Thursday

19th Oct 2017

Former CIA officer questions EU motives in Syria

  • Bas-relief faces in the ancient Persian city of Persepolis, in southeast Iran (Photo: velaia)

EU and US intervention in Syria is designed to harm Iran and to protect Israel and Lebanese Christians, not Syrian people, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with experience of the region.

Speaking in an interview with EUobserver, Baer, a senior CIA field officer in Lebanon and Syria in the 1980s and 1990s and a writer on international security affairs, said EU and US sanctions might weaken the Syrian regime but will not stop it from killing people in the current crisis.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"It will make Syria more isolated and economically unstable. But the Alawites [the ruling Muslim sect in Syria] are not going to succumb to outside pressure for democratic reform because they think this would lead to a sectarian civil war [with the Sunni Muslim majority] ... [Syrian President] Bashar Assad thinks that if he shows weakness, if he loses control of any city for any length of time, then it's the end of his regime."

The EU on Friday (24 June) imposed travel bans and asset freezes on four Syrian regime members and three Iranians. The move comes on top of previous EU sanctions against 23 regime members and similar US measures.

The Iranians are senior officers in the Revolutionary Guards said to be "providing equipment and support" for Syrian repression: brigadier commander Mohammad Ali Jafari; major general Qasem Soleimaini; and Hossein Taeb.

It also imposed a ban on four companies said to be funding the Syrian rulers: Bena Properties; Al Mashreq Investment Fund; Military Housing Establishment; and Hamcho International.

The Alawite sect in Syria is allied with Iran, a Shia Muslim power, and Hezbollah, a Shia guerrilla army in Lebanon. The group is known in Israel as the "axis of evil." But it is also seen as a threat by Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries.

Baer said the EU decision to include sanctions on the Iranian officers - a UK initiative - is desinged to further stigmatise Iran in the wider campaign to stop it building nuclear weapons.

"If Iran is involved in Syria, it's at a minor level like blocking the Internet. At the end of the day, it's Syrian tanks, Syrian artillery which is slaughtering people ... I just see a general desire to frame Iran because of the nuclear issue. This kind of thing makes it easier to impose more economic sanctions [on Iran] down the line."

In another sign that the EU and US' main motive is to weaken the Shia axis, Baer noted they have not taken action against its enemies, such as Saudi-sponsored rulers in Bahrain and Yemen, who are also guilty of brutal repression.

"We've taken sides in the Middle East. We've taken sides with Israel and with the Sunnis, from the US to the Dutch and the French. It's part of our cultural and historical background," he said.

Baer added that France, the former colonial power in Lebanon and Syria, is mainly interested in protecting its old friends, the Maronite Christians in Lebanon: "They don't want to see the roof blown off Lebanon because they still feel responsible for the Maronites. They are tightly wrapped up in Lebanon."

He noted that Turkey is also trying to weaken the Shia alliance in order to become the pre-eminent power in the region. "I'm still talking to my Syrian contacts and they are quite convinced that weapons are coming in [to the opposition] not just from the Sunnis in Lebanon and through Iraq but also from Turkey," Baer said.

Baer predicted that if the conflict in Syria escalates, security chiefs will stage a coup "sacrificing" Assad in order to cut a deal with the opposition, as happened in Egypt.

Not black and white

An EU diplomat backed up some of his analysis.

The contact said EU sanctions will not work because Assad still has good relations with China, Iran, Russia and Latin America.

"When you talk to Syrian diplomats, they are relaxed. Life in Damascus is pretty normal. We [the EU] don't really know what our objectives are, but if it's regime change, it will take more than sanctions," he explained.

He added that the situation is more complicated than a simple struggle between the disenfranchised Sunni majority and the Alawite elite.

"We have reports that Wahhabists [radical Sunni Islamists], who are not necessarily controlled by any state, are coming into Syria from Iraq and from Saudi Arabia to create chaos. Inside Syria, there are snipers shooting at demonstrators who are not controlled by Assad but by the deep state, and other snipers who are shooting at both demonstrators and police," he said.

"The EU has reacted like [former US president] Bush did in 2001 and 2003, in black and white terms, but life is more grey," he noted, referring to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Russia: EU and US want war with Syria

Russia has accused Nato countries of trying to start a war with Syria and foment unrest in Iran - claims backed up by some Western security analysts.

US and EU call for Syrian leader to go

EU countries will on Friday discuss top-up sanctions against Syria after the White House and leading European countries said President Bashar Assad must relinquish power.

EU sanctions on Iran peppered with exemptions

New sanctions on Iran could prove hard to enforce after EU countries peppered them with derogations to help Greece find alternate suppliers and to give Tehran-based embassies access to cash.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish government to decide Saturday on Catalonia measures
  2. EU court confirms freezing of Yanukovych funds
  3. UK PM appeals to EU citizens
  4. Catalan leader sends independence ultimatum
  5. Madrid eyes early elections as solution to Catalan crisis
  6. Merkel starts coalition talks to form government by December
  7. Iceland confirms long-standing EU opposition, poll shows
  8. EU summit moved to previous building after fumes scare

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews