Tag: Al-Qaeda

SAUDI’S CUT TIES WITH CANADA OVER HUMAN RIGHTS DENUNCIATION, DESPITE MBS’ ONGOING REFORMS

In Saudi-Canada Standoff, Riyadh Should Stand Down: Jonathan Schanzer & Varsha Koduvayur, New York Post, Aug. 9, 2018— The last time Canada undertook an act of aggression was in 1999, when it declared war on the United States — in the comedic universe of “South Park,” that is.

Saudi Arabia’s Global Ambitions Leave No Room for Meddling: Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Aug. 9, 2018 — The diplomatic fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada bears watching, and not for the astonishing novelty that anyone could really take offence at our prime minister, whose prime directive is generally not to give offence.

Saudi Arabia and Israel: Know Thine Enemy: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, July 20, 2018— Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain official relations, but by the time Crown Prince Abdullah published the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, bilateral ties between the two countries had already been established behind the scenes.

‘Unite with the Devil’: Yemen War Binds US, Allies, Al-Qaida: Maggie Michael and Trish Wilson and Lee Keath, Washington Times, Aug. 7, 2018— Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

On Topic Links

Why Has Canada Spent Billions of Dollars Buying Saudi Arabian Oil?: Tristin Hopper, National Post, Aug. 8, 2018

Good Riddance to Our Ties with Saudi Arabia: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 7, 2018

Saudi Arabia Cuts Exports to Canada Over Raif Badawi: Daniel Bordman, Post Millenial, Aug. 6, 2018

US Withdrawal From Iran Deal Helping Wind Down Yemen War, Officials Say: Hollie McKay, Fox News, Aug. 7, 2018   

 

IN SAUDI-CANADA STANDOFF, RIYADH SHOULD STAND DOWN

Jonathan Schanzer & Varsha Koduvayur

New York Post, Aug. 9, 2018

The last time Canada undertook an act of aggression was in 1999, when it declared war on the United States — in the comedic universe of “South Park,” that is. But few were laughing Monday when Saudi Arabia shockingly cut ties with Canada and enacted severe punitive measures against Ottawa.

Riyadh’s gripe? A Canadian Foreign Ministry tweet criticizing the kingdom’s arrests of several human-rights activists. After new arrests last week, the total number of detained activists is now 18. In retaliation for what it described as Canadian meddling, Riyadh divested from its Canadian assets, froze new trade and investment, halted flights to the Great White North and recalled Saudi doctors and students from Canadian hospitals and universities.

The kingdom called Canada’s response an “unacceptable affront” and a direct violation of its sovereignty. That’s a valid, diplomatic response. But every other measure is utterly disproportionate. Riyadh’s actions undercut its recent unprecedented progress. Women finally got behind the wheel of their cars in June — legally. Movie theaters opened. Western visitors have lined up. The once-dreaded religious police have been effectively declawed. And many regulatory changes have been implemented to open up the Saudi economy for foreign investment.

Mohammed bin Salman, the energetic crown prince helming this vast metamorphosis, has articulated his vision to put the kingdom on the right track. He vowed to roll back fundamentalist Islam and return the kingdom to a “tolerant, moderate Islam” — unprecedented words from a Saudi leader, given the kingdom’s historical role in spreading Wahhabism. Saudi reform could have enormously positive consequences for the region. Which is why MbS, as he’s known, should be lauded every time he takes a step in the right direction, and why legitimate criticism is important, too.

Of course, the Saudis don’t always take criticism well. In 2015, Riyadh temporarily recalled its envoy to Sweden after the latter criticized human-rights violations, and last November it recalled its ambassador to Germany after its foreign minister protested Riyadh’s meddling in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia even blacklisted some German companies as a result.

Such moves may play well in Saudi Arabia, but may not have much of an impact in the current fracas. Riyadh is Canada’s 17th-largest trade partner, and total trade last year amounted to $3 billion. That may sound like a lot, but compared to the $673.9 billion that Canada traded with the US in 2017, that’s a drop in the bucket for Ottawa. Saudi institutions shed their Canadian asset holdings, but these divestments will likewise be small. Similarly, the Saudi decision to halt wheat and barley imports from Canada will not have a severe effect given that the kingdom had already been importing less in recent years.

Pulling Saudi students and doctors from universities and hospitals could have more of an impact: In 2017, Saudis made up about 2 percent of Canada’s international students. Yet yanking them from their studies undercuts the kingdom’s goal of creating a knowledge economy more than it will affect Canadian universities’ bottom lines. Whether this holdout lasts for a semester, a year or longer, it’ll deprive the kingdom of the talent and knowhow that it needs to increase private-sector employment.

Neither is Canada likely to feel much of a pinch from the drop in 75,000 to 80,000 barrels of Saudi crude that it imports per day. That’s less than 10 percent of Ottawa’s total oil imports and a gap that could be plugged by the US. But for Riyadh, that’s a loss of $2.48 billion. Perhaps that’s why the Saudi energy minister put out a quick message that this diplomatic spat will “not, in any way, impact Saudi Aramco’s relations” with Canadian customers. More concerning for Ottawa would be an $11 billion arms deal to supply the Saudis with light-armored vehicles, which it doesn’t want to lose.

But whatever pain Saudi Arabia ultimately inflicts on Canada, the kingdom may get the worst of it. Western institutional investors, actors that avoid risk whenever they can, are undoubtedly spooked. Foreign investment in Saudi Arabia had already plummeted to a 14-year low after last year’s opaque anti-corruption purge that put a number of high-profile Saudis under house arrest. Riyadh certainly has a right to contest Canada’s statements. But it must find a way to climb down from this senseless escalation. And in the process, it wouldn’t hurt to reassure its supporters that it remains committed to reform, not to mention human rights.                                                             Contents

   

SAUDI ARABIA’S GLOBAL AMBITIONS LEAVE NO ROOM FOR MEDDLING

Father Raymond J. de Souza

                                                National Post, Aug. 9, 2018

The diplomatic fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada bears watching, and not for the astonishing novelty that anyone could really take offence at our prime minister, whose prime directive is generally not to give offence. His Indian tour was ridiculed precisely because he was too aggressively ingratiating.

It bears watching because it is an indication of a possible new configuration in the geopolitics of Islam. One hundred years ago, the end of the Great War effectively meant the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had been the geopolitical expression of Islam for centuries. Since then, global Islam has sought different political expressions, the various developments of which have been a major factor in international relations.

So whatever may be at the heart of the completely unexpected fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada, it cannot be an offensive tweet from our foreign affairs ministry which, in the age of Trump, is not even in the minor leagues when it comes to offensive tweets. Somehow, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, has decided that he needs to have a fight with someone even as he presents himself at home and abroad as a reformer who is out to change traditional Saudi ways.

MBS, as he and his admirers style him, is the next generation in a state that is really a family business, and not a very good one at that. His grandfather — Abdulaziz al Saud — was the founder of Saudi Arabia, and his father — Salman — is the current king, the last of the seven brothers who inherited the throne from their father. Salman has given MBS the scope to rule now as crown prince, and in future as king. In the massive Saudi royal family, with its hundreds of descendants of Abdulaziz, MBS was not the obvious successor, but was named that last year by Salman. He has been taking the kingdom and the world by storm ever since.

The House of Saud has ruled Saudi Arabia for a century by using the country’s massive oil wealth for two purposes. Spread around the family, it keeps dynastic struggles in check, as everyone has a stake in the ongoing chokehold they maintain on the country’s resources. And spread around the population in generous public benefits, it suppresses thoughts of revolution. But both the family and the country have grown too large for indefinite high living off oil alone, so the country’s economy must become more dynamic and diversified. Hence the new economic vision and reforms of MBS.

The other element keeping the House of Saud in business has been a pact with Wahhabi religious authorities. If the latter do not challenge the former’s legitimacy as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” as the king of Saudi Arabia is styled, in exchange the royal family will permit extreme Wahhabi mores to prevail in Saudi Arabia and be funded abroad. That’s why women weren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until just six weeks ago, and why extremist madrassas are funded the world over.

That pact though prevents Saudi Arabia from leading the Islamic world. The majority of Muslims, who are Sunni, would prefer to see Saudi Arabia eclipse Iran, a Shia power, but from Egypt to Indonesia there is little appetite to elevate Wahhabism in Islam’s geopolitical leadership. So MBS is seeking both economic and social reform, which means less money to buy alliances and less power for the religious authorities. Hence he has trumpeted around the world his decision to allow women to drive. But all reform generates opposition, which MBS has dealt with by deposing rivals and imprisoning dissenters, including resorts to violence and torture.

Will MBS pull off his plan to make Saudi Arabia the new centre of global Islam? He has sought to reconfigure the politics of the Gulf States, and is open to alliances with Israel to contain Iran. When Obama was president, he went to Cairo in his first visit to the Muslim world. Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign visit to any country, the first of a three-part religious journey, completed later with visits to Jerusalem and Rome.

So there is an openness abroad to the rise of Saudi Arabia, both in economic and strategic relations. But friends abroad may embolden rivals at home. MBS needs their investment and diplomatic support, but not their meddling, from his point of view, in the security of his regime. Hence the decision to escalate this contrived fight with Canada. MBS wants a more dynamic, moderate Saudi Arabia to be the heir to Ottoman-era influence, an alternative to the militancy of Iran or the failed pan-Arab nationalism of the 1960s. But he wants on it on his own terms.                         Contents

             

                SAUDI ARABIA AND ISRAEL: KNOW THINE ENEMY

                                                         Dr. Edy Cohen

                                                                        BESA, July 20, 2018

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain official relations, but by the time Crown Prince Abdullah published the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, bilateral ties between the two countries had already been established behind the scenes. In 2015, ties increased and some were even made formal as a result of the joint effort by both countries against the Iranian nuclear program. Saudis visited Israel and there were reports that the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate on the Iran issue. Over the past two years, ties have reportedly reached new highs, with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman allegedly holding a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If there was once talk of a moderate Sunni alliance against Iran, this term has lost all meaning in the last two years. The Middle East is now divided into two camps: one made up of Turkey, Qatar, Iran, and Sudan, and the other made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. The latter camp, which has the support of the US and Israel, imposed the boycott on Qatar  over its growing ties to Iran and Turkey.

There can be no doubt that the growing ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem are a result of the hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tehran is aggressive in its attacks on Riyadh, including in the cyber arena. In 2012, a cyberattack on Saudi Arabia’s national petroleum and gas company Aramco caused unprecedented damage, partially wiping or in some cases completely destroying some 35,000 of its computers. There have also been reports of Iranian hackers breaking into the bank accounts of Saudi princes to reveal how much money they have at their disposal.

Faced with these threats, Riyadh established the National Cyber Security Authority to fight Iran and the hackers. In 2017, the authority was tasked with an additional goal – inciting the Arab world against Qatar. Abdullah adviser Saud bin Abdullah al-Qahtani is responsible for the unit, which, according to assessments, employs some 4,000 people.

