Interview with Fr. Benedict Keeley ━ The European Conservative

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Interview with Fr. Benedict Keeley ━ The European Conservative

Father Benedict Keeley is a Catholic priest incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. A native of London and ordained in Canterbury, England, in 1994, Father Ben devotes his priestly ministry to helping and interceding for persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East. He founded, a charity based in Stowe, Vermont, and divides his time between the US, the UK and the Middle East, speaking, preaching and writing about the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. He has visited war-torn Iraq numerous times since 2015 and visited Syria and Lebanon, where his charity supports a number of family businesses. As migration across the Mediterranean has increased in recent months amid an exchange of drone strikes between the US and Iran over Syrian soil, The European conservative contacted Fr. Keeley to review the humanitarian situation in the Middle East.

When an Iranian drone strike killed an American contractor and wounded eight American soldiers in Syria in late March, it suddenly brought the war-torn country back into the West’s consciousness, at least for a brief moment.

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former adviser to former US President Ronald Reagan, writes for The American Conservative“Why are we still in Syria?”

Bandow criticized both the Obama and Biden administrations for their commitments to keep troops in Syria, but instead of slandering former President Donald Trump, he blamed Trump’s decision to keep the 900-strong force in the country on his opponents, who “ they were never Trump.” Bandow never once brought up the “o” word — oil: Trump’s candid admission of why nearly a thousand American boots had to stay on the ground in Syria.

Fr. Benedict Keely does not fall for such red herrings.

Syria is currently experiencing an almost forgotten humanitarian crisis, largely driven by ongoing economic sanctions exacerbated by the economic collapse of its neighbor Lebanon. Fr. Ben, who has been on the ground in both Syria and Lebanon, agreed to discuss the situation in Syria and the surrounding region.

“They are occupying the oil fields. They are stealing the Syrians’ oil,” he said in an interview with The European conservativeexplaining why US troops are still in Syria and standing close enough to US contractors that both would be hit in the same attack.

On a geopolitical level, indeed, the US base in Syria that was targeted by Iran is in the Al-Omar oil field. As Syria’s largest oil field, it produced 25,000 barrels of crude oil per day before the civil war. The Islamic State took over the oil fields around 2014 and managed to keep the oil flowing, generating good income for the militants. US forces then defeated Russia in the oil fields in 2017. Infrastructure was damaged, but local Kurdish allies were able to keep the oil fields producing and earn the subsequent revenue, often by selling to the Assad regime.

In 2019, President Donald Trump cut all but 900 troops, explaining to his constituents that he couldn’t bring all the boys home because the US had to “secure the oil.” The US has embargoed Syrian oil since 2011, but in 2020 US company Desert Crescent Energy was granted an exemption from sanctions to exploit the oil field – again to ensure that neither Assad nor Russia can benefit from the oil .

The winter of 2021-2022 marked another slide into destitution for most of the country. Fuel was so scarce that many resorted to burning garbage in their homes. Since then, the country has only edged closer to the precipice of starvation and hypothermia, according to Keely.

Keeley is neither a military nor a foreign policy expert, but rather a UK-based Catholic priest and founder of, a charity that supports Christians in the Middle East to help them stay in their beloved homeland. He is in close contact with ordinary people in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq and regularly travels to places in the Middle East.

Furthermore, he is constantly and sadly amazed at how oblivious, if not ignorant, Westerners are of the plight of the region.

“The situation in Syria is appalling. If anything, things are worse in Syria,” Keeley said of the current situation. “Not everyone has everything.”

In another example of worsening, cholera outbreaks began in late 2022.

This is the poverty bomb dropped on the country by the economic sanctions imposed by the West, Keeley said, citing comments late last year by papal nuncio Cardinal Mario Zenari. Zenari did not specifically mention the sanctions, but compared the country’s poverty to bombs and warned that hope in the country was dying. Earlier in 2023, the three Patriarchs of Damascus specifically called for an end to sanctions against the country.

“Some say the patriarchs are in league with the regime,” Keely said. “But they are not; they think about the people. They are the ones who suffer from the sanctions” – sanctions that the EU renewed in May 2022. The sanctions are not just about oil, but about Syria’s access to all kinds of other markets and goods.

Now, as migrants and asylum seekers once again pile up at Europe’s land and sea borders, it is a sobering reminder of the ripple effects of geopolitics.

In Iraq, torn apart by the US invasion, which also involved some European countries, the Christian population has fallen from 1.5 million to about 50,000, Keely said, citing statistics from the country’s Catholic Church. The Christians have left, along with millions and millions of other Iraqis.

“They went to the countries that would take them – Canada, Australia, Sweden,” he said.

Lebanon is now suffering mass exodus from a failed state and economic collapse.

“The same thing is happening in Lebanon. Everybody leaves,” Keeley said.

“The Middle East is falling apart. At some point there has to be a solution,” he insists, of the ultimate destructive intervention in these countries by the West and other nations.

The destruction of these countries is directly related to the large influx into Europe of various African immigrants and refugees in the last decade, which is at some level problematic for European countries. Not only are millions of Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis and Pakistanis seeking to rebuild their lives in Europe, but the three failed states of Lebanon, Syria and Libya were once happy hosts to many people from sub-Saharan Africa. This is now impossible, pushing more sub-Saharans to make their way to Europe.

It seems likely that not only the US but also Europe is determined to maintain its disastrous foreign policy course in the region. As well as renewing sanctions on Syria in May 2022, the EU has even considered putting boots on the ground in Libya, according to a document seen by A politician. Like Syria, Libya holds resources that Europe desperately wants, while also being the stage for the rivalry, if not proxy war, between Russia and the West and a staging point for migrants to cross the Mediterranean.

In February, Italian energy giant Eni and Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) signed an $8 billion investment deal to explore underwater gas fields mainly for export to Europe, under the approving gaze of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Fayez al-Sarraj, the leader of the recognized by the UN Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

But Libya is still not completely at peace since the NATO-backed ouster of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Despite a supposed truce, violence erupted in Tripoli in August 2022 between rivals for control of the country, while European countries Russia and Turkey all have a stake in Libya, with their interests often at odds.

With the world’s attention on Ukraine, it’s easy to forget the drama unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa, the suffering of the people who live there, and the stage it sets for important European issues from immigration to energy.

Keely visited Beirut last June, and before leaving he told a man he thought well informed of his forthcoming journey. The man wished Keeley a happy holiday, which surprised the priest since most of the country doesn’t even have electricity anymore and even the capital only has it for an hour a day.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t acknowledge.

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