The ultimate desired result of the terror attacks by ISIS (now being called Daesh) is 'boots on the ground' in Syria. The West wants it so they can topple Assad; and ISIS so they can fight the 'crusader' infidel
Originally appeared at Asia Times
Up to the very gloomy day when the “soldiers of the Caliphate” hit “the capital of abomination and perversions” – as ISIS/ISIL/Daesh framed its attack on Paris – French President Francois Hollande and his insufferable poseur of a Prime Minister Laurent Fabius were adamant: Assad must go.
For the Elysée palace, Assad equaled Daesh.
A measure of the incongruence of Hollande’s administration is that none of his ENA-formed advisors told him he was becoming even more irrelevant than usual.
Russia and Iran were proving their point with the “4+1” (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) actions on the ground and skies in Syria fighting all shades of Salafi-jihadism, “moderate” or otherwise.
And even the Obama administration – after multiple meetings between Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – was correcting its course. That culminated in those pregnant with meaning 35 minutes of Obama and Putin face to face in a side table at the G-20 in Antalya on Sunday.
Guess who remained aligned with Hollande up to the last, tragic minute: the ideological matrix of all strands of Salafi-jihadism, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, and the GCC minions. The French government “reward”: plenty of juicy weapons deals. Here is just a partial list, coupled with hardcore French weaponizing of “moderate rebels.”
So this is how “socialist” – the dirtiest of words in the Beltway – France fights its own GWOT (Global War on Terror): showering Rafales over “moderate rebel” enabler Doha, and with Salafi-jihadi weaponizer Riyadh as best client. Business, unsurprisingly, is booming.
It took an unprecedented carnage in Paris for Hollande, Fabius and Prime Minister Valls to wake up from their torpor and see which way the – lethal – wind was blowing. Now it’s “war”. It’s “merciless.” And it’s against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
Already in Vienna on Saturday, Lavrov and Kerry — seconded by the usual minions, some of them reluctantly — finally agreed to designate Jabhat al-Nusra, aka al-Qaeda in Syria, as terrorists, not “moderate rebels.”
And yet few in the West will remember poseur Fabius praising al-Nusra just a few weeks ago; they “do a good job” in Syria (“Ils font un bon boulot.”)
“Active” should be interpreted as “previously noncommittal,” at best. But “political”? Not really; rather borderline unlawful. ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is not a state – as much as they bill themselves as a “Caliphate.” Assuming international law still applies, France’s invoked right of “self-defense” is illegal. Not to mention Paris was not invited by Damascus to strike inside Syrian territory, unlike the Russian Air Force.Hollande, immediately after unveiling France’s remix of the 2001 Bush-declared “war on terra”, bombed Raqqa, the fake “Caliphate” capital. Fabius, in Antalya, defended the decision as “political”; France had to be “present and active” following the Paris massacre.
Finally displaced from its splendid slumber, the French government had to strike Raqqa because after all the whole world is watching. Coordinated raids irrupted all across France, from Toulouse and Grenoble to Calais. France’s only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier – and Europe’s top (naval) dog – the Charles de Gaulle, leaves Toulon on Thursday for the Persian Gulf. Hollande proudly extolled the mission; it “bolsters Paris’ firepower.”
From torpor to resolve. But why only now?
It’s the oil, stupid
Jihad in Paris hit a calibrated conceptual spectrum – carefully mapped out by French insiders (disclosure: my own neighborhood, the 10ème, was targeted). My initial instinct, as I published on my Facebook page, was “Syraq” returnees. And not your usual al-Zawahiri-faithful underwear bomber, but white, ultra-pro, black-clad head to toe, AK-47-toting, very well trained, precision killers, as described by eyewitnesses.
French intel, after the (gruesome) fact, swore they were monitoring at least 200 French passport holders who came back from “Syraq.” Yet from the beginning evidence – or lack thereof — seemed to be pointing towards a monumental fail by French intel and the Ministry of Interior.
Of course there were so many accumulated reasons for blowback; resentment by swathes of young Muslims, who feel they are treated as third-rate citizens; France’s coddling of “moderate rebels”; Sarko The First and General Hollande’s wars on Libya and Mali; France as NATO enforcers; the meek bombing raids in Syria; and of course 3,000 ultra-radicalized “born again” French Muslims fighting in Syria for the fake “Caliphate.”
French intel did know, at least since August, that Daesh was planning a major hit. There were recent alerts by Baghdad intelligence and even rumblings of an imminent “French 9/11”. France was occasionally hitting Daesh; mostly the odd training camp, but also targeting Syria’s oil infrastructure at random.
Daesh is virtually a state oil major; Deir Ezzor province produces up to 40,000 barrels of oil a day, and other wells produce up to an extra 17,000 barrels. Daesh sells them to “independent traders”, aka smugglers, for up to $45 a barrel. As much as pumping oil is a key source of Daesh’s budget, still, technically, the fake “Caliphate” is profiting from an (aging) state infrastructure that ultimately belongs to the Syrian nation. To really hit Daesh where it hurts France — and the US and Britain — would need to rely on what they don’t have; top intel on the ground, not mere air strikes.