The National Cyber Security Authority’s Twitter account has 400,000 followers. Employees operate online under false identities, and their job is to create hashtags that trend online. Their brief is to moderate and control public opinion and to vilify Qatar and its leaders. The agency’s Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the Al-Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“The deal of the century” is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the “Zionist entity,” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. In another tweet, the authority alleges Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase their existing hatred towards Jews and Israel.

The Saudis are thus playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Tehran is a common enemy and goad it to fight Iran and Hezbollah. At home, however, they say that the enemy is first and foremost the State of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is sadly familiar. It is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under Egyptian Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hosni Mubarak: dozens of anti-Semitic articles were published on a daily basis, but the Israeli audience was not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians closed their eyes. In the two-and-a-half decades since the onset of the Oslo “peace process,” successive Israeli governments have similarly turned a deaf ear to the vitriolic Palestinian incitement that has indoctrinated the residents of the West Bank and Gaza with implacable hatred for Israel and helped pave the road for the BDS movement. Jerusalem must not accept anti-Israel incitement, and that is also true where Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a deadly price.

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‘UNITE WITH THE DEVIL’: YEMEN WAR BINDS US, ALLIES, AL-QAIDA

Maggie Michael and Trish Wilson and Lee Keath

Washington Times, Aug. 7, 2018

Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West. Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself. These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day – and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

The deals uncovered by the AP reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in this southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. In one conflict, the U.S. is working with its Arab allies – particularly the United Arab Emirates – with the aim of eliminating the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. And in that fight, al-Qaida militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition – and, by extension, the United States.

“Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. analysis group that tracks terrorism. “However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” Horton said.

The AP’s findings are based on reporting in Yemen and interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and four members of al-Qaida’s branch. All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. Emirati-backed factions, like most armed groups in Yemen, have been accused of abducting or killing their critics. Coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaida militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters, the AP found. The coalition forces are comprised of a dizzying mix of militias, factions, tribal warlords and tribes with very local interests. And AQAP militants are intertwined with many of them.

One Yemeni commander who was put on the U.S. terrorism list for al-Qaida ties last year continues to receive money from the UAE to run his militia, his own aide told the AP. Another commander, recently granted $12 million for his fighting force by Yemen’s president, has a known al-Qaida figure as his closest aide. In one case, a tribal mediator who brokered a deal between the Emiratis and al-Qaida even gave the extremists a farewell dinner. Horton said much of the war on al-Qaida by the UAE and its allied militias is a “farce.” “It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” he said.

The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in weapons to the coalition to fight the Iran-backed Houthis. U.S. advisers also give the coalition intelligence used in targeting on-the-ground adversaries in Yemen, and American jets provide air-to-air refueling for coalition war planes. The U.S. does not fund the coalition, however, and there is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants. The U.S. is aware of an al-Qaida presence among the anti-Houthi ranks, a senior American official told reporters in Cairo earlier this year. Because coalition members back militias with hard-line Islamic commanders, “it’s very, very easy for al-Qaida to insinuate itself into the mix,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under the terms of the briefing.

More recently, the Pentagon vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaida militants. “Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the U.S. and our partners across the region,” Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email to the AP. An Emirati government spokesman did not reply to questions from the AP.

But on Monday, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that the UAE-backed counter-terrorism strategy is working. He said it had “removed” thousands of militants and deprived them of safe havens. AQAP is “at its weakest since 2012,” he wrote, adding that the UAE and its allies “have all lost troops in the fight.” Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki on Monday said the AP’s findings were “incorrect” and “not based on convincing facts and evidence.” “The coalition is waging a war on terrorist organizations in Yemen, like al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and the Houthi militia,” he said. “It continues to carry our joint operations with its friends and brothers to dismantle these groups’ capabilities.”

The coalition began fighting in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis overran the north, including the capital, Sanaa. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are determined to stop what they consider a move by their nemesis, Iran, to take over Yemen, and their professed aim is to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Al-Qaida is leveraging the chaos to its advantage.

“The United States is certainly in a bind in Yemen,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It doesn’t make sense that the United States has identified al-Qaida as a threat, but that we have common interests inside of Yemen and that, in some places, it looks like we’re looking the other way.” Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaida says its numbers – which U.S. officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members – are rising…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

Contents

On Topic Links

Why Has Canada Spent Billions of Dollars Buying Saudi Arabian Oil?: Tristin Hopper, National Post, Aug. 8, 2018—As Saudi Arabia aggressively severs ties with Canada, the two countries’ trade relationship hangs in the balance. On one hand, Canada will lose out on Saudi foreign students, military contracts and sales of wheat and grain. On the other, Saudi Arabia will lose the billions of dollars it earns every year by selling oil to Canada.

Good Riddance to Our Ties with Saudi Arabia: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 7, 2018—Most Canadians were taken aback by the hostile reaction of Saudi Arabia towards Canada after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued statements late last week calling on Riyadh to release imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife, Ensaf Haider, and three children are Canadian citizens.

Saudi Arabia Cuts Exports to Canada Over Raif Badawi: Daniel Bordman, Post Millenial, Aug. 6, 2018—Many of us have been waiting around for Justin Trudeau’s administration to finally take a moral stand on the international stage.  Justin Trudeau has always shown a knack for lecturing countries with complete gender equality on their need for even more gender equality.  However, his first real foray into morality isn’t going so well.

US Withdrawal From Iran Deal Helping Wind Down Yemen War, Officials Say: Hollie McKay, Fox News, Aug. 7, 2018    —Despite Tehran’s repeated denials of arming Shiite Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen, government and military officials insist President Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear deal has had an immediate impact in helping bring the four-year conflict at least a step toward closure.

 

 

 

 

 

CRISIS IN SYRIA: U.S. WITHDRAWL LEAVES VACUUM FILLED BY IRAN, RUSSIA- AS ISRAEL SEEKS ALLY (DRUSE) THE SLAUGHTER CONTINUES

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Contents:         

 

Download today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf

 

 

Syria’s Brutality Continues at Will: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013 — While chemical weapons disarmament proceeds in Syria, so do mass attacks on civilians. In the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the regime used sarin, it now conducts a siege, blocking the entrance of food and the exit of refugees.
Syrian Stalemate: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Jerusalem Report, Oct. 7, 2013— The dizzying events of the past few weeks, in which an imminent American military strike against Syria was delayed pending congressional approval and then indefinitely shelved by a US-Russian deal to quarantine and ultimately dispose of Syria’s massive chemical weapons arsenal, have highlighted anew a number of enduring features of modern Middle East politics.

Hezbollah Prepares for Syria Showdown in al-Qalamoun: Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast, Oct. 29, 2013— The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah is poised to launch a much-anticipated offensive to the north of Damascus in a counterinsurgency campaign that is likely to prompt hand-wringing in Washington and more Saudi frustration with Western inaction in Syria.

Druse State in Syria Could be Israeli Ally: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 29, 2013— Whether one wishes it or not, Syria may be on the way to partition or some kind of de facto break-up along the lines of ethnic division, regardless of what locals or the West want. Would such a break-up work in Israel’s favor?

 

On Topic Links

 

Mr. Kerry’s Empty Words on Syria: Editorial Board, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013

Putting Out the Syrian Fire: Rami G. Khouri, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2013

For Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Aid From Israel Comes in a Whisper: Debra Kamin, The Times of Israel,  Oct. 20, 2013

Syria’s War Viewed Almost in Real Time: Melik Kaylan, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013

 

SYRIA’S BRUTALITY CONTINUES AT WILL

Michael Gerson
Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013

 

While chemical weapons disarmament proceeds in Syria, so do mass attacks on civilians. In the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the regime used sarin, it now conducts a siege, blocking the entrance of food and the exit of refugees. This technique involves less sophisticated chemistry, but it is still effective. Aid workers report hunger and malnutrition. Through trial and error, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is finding ways to attack women and children that the world finds more acceptable.

 

Events in Syria strain recent historical comparisons. Only Syria and Afghanistan have experienced the displacement of more than 6 million people. Only the violence in Syria and Rwanda has displaced tens of thousands in a single day. A third of the Syrian population has been forced from their homes; perhaps 100,000 are dead. As the conflict grows more chaotic, it becomes more opaque. Fewer journalists are willing to risk the growing anarchy, banditry and kidnapping. And the proliferation of rebel groups, some disturbingly radical, have left many confused about whom to pull for. The result is a vast tragedy within Syria and a vast emotional numbing outside it. Sooner or later the moral sensations return, leaving historians to wonder how such atrocities were allowed to recur. But Syria is not only a humanitarian nightmare. The rise of jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war — which has dissipated American sympathy for the rebellion — has also raised the strategic stakes of the conflict. The establishment of safe havens for these jihadist groups in large portions of Syria would destabilize the region and expand the capabilities and reach of global terrorism. (Recall what creative extremists accomplished from bases in Afghanistan.)

 

The main strategic question comes down to this: Who will be able to fight al-Qaeda? America doesn’t want the job. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have spent tens of billions on training and equipment, attempting to transfer this role to their governments. In Syria, the government is brutal, sectarian and propped up by outsiders (Hezbollah and Iranian forces). Even with this support, Assad will not be able to reestablish effective control over regions he has alienated or savaged. He has shattered his legitimacy along with his country. Few would disagree on the best outcome: An interim government composed of moderate opposition elements and members of the Assad regime (other than Assad) who want to be part of a new Syria — a government that can begin to reduce violence in much of the country while going after al-Qaeda. But Assad believes he is winning and that the chemical weapons deal assures the continuation of his power. And the moderate opposition is weak — caught in a two-front war against the regime and al-Qaeda, and inadequately supported by the United States.

 

America is accustomed to arming and training friendly governments, but the training of non-state actors is a riskier proposition. It has caused serious objections in Congress and in parts of the Obama administration. The resulting indecision has further complicated matters. The Syrian National Coalition — the main opposition umbrella group — has fractured in frustration. And aid to the responsible opposition has gotten no easier with every border checkpoint between Turkey and Syria controlled by extremists. After years of inaction, America now stares some unpleasant strategic realities in the face: Six months from now, will any responsible opposition be left to support? Will America have any acceptable partners in the fight against al-Qaeda in Syria?

 

With limited leverage on the ground, American policy increasingly depends on a desperate Russian play. For a year and a half, the Obama administration has argued that Russia’s support for Assad is resulting in a disintegrating state that may transform northern Syria into Somalia or Yemen. Does this really serve Russian interests? If it was too risky to allow chemical weapons to float around in a disintegrating Syria — which terrorists might gain and use in Moscow — isn’t it also risky to allow terrorist havens so near Russia’s southern border? Wouldn’t it be better to offer Assad a nice dacha somewhere, allowing a consensus government to emerge out of peace negotiations? The argument has the virtue of being correct. But there is no indication the Russians are buying it. It is tempting — with civilians under siege, millions displaced, Congress conflicted and Russia intransigent — to conclude that engagement is pointless because things could hardly get worse. Unfortunately, things could get much worse — unless someone in Syria is readied to oppose the extremists.

