Robin Yassin-Kassab: A Case Study of Israel in Syrian Regime-Change Propaganda

The unvarnished truth about the war in Syria can inadvertently seep out even in the most unlikely places. That is, among the regime-change peddlers and propagandists. Admittedly, one needs to be highly attentive but it’s right there in front of one’s eyes for any objective observer. So if we turn to one of Britain’s leading regime-change propagandists, Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author with a certain Leila al-Shami of the much praised apologia for the Western backed insurgency in Syria, “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, he clearly states that the uprising was militarised and weaponised from the beginning. In fact, he writes that all Syrians were purchasing smuggled weapons “since the crisis began. These were ubiquitous in the Lebanese, Turkish and Iraqi border areas where the black market thrived and the armed conflict burned earliest.”[i]

Needless to say, it isn’t the first time that external actors have attempted to use Syria’s borders as a pathway to overthrow its government. In 1957, British and American intelligence planned “to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria’s pro-western neighbours.” This 1957 plot, according to The Guardian, called for funding of a “Free Syria Committee” and the arming of “political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities.” If this plot had materialised, the Free Syria Committee, no doubt, would have had an army. 

For some strange reason, Yassin-Kassab neglects to mention in his propaganda book the other border through which arms flowed, namely Israel’s. Throughout the war against Syria there have been rumours that Israel has been supporting and arming Syrian fighters, collectively known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The official story now is that Israel began supporting militants in 2013 and not when the insurgency began in 2011. The first time Yassin-Kassab even hints at Israeli involvement in the war on Syria appears well into the second half of his book where he recounts an act of brutal sectarianism committed by al-Qaeda’s franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra in 2015 in southern Syria on the border with Zionist entity. In retaliation, for the sectarian killing of 23 Druze inhabitants by al-Qaeda rebels, local Druze in the occupied Golan attacked an ambulance carrying wounded and rescued Syrian rebel fighters being transferred to Israel for hospitalisation. But according to Yassin-Kassab, it is nothing but “Assadist media conspiracy theories which imagine Israel and Nusra in alliance”.[ii]

History now testifies on the side of the local Druze population rather than Yassin-Kassab. In June 2017, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the Zionists have treated “some 3,000 wounded Syrians, many of them fighters, in its hospitals since 2013”, and that Israel has directly funded “opposition fighters near its borders for years”.  Foreign Policy magazine reported a year later that Israel has armed and funded at least 12 rebel groups since 2013 in southern Syria. In both reports a “rebel” group with the name of Fursan al-Jolan (FAJ) was the main beneficiary of Zionists military abundance to wage war against the Syrian army and the local population. FAJ received $5000 a month from Israel according to the Wall Street Journal and according to Foreign Policy, Israel “provided salaries to rebel fighters, paying each one about $75 a month”.           

FAJ generously acted as the central military hub for distributing Israeli military aid and support to other “moderate” groups fighting the Syrian army. According to the WSJ, FAJ was allied with four other groups that also received Israeli military support but only was one named, Liwaa Ousoud al-Rahman (Lions of the Merciful Brigade). Foreign Policy named another group, Omar bin al-Khattab Brigade (named after one of Prophet Muhammad’s immediate successors). Other brigades that were supported by Israel, according to Foreign Policy, included “factions in Quneitra, Daraa, and the southern areas of the Damascus countryside.” More so, these brigades were part and parcel of a Southern Front which was a supposedly “unified body of 57 FSA groups established on 18 February 2014.”[iii]

The fruits of Zionist support for its rebel groups in the south of Syria, specifically in the Quneitra and Daraa regions, began to bear fruit in 2014-2015 with the fall of many southern Syrian towns and border crossings with Jordan and Israeli-occupied Golan. For Yassin-Kassab these rebel successes was down not to Israeli support but “by the proximity to the Jordan border, and therefore to Gulf and Western supplies.”[iv] On the other hand, a Syrian government brigadier general who had defected to the rebels in May 2014 begged to differ by claiming that “all of the successful operations recently in the south aren’t because of the Southern Front. It’s because of Jabhat al-Nusra…” This helps to corroborate the Druze claim that Israel was supporting Nusra, that is, al-Qaeda.

Also, an opposition activist in early 2015 informed al-Monitor that the, “battle to capture Quneitra on Sept. 27 [2014] was preceded by coordination and communications between Abu Dardaa, a leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Israeli army to pave the way for the attack. And according to an FSA commander who partly participated in this battle, the Israeli army provided Abu Dardaa with maps of the border area and the Syrian army’s strategic posts in the southern area.”

