Although I frequently criticize the Israelis, I can't fault them for helping the Kenyan government resolve the horrific Al Qaeda attack
on a shopping mall.
An Israeli security source said earlier Sunday that Israeli advisers were helping Kenya formulate a strategy to end the siege at the upscale Westgate shopping center.
"There are Israeli advisers helping with the negotiating strategy, but no Israelis involved in any imminent storming operation," said the source, who declined to be identified.
The source said only a "handful" of Israelis, "purely in an advisory role," were on scene at the mall, which has several Israeli-owned outlets and is frequented by expatriates and Kenyans.
My concern comes to this: Shouldn't the Kenyan episode awaken the Israelis -- and the United States -- to the danger of supporting the rebels in Syria?
Although we've been told repeatedly that the US seeks an alliance with moderate factions within the rebel movement, those moderate factions remain, if not mythical, largely powerless. Here's the breakdown
The new study by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists - who would include foreign fighters - fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda..
Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle.
There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.
The stark assessment, to be published later this week, accords with the view of Western diplomats estimate that less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to Britain, while American envoys put the figure even lower.
In other words, chances are extremely good that, if Assad is toppled, then Syria will fall into the hands of thugs who will think and act just like the thugs who murdered all of those people in Kenya.
And yet that outcome seems to be what Israel yearns for. Jonathan Cook's analysis
is worth reading. According to Cook, the focus on Syria is really all about Iran -- a point I myself have made in previous posts:
In his interview published yesterday by the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren claimed that Israel had in fact been trying to oust Assad since the civil war erupted more than two years ago. He said Israel “always preferred the bad guys [jihadist groups] who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys [the Assad regime] who were backed by Iran.”
That seems improbable. Although the Sunni jihadist groups, some with links to al-Qaeda, are not natural allies for either the Shia leaders of Iran or Hizbollah, they would be strongly hostile to Israel. Oren’s comments, however, do indicate the degree to which Israel’s strategic priorities are obsessively viewed through the prism of an attack on Iran.
More likely, Israel has focused on using the civil war as a way to box Assad into his heartlands. That way, he becomes a less useful ally to Hizbollah, Iran and Russia, while the civil war keeps both his regime and the opposition weak.
Israel would have preferred a US strike on Syria, a goal its lobbyists in Washington were briefly mobilised to achieve. But the intention was not to remove Assad but to assert what Danny Ayalon, a former deputy Israeli foreign minister, referred to as “American and Israeli deterrence” – code for signalling to Tehran that it was being lined up as the next target.
I would advise readers to keep Cook's analysis in mind when reading this interview
-- written by Richard Spencer and published in the Telegraph -- with General Zaher al-Sakat, a Syrian defector who says that he refused Assad's orders to use poison gas.
His story seems, at first glance, to give credibility to the Obama administration's claim that Assad ordered the CW attack on Ghouta. But I find Sakat's story "iffy" for a number of reasons:
1. First and foremost, it's simply too damned convenient.
2. Defectors are notorious for saying not what is strictly true but what they think their hosts want to hear.
3. One must always keep in mind the fact that defectors are financially dependent on their new benefactors.
4. Neither the US government nor the UK government has cited Sakat -- a fact which may indicate that he has credibility problems.
5. We have surprisingly little information on Sakat -- indeed, I can find no independent confirmation that he is who he says he is. Wikipedia has nothing on him. I don't see any news accounts of his defection. The man simply popped up out of nowhere to tell this story.
6. Finally: If he -- a General -- had disobeyed Assad's direct order, how did he avoid imprisonment or death?
Sakat seems an odd duck indeed. Toward the end of the Spencer interview, he claims that he maintains a "network" of informants within Syria. Although relatively few outlets picked up on the Sakat story, one source which promotes it heavily is MEMRI
, long considered a Mossad front
(I still believe that the Syrian rebels are responsible for the CW attacks in Ghouta. While the time may have passed for a full-throated rebuttal to the Human Rights Watch report assigning blame to Assad, any fair reading of that report will demonstrate that the evidence against Assad is onionskin-thin.)
Robert Spencer, a correspondent based in Turkey, has been stumping for UK and US intervention in Syria. See here