Patrick Henningsen is a writer, investigative journalist, filmmaker, and founder of the news website 21stCenturyWire.com. A graduate of California State University at San Luis Obispo, Mr. Henningsen has appeared on various news outlets. He has made many trips to the Middle East and is planning to visit Syria to investigate various issues. In 2003, he was one out of a million participants who took to the streets protesting the war on Iraq. Patrick is also active in the international peace movement. While Mr. Henningsen was attending the Sixth International Conference in Support of Palestine, in Tehran, I sat down with him to hear his opinions on Palestinian issues, Iran's support of Palestine, the Syrian crisis and who should be held accountable for it. The following is the full transcript of an exclusive interview with Patrick Henningsen for Khamenei.ir:
by Setareh Sadeqi*
You were an invitee to the Sixth International Conference in Support of Palestine held in Tehran. How did you find the conference?
The conference was very high level, with high delegates from all over the world. The issue of Palestine is of course an intense issue. People were very passionate about the issue. There are a number of reasons why I came to Iran to attend this conference. One of them is that I wanted to understand Iran’s relationship with Palestine and why the issue is such a strong issue. Now I feel like I have a better understanding of that.
Now, after you've visited Iran and attended the conference, how would you describe the relationship between Iran and Palestine?
I understand the issue of Palestine very well myself. But I have a limited experience with Iranian politics aside from the surface level. So my understanding or my feeling before I came was that Iran’s support for the Palestine issue was more of a political connection, linked to support of Hezbollah and the Resistance. But what I have learned is more than this. It’s not so much strategic interest. It’s more of a justice, human rights and moral issue. I came to understand that; it was pretty clear. This is another dimension of understanding that I think is really important. So that was very valuable [to learn.]
How effective do you think Iran’s support for Palestine has been?
It’s difficult to measure. I would say there are two ways you can look at it. Some might view Iran’s support of Palestine as problematic; in that, you know people are very passionate about the issue, a very strong language is being used and it would seem to the Zionist regime and its allies that it would seem very aggressive rhetoric; they would translate it as a talk suggesting war. That’s the potential negative perspective. On a positive perspective, if you look at how many Arab countries appear—to me—to be disinterested in the Palestinian issue. They may say they are with Palestine, but they’re actions are not really there. The heartfelt support is no longer what it was before. And among countries that do support them, Lebanon has a hard situation because it’s carrying the big burden of lots of refugees. So Lebanon is just surviving with the issue. Syria is under tremendous pressure right now with the war and that reduces its ability to be more of an advocate for Palestine right now. So the fact that Iran is so committed to supporting them, I think if Iran wasn’t [supporting Palestine], there wouldn’t be anybody who would. I know Turkey has made a lot of big gestures in support and so forth, but then also Turkey is doing joint military exercises with the Israeli regime. That’s contradictory policy in a sense. I wouldn’t question the sincerity of those in Turkey that support Palestine; I’m sure they do it with all their heart. But in terms of the government maybe it doesn’t look so good if they’re allowing the Zionist state to use their airbases to do airstrikes on Syria-- which they did for at least once or twice that we know of. So Iran is the main person standing up for Palestine. I’m sure that means a lot to Palestinians to know that at least somebody is really strongly supporting them and without that they might think that they’re alone and desperate and who knows where that would lead. Not that the situation is improving any; it’s getting worse in Palestine—clearly. But at least some support is better than no support. So it’s hard to measure if it’s effective or no. Maybe it is not positive in the plus sense, but I certainly do not think it’s a negative thing although the proposed Jewish state and the United States would say it’s a negative thing to have Iran support the Palestine issue; which I think is unfair because the U.S. government don’t acknowledge that the Palestinians are suffering. They don’t have any compassion at all. For them it’s an easier political path to not support Palestine and to give full support to Israeli regime. If you go against that, you’re going to have a hard time in politics, whether you are a republican or a democrat.