Which brings us back to Raqqa. The fake “Caliphate” capital is a key hub for all that oil smuggling. It also happens to be a potential hub for a future Pipelineistan gambit – be it the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline or its competitor from Qatar.
Make no mistake: both the US and France are very much focused on Raqqa. This “war” could be over in a few days if all those smugglers – who are in fact financing Daesh – were spotted and arrested (ground intel, again). Daesh’s money flow would be easily intercepted.
And guess who’s preventing this solution; Turkish intel, because for Ankara the prime obsession is “Assad must go”, not Daesh. There’s absolutely no way to defeat Daesh from above – as long as the usual suspects, especially Gulf petrodollar interests and Erdogan’s Ottomanism, continue to “support” it on the ground, directly, via endless subterfuges, or simply ignoring their operations.
The good news, as it stands, is that The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), covered by Russian air strikes, liberated Kuweyris airbase, not far from Aleppo, while Kurdish peshmerga, covered by US air strikes, liberated Sinjar in Iraq, west of Mosul. So Daesh will face a lot of trouble moving in and out between Mosul and Raqqa. That may signal the way towards Daesh start losing oilfields in northeast Syria.
For now, what’s certain is that when Daesh went on overdrive, no intel service seems to have seen it coming.
They attacked Russia via a Sinai spin-off, bringing down the Metrojet.
They attacked Lebanon, Shi’ites as a whole, Hezbollah – and indirectly, Iran – via the bombing in the Burj el-Barajneh Shi’ite neighborhood of Beirut. Symbolically, that was an attack against the “4+1” (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah).
And they attacked NATO in the heart of Paris (Hollande’s “act of war” crucially implies an attack against all NATO members. Incredible as it may seem, “moderate rebel” facilitator Turkey included.)
The strategic benefit of opening a war on three fronts – and attacking both Russia and NATO virtually at the same time – is more than dubious. As much as Daesh is flush; profits extensively from extortion, widespread pillaging and oil smuggling; and is showered with cash by generous GCC-based “donors”, that’s a little bit over the top.
The Belgian connection
Back in Paris, my initial working hypothesis was immediately confirmed: French intel started focusing on a single cell of Syria returnees as the perpetrators, before the investigation expanded – by accident – towards the Belgian connection, and “three coordinated teams of gunmen”, according to the Paris prosecutor.
That happened courtesy of a parking ticket found in a VW Polo; it led French intel to Molenbeek, aka “Little Morocco” northwest of downtown Brussels, a notorious Syrian returnee hub, crammed with shady, clandestine Salafi and Salafi-jihadi cells. As it stands, at least seven people in the European-wide investigation dragnet have been arrested in Molenbeek, and that’s where the Polo was rented. In the years after 9/11, I used to joke with local friends and sources, when I was back from the Gulf and walked the area, that I felt like “home”.
Belgian intel knows all there is to know about this state of affairs. The problem is essentially they can’t do anything about it – even as Belgium exhibits the largest per capita ratio of jihadis from “Syraq”; according to official numbers, 494 jihadis have been identified, 272 are still in “Syraq”, 75 are presumed dead, 134 are back, and 13 are on their way to the Levant.
So imagine the French investigation juggernaut arriving in Belgium by accident. Talk about a major intra-European security/intel failure. What they had was at best a hunch about homegrown – returnee – jihadis up to something, including, alarmingly, munitions specialists able to come up with made in Europe suicide vests and foot soldiers able to smuggle Kalashnikovs bought in the Balkans for 300 euros, as Europol well knows.
These are Caliph Ibrahim’s European “army.” Young. Born and bred in the EU. Usually double nationality. Statistically “invisible.” Totally integrated locally; what first struck me in Paris is how the targets in the 10ème and 11ème were carefully chosen.
Their loyalty is to a virtual de-territorialized nation (if only Deleuze and Guattari were alive to conceptualize it); and in a remixed 21st version of Etienne de la Boétie’s 1576 classicDiscourse on Voluntary Servitude, they are “born-again” Muslims, born and bred in the developed West, deranged by Wahhabi Salafi-jihadism, and choosing to become slaves of a hazy “command and control” entity that is the embodiment of barbarism.
They learn to use weapons, technology, camouflage, and communication techniques just to become slave “soldiers”– voluntarily submitted to servitude. The infernal mechanism is simple; once you’ve graduated as a Syrian returnee, you got your homegrown diploma, and you’re free to attack the – secular republic – that issued your passport.
As for the notion that this small invisible army is supported by millions, that’s nonsense. The majority of France’s near 5 million Muslims is actually secular, galaxies away from Salafi-jihadism.
Meet the social network jihadi
Spare a thought for the French BRI (Brigade of Research and Intervention), trying like mad to profile this invisible army espousing a warped Born to Kill ideology. But BRI just intervenes at the last minute, like when they stormed the Bataclan music venue and killed the killing team of three.
