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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/10/17

UK minister forced to resign over secret Israel meetings as questions continue to swirl

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This barely concealed fact -- it was even documented by the United Nations in 2015 -- caused outrage among the Syrian Druze population living under Israeli occupation in the Golan, as well as Druze families in Israel. It looked to them like the Islamist fighters were being patched up so that they could carry on butchering Druze relatives a few miles away in southern Syria.

In summer 2015 that anger peaked, and several ambulances carrying fighters to Israeli hospitals were attacked by Druze, in the Golan and Israel. In one attack masked men managed to stop an ambulance and beat a fighter to death. In September two Israeli Druze men were convicted of another, failed attempt to stop an ambulance. They face up to 20 years in jail.

But in fact, Israel's ties to al Qaeda groups and Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria extend beyond medical help. The UN reported that the Israeli army was seen transferring boxes to al-Qaeda groups in Syria. There are credible reports that Israel has also armed and trained al Qaeda fighters, and provided them with maps and intelligence. The strong suspicion is that Israel has forged links to these Islamic extremists to help them wear down Hizbullah and the Syrian army.

Israel has carried out more than 100 airstrikes inside Syria, all against government forces, precisely to weaken the military alliance between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, and thereby helping al-Qaeda groups. The Islamic extremists have also received assistance from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and less directly from the US.

Why was a British minister in charge of humanitarian aid getting mixed up in all this?

Creating an "alternative" government policy?

The episode has troubling parallels with events from 2011 when Liam Fox, Britain's defence minister, resigned after his own murky dealings with Israel. The official grounds for Fox's departure were that he had broken ministerial protocol by allowing a close friend and lobbyist, Adam Werritty, to attend defence meetings posing as an adviser.

But in fact, Fox's ties to Werritty were even more problematic than admitted. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador turned whistleblower, has argued that the official story about Fox was used to deflect attention from far more serious violations of government protocol.

Fox and Werritty were active in a shadowy group called Atlantic Bridge that had close ties to the neoconservatives who were deeply embedded in the administration of George W Bush. The neocons openly promoted an aggressive policy designed to destabilise the Middle East, all in a bid to help Israel.

The neocons had served as a long-standing pressure group for attacks on Iraq, Iran and Syria -- chiefly because they were seen as bulwarks against Israel's hegemonic influence in the region. In 2003 they succeeded in persuading the Bush administration to invade Iraq, unleashing a lethal collapse of central authority there.

Israel and the neocons have been trying to engineer a complementary attack on Iran ever since, and there is overwhelming evidence that they have been seeking to undermine Syria too.

The most significant of Fox's off-the-books meetings occurred in February 2011 when he and Werritty, supported by the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, secretly met Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

According to Murray, drawing on his contacts in the diplomatic service, the Israeli officials were, in fact, Mossad agents. And the topic they discussed was Britain's possible role in helping to create a favourable diplomatic environment for Israel or the US to carry out an attack on Iran.

Separately, the Guardian newspaper revealed that Fox's ministry had drawn up detailed plans for British assistance in the event of a US military strike on Iran. That included allowing the Americans to use Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian ocean, as a base from which to launch an attack.

Unnamed government officials told the Guardian Fox had been pursuing an "alternative" government policy. Murray, more directly, suggested that Fox, Werritty and Gould had conspired in a "rogue" foreign policy towards Iran, against Britain's stated aims.

Although Fox was forced to resign over his links to Werritty, he was quickly rehabilitated once May became prime minister. He was appointed secretary of state for international trade last year.

With fitting irony, Patel was on a trip to Africa with Fox when she was called back to the UK as the scandal deepened. Under pressure from an embattled May, she has resigned.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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