More questions than answers
The White Helmets are not the selfless humanitarian volunteers that much of the media would have you believe, writes Yassamine Mather
On July 21, The Times claimed an exclusive regarding the escape from Syria of the western-backed ‘White Helmets’ and their families, in what it described as the result of “the secret top-level diplomacy, involving Theresa May and Donald Trump”. It went on: “The 422 evacuees - 98 rescue workers and their families - are now in a refugee camp in Jordan. Many will be resettled in Britain.”
CBS, CNN and other agencies added more information. Israel had assisted the operation and the evacuees were transferred to Jordan via Israel, at the request of the United States and some European countries. The Israel Defence Forces said in a statement after the operation:
In a clandestine July 22 operation, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) evacuated several hundred activists from the White Helmets, the Syrian humanitarian civil defence group, and their family members, and removed them from the fighting in southern Syria, through Israel, to Jordan. From there, they will continue on, to be settled in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Canada. At the end of June, the IDF had provided tents, food, medical equipment, shoes and clothing for Syrians who had escaped to a tent encampment on the Golan.1
Middle East Monitor reports what it was told about the role of Israel in the rescue by Raed al-Saleh, a spokesperson for the White Helmets:
He stressed that the group did not have any direct contact or coordination with Israel, explaining that the group had only contacted supporting countries and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and eventually Canada and some EU countries proposed to transfer them via Israel after the Syrian regime rejected their request to leave to northern Syria with opposition groups.2
Even if that is true, it raises questions about the ‘concern’ of European and North American governments.
According to Wikipedia,
The White Helmets, officially known as Syria Civil Defence, is a volunteer organisation that operates in parts of rebel-controlled Syria and in Turkey ... the majority of their activity in Syria consists of medical evacuation, urban search and rescue in response to bombing, evacuation of civilians from danger areas, and essential service delivery.3
Wikipedia adds: “As of April 2018, the organisation claimed to have saved over 114,000 lives, with 204 White Helmet volunteers losing their lives in the process.”
This coincides with the stance of western governments. However, when journalists ask for proof of the astonishing number of rescues claimed, no-one seems to have any evidence.
But what do you expect? The group is promoted by the west as opponents of the Syrian regime and is the darling of official and unofficial media. In 2016 a Netflix film entitled The White Helmets won an Oscar for best documentary. In Syria they seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, their reports always in line with western propaganda, blaming all the violence of the Syrian civil war on the Assad regime, Russia and Iran. Not a single report of violence by jihadists.
Please do not take me the wrong way. I have no doubt that the Syrian dictator and his Russian and Iranian allies are guilty of many crimes during the civil war. However, the one-sided glorification of White Helmets by western governments is interesting, because in the last couple of years these governments and their Syrian allies have been silent on the crimes committed by Salafi jihadists in Syria.
A comrade who has followed the group’s activities over the last few years has a catalogue of YouTube videos, showing the White Helmets moving freely in areas occupied by Islamic State and Al Nusrah. Amongst them there is a film, released by IS, showing John Cantlie (a British journalist imprisoned by IS) giving a guided tour of Aleppo under IS occupation. Minute four of the film shows a drone attack and, as Cantlie moves along the bombed streets, you can clearly see White Helmet members.4 The film is one of many showing the group apparently thriving alongside IS and Al Nusra fighters.
So this week after the Israeli rescue there are more reasons to be concerned about the role of this ‘peace’ group. There is little doubt about one issue, however: it has certainly received funds from the US government. We know this because the White Helmets complained when the funding stopped in May 2018.
A Daily Telegraph report confirmed what many of us had known for a long time:
A freeze of $200 million in aid to Syria by US president Donald Trump includes funds meant for the White Helmets group, which has been lauded for its rescue work in opposition-held territories. The rescue group said in a statement on Friday that the hold on funds Washington decided in March included “part of the work by the Civil Defence”, the official name for the White Helmets.5
We also know that White Helmets were funded by the UK government. In response to a freedom of information query by Joyce Brown, the foreign office reply stated: “As of March 31 2018, the total sum of funding that the British government has supplied to the White Helmets is £38,425,591.23.”6
Moreover, the group’s origins are very interesting. According to websites such as Mintpress News, it was founded by James Le Mesurier - described as a “private security specialist” with a background in British military intelligence, and a product of Sandhurst.