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SYRIAN STALEMATE

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Jerusalem Report, Oct. 7, 2013

 

The dizzying events of the past few weeks, in which an imminent American military strike against Syria was delayed pending congressional approval and then indefinitely shelved by a US-Russian deal to quarantine and ultimately dispose of Syria’s massive chemical weapons arsenal, have highlighted anew a number of enduring features of modern Middle East politics.

 

As has been the case for more than two centuries, the Middle East continues to be an arena for great power competition and rivalry. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union inaugurated a very brief, and largely illusory, period of American hegemony, beginning with Mikhail Gorbachev’s acquiescence to the American-led 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, a longtime Soviet ally. Vladimir Putin has been determined to avoid a replay of those events, and the more recent sidelining of Moscow while another longtime regional ally, Muammar Gaddafi, was toppled by NATO military intervention. Russia’s success in staving off US military action against Bashar Assad’s regime marks its return to Great Power status. Nonetheless, this does not transform Russia into the new hegemony, or return the region to the days of the Cold War, in which local wars carried the potential of morphing into a Soviet-American conflagration.

 

The Obama-Putin deal should not be seen only in zero-sum game terms, and carries at least the potential for enhancing international prohibitions against the use of weapons of mass destruction and legitimizing military action to punish violators. The proof will be in the pudding.

 

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, nearly a century ago, no regional hegemony has emerged, which can bring order to the region, and none is on the horizon. Great Britain and France had their fleeting, but oft-difficult, moment of dominance between the two world wars. From 1945 onwards, various bids for all-Arab leadership, mostly emanating from either Egypt or Iraq, ran up against countervailing local and international forces. The recent New York Times op-ed by two influential Saudis calling for the League of Arab States to shoulder its regional responsibility by organizing a massive force to intervene in Syria and oversee a transitional regime was utterly divorced from the reality of a weak and divided Arab state system. Turkey has made a concerted bid for regional leadership during the last decade, evoking descriptions of neo-Ottomanism, but currently finds itself with limited influence and at odds with most of its neighbors. This includes the ruling Egyptian military, which detested Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support of the now-deposed Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Ankara’s early abandonment of Assad in favor of the Syrian opposition failed to produce the desired results, left Turkey with few options, and opened it up to harsh domestic criticism.

 

Thanks primarily to its alliance with the Assad family business, Iran has projected power into the eastern Mediterranean region to an extent not seen since late antiquity, just prior to the rise of Islam in the 7th century. American reluctance to unsheathe its sword against Syria was certainly noted with satisfaction in Tehran, which will be watching closely as to whether the framework for dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is translated into action. More generally, a US-Iranian dialogue on Iran’s nuclear program may soon be renewed, which could include discussions on Syria as well. The nightmare scenario for Sunni Gulf monarchies – a US-Iranian “grand bargain” at their expense – is not in the cards, but both the Saudis and Israelis will be watching closely. More generally, Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions have become far more salient than in the past. However, the prospects for a grand Sunni alliance (Turkey, Egypt and Arab monarchies) to combat Iran and its allies are as remote as the “grand bargain” scenario.

 

The Syrian state that emerged out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent French mandate lacked the requisite social and political cohesion. Hafez Assad (1970-2000) combined an iron fist and considerable political skills to stabilize the country, which became an important regional actor in its own right. But the country’s centrifugal tendencies and pre-existing sectarian and communal loyalties have now reemerged with a vengeance, and the struggle to determine the future of an unraveling Syrian polity is now in full swing. For the time being, the violent stalemate in the civil war seems likely to continue, and a path towards political resolution remains absent. Assad can breathe easier for the moment, and Syrian rebel hopes for a deus ex machine in the form of American intervention have dissolved. Tragically, the millions of displaced Syrians will continue to suffer and, even worse, the number of dead (110,000) and wounded (untold) will continue to climb.

Contents

 

HEZBOLLAH PREPARES FOR SYRIA SHOWDOWN IN AL-QALAMOUN

Jamie Dettmer

The Daily Beast, Oct. 29, 2013

 

The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah is poised to launch a much-anticipated offensive to the north of Damascus in a counterinsurgency campaign that is likely to prompt hand-wringing in Washington and more Saudi frustration with Western inaction in Syria. The battle for mountainous Al-Qalamoun-a rugged region between the Syrian capital and Homs, the country’s third largest city-will be as significant in military terms when it comes, say diplomats and analysts, as the struggle in the spring for Qusair, a strategic town in sight of Lebanon, that was retaken by the Syrian army thanks to Hezbollah, whose fighters were in the vanguard of the assault.

 

Qusair’s capture goaded President Obama in June to pledge he would arm the Syrian rebels-a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled because of the administration’s worries about the growing influence of al-Qaeda affiliates in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. The offensive will again pit Hezbollah fighters directly against jihadists and militant Islamists. The al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamist militias Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Islamhave been reinforcing towns and villages in the region to prepare for the expected Hezbollah assault. Some reports claim that as many as 20,000 rebel fighters have poured into the region, some being redeployed from Damascus suburbs.

 

A grueling confrontation in Al-Qalamoun-an area 50 miles long and 25 miles broad that runs from the rural outskirts of the Syrian capital to the Lebanese border-could see Saudi Arabia accelerate its arming of certain rebel groups that the Obama administration considers dangerous to the West, adding to strained relations between Washington and Riyadh…In a news conference earlier this month, the head of Lebanon’s pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, warned that Saudi Arabia was planning to set Lebanon alight if Hezbollah joined the battle for Al-Qalamoun. “Saudi Arabia warned Hezbollah against participating in the battle,” he told reporters. The Al-Qalamoun region is seen as vital both by Syrian forces and the rebels. Controlling Al-Qalamoun would allow the Assad regime to secure land links between Damascus and Homs and interdict arms supplies from Lebanese Sunni supporters for the rebels coming through the border around the town of Arsal. For the regime, consolidating its hold on Homs is a priority, as it represents a central link between Syria’s interior cities and the Mediterranean coast north of Latakia, a stronghold of President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

 

Hezbollah officials have been briefing Lebanese media outlets on an upcoming Al-Qalamoun offensive as part of an effort to manage and prepare their own followers, many of whom in the south of Lebanon have begun to express doubts about the wisdom of becoming further embroiled in their neighbor’s raging civil war. In Shiite areas of the Bekaa Valley, backing for Hezbollah engagement in Syria remains high, partly because of close family ties between Shiites on both sides of the border. But in the south,  rare behind-the scenes disgruntlement is growing with the Hezbollah leadership, says Hisham Jaber, a Shiite and retired Lebanese army general. He says southern Shiite families are questioning the wisdom of Hezbollah fighting fellow Muslims, even if they are Sunnis. “The family ties between the Shiite in the Bekaa and the Shiite in Syria is different than south Lebanon,” says Jaber. “People in south Lebanon don’t have such close ties with Syria.”

 

Lebanese officials and Western diplomats worry that Lebanon won’t be left unscathed in a prolonged battle for Al-Qalamoun. “This isn’t going to be a two-week battle like Qusair,” says a British military adviser to the Lebanese army. “The region is mountainous and the offensive will extend into the spring and there’ll be more chance of violent spillover into Lebanon.” A Hezbollah fighter acknowledged in an interview with NOW, a Lebanese website, that the battle for Al-Qalamoun would be different from the fight over Qusair and would take much longer “because of the nature of the terrain, which is made up of high mountains and deep valleys.”

 

An offensive in the region was predicted some weeks ago, soon after the retaking of Qusair by pro-Assad forces. Many of the rebel fighters who escaped from that battle headed to villages in Al-Qalamoun. A Hezbollah special forces commander interviewed by The Daily Beast in the summer suggested an offensive would be launched quickly but it was instead delayed, possibly because of diplomatic fallout from the August chemical-weapons attacks. FSA sources have warned of severe repercussions for Lebanon from a battle in Al-Qalamoun, involving a possible movement of rebel fighters into Lebanon and rebel rocket attacks on Hezbollah strongholds in the Bekaa Valley. In the summer, two car bomb attacks on a Hezbollah suburb of Beirut that left dozens dead frayed nerves. Last Thursday, the Lebanese security forces intercepted a car carrying 250 kilograms of explosives and clashed with Syrian rebels in the Bekaa Valley.

 

Opposition activists in Yabrud, a village in the Al-Qalamoun region, say airstrikes and artillery bombardments have picked up pace in the past few days.

 

Contents

 

DRUSE STATE IN SYRIA COULD BE ISRAELI ALLY

Ariel Ben Solomon

Jerusalem Post, October 29, 2013

 

Whether one wishes it or not, Syria may be on the way to partition or some kind of de facto break-up along the lines of ethnic division, regardless of what locals or the West want. Would such a break-up work in Israel’s favor? According to some analysts, weak Arab states with internal strife and divisions, as well as the break-up of the existing Arab state order, plays to Israel’s strategic advantage. In this way, Israel can form alliances with various ethnic groups that are able to form their own state or autonomous region, such as with the Kurds or possibly the Druse in Syria. For example, Sudan, a hostile Muslim state, divided into North and South, saw Israel immediately allying itself with the independent animist and Christian South Sudan. Israel had previously had covert relations with inhabitants of the south and other non-Muslim or other minority sects in the Middle East.

 

Having more of these minority groups upgrade their status to states or greater autonomy, would allow Israel to create more powerful relations with them. Prof. Martin Kramer, an expert of the Middle East and president of Shalem College in Jerusalem said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that, regarding the possibility of some kind of breakup of the country: “It won’t be possible to formalize Syria’s fragmentation, because no faction will ever be satisfied with its borders. More likely is cantonization, in which authority devolves to the lowest denominator of city quarter or rural area. Some sects and ethnic groups would end up with more than one canton. Rather than four or five quasi-states, Syria would look like a patchwork.”

 

It was the Sykes-Picot agreement reached during WWI that charted out how to partition the Ottoman Empire. The British and French carved up the region according to their interests, not paying adequate attention to ethnic groups. However, even knowing what we do today, and with advanced mapping techniques and technology, could one imagine a foolproof plan that would divide and satisfy the various radical Islamic movements, tribes, Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians, Druse, Kurds, and so on? But, perhaps a better partition of the region could have been possible.

 

According to a recent article by the US-based Syria expert Gary Gambill, in an article published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, he states that a separate Druse state in southwest Syria could end up being an ally of Israel. Gambill states that Syria is not “going to become a stable, unified state again in the foreseeable future, let alone a remotely democratic one. It may be time to start thinking about alternatives.” He argues that Syria has essentially already broken into separate enclaves with the Sunni rebels controlling large parts of the north and east, while the Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad controls Damascus and major cities as well as non-Sunni coastal areas.