What do you think of the two-state solution vs. the solution suggested by Ayatollah Khamenei regarding a one-state solution via referendum?
I call the two state solution the road map to nowhere. From Oslo right up until maybe a year or two ago, the two-state solution was still seen as some kind of viable option. However this year has been the first year in the US conversation that we are hearing talk of the one-state solution; which opens up the possibility of having a real debate about what is that one state going to look like, whereas before that was not happening. I’ve always argued that a two-state solution is a rip-off for the Palestinians because they still have no control over their water, electricity, airspace, the telecommunications, internet portal into the country, they don’t have a port, they don’t have the right to draw for the gas which is off the coast in Gaza—plenty of gas. So they don’t have any means of supporting their country. Even if they did give them a state, it would not be much of a state. The US-backed Zionist regime would want to control the borders for “security reasons”. It would never happen. The reason it would never happen is that if Palestine is ever recognized as a sovereign nation state, they would then have access to the international criminal court and they would sue Israel; there would be unlimited amount of suits and complaints or everything that has happened so far; unless Israel negotiates that they have immunity and that’s not going to happen. So this idea of the two-state solution I don’t think it was ever possible in the first place; although people tried to pursue that solution, in reality I don’t think it was ever practical. At this conference I heard some of the Iranian leaders and delegations suggested that the one-state solution is really the way forward and I heard this from other people, too. Overall I think this is positive and Iran is leading this dialogue in a constructive way it would be good for their delegation on this issue. Hopefully there is a consensus by all parties that the first step might be a Palestinian referendum. The referendum [suggested by Ayatollah Khamenei] is a good first step. Actually it’s the necessary first step. In the “international community” they talk about democracy, well, the referendum would be a first good step towards democracy. Let the people have a chance to find out what they want.
How do you think the Zionist regime is benefiting from the war on Syria? Whose hands do you think are behind the Syrian crisis?
I think the Syrian conflict is the best thing that has ever happened to Israel in the last five years, but it’s the worst thing for Palestine; because it took Palestine off of the international agenda, to the back of the list; in fact not even on the front page anymore. All the media energy, all the focus, all the attention and diplomacy has been centered around Syria. This is very very bad for the Palestinians. The Zionist regime benefits from this automatically because the world is now looking at Syria and Israeli regime can get away with building new settlements while no one is going to take much notice. This is what they’ve done over the last many decades: when something is going on here, they start building over there, pushing in gradually into the occupied territories. That’s the main beneficiary.
Who else do you think is benefiting from the war on Syria?
I would say Turkey would be the number one beneficiary. You take a city like Aleppo where over 1200 factories were dismantled; everything was taken out and moved Syria; so the whole manufacturing sector of Aleppo—which was one of the Middle East’s best industrial centers. About 90% has been dismantled in the last five years. That is by design. That was targeted for specific reason: to cripple the Syrian economy. So a lot of this heavy industry and machine equipment have been relocated or eluded into Turkey. Now Syria has lost its ability to export to Turkey, while they used to be trade partners. Now Syria has nothing enough to trade per se. Also oil has been stolen from Syria, has travelled via Iraqi Kurdistan back into Turkey and then for sale on the market. So illegitimate and illegal oil has been taken from Syria and sold on real markets in Turkey. So they’ve benefitted and gotten rich from this. Turkey has used the Syria conflict as well to project its military power. It has invaded Syria in two different locations. Presumingly they say it’s to deal with the Kurdish YPG and so forth but in reality they weren’t invited to invade Syria, so this is a violation of the international law. In this new world we have certain countries that fall outside of the international law. We’ve always known that it’s a selective international law enforcement but now it’s really bad. First the Zionist regime is always outside of the international law. You can have a hundred international resolutions to tell the Zionist regime to stop this and they don’t have to recognize any of them because the United States supports them. The U.S. is also