because they don't want to put the Syrians, the Iranians or the North Koreans in a position where they have to respond. Israel is still hoping that the Syrians will realize that they're not going to gain much by starting a war over this. Fourth, I have said that I don't believe the target was nuclear - I believe it was chemical. The only piece of the puzzle that seemed not to fit with my theory was the North Korean condemnation. But North Korea also has chemical weapons that could have been supplied to Syria, and if the target was nuclear the lack of fallout is still odd. If I am right, then neocon claims about North Korean distribution of nuclear weapons are irrelevant. Fifth, I am very suspicious of conspiracy theories involving neocons that originate in the mainstream media!


At 11:02 PM, Blogger ETABORI said...

A bit about Gideon Lichfield and the people he is defending!

Explaining the Terrorists
Thursday 6 September 2007, by Gideon Lichfield Printable version

Jerusalem Correspondent, The Economist

To the Editor:

Jonathan Laurence ("The Prophet of Moderation," May/June 2007) complains that Tariq Ramadan leaves his audience "unsure whether Ramadan thinks terrorism in Europe and the Middle East is justifiable or unjustifiable" and that "by ’explaining’ the attacks, he declines to denounce them as incomprehensible; he keeps the door open to future justifications of violence against civilians on religious and political grounds."

This seems a misunderstanding of Ramadan’s position. In a 2004 interview with Foreign Policy, for instance, he was asked, "How do you feel when Islam is used to justify terrorism?" He replied: "Horrified. But responsible. When the Luxor terrorist attack took place [in Egypt] eight years ago, long before 9/11, I wrote a letter from a Swiss Muslim to his fellow citizens saying that this is not acceptable.... We have to condemn this as Muslims and as human beings.... We can have a legitimate resistance to oppression, but the means should be legitimate. Terrorism, which kills innocent people, is not Islamically acceptable. Within Islam there is an accepted diversity ... and we must never say that terrorism or violence is part of this accepted diversity." That sounds pretty unequivocal. The problem is that Laurence associates "explaining" with "justifying." This is a common conflation but a misguided one. To explain is merely to recognize that even the most twisted human beings are human beings and have their own internal logic; it does not conflict with having a clear moral stance. Quite the contrary: the need to dismiss your enemy as "incomprehensible" suggests that you may not be sufficiently secure in your own moral convictions.

Demonizing enemies this way is both intellectually comfortable and politically useful, since it creates a clear boundary between a rational "us" and an irrational "them"; indeed, it provides license for all-out war by placing "them," by fiat, outside the sphere of reasoned or reasonable behavior. But given that six years of an all-out war on terrorism have generated more terrorists than they have destroyed, it is not unreasonable to ask, instead, how to prevent these twisted human beings from twisting other human beings to their purpose. And that requires comprehension.

This is precisely what Ramadan is about. By describing what he sees as the true nature of Islam and the original meaning of terms such as "jihad" and "taqiyya," Ramadan seeks to show that violent fundamentalism is a perversion of the prescribed Islamic responses to oppression — but at the same time, to explain why some Muslims feel oppressed and how jihadist ideology can sway the susceptible among them. Extremism can then be fought both by campaigning against it within Islam (as people like Ramadan do) and by reducing the sources of geopolitical friction that give extremists fodder. It would surely be irresponsible for anyone charged with protecting the world against terrorism not to have such knowledge.

Gideon Lichfield

>Source :Foreign Affairs>


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