 

The Kurds control the border area in the northeast and the Druse are concentrated in the southwest. The country’s main minorities – Alawites, Kurds, Christians, and Druse – would mostly support partition, he says, if faced with the reality of an Sunni Islamist-dominated state, which would likely persecute them. The Islamist dominated Sunni rebels reject partition outright because they see themselves as the majority that should justly rule the entire state. Despite the fact that Islamists abhor the colonial drawn borders, they nonetheless have come to accept them for the time being, on the way to their goal of a unified Muslim Caliphate. In such a configuration in Syria, Gambill sees the Druse state as having good relations with Israel and Jordan, while the Alawite state would continue to ally itself with Iran and Russia and the Gulf states would wield influence with the Sunnis. When asked about a possible alliance between a Druse state and Israel and Jordan, Gambill stated, “In both cases, geographic proximity is the main driver – any landlocked Druse statelet determined to resist domination by the Sunni Arab successor state would have to be friendly with one or both.” Additionally, he said,  in Jordan's favor is the community's close relations with the Hashemites prior to the Baath Party's 1963 seizure of power, when Sultan al-Atrash is said to have privately urged King Abdullah I to annex Jabal Druse. "In Israel's favor is the strong role of Druse in the Israeli military-security sphere," he said adding, "You may recall that Walid Jumblatt (an important Lebanese Druse leader) dallied with the Israelis back when Israel was in a position to help advance Druze communal interests vis-a-vis Lebanese Forces in the early 1980s." Kramer agrees that Jordan has a better chance of allying with a Druse entity stating, “Israel isn’t just anathema, its record of sticking by embattled minorities is mixed. Given a choice, and given the geography, the Druse will align far more naturally with Jordan.”

 

                                                                                                Contents

On Topic

 

 

Mr. Kerry’s Empty Words on Syria: Editorial Board, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2013  —According to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad now is waging “a war of starvation” against his own people. In a robustly worded op-ed column posted Friday on ForeignPolicy.com, Mr. Kerry denounced what he said was “the systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies and other humanitarian aid to huge proportions of the population.”

Putting Out the Syrian Fire: Rami G. Khouri, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2013 —The Syrian conflict has become the world’s greatest proxy war since Vietnam.

For Syrian Refugees in Jordan, Aid From Israel Comes in a Whisper: Debra Kamin, The Times of Israel,  Oct. 20, 2013— Sultana is 23 years old and very hungry. She grew up in the suburbs east of Damascus, but when her house was firebombed by an airplane belonging to the Syrian regime, she fled the city in the night along with her husband and their five children.

Syria’s War Viewed Almost in Real Time: Melik Kaylan, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013— In one video, two men in jeans and hoodies take a rocket tube to a rooftop and fire it. From another angle, we see three Syrian tanks in a row.

 

 

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EGYPT AFTER MORSI: AS SITUATION STABILIZES, HAMAS MARGINALIZED AND SINAI ISLAMISTS ATTACKED, ONGOING U.S. SUPPORT FOR BROTHERHOOD IS PUZZLING

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Contents:

 

 

Contents:

 

Egyptians Bewildered Over Support for Muslim Brotherhood: Michael Armanious, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 23, 2013—The Egyptian people are astounded. They simply do not understand the Obama Administration's efforts to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to power.

 

Egypt's Sinai Emerges As New Arena for Jihad: Maggie Michael, Real Clear World,  Sept. 4, 2013—An Egyptian doctor once close to Osama bin Laden is bringing together multiple al-Qaida-inspired militant groups in Egypt‘s Sinai to fight the country's military, as the lawless peninsula emerges as a new theater for jihad, according to Egyptian intelligence and security officials.

 

Egypt's War On Hamas: Khaled Abu Toameh, GatestoneIinstitute, Sept. 12, 2013—For the past two months, the Egyptians have been at war not only with the jihadis in Sinai, but also in an all-out war with the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. This

 

Egypt and its Patrons: Paul Mutter, The Arabist, Sept. 6, 2013 —Why does Egypt receive between $1.3 and $1.5 billion of US aid annually? "Because of Israel" is the most common answer to that question. Certainly, that is driving much of the American political wrangling over whether aid should be suspended.

 

As World Watches Syria, Egypt Launches Major Campaign Against Jihadists in Sinai: Paul Alster, FoxNews, Sept. 16, 2013—While the eyes of the world are on Syria, Egypt's military is routing jihadists from the vast and lawless Sinai Peninsula — and, according to some regional observers, showing the U.S. how to conduct a war on terrorists.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

Egyptian Military: Army To Continue Operations until Sinai Terrorist-Free: Israpundit, Sept 16, 2013
Egyptian Media Attack U.S.: L. Lavi and N. Shamni, MEMRI, Sept. 14, 2013

Egyptian Army Saves Christians from Muslim Terrorists: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, Sept. 17, 2013

 

 

 

EGYPTIANS BEWILDERED OVER
SUPPORT FOR MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

Michael Armanious

Gatestone Institute, Aug. 23, 2013

 

The Egyptian people are astounded. They simply do not understand the Obama Administration's efforts to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to power. In an effort to make some sense of the Obama Administration's policies, Amr Adeeb, a prominent Egyptian commentator, argues that the U.S. is helping the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve power, in order to turn Egypt into a magnet for jihadist fighters. The goal, Adeeb states, is to turn Egypt into another Syria or Afghanistan and discredit Islamism as a viable political movement.

 

To Westerners, this may seem like a bizarre conspiracy theory, but for Egyptians it helps explain why the U.S. government is supporting an organization that has openly declared jihad against the West, engaged in threats of war with Israel and Ethiopia, demolished dozens of ancient historic churches, set hospitals on fire, and murdered Christians in the streets. The Muslim Brotherhood has no respect for the rule of law, but the Obama Administration treats the Egyptian military that removed the group from power as a threat to democracy itself.

 

The fact is, the Ikhwan (as the Muslim Brotherhood is called in Arabic) engaged in some pretty undemocratic behavior in the election that brought it to power in June 2012. Morsi lied about his background, telling voters he worked for NASA when he did no such thing. He falsely promised to spend $200 billion on an Egyptian renaissance only to say, once he was elected, that it was just an idea. He bribed voters with cooking oil, sugar, and medicine. On the day of the election, with threats of violence, the Muslim Brotherhood stopped thousands of Coptic Christians from voting. Further, in a little known aspect of the election, many voters complained of receiving ballots that had already been marked in Morsi's favor.

 

Egyptians were willing to overlook these irregularities in hopes that Morsi would bring order and stability to their country. They hoped he would follow through on his promise to build a modern Egypt; create jobs, and put together and inclusive government and constitution. They hoped he would honor his promise to spend $200 billion on repairing Egypt's infrastructure as part of an Islamic "Renaissance Project." Instead, Morsi worked systematically to dismantle the institutions of a 7,000 year-old country. He gathered his cronies to speak openly, on national television, of destabilizing Ethiopia in a fight over the use of water from the Upper Nile River.

 

Morsi also straightforwardly stated that he was recreating an Islamic "Caliphate." He pardoned and freed hard-line Islamists — including Anwar Sadat's killers — and allowed them to have an Islamic political party, contrary to the constitution, which bans religious parties. When Morsi spoke to audiences, hard-line Islamists sat in the front row, demonstrating that these people were his political base.

 

To buttress the support of this base, Morsi released members of Gamaa al-Islamiyya, founded by the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel-Rahman, who attempted the first World Trade Center attack. This group, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, killed over 60 tourists in Luxor in 1997. That history did not stop Morsi from appointing one of its members governor of Luxor, over the objection of local residents who are dependent on tourism for their livelihood. Nor did it stop him from assigning another member of this group as Minister of Culture. With these decisions, Morsi delivered a final blow to Egypt's tourism industry. And if people are not even willing to visit Egypt, how will they invest in the country?

 

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, apparently does not want tourists from the West, even though they have been an important source of hard currency for decades. It seems Sheik Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, had asked Morsi to not allow Western tourists into Egypt, and to replace them with tourists from Muslim countries. Life under the rule of Morsi became impossible. For Egyptians, shortages of food, water, electricity, and medicine became the norm. In response, Morsi appeared on TV to ask for more time, another 10 or 15 years.

 

As Morsi started driving his country into a civilizational ditch, some of the passengers rebelled. A grassroots movement called "Tamarud" ("Rebellion") mobilized over 30 million people, who took over the streets of Egypt, and called for the removal of Morsi and his radical government. Their legitimate goal was to take the steering wheel from a group of madmen who wanted to bring about famine and take Egypt back to the dark ages. To prevent a civil war, the Egyptian army removed Morsi and installed an interim government with the support of Al-Azhar University, the most respected Islamic authority in Sunni Islam; the El Nour Party (an ultraconservative group); the Coptic Church, and a number of secular parties.

 

Predictably, the Muslim Brotherhood responded with threats and violence, especially targeting the Christians of Egypt. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood shot a 10-year-old Christian girl in the streets as she returned home from church. They beheaded a Christian merchant, shot a priest in Sinai and marched Franciscan Nuns in the streets like war prisoners. They burned Christian business, homes, and churches, especially the ancient churches in Upper Egypt. Their goal was to terrorize Christians and erase all of evidence of Egypt's Christian past. Apparently, destroying the country's hope for the future was not enough.

 

Islamists also massacred officers and soldiers from the armed forces and the police. Mohamed Beltagy, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood politician, stated in a televised interview that violence would stop when Mohammed Morsi was reinstated as the president of Egypt.

 

Many Egyptian are asking: Why are the West and United States insisting on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of democracy? It was the same type of "democracy" — merely an election, which is only a small part of a democracy — that brought Hitler to power in Germany and Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip. If Hamas is outlawed in the West, why isn't the Muslim Brotherhood?

 

What many Egyptians cannot understand is: Why is the U.S. Administration siding with the forces of oppression in their country and assisting with its transformation into a failed state under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood? These conditions all run contrary to American interests.

 

In the Middle East, a strong economy, military, and police are the cornerstones of stability. Egypt was the first Arab nation to choose the path of peace with Israel. Egypt is the nerve system of the Arab and the Islamic world. The U.S. has a strong interest in a stable, modern, and prosperous Egypt. It simply cannot be allowed to become another Somalia or Afghanistan, controlled by its own version of the Taliban.

 

Michael Armanious is a Coptic-American who has written extensively about his homeland, Egypt.

 

Contents

 

EGYPT'S SINAI EMERGES AS NEW ARENA FOR JIHAD

Maggie Michael

Real Clear World,  Sept. 4, 2013

 

An Egyptian doctor once close to Osama bin Laden is bringing together multiple al-Qaida-inspired militant groups in Egypt‘s Sinai to fight the country's military, as the lawless peninsula emerges as a new theater for jihad, according to Egyptian intelligence and security officials.