outside of the international law by flooding illegal weapons, munitions and lethal items into Syria for the so-called “rebels”, with the Persian Gulf states providing the cash for that. That’s a conspiracy to destabilize a nation-state by arming terrorists which is against U.S. law as well as probably a number of international laws. So they’re outside of the law. You have a whole block of countries that are completely over outside of the international law. You can’t really have an international system like this. I think this has damaged the UN tremendously. You can add to that Saudi Arabia’s activity in Yemen which is against all international laws in Geneva conventions. It’s an undeclared war of aggression against your neighbor. That’s the reason they created the UN in the first place, to deal with the Nuremberg trials. Saudi Arabia is doing what Germany did during the WWII, worse actually. Germany didn’t carpet bomb Czechoslovakia or Poland; they invaded but they didn’t try to destroy their country. So in a way, Saudi Arabia is worse than pre- WWII Germany. The very thing that destroyed the nations’ credibility would try to destroy the UN credibility. So there are lots of problems with Saudi Arabia and the UN. Qatar arguably might benefit from it in that by destabilizing Syria, the projected future gas pipeline from Iran through Iraq, to Syria to the Mediterranean is now off and it’s not going to happen. Because Qatar might think about a competing pipeline—which is a Qatari gas pipeline—through the same route. Therefore they would require a regime change in Syria and maybe break up Syria into a couple of different federal states in order to facilitate that in ten or fifteen years.
Where do you think the situation in Syria is leading to? Which countries do you believe will come out of this as beneficiaries?
In an indirect way, I believe that Russia has also benefitted from the war in the way that they’ve shown they’re able to intervene in a conflict legally invited by the Syrian government and be effective in achieving military objectives whereas the U.S. has not been effective in achieving what they claim is their objective: to defeat ISIS. The U.S. air force has not managed to make any dent in Raqqa or any of the other places in Syria. All the ‘rebel’ groups are using US weapons to some degree, munitions, bullets, TOW missiles—thousands of TOW missiles have been supplied by the U.S. to the ‘moderate rebels’ which aren’t very moderate. They’re terrorists. US had benefitted in terms of weapons sales for the US defense contractors; they have done well out of it. Good for them and bad for Syria, bad for the people of Syria. Saudi Arabia, Qatar maybe appeared to have benefitted in that they’re projecting their influence in hegemony in the Middle East over their borders. They thought that this would work and they would overthrow Damascus government but it hasn’t happened. Aleppo was the turning point in seeing this wasn’t going to happen. So now it’s not a benefit for the GCC countries. It’s looking like a bad project that has ruined and destroyed a country and ruined the lives of many people. It helped fuel the migrant crisis into Europe. There are so many negatives.
So do you believe Syria has turned into a debacle for the United States?
Syria—to me—is a worst debacle for the U.S.; in fact worse than Iraq. In Iraq you knew what was coming. It was projected ahead of time and there was not much that could be done about it. Millions of people came out in the streets in the UK and Europe to protest that war but they just went ahead and did it anyway. In Syria it is more dangerous because what they’ve done is they fueled the radical extremist violent dangerous brand of terrorism and they’ve given them real battle field experiences and all these terrorists have learned basically how to destroy parts of countries. It’s just a terrible disaster. Perhaps they will move on to do this in different parts of the world. Even if they stopped in Syria they set up and create problems somewhere else. So this policy of backing armed insurgencies and terrorists in a country like Syria is a terrible practice. It’s illegal based on US and international law. Every single politician who is involved in this should be on trial in my opinion; because they’ve done so much damage. I can’t understand why this policy was undertaken. It’s just the most vicious, violent and terrible situation. We could lay that at the feet of Barak Obama. That’s his legacy. How many lives have been lost? How many families, schools and hospitals have been ruined and destroyed in Syria? Property, businesses, history, heritage, it’s all destroyed. US, UK, France and everybody involved should be held responsible. If no one is held accountable, it’s giving credibility to that practice and what sort of example is that setting for the future?
*Setareh Sadeqi is a PhD candidate in American Studies at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran. She is a freelance journalist, researcher and translator based in Iran.