Furthermore, in a report published in late 2014 by the American think tank, Institute for the Study of War, Nursa at this time seemed to be preparing to unite the rebels forces, “northwest out of Dera’a Province into Quneitra, and finally penetrating into the western Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.” The rebel groups supported by Israel were also operating from these same areas. Therefore, are we to assume that there was no interplay between Nusra and the Israeli backed groups as Yassin-Kassab would like his readers to believe even if he claims that the Southern Front had refused to enter a coalition with Nusra?  More so, Yassin-Kassab also claims that many people in Damascus were “naturally” awaiting the Zionist backed forces from southern Syria to liberate them![v] The latter point is no more mischievous and disingenuous than Yassin-Kassab’s flawed claim in his book that there had been a revolution in Aleppo in July 2012, rather than a jihadi invasion and takeover of eastern part of Aleppo.

Clearly Yassin-Kassab feels there is a need to deny, downplay, and denigrate the role Israel has played in supporting the Syrian rebels. This is understandable because he wants to portray the international war on Syria as a bottom-up “revolution” and not a foreign backed regime-change insurgency. Yassin-Kassab deploys, in effect, the propaganda by omission. If he were to admit that some of the rebels he champions were supported by Israel, then they would lose their legitimacy to be referred to as “revolutionaries” and people would see them as for what are: disposable and disgusting Zionist stooges. Or as one FAJ rebel admitted to Foreign Policy magazine, “This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about…the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about is its own interests.”

However, there is a glimpse of sincerity towards the end of Yassin-Kassab’s propaganda text when he finally admits that of “Syria’s neighbours, Israel has involved itself the least in the conflict.”[vi] Obviously this is a relative statement in the sense that if it were compared to the billions of dollars Qatar or Saudi Arabia poured into the conflict then sure it is the “least” but then again no less consequential.  It is also this lack of sincerity which misleadingly drives him, for example, to denigrate Hizbullah, the Lebanese resistance group that liberated southern Lebanon from a 22 year Israeli occupation, as an “Iranian proxy”, yet woefully blinds him to the fact that Israel actually supported a motely crew southern Syrian rebel groups, let alone admit that these groups were nothing but cheap Zionist proxies.[vii]

Generally speaking, the omission and denial of Israeli support for the rebels in southern Syria provides regime-change writers like Yassin-Kassab with a springboard to peddle further propaganda. The most appealing to them is lambasting those who would much prefer a victory for the Syrian Army over the “rebels” as hypocritical in their support of Palestinian rights. These regime-changers argue that the both Palestinians and Syrians are struggling against oppression. They equate Zionist occupation of Palestinians with the Syrian government’s policy towards Syrians. This equation totally depends on omitting and not acknowledging the Israeli support for Syrian rebels. Underpinning this argument is the surreal notion that Palestinians who would receive support and arms from Israel are, at the very least, “collaborators”, while Syrians who have actually received support from Israel are “rebels” or “revolutionaries”.

Therefore, the more sincere question should be why is Israel actually supporting Syrian rebels forces and at the same time oppressing, killing and ethnically cleansing Palestinians? More specifically, when the Syrian army had finally gained the military upper hand in southern Syria in 2018, some of the rebels were actually rescued by Israeli forces at the instigation of the Britain and other countries. The Foreign Policy report had originally reported that Israel was transferring military support “through three gates connecting the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria”. Whether it were these gates that hundreds of British financed “White Helmet” first responders were evacuated from remains to be seen. But the main question that needs to be reiterated is, why is Israel killing Palestinian first responders in Gaza and a month later supposedly evacuating British-financed Syrian “White Helmets” from southern Syria?

In conclusion it is a proven fact that the Zionist state supported Syrian rebels for at least five years during the course of the international war on Syria. It goes without saying that Israel is not unique in this. If Israel was supporting these rebels in their struggle for democracy and freedom as Yassin-Kassab claims, then surely Israel should first grant democracy and freedom to Palestinians and stop colonising Palestine. It is impossible for Syrian regime-change peddlers like Robin Yassin-Kassab to admit to the central role played by Israel in supporting rebels in south Syria because this will undermine and negate their delusional narrative that the armed rebels, Islamists of one hue or another, are fighting for freedom and democracy in Syria.

[i] Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (London: Pluto Press) 2016, pg.86

[ii] ibid., pg.145

[iii] ibid., pg.144

[iv] ibid.

[v] ibid.

[vi] ibid., pg.206

[vii] ibid., pg.207

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