 

There have been other signs of a dangerous shift in the longtime turmoil in the peninsula bordering Israel and Gaza since the military's July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the officials say. With the shifts, Sinai's instability is becoming more regionalized and threatens to turn into an outright insurgency.

 

Sinai has seen an influx of foreign fighters the past two months, including several hundred Yemenis. Several militant groups that long operated in the area to establish an Islamic Caliphate and attack their traditional enemy Israel have joined others in declaring formally that their objective now is to battle Egypt's military.

 

Also, Sinai has become the focus of attention among major regional jihadi groups. Al-Qaida's branch in Iraq last weekend called on Egyptians to fight the military, as did al-Qaida's top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. The militant considered the most dangerous man in the Sahara – one-eyed terror leader Moktar Belmoktar, a former member of al-Qaida's North Africa branch – joined forces with a Mali-based jihadi group last month and vowed attacks in Egypt.

 

Topping the most wanted list in Sinai is Ramzi Mawafi, a doctor who joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Mawafi, 61, escaped from an Egyptian prison in 2011 in a massive jailbreak that also sprung free Morsi and more than a dozen Muslim Brotherhood members during the chaos of the uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

 

Mawafi is now believed to be in Sinai coordinating among militant groups and helping arrange money and weapons, security officials told The Associated Press. The four officials were from military intelligence, the military and the security forces and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

 

Sinai's disparate militant groups are now "on the same page, in full cooperation in the face of the same threat," Gen. Sherif Ismail, a recently retired security adviser to the governor of Northern Sinai, told the AP. He said the groups are inspired by al-Qaida, but not necessarily linked to the mother group.

 

Morsi's fall opened the way for an escalation by Sinai's jihadis. Most militants had seen Morsi as too willing to compromise in bringing rule by Islamic Shariah law in Egypt. But his removal by the military, backed by liberals, was seen as an attack on Islam. More importantly, it ended the policy Morsi pursued during his year in office of negotiating with Sinai armed groups, restraining security operations against them in return for a halt in attacks on the military.

 

Now, the military has stepped up operations. On Tuesday, helicopter gunships struck suspected militant hideouts in several villages near the borders with Israel and Gaza, killing at least eight and wounding 15 others, the state news agency MENA announced.

 

Since Morsi's ouster, more than 70 police and soldiers have been killed by militants in a cycle of attack and counterattack that has seen jihadis turn to more brutal tactics. In the worst single attack, gunmen pulled police recruits from buses, lay them on the ground and shot 25 of them to death on Aug. 19. Days later, a group of militants was killed before carrying out a suicide car bombing in a significant escalation. Over the same period, security forces have killed 87 militants – including 32 foreigners – and arrested 250 others, including 80 foreigners, according to the army spokesman's office.

 

Hit-and-run attacks take place nearly daily in northern Sinai, targeting security forces in the provincial capital of el-Arish and towns dotting the coast and the borders with Gaza and Israel.

Two militants – a Yemeni and a Palestinian – who were recently arrested in Sinai provided information about Mawafi's role while under questioning, the security officials said. Recently, Nabeel Naeem, a founder of the Islamic Jihad militant group who has known Mawafi since Afghanistan – said on an Egyptian TV station that Mawafi "is leading the militants in Sinai."

 

Mawafi specialized in bomb-making during his years in Afghanistan, the officials said. He also supervised clinics that treated wounded Islamic fighters, earning him the nickname "bin Laden's doctor" – though Naeem said he never treated the late al-Qaida leader himself. An Egyptian court in June last year accused Mawafi, along with members of Muslim Brotherhood group, including Morsi, of conspiring with Hamas and Hezbollah to orchestrate the 2011 break from Wadi Natroun prison. The court described Mawafi as "the secretary general of al-Qaida in Sinai."

 

The number of jihadi groups operating in Sinai's rugged, mountainous deserts has mushroomed over recent years, believed to have thousands of fighters. Some are mainly Egyptian, such as Ansar Jerusalem – thought to include Egyptians from outside Sinai – and the Shura Council of Mujahedeen of Environs of Jerusalem – which is mostly Sinai locals – and the Salafi Jihadi group. Among Sinai's population, there has been a growing movement of "Takfiris," who reject as heretical anyone who does not adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam. While not all Takfiris are involved in armed action, their ideology makes them an easy pool for armed groups to draw from.

 

Other groups are based in the neighboring, Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, such as the Islam Army and Jaljalat, which are believed to send fighters into Sinai. Some groups were oriented toward fighting Israel, occasionally firing rockets across the border. Others carried out attacks on Egyptian security forces, usually in retaliation for arrests or out of the deep-seeded resentment of the police among Sinai's population. In the aftermath of Mubarak's fall in 2011, a group attacked police stations and drove security forces out of the border towns, declaring the area an Islamic Caliphate. Many of them were later tried and sentenced to death.

 

Now multiple groups are overtly calling for "jihad" against Egypt's military. Several hundred Yemeni fighters came in after Morsi's ouster in response to religious edicts by clerics back home urging them to fight jihad in Egypt, according to a Yemeni security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. Al-Qaida in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered the most active branch of the terror network.

 

The Egyptian officials say fighters have also come from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria. The military intelligence official said commanders of jihadi groups are joining ranks with prominent Sinai-based militants who belong to major tribes to ensure protection and facilitate weapons smuggling. One of the most influential tribes, the Swarkas, has split between anti- and pro-government families.

 

An Egyptian military official in el-Arish said there are at least nine main training camps run by jihadists in Sinai, hidden in villages controlled by allied tribes or in mountainous regions. Ismail el-Iskandarani, a researcher at the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic rights who writes extensively about Sinai, says it's hard to pin down the number of militants or camps because local jihadis hide in homes among their own families after carrying out hit-and-run attacks. "Even their relatives might not know they are involved in Islamic militancy," he said.

 

He said there is also no single leader, with small cells of differing ideologies. The situation is further complicated by the overlap of militants and criminal networks involved in smuggling, sometimes with the involvement of corrupt police officials. "Different security agencies are meddling in making it hard to tell who is doing what," he said.

 

Now international terror groups are adding their calls for jihad in the wake of the coup. In an Aug. 3 statement, al-Qaida leader al-Zawahri mocked Morsi's participation in democratic process, calling democracy "an idol made of date paste" created by secularists. He called upon "the soldiers of the Quran to wage the war for the Quran."

 

On Saturday, a leader of al-Qaida's Iraqi branch, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, also called on Egyptians to fight their army. From North Africa, the militant leader Belmoktar and a Mali jihadi group announced last month that they aim to form a jihadi front from the River Nile to North Africa's Atlantic coast.

 

So far, Egypt's military has not launched a major offensive against armed groups in Sinai. El-Iskandarani, the researcher, believes the generals are wary of a sparking a wider confrontation with disgruntled Bedouin tribes. Also, Sinai jihadis have powerful new arsenals of heavy anti-aircraft guns, rockets and other weapons smuggled from Libya. "The price will be very heavy," el-Iskandarani said.

 

Contents
 

 

EGYPT'S WAR ON HAMAS

Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone institute, Sept. 12, 2013

 

For the past two months, the Egyptians have been at war not only with the jihadis in Sinai, but also in an all-out war with the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. This war is being waged on two fronts: in the media and along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. As far as Hamas is concerned, this is a war of survival that it cannot afford to lose.

 

An Egyptian army watchtower at Rafah, along the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, April 2009. (Photo credit: Marius Arnesen) The Egyptian war is clearly hurting Hamas much more than the two military offensives launched by the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip since 2008. Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip are now talking openly about the Egyptian war, which they believe is aimed at toppling their regime there.

 

The officials admit that they were not prepared for this war from the largest Arab country, which until last June was their main ally in the Arab and Islamic countries. Since the ouster of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, the state-controlled media in Egypt has turned Hamas into the country's number one enemy. Almost every day an Egyptian newspaper runs a story about Hamas's ongoing attempts to undermine Egypt's national security, and its involvement in terror attacks against the Egyptian army.

 

Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip now spend most of their time denying the allegations and accusing the Egyptian media of waging a smear campaign not only against their movement,but all Palestinians. The media offensive has been accompanied by a series of security measures that have convinced Hamas leaders they are in a state of war with Egypt.

 

Apart from banning Hamas representatives from entering Egypt, the Egyptian authorities have imposed severe travel restrictions on residents of the Gaza Strip. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been shut for most of the time over the past two months, with the Egyptian authorities citing "security reasons" for the closure.

 

But the most drastic measure taken by the Egyptians so far, which is really hurting Hamas, is the destruction of hundreds of smuggling tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians are now in the process of creating a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt after having razed several homes and leveled land along the border.

 

These are the same Egyptians who used to condemn Israel for every military strike aimed at thwarting rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli cities and towns. All these measures have prompted some Hamas officials to wonder whether Egypt was planning to launch a military operation inside the Gaza Strip under the pretext of combating terror.

 

Hamas believes that as part of this war, Egyptian intelligence officials are behind a new group called Tamarod [Rebellion] whose members have vowed to overthrow the Hamas regime in November. In recent weeks, Hamas arrested dozens of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on suspicion of being involved with the new group, which carries the same name as the Egyptian movement that campaigned against Morsi.

 

The Egyptian security measures have thus far resulted in a severe shortage of basic goods and fuel in the Gaza Strip. Some Hamas leaders warned this week that the Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian and economic crisis as a result of the Egyptian army's measures. Until recently, Hamas leaders were careful not to engage in a direct confrontation with the new rulers of Egypt. But in recent days several Hamas officials are beginning to regard Egypt's security measures as an act of war against the Gaza Strip.

 

For now, the Egyptians do not want to admit that they are at war with Hamas, preferring instead to describe their measures as part of a campaign against terror. Hamas, for its part, has internalized the fact that it is at war with Egypt. Hamas, as it is being pushed to the wall and increasingly isolated, faces two options: either to initiate a new confrontation with Israel to create Arab and Islamic pressure on Egypt to halt its war, or to confront the Egyptian army in a direct military engagement by joining forces with the jihadis in Sinai.

 

Contents

 

EGYPT AND ITS PATRONS

Paul Mutter

The Arabist, Sept. 6, 2013

 

Why does Egypt receive between $1.3 and $1.5 billion of US aid annually? "Because of Israel" is the most common answer to that question. Certainly, that is driving much of the American political wrangling over whether aid should be suspended. The New York Times reports that during the back-and-forth among the US and its allies leading up to Morsi's ouster, Israeli officials argued against cuts, and told the military not to put stock in US threats to cut off aid. The Israelis, like the US, greatly prefer the Egyptian security forces to be in charge of the country. Whatever, the depredations of Mubarak, the Brotherhood, or the counterrevolution, Egypt is too valuable for any American leader to risk "losing."