The American Herald Tribune quotes UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter:
… the organisational underpinnings of the White Helmets can be sourced to a March 2013 meeting in Istanbul between a retired British military officer, James Le Mesurier - who had experience in the murky world of private security companies and the shadowy confluence between national security and intelligence operations and international organisations - and representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Qatari Red Crescent Society. Earlier that month, the SNC was given Syria’s seat in the Arab League at a meeting of the league held in Qatar ….
The White Helmets function as an effective propaganda arm of the anti-Assad movement … With their training, equipment and logistical sustainment, underwritten exclusively by donations from western governments (primarily the US and UK), the White Helmets serve as a virtual echo chamber for American and British politicians and officials.7
According to Mintpress, “In 2008, Le Mesurier was appointed to the position of principal at Good Harbor Consulting, chaired by Richard A Clarke - a veteran of the US national security establishment and the counter-terrorism ‘tsar’ under the Bush and Clinton administrations.”
In 2014, he was portrayed as someone who wanted to put his military training to good use in an exclusively peaceful way to the benefit of civilians: “the idea of being a civilian carrying a weapon and guiding a convoy in a conflict zone - that leaves me cold.”8
But back to 2018. According to the Wall Street Journal, Israel has secretly been funding anti-government rebels in Syria - in particular in the border area,
to create and maintain a buffer zone populated by friendly forces. Syrian fighters told the paper that the IDF funds their wages and the purchase of weapons and ammunition. While serving as defence minister (2015), Moshe Avalon confirmed that in return for Israeli humanitarian aid, the rebels kept radical anti-Israel militias like Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusrah away from the border.9
All this makes Peter Hitchens’ article in the Daily Mail about how the ‘peace group’ was saved more plausible:
despite the defeated rebels being Islamist jihadi fanatics, they were mysteriously allowed to cross into Israel so that they could escape to Jordan. Israel? Such people normally regard Israel with violent hatred, a feeling Israel returns with interest. As far as I can discover, other defeated groups of Syrian rebels and their hangers-on have been bussed under safe conducts to the rebel-held north of Syria, under Turkish and Russian supervision. Why not this time?
Later, the Jordanian government revealed that some of them would now be resettled in Britain. Its spokesman announced that Britain, Germany and Canada made a “legally binding undertaking” to resettle them “within a specified period of time” due to “a risk to their lives”. Legally binding, eh?
… What was this risk? What were they so worried about? Why do they need to come to Britain when the whole Arab Muslim world must presumably long to welcome these glorious, self-sacrificing heroes? For, according to the foreign office, and many others, the ‘White Helmets’ are the good guys.10
And now it has been widely reported that the US-backed Syrian Kurds, the Syrian Defence Forces and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), have agreed a “roadmap” with the Assad government, paving the way for a “decentralised Syria”.
It seems that the Kurds, having allied themselves with US imperialism in Syria, found themselves the victims of strategic alliances between the west and Turkey. When Turkey attacked Kurdish forces in the Syrian Kurdish city of Afrin, the US did nothing to support its former allies, leaving the Kurdish groups no alternative but to do a U-turn, seeking a deal with their former enemy, Bashar al-Assad.
As for the SDC, it announced that following discussion with the government in Damascus, it had decided to “form committees on various levels” with a view to entering into negotiations to “end violence”.11
No doubt it is the fear of further Turkish attacks that has forced Syrian Kurds to sign the ‘peace deal’. But it is unlikely that the Syrian government will grant them autonomy and this agreement could well be short-lived. According to Sihanouk Dibo, an advisor to the main Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), future negotiations on autonomy will be “long and arduous, because the Damascus regime is very centralised”.12
This is all the politics of despair, so familiar to Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria: first relying on US ‘air support’, hoping for western intervention to win independence, but ending up victims of Turkey’s anti-Kurdish expansionism. And the White Helmets are part of this story too. A day after the Turkish occupation of Afrin, they were filmed, working hard for the “establishment of peace” in the Kurdish area!
So who is responsible for all this misinformation about Syria and the White Helmets? It is not social media and in this case it is not Russia. The culprits are the official media organisations of the west, which are deliberately spreading fake news.
Anyone with an iota of intelligence would have known that the White Helmets are not an ‘independent group’ of selfless humanitarian volunteers, as portrayed by sections of the media and repeated by some deluded leftwing groups. And, despite all the publicity, we are left with more questions than answers.