It is the publication of thinly veiled ideologically inspired polemics such as the one by Seumas Milne on the subject of Syria which appeared in the ‘Comment is Free’ section of the Guardian on May 7th that has done so much to destroy that paper’s reputation as an organ of serious journalism.
Milne’s puerile student rag-style rant against “The West and its allies” predictably devotes a good deal of column space to Israel from its very beginning.
“If anyone had doubts that Syria’s gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel’s string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.
The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were of course immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria’s Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.”
According to whom or what (apart from his own opinion) these alleged air strikes are “illegal” is an issue with which Milne does not trouble his readers, failing to produce any source or factual backing for his mud-slinging accusation. But even more jaw-dropping is Milne’s use of the word “unprovoked”. Obviously, Milne cannot be unaware of the existence of UN SC resolution 1701 which reiterates the previously recognised need to disband and disarm all militias – including and especially Hizballah – in Lebanon and prohibits the sale or supply of arms into Lebanon except with the authorization of its government.
Milne’s description of an alleged defensive air strike on a banned consignment of advanced missiles destined for a terrorist militia which should – according to the UN – have been disarmed and disbanded nine years ago, as “unprovoked” is therefore ridiculous enough in itself. The fact that those weapons would be likely to be used against civilian targets in at least one Middle Eastern country makes Milne’s use of the words “unprovoked and illegal” nothing less than malevolent.
Next Milne comes up with a fine example of baseless rhetoric designed to paint Israel as a favoured protectorate of the West.
“But it’s only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.”
In fact, we already know the answer to Milne’s ‘hypothetical’ question, and it is not the one he implies. Iran has – via its proxies Hizballah and Hamas, and enabled by its ally Syria – been launching attacks on Israel for well over a decade. The “western reaction” to thousands of Iranian made and/or financed missiles fired at Israeli civilian communities in the south of Israel since the Gaza Strip disengagement in 2005 has been an occasional tame and meaningless finger-wagging punctuated by shrill hypocritical condemnation whenever Israel takes action to defend its civilians. The same is the case on Israel’s northern border where around four thousand missile attacks were launched at Israeli civilians in 34 days by a terrorist militia which the international community had previously vowed – and failed – to dismantle. The “western reaction” to Israeli actions in defence of its civilians was, once again, hypocritical condemnation of those actions.
In the subsequent paragraphs Milne tries to advance a patently ridiculous theme prevalent in Syrian regime propaganda whereby Israel has thrown in its lot with the rebel forces in that country. He also makes the accusation that Israel is “clearly intervening in the war”, based on deliberately contorted “evidence”.
“… Israeli officials have been pushing claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. Since Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line”, allegations of their use have become a crucial weapon for those demanding increased western intervention, in a bizarre echo of the discredited orchestration of the invasion of Iraq a decade ago.”
One senior IDF officer stated that there is reason to believe that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. To interpret that as “Israeli officials have been pushing claims” of course requires an exceptionally blinkered imagination, especially as British and French sources had made the exact same observations prior to Itai Brun’s statement. Milne continues:
“That effort came unstuck this week when the UN investigator Carla Del Ponte reported that there were “strong concrete suspicions” that Syrian rebels had themselves used the nerve gas sarin. The claim was hurriedly downplayed by the US, though the rebel camp clearly has an interest in drawing in greater western intervention, in a way the regime does not.”
Perhaps deliberately, Milne fails to inform readers that the UN quickly distanced itself from Del Ponte’s remarks.
” “The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict,” the U.N. said in a statement. “As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.”
Later on, Milne once again rolls out the Syrian regime propaganda:
“The irony of the US and other western governments – let alone Israel – once again making common cause with al-Qaida, after a decade of a “war on terror” aimed at destroying it, is one factor holding Obama back.”
Like his ideological heroes in Damascus, Milne probably does not for one moment really believe that Israel is collaborating with Al Qaeda or – no less absurdly – that Al Qaida would agree to join forces with Israel. Such nonsense is just part of the propaganda strategy of the Assad regime.
When such clearly identifiable absurdities come out of the Presidential Palace in Damascus, those who know the Middle East well are not surprised. Professional journalists take such bizarre claims in context. Political activists ideologically aligned with the Assad dictatorship repeat and even embellish such fatuities.
With this article, Seumas Milne once again makes it patently clear to which of those categories he belongs.