Is the enemy of Assad the friend of the Syrian opposition?

Reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria have left the Syrian opposition in a bit of a PR bind. As FP's Blake Hounshell wrote on Saturday:

The regime will seek to exploit the raids to tie the rebels to the Zionist entity, after spending two years painting them as an undifferentiated mass of "terrorist gangs."...

But the propaganda can cut both ways. The rebels can point to the Israeli attacks as yet more evidence that Assad's army is for attacking Syrians, not defending the country.

So how are the Syrian rebels reacting? "Many Syrian rebels welcomed the attack, even if it was from a most unlikely source -- an Israeli airstrike against their common enemy, President Bashar al-Assad's regime," reports NBC News, which caught up with one Syrian rebel in Damascus over Skype. "Even though the raid was from Israel, Syria's decades-old foe, it lifted the opposition's spirits," the fighter observed. 

But while some individual rebels may be grateful to Israel, the fractured opposition's official line has been to denounce Israeli intervention.

The leadership of a group calling itself the Islamic Brigade of Aleppo, for instance, released a video angrily condemning Israel's assistance. And the Free Syrian Army quickly dismissed the claims of a Syrian rebel who, according to the group, praised the attacks on Israel's Channel 2. "The leadership of the FSA has traditionally considered Israel an enemy and will continue to do so until the complete liberation of the occupied lands," the mainstream rebel force said in a statement released on its Facebook page

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition, the internationally recognized opposition umbrella group, adopted a somewhat conspiratorial tone in its statement on the alleged Israeli attacks, hinting that the assault may have done more harm than good for the opposition:

The Syrian Coalition is suspicious of the timing of this attack. These strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast. It is not unlikely that as a result of these attacks, and world distraction, more crimes will be committed. 

For their part, the Israelis have made it clear that any actions they took were not a show of support for the rebels but rather an effort to prevent Iran from arming Hezbollah. But with Israeli officials hinting that this is not the last military action it will carry out in Syria, it looks like there will be more opportunities to make sense of what exactly Israeli involvement will mean for Syria -- and who, if anyone, will benefit.



Is Starbucks imposing its own sanctions on Iran?

Iran's English-language, state-sponsored media service PressTV may have stumbled onto something, in spite of itself. An article published Thursday cites a bizarre YouTube rant by financial analyst and PressTV contributor Mike Stathis (author of recent articles "Jewish Mafia tied to death of America" and "Zio-Saudis use petrodollar to wage war," which are as unhinged as their titles suggest), in which he accuses Starbucks of blocking PressTV's website but not, for example, pornographic websites.

The YouTube video, which PressTV's article does not link to, lays out Stathis's conspiratorial theory, which is that Starbucks is censoring PressTV's site as part of an effort by a hypothetical Jewish cabal to control U.S. opinion. Stathis has some unkind things to say about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and investment guru Peter Schiff (no, he does not connect those dots beyond "they're both Jewish"; yes, it's just as nonsensical in the video). And he takes a break from his rant to talk to a pornographic webcam recording he claims he's accessing from a Starbucks. The whole thing is strange and uncomfortable to watch, and not terribly work appropriate. I can't say I recommend it.

Here's the thing, though: Stathis is on to something. On Friday, I walked across the street to Starbucks. Sure enough, PressTV's website wouldn't load. In an effort to find another website that wouldn't load (and probably put myself on a few watch lists), here are some other sites I tried: Iran's other English-language state news agency Fars, the Syrian Arab News Agency, Russian propaganda machine Pravda, white supremacist web forum Stormfront, and PornHub, which is exactly what it sounds like. They were all accessible -- at the glacial speed of coffee shop Wi-Fi, but accessible. I walked two blocks to another Starbucks. Once again, PressTV gave me an error message, while Stathis's crazy YouTube video loaded without a hitch. Same thing at a third Starbucks. Back here at the FP office: PressTV's site loaded, no problem.

When reached for comment, Laura Mill, a spokesperson for Starbucks, told FP, "We do not filter our content or websites that can be accessed in our stores in the U.S. There're some global nuances, but in the U.S. there's no filtering." IT specialists at Starbucks told her the site might be blocked by the Internet service provider.

Starbucks's Wi-Fi is provided by AT&T, which did not reply to a request for comment by press time. But PressTV was easily accessible on the protected Wi-Fi network at the AT&T store across the street from one of the Starbucks locations I visited Friday. Starbucks's Wi-Fi also has AT&T terms and conditions that users agree to when logging in. And buried in the fine print, AT&T passes the buck back to Starbucks:

The owner or operator of the Location may have implemented URL filtering or other content filtering services which block access to certain websites or content while at the Location ('content filtering').

As it happens, AT&T's terms and conditions protect it from liability for just about any disruption in service you can imagine (and a few that you probably didn't think of):

AT&T will not be liable for any failure of performance, if such failure is due to any cause beyond AT&T's reasonable control, including acts of God, fire, explosion, vandalism, nuclear disaster, terrorism, cable cut, storm or other similar occurrence, any law, order or regulation by any government, civil, or military authority, national emergencies, insurrections, riots, wars, labor difficulties, supplier failures, shortages, breaches, or delays, or delays caused by you or your equipment.

Something does seem to be blocking access to PressTV at Starbucks, but whether that's a person or just a glitch -- and why PressTV and not, say, the Fars News Agency as well -- remains unclear. But if you think it's evidence of a grand conspiracy to deprive the American public of Iranian propaganda, maybe it's time to take off your tinfoil hat.