It’s the DGSI – French internal services – which is in the dock, as we learned that at least one of the identified French killers was under surveillance since 2010 and had a ‘radical” file. France badly needs streamlining – what with competition between the DGSI, the anti-terrorist section of the police prefecture and the so-called Sdat (anti-terrorist sub-direction).
So this may be as much a major intel fail as French administrative impotence to act upon intel. Still a fail. Daesh de facto outwitted what’s regarded as one the best intel apparatuses in the West. Or did it?
The star of the show seems to be this smiling man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, aka Abu Omar Al-Baljiki, which French intel is now floating as the possible mastermind of the Paris massacre.
Talk about a jihadi superstar; he delights in social media, gives interviews to jihadi outlets, organizes attacks (the previous one, last January, failed), humiliates Belgian security with his back-and-forth between Europe and Syria, and always manages to concoct a daring escape. As a piece of casting, he certainly beats Ben Whishaw as “Q”.
Further discrepancies are evident when the three teams at the Paris carnage are compared.
The Stade de France team featured absolute patsies trying to enter a high-visibility football match in a heavily policed stadium wearing a suicide vest. Just expendable “martyrs” – “Syrian passport” and all.
The Bataclan team featured calm, relatively proficient shooters, but still martyrs. They knew a hostage situation, in France, could only finish with their “martyrdom”. Less expendable, but still expendable.
The heart of the matter is the drive-by team. Or “teams”. The investigation seems to be clueless about them. The killers at La Belle Équipe arrived on a black Mercedes, according to witnesses. There is no mention of this Mercedes anywhere. The killers were ultra-pro, muscular, methodical – and white.
These are the non-expendables. The high-priced mercenaries. While the whole media circus spreads from Grenoble and Toulouse to Brussels and even Raqqa, they have simply vanished without a trace. No one knows who they are. No one knows who hired them. Hardly social network jihadi al-Baljiki.
Now take a close look at this meeting in D.C., which took place only a little over two weeks before the Paris tragedy. It features CIA’s John Brennan, the director of French DGSE (external security) Bernard Bajolet, former MI6 Chief John Sawers (call him the former “M”), and former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaacov Amidror.
Bajolet tells us that at least 500 French jihadis from “Syraq” might present a threat; compare it with 4,000 in respect to Russia (and that explains Putin’s determination to go after all shades of jihadism). Bajolet insists that cooperation between all the services has to be perfect, to “avoid any dead angle”; “dead angles” abounded in the Paris tragedy. And cooperation must be pan-Western. That would include the NSA capturing the whole planetary “chatter”.
Brennan predictably speaks CIAnese – “advance operational security”, etc. – but at least admits a staggering logistical problem to “process, store and disseminate” so much information.
Bajolet, significantly, pre-empts the Paris intel failure, saying the French “disrupted a number of attacks” in September, in cooperation with the CIA and the NSA. So how come the NSA did not capture any “chatter” previous to Paris 11/13? Bajolet once again pre-empts; these attacks are “difficult to detect” when they come “from your own territory”. Actually the investigation is leading towards Paris 11/13 being largely conceived in Brussels.
The strategy of fear
So what does Daesh want?
Daesh is all about the strategy of fear and chaos. They want key Western capitals – Paris, London, New York – living in fear. And they want to lure Western boots on the ground to Syria. That would be a gift from heaven: the “crusaders” are invading us, again. One can imagine Jihad Inc. recruiting going through the roof.A case can be made whether it makes sense for Daesh to provoke a refugee backlash and have the gates of Fortress Europe hermetically closed. That seems to be the road map ahead. France’s borders are closed until further notice. Schengen is already dissolving. The rabid, right-wing anti-immigration political front across Europe cannot but rejoice. Yet at the same time it’s the EU establishment who’s pre-empting the anti-immigration platform. A “blame the refugees” narrative is insidiously being developed – personified by the (fake) Syrian passport found at the Stade de France.
The only feasible way to smash Daesh, slowly but surely, is via close collaboration between the “4+1” – the SAA and Iranian and Hezbollah fighters with Russian air cover – the Kurds (PKK, YPG, even Peshmerga) and, if they really mean it this time, responsible members of the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO).
A “comprehensive international coalition” to fight Daesh is fine. But with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the table in the Vienna charade, that’s a bit rich, coupled with Paris subservient coddling of the Salafi-jihadi enablers, sponsors, financiers and weaponizers in Riyadh and Doha.
The fake “Caliphate” goons warned this is just the “beginning of a storm”. To be the riders on the storm against this very small, extremely mobile and “invisible” army, one would need another concept of federal Europe, with a radically different common defense and foreign policy. Not gonna happen, anytime soon.
What’s left is the mandatory fight against the “Caliphate” on the spot. Air strikes won’t do; only a true, wide-ranging political alliance (this is what Putin tried to impress to Obama in Antalya). How to get Sultan Erdogan and King Salman on board – there’s the rub.
So let’s see how long it takes for NATO boots on the ground. THIS is what Daesh is aiming at.