 

But though the Muslim Brotherhood signaled it might be less hostile to Hamas or Iran than Mubarak was, in practice the former president did little to change existing policies. Under Morsi's short presidency, the Egyptians even stepped up the destruction of smuggling tunnels into the coastal strip (moreover, the Egyptians were reportedly instrumental in negotiating an end to Operation Pillar of Cloud last winter).

 

Both Israel and Egypt have many shared interests in the Sinai, especially as the security situation deteriorates. Though Egyptian pressure on Gaza is massively increasing now, it was never seriously in jeopardy under the Brotherhood given that the terrorists and criminal gangs in the Sinai were going after both the SCAF- and Brotherhood-led Egyptian state, and it served Morsi little to champion the Palestinian cause while in office.

 

The massive corporate investment in Egyptian or Saudi defense expenditures certainly contributes to Congressional deliberations against aid cuts. And while one might examine the head of President Obama, and whether his reluctance to "take sides" really suggests a desire to reduce a US commitment to Egypt, the fact that the aid has not yet been publicly cut off suggests that Washington has tacitly taken a side: that of the military's, guarantor of the status quo.

 

It was, in fact, not just the Israelis telling General Sisi et al. to pay no mind to the US law that requires all aid to be suspended to a country if a coup takes place there. It was King Abdullah telling the Egyptian generals that the Kingdom would make up for any cutoffs in economic or military aid – the latter, almost assuredly in the form of American-made weapons in Riyadh's possession.

 

Riyadh's role is extremely important in all of this, especially with respect to Iran's containment. As the CNAS think tank noted in February 2011, Egypt's strategic importance in the wider region has nothing to do with the current deployment of US forces in the country, where the only fully staffed America military station is a US Navy medical center. It instead has to do with the nightmare scenario that would threaten the US's interests in the Persian Gulf: the sudden collapse of any one of the Gulf monarchies that host the radar sites, listening posts, airfields, and weapon emplacements pointing at Iran:

 

"The United States has no military bases of its own in Egypt. Its headquarters for directing air and ground troops in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq, are in Qatar. Stockpiles of tanks, ammunition, fuel, spare parts and other war materiel are warehoused in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. U.S. missile batteries are deployed along the Persian Gulf's west coast. The U.S. Navy's regional headquarters is in Bahrain.

 

But in contingencies or crises, American forces have depended heavily on Egyptian facilities built with U.S. aid to U.S. specifications to accommodate U.S. forces as they move from the United States and Europe to Africa or westward across Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf. American nuclear powered aircraft carriers, whose jets are playing a major role in Afghanistan, rely critically on their expedited use of the Suez Canal, giving them easy access to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf."

 

Jane's Defence Weekly presented an analysis of commercial satellite imagery compiled between 2011 and 2012 to illustrate the expansion of US, UK, and GCC "conventional combat capabilities" in the Persian Gulf. The analysis highlighted the most salient points of this cooperation, which all ultimately leads back over that waterway and the Saudi desert to Egypt's own airspace and port facilities.

 

Meanwhile, the suggestion that the failure of the Brotherhood's political experiment in Egypt may be necessary for the House of Saud's survival is not farfetched. Though security concerns largely determine American actions, for the Saudis, there is also the matter of not wanting competition from the transnational Brotherhood as a mass Islamist movement.

 

While in years past, the Saudis supported the Brotherhood in Egypt – against Nasser, primarily, whose pan-Arabism and meddling in Yemen during the Cold War threatened the House of Saud's shaky legitimacy. But then the Brothers' messaging and aspirations began to appeal to dissidents within the Kingdom, as did other rival Islamist precepts, threatening absolute monarchy with the prospect of replacement. In recent years, top Saudi officials have made extremely negative remarks about the Brotherhood, most notably the late Crown Prince Nayef. Last month, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal fired a Kuwaiti preacher from his Al Resalah channel for having pro-Brotherhood leanings. As a Foreign Policy article recently noted about Saudi efforts to arm anti-Assad Syrian militias, "Saudi Arabia does not only despise the Muslim Brothers, but political Islamic movements and mass politics in general, which it sees as a threat to its model of absolute patrimonial monarchy."

Contents

 

AS WORLD WATCHES SYRIA, EGYPT LAUNCHES
MAJOR CAMPAIGN AGAINST JIHADISTS IN SINAI

Paul Alster

FoxNews, Sept. 16, 2013

 

While the eyes of the world are on Syria, Egypt's military is routing jihadists from the vast and lawless Sinai Peninsula — and, according to some regional observers, showing the U.S. how to conduct a war on terrorists.

 

Under orders from Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military leader governing Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was ousted, the Egyptian military is stepping up the fight against the growing coalition of Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other radical Muslims gathering in the massive desert peninsula. Although the jihadist activity in the Sinai could be as big a threat to regional stability as the civil war in Syria, Sisi's effort to confront terrorism at his doorstep comes without endorsement from the Obama administration, which has denounced the military takeover in Egypt.

 

"I am more than sure that the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership in Egypt were actually encouraged by the Americans — and not just in Egypt," Mordechai Kedar, a highly respected analyst of Islamic groups, and a former Israeli military intelligence officer, told FoxNews.com. "The State Department sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood because they wanted Islamists to love America. They will do anything in order to look nice in the eyes of these Islamists."

 

In recent weeks, ferocious battles have been fought by the Egyptian military against Islamists in the vast desert region that separates Egypt and Israel. The territory is meant to be controlled by Egypt under the terms of the 1979 peace agreement between the two countries, but things in Sinai were already deteriorating during the final years of former President Hosni Mubarak's rule. Then, during Morsi's brief, 12-month tenure, things became significantly worse.

 

"I have no doubt that Sinai could become a hub for terror, like Afghanistan. The Egyptian Army has finally decided to take care of what is going on in Sinai," Kedar said, "not because of Israel, not because of Gaza, not because of Sinai, but because of Egypt and the fact that the terrorism there could soon spill into Egypt itself."

 

Under Sisi's leadership the Egyptian Army is now intent on creating a buffer zone to prevent a flood of Hamas terrorists pouring in from Gaza to join the fighting in the Sinai Peninsula. Some 20,000 or more Egyptian soldiers have gone into Sinai in recent weeks and scores of terrorists have been killed, but the Egyptian forces have also sustained losses. Early Monday, a remote-controlled roadside bomb blew up a bus transporting Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. Early reports suggest at least nine casualties.

 

On August 13, missiles from Sinai were fired at the Israeli Red Sea holiday resort of Eilat, which borders the Sinai region — prompting the Iron Dome defense system to be called into action. There was also a brief suspension of flights to the popular tourist destination.

 

The Sinai has long been a lawless hotbed of militancy, where Bedouins mix with foreign fighters far from the arm of Cairo. Egypt's efforts to crack down in the region date back to the 1990s, and the Luxor Temple Massacre in 1997, when terrorist elements murdered 58 foreign tourists and 4 guards at the historic site. But since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and ended three decades of police state, the region had become even more ungovernable than before.

 

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist

 

Contents

 

 

 

Egyptian Military Spokesman: Army To Continue Operations Till Sinai Terrorist-Free: Israpundit, Sept 16, 2013—Spokesman for the Egyptian Armed Forces, Ahmed Ali, says there will be more military operations against “terrorist” strongholds in Sinai, adding there is no timeframe for army action in the Peninsula.

 

Egyptian Media Attack U.S.: L. Lavi and N. Shamni, MEMRI, Sept. 14, 2013—Since Egyptian President Morsi's removal from power, the Egyptian public and media – both pro- and anti-Morsi – have been fiercely attacking the U.S.

 

Egyptian Army Saves Christians from Muslim Terrorists: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, Sept. 17, 2013—The Egyptian military regime escalated its war on radical Islamists Monday and came to the rescue of Christians whose village has been terrorized.

 

 

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SYRIA IV “THE DEAL”: PUTIN NOW IN CHARGE, OBAMA FOLLOWING FROM BEHIND AS DUBIOUS DEAL REACHED TO DISARM ASSAD OF WMD; U.S. POLL: SEND CONGRESS TO SYRIA!

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

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US, Russia Reach Deal on Control of Syria Chemical Weapons: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 14, 2013—Russia and the United States put aside bitter differences over Syria Saturday, to strike a deal that by destroying Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal may avert US military action against his regime. The agreement after three days of talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demands that Assad give a full account of his secret stockpile within a week.

 

Syria Could Still Blow Up in Putin’s Face: Shashank Joshi, The Telegraph, Sept. 16, 2013—The deal looks like a humiliation for Obama – but what happens if it starts to unravel? Whichever analogy one chooses, the conventional wisdom is hardening: Vladimir Putin has judo-flipped, checkmated and floored Barack Obama this week with a plan to inspect and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

 

The Price of the Syria Debacle: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Sept. 15, 2013 —Even those who worried about how President Obama would handle the Syrian chemical-weapons crisis are shocked at his weird behavior, which puts the world at risk of becoming even more dangerous. To start with, he has created confusion regarding the US president’s public statements.

 

Shiites: Syria War Will Ignite End Times: Ryan Mauro, Front Page Magazine, Sept. 16, 2013 —A Lebanese reporter for the Al-Monitor Middle East news service explains that Iran and Hezbollah view the Syrian civil war not only in a strategic context, but in a prophetic one. In their belief, the radical Sunnis will conquer Syria for a short period of time and then Iranian forces will intervene on their way to destroying Israel.

 

Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria: The Onion, Sept 5, 2013—As President Obama continues to push for a plan of limited military intervention in Syria, a new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war, the vast majority of U.S. citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria.

 

On Topic Links

 

Text: Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 14, 2013

Into the Syrian Bazaar: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2013

Russia Wants Seat Back at Mideast Table: Steven Hurst, Real Clear World, Sept. 16, 2013

Across Enemy Lines, Wounded Syrians Seek Israeli Care: Maayan Lubell, Reuters, Sept. 13, 2013

 

 

US, RUSSIA REACH DEAL ON
CONTROL OF SYRIA CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Jerusalem Post, Sept. 14, 2013

 

Russia and the United States put aside bitter differences over Syria Saturday, to strike a deal that by destroying Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal may avert US military action against his regime. The agreement after three days of talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demands that Assad give a full account of his secret stockpile within a week.

 

International inspectors would rapidly get to work to eliminate all the weapons by the middle of next year – an "ambitious" target, in Kerry's words. If Syria reneges on a commitment to comply, Washington and Moscow pledged to cooperate at the United Nations to impose penalties – though these remain to be determined and Russia is highly unlikely to support military action, which US President Barack Obama has said must remain an option. Kerry said Obama retained the right to attack, with or without UN backing.

 

For Assad's opponents, who two weeks ago were expecting US air strikes at any moment in response to a poison gas attack on rebel territory last month, the deal was a big disappointment. Despite Kerry and Lavrov's assurances that the pact may lay a foundation for broader peace, they said Assad would not comply and that the deal brought an end to their battles no closer. Warplanes struck rebel-held suburbs of Damascus again on Saturday.

 

For the world's two greatest military powers, however, the Syrian conflict has chilled relations to levels recalling the Cold War, and Saturday's agreement offers a chance to step back from further confrontation. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it brings management of the Syrian crisis back to the United Nations. For Obama, it solves the dilemma created by Congress's reluctance to back military strikes that he was preparing without a UN mandate.

 

Yet many difficulties lie ahead – not least the technical challenge of enforcing a major disarmament involving complex and dangerous materials in the midst of a vicious civil war that has inflamed the entire Middle East. Kerry told a joint news conference in Geneva: "The implementation of this framework, which will require the vigilance and the investment of the international community, and full accountability of the Assad regime, presents a hard road ahead."

 

Lavrov said: "It shows that when there is a will … Russia and the United States can get results on the most important problems including the weapons of mass destruction problem." "The successful realization of this agreement will have meaning not only from the point of view of the common goal of eliminating all arsenals of chemical weapons, but also to avoid the military scenario that would be catastrophic for this region and international relations on the whole."

 

In Istanbul, the head of the Syrian rebel Supreme Military Council was dismissive of the deal, however, saying it would not resolve the country's civil war, now in its third year. General Selim Idris called it a blow to opposition hopes of overthrowing Assad and accused the Syrian president of circumventing any disarmament by already sending chemical weapons to allies in Lebanon and Iraq in recent days.

 

Qassim Saadeddine, a rebel commander in northern Syria and a spokesman for the Supreme Military Council, told Reuters his forces would not cooperate: "Let Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria," he said by telephone. A US official, however, said Washington believed all Syria's chemical weapons remained in areas under the Assad government's control.

 

Assad, who with backing from his sponsor Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies has fought off first demonstrations demanding democracy and now full-blown rebellion backed by Arab states including Saudi Arabia, has agreed to sign up to an international treaty banning chemical weapons and to submit to controls by the UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

While submitting to its inspections, he will be deprived of arms which he denies having used. But he has averted what were likely to be heavy US and French missile strikes and bombing raids that could have weakened his defenses against rebels who control large swathes of Syria, including around the capital Damascus. Despite the diplomatic breakthrough, chemical weapons only account for around 2 percent of deaths in a civil war in which 100,000 people have been killed since 2011.

 

On Saturday, Syrian warplanes struck rebel-held suburbs of the capital Damascus and government forces clashed with rebels on the frontlines, according to residents. The residents and opposition activists, asked about the deal, said that it would not benefit normal Syrians. "The regime has been killing people for more than two years with all types of weapons. Assad has used chemical weapons six or seven times. The killing will continue. No change will happen. That is it," said an opposition activist in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus who uses the name Tariq al-Dimashqi. "The most important point is the act of killing, no matter what is the weapon," he said.

 

Syrian state media broadcast the Kerry and Lavrov news conference live, indicating that Damascus is satisfied with the deal. Having taken the surprise decision two weeks ago to seek congressional approval for military action to punish Assad for using poison gas, Obama faced a dilemma when lawmakers appeared likely to deny him that – citing unease about helping Islamist militants among the rebels and a wariness of new entanglements in the Middle East after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

The weapons deal proposed by Putin, a former KGB agent intent on restoring some of the influence Moscow lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union, offered a way out. Russia has protected and armed Assad and has been alarmed at what it sees as Western willingness to bypass the United Nations to impose "regime change" in other states. Under the terms of the US-Russian agreement – a bilateral document which in itself may represent something of a landmark in the management of global affairs, recalling East-West deals of the Cold War-era – Syria must let the OPCW complete an initial inspection of its chemical weapons sites by November.

 

Kerry said Assad must produce a "comprehensive listing" of its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week. The goal, he said, was the complete destruction of Syria's chemical weapons in the first half of 2014. The framework agreement – which one US official described as having been worked out in "hard fought" negotiations with Russia – states that a UN Security Council resolution should allow for regular assessments of Syria's compliance and "in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter". Chapter VII can include military force but can be limited to other kinds of sanction. Russia and the United States continue to have different views on what level of punishment to apply.

 

When Kerry said during the news conference that the text stated that the Council "must" impose measures under Chapter VII, Lavrov interrupted to point out that it says only it "should" impose measures. "There's no diminution of options," Kerry said, noting Obama's right under US law to order military action, with or without support from Congress or any international body.

Lavrov said of the agreement: "There [is] nothing said about the use of force and not about any automatic sanctions."

 

Putin has supported Assad's contention that the sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 around Damascus which Washington says killed over 1,400 civilians was the work of rebels trying to provoke Western intervention. If Russia were "100 percent" sure of a violation, Lavrov said, it would support UN moves to "punish the perpetrators".

 

Senior Kerry aides involved in the talks said that the United States and Russia agreed that Syria has 1,000 tons of chemical agents and precursors, including nerve agents such as sarin gas and blister agents such as sulphur mustard. But the officials, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said there was no agreement among the powers on how many chemical weapons-related sites Syria has that must be inspected under the accord.

 

The US estimate is that Assad's government has at least 45 sites associated with its chemical weapons program, one US official said. Implementation of the accord, even assuming Syria complies with its terms, will be daunting. "There are lots and lots of details that still have to be sorted through," a second US official said. To inspect, secure and destroy all of Syria's chemical stockpiles by the first half of 2014 "is daunting to say the least".

 

That timeline and others in the accord "are targets … not a deadline" another said. Syria's chemical weapons are likely to be removed through a combination of destroying them within Syria and shipping some out for destruction elsewhere, the officials said. Russia is one possibility site for destruction, but no final decisions have been made.

 

Lavrov and Kerry have said they will meet in New York at the United Nations in about two weeks to see if they can push forward a long-delayed plan for an international peace conference to try to negotiate an end to the war. A drive last year for a political solution, dubbed the "Geneva Plan" and calling for a transitional government, went nowhere as Assad refused to cede power and the opposition insisted he could not be a part of any new political order. Kerry said Saturday's chemical weapons deal could be "the first concrete step" toward a final settlement. Lavrov said he hoped all parties to the conflict could attend a conference in October, without pre-conditions.

 

Contents

 

SYRIA COULD STILL BLOW UP IN PUTIN’S FACE

Shashank Joshi

The Telegraph, Sept. 16, 2013

 

The deal looks like a humiliation for Obama – but what happens if it starts to unravel? Whichever analogy one chooses, the conventional wisdom is hardening: Vladimir Putin has judo-flipped, checkmated and floored Barack Obama this week with a plan to inspect and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. For the sceptics, this was the diplomatic equivalent of polonium-210 in Obama’s teacup; Russia has sucked the Americans into a needless distraction, buying time for Assad and leaving Syria’s rebels adrift.

 

The critics have two charges. The first is that the agreement, hammered out in Geneva after late-night arms control talks reminiscent of the Cold War, is unworkable. Assad will cheat, inspectors won’t be able to operate in war zones, and the Americans will look unreasonable if they call foul. Just as Saddam toyed with UN inspectors throughout the Nineties, so will Assad hand over some chickenfeed while dispersing the crown jewels. The second criticism is that the plan might be too successful: Assad will trade off his chemical weapons for regime survival, by making himself indispensible to the disarmament effort. The United States will quietly sever what little military aid it is extending to the beleaguered rebels, and drop its insistence that Assad must go as part of a political transition.

 

Yet things aren’t so clear-cut. Russia has certainly scored a tactical diplomatic victory, but this deal – unprecedented in its ambition and timetable – could still blow up in Moscow’s face. If it works – even if only a fraction of Syria’s chemical weapons and sites are inspected and eliminated – this will do much more to degrade that capability than cruise missiles would have done. If this comes at the price of boosting Putin’s ego, that’s cheap. Inspectors will never catch every last ounce of poison gas, but so what? Remember, those missiles were never going to touch the actual stockpiles, and the strike was to be “unbelievably small”, in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s memorable and foolish words.

 

It is irrelevant that the process may take years to complete: just having inspectors inside Syria is an advance on what was thought possible a week ago. Recall, that for all of Saddam’s deception, the UN did in fact destroy virtually all of his chemical weapons by the end of the Nineties. Syria is a tougher case, because a war is raging across the country. But if Assad admits inspectors and consolidates his weapons into fewer sites, this automatically makes it harder to use them. If he does not, then he will eventually breach the agreement – and bring punitive strikes back into the picture. Providing that the US keeps the heat on Damascus – an important proviso – it has little to lose. Yes, Assad is likely to cheat. His regime developed its chemical arsenal in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons, and it will not give them up without a fight. But the United States has, rightly, insisted that the threat of force will stay on the table. The UN resolution that backs up this deal won’t explicitly authorise force, but this was never on the cards.

 

Remember Obama’s position last week. The president had lost British support for military action, was poised to lose a Congressional vote, and faced opposition from half of the G20, including Nato members such as Germany. His authority was sapped, and his options narrowed. If the cynics are right and this deal falls apart, the US will be well positioned to occupy the diplomatic high ground and renew its case for strikes. Congress will be more readily persuaded that the use of force is necessary, and even Britain – though the prospects are slim – may reconsider the issue in Parliament. Today’s UN inspectors’ verdict, reported to confirm chemical weapons use in Syria and point to regime culpability, will further strengthen the US hand. If some of Syria’s chemical weapons have already been inspected and destroyed by this time (the plan demands that inspectors visit by November), this might even make strikes easier. If Russia is intent on stringing along the Americans and shielding Assad, its plan will only buy a few months.

 

Critics are also overstating the technical difficulties involved in tackling Syria’s chemical weapons. The task is daunting, but last month’s successful inspections demonstrates that it is not impossible for inspectors to enter contested areas. Chemical weapons expert and former UN inspectors have made it clear that there are ways of putting at least some of Assad’s chemical arsenal beyond use.

 

However, in emphasising chemical weapons over conventional slaughter, has Obama given Assad a new lease of life? The text of the Russian and American agreement makes it clear that the Syrian government will be responsible for the safety of inspectors. Moreover, the guardians of Syria’s chemical weapons – the elite Unit 450 – will surely have to remain intact through any political transition if the plan is to work. The problem with this line of argument is that it assumes that a regime-shattering intervention was derailed by half-baked diplomacy.

 

But the cavalry was not coming – as, indeed, we have known for several weeks. Even as they were making the case for war, American officials were adamant both that strikes would not be intended to change the military balance, and that a negotiated political solution – via the so-called Geneva II conference – remained the US objective. With or without Russia’s gambit, the US was terrified at the prospect of Syria’s chemical warfare units dissolving and leaving their stockpiles unsecured.

 

In many respects, this deal doesn’t change much. Russia will continue to arm and fund the Syrian regime as it consolidates its rump state. The US will continue its tepid support for rebels, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar their more enthusiastic contributions. If Syria’s most obscene weapons can be taken off the battlefield, good. If not, our powder stays dry.

 

Contents

 

THE PRICE OF THE SYRIA DEBACLE

Amir Taheri

New York Post, Sept. 15, 2013

 

Even those who worried about how President Obama would handle the Syrian chemical-weapons crisis are shocked at his weird behavior, which puts the world at risk of becoming even more dangerous. To start with, he has created confusion regarding the US president’s public statements.

 

Except for Jimmy Carter, all presidents for the past century have taken care not to commit themselves to any action when they didn’t mean it. In global diplomacy, the phrase “America has spoken” carried special weight. America’s word was America’s bond.

 

Obama has depleted that capital of trust. A man who loves the sound of his voice has devalued that bond in speeches and TV appearances, setting “red lines” that slowly vanish, shouting “Assad must go” then doing nothing to make that happen and promising to arm Syrian rebels only to have the arms never arrive. And now, after waxing lyrical about “the conscience of humanity,” he has dropped everything in exchange for a ride on the anfractuous path of Russian diplomacy.

 

The second danger is the perception that Russia may have gained a veto on aspects of US foreign policy. In his New York Times op-ed last week, Russia’s Vladimir Putin made it clear his “veto” goes beyond foreign policy to include cultural topics such as the “specialness” of the United States.

Putin claimed equivalence between the USSR (“the Evil Empire,” according to Ronald Reagan) and the United States, recalling the time when “we were allies” during World War II. He forgot to mention that the USSR had been allied to Nazi Germany, switching sides only after Hitler invaded.

 

In the blink of an eye, Obama has shrunk into second fiddle to Putin. Speaking in Geneva on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a point of showing who was running the show: He said a new round of talks on Syria would start soon, with Iran and Saudi Arabia invited, to discuss transition plans for Syria.

 

The deal concocted by Moscow and bought by Obama gives Bashar al-Assad a free hand to kill Syrians as long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons. Moscow always wanted Assad to remain in power until the end of his presidential term next May. This is precisely what Obama has signed up for, since the deal gives Syria at least until next June to deliver on Moscow’s promises. The Damascus-Moscow-Tehran axis hopes to crush the Syrian rebellion within the next six or seven months and then hold fake elections in which Assad is re-elected or has one of his minions elected as president. In other words, the US has agreed to abandon Obama’s stated “Assad must go” policy in exchange for a Russian-led process. The fact that Assad is a war criminal is brushed under the carpet, a signal to actual or burgeoning war criminals across the globe to operate with impunity.

 

Whatever happens in Syria, the United States is likely to lose. If Assad’s gang keeps power, they’ll have no reason to abandon their Russian and Iranian protectors. If the rebels win, they’ll have a hard time forgetting Obama’s betrayal. The perception that America is led by a group of amateurs (some where they are only because they have risen to the level of their incompetence) is already encouraging other dangerous trends….

 

Obama’s Syria fiasco has also encouraged Iran to harden its position on the nuclear issue. In his speech at the Bishkek summit, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani tried to link the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons to Israel’s alleged ownership of a nuclear arsenal. He also said that Tehran was ready for talks with the 5+1 Group to secure recognition of “our legitimate right” to enrich uranium — ignoring five Security Council resolutions that demand an end to enrichment.

 

And in an interview Thursday, Ali-Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, said, “We do what
we want . . . They cannot do anything about it.” Tehran media report talks with Russia to help Iran build new nuclear power plants. A similar scheme that Iran signed with China 10 years ago could be revived.

 

The perception that, out of ideology or incompetence, Obama is leading the United States into strategic retreat has persuaded nations in Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, to review their foreign policies.

 

Finally, the Syria episode sends another message: While all nations can use force to impose their will (in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and occupied 25 percent of that nation’s territory), only the United States is denied that right even to enforce international law. That’s the kind of “American exceptionalism” that Obama has secured.

 

Contents

 

 

SHIITES: SYRIA WAR WILL IGNITE END TIMES

Ryan Mauro

Front Page Magazine, Sept. 16, 2013

 

A Lebanese reporter for the Al-Monitor Middle East news service explains that Iran and Hezbollah view the Syrian civil war not only in a strategic context, but in a prophetic one. In their belief, the radical Sunnis will conquer Syria for a short period of time and then Iranian forces will intervene on their way to destroying Israel.

 

The unnamed reporter points out that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is, like Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, “known for being a strong believer” in the Shiite prophecy that Iran will lead an End Times war against Islam’s enemies. At that time, the Mahdi will “reappear” and defeat the infidel.

 

According to the author, Iran and Hezbollah rely upon a book of prophecies called Al-Jafr to guide them. It was passed down to Jafar al-Sadiq, for whom the Jafari school of Shiite jurisprudence is named after. Teachers of this book say that the Syrian leader will be killed in a civil war during the End Times.

 

A Sunni leader will take over Syria and persecute Shiites, Allawites and Christians. The persecution will continue until an Iranian army invades Syria via Iraq, killing this Sunni leader on the way to capturing Jerusalem. Once Jerusalem is taken, the Mahdi will appear. Interestingly, in a modern context, this means that Hezbollah is fighting to preserve the regime of a man (Bashar Assad) that they believe will be killed.

 

Keep in mind, the Jafari school of jurisprudence is mainstream Shiite doctrine. There’s bound to be disagreement over the interpretation of prophecy, but these are not the beliefs of an isolated cult. In July 2010, a senior Iranian cleric said that Khamenei told his inner circle that he had met with the Mahdi, who promised to “reappear” during his lifetime.

 

A very similar eschatological viewpoint is articulated in a 2011 documentary produced by the office of then-President Ahmadinejad. The film, titled The Coming is Upon Us, does not predict a Syrian civil war but shares many of the same details articulated by the Al-Monitor reporter in Lebanon.

 

A critical point of convergence between the two sources is about Saudi Arabia’s role in prophecy. Both agree that the death of Saudi King Abdullah will be a major trigger. In fact, this event is so central to the Iranian film that it opens up with the statement, “Whoever guarantees the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, I will guarantee the imminent reappearance of Mahdi.”

 

What’s amazing about this film is the high level of detail of the discussed prophecies. It is easy to see why, if you were a devout Muslim (especially a Shiite), you would believe that the Mahdi’s return is near. The arrival of Jews in Palestine from the West and the birth of the state of Israel, the conquering of Arabia by the Al-Sauds and the global dominance of the U.S. and the West are all clearly foretold, it claims. An Allah-blessed revolution will take place in Iran led by a man based out of Qom. The narrators point to the 1979 Islamic Revolution as a clear fulfillment. After this happens, a series of vague and specific “signs” are to follow.

 

The most specific “signs” are related to Iraq. The Iranian video claims that prophecy requires the invasion of Iraq by infidels from the south with heavy use of aircraft, as happened in 2003. The infidel will cause tribal divisions and the evil dictator of Iraq (Saddam), will be killed. Other signs include the Westernization of Muslim youth (with the 2009 Green Revolution offered as evidence), the Iran-backed Houthi rebellion in Yemen and the overthrow of Egyptian President Mubarak.

 

“The preparer,” named Seyed Khorasani, will rule Iran at this decisive point in history. He will come from Khorasan Province, his strong army will have black flags and there will be a “sign” in his right hand. The filmmakers point out that Khamenei fills these requirements and has a disabled right hand.

Yamani will coordinate the offensive against the infidel with Khorasani that trigger the Mahdi’s reappearance. The film argues that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is his incarnation. Yamani will have a Yemeni background and it says that Nasrallah’s ancestors came to Lebanon from Yemen.

 

Khorasani/Khamenei’s military leader is given the name of Shoeib-Ebne Saleh. The film allegedly produced by Ahmadinejad’s office predictably says he is the incarnation of this figure. However, any military commander under Khamenei can arguably be him.

 

Analysis of these prophecies helps us see the future through the eyes of Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. Iran and Hezbollah are first focused on assembling an anti-Western Arab coalition. The Coming is Upon Us film specifically cites the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a step towards this, even if Iran and the Brotherhood are on opposite sides in Syria.

 

This stage includes fomenting internal strife in Bahrain, a Shiite-majority country governed by a pro-American Sunni monarchy. A representative of Khamenei said in 2011 that Bahrain presents “the best opportunity to begin setting the stage for the emergence of the 12th imam, our Mahdi.”

 

The development that Iran is eagerly awaiting is the death of the Saudi King Abdullah, which will trigger internal strife throughout Saudi Arabia. It is probable that this is when Iran hopes to begin a rebellion in the Shiite-majority Eastern Province where 90% of the country’s oil is.

 

After Assad is killed and replaced by a vicious Sunni leader, Iranian forces are to invade Syria from Iraq. The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the Iraqi government’s slide into the Iranian orbit are undoubtedly seen as dramatic “signs.” Once an Arab coalition is formed and Syria is invaded, Jerusalem is to be captured by the Iranian-led forces. At this point, the Mahdi is to reappear and final victory will come that includes a Nasrallah-led march to Mecca.

 

The Al-Monitor report appears fanciful until all of these pieces are put together. Once they are, it is easier to understand why the Iran-Hezbollah bloc is confident of victory. “According to Shiites who believe in this [Al-Jafr] book, mainly Khamenei and Nasrallah, there is one possible explanation. The signs of reappearance of Mahdi are being successfully unveiled, and the Great War with Israel and the disbelievers is just around the corner,” writes the Lebanese reporter.

 

The Shiite Islamists’ End Times worldview does not necessarily result in recklessness. They do consider military strength and geopolitical realities, but the objectives of those calculations are to fulfill prophecy. Any policy debate that takes place among them is not about whether to pursue the war that summons the Mahdi, but how.

Contents

 

HUMOUR: IN A POLL, MAJORITY OF AMERICANS
APPROVE OF SENDING CONGRESS TO SYRIA

The Onion, Sept 5, 2013

 

As President Obama continues to push for a plan of limited military intervention in Syria, a new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war, the vast majority of U.S. citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria.

 

The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria—including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and, in fact, all current members of the House and Senate—is the best course of action at this time.

 

“I believe it is in the best interest of the United States, and the global community as a whole, to move forward with the deployment of all U.S. congressional leaders to Syria immediately,” respondent Carol Abare, 50, said in the nationwide telephone survey, echoing the thoughts of an estimated 9 in 10 Americans who said they “strongly support” any plan of action that involves putting the U.S. House and Senate on the ground in the war-torn Middle Eastern state. “With violence intensifying every day, now is absolutely the right moment—the perfect moment, really—for the United States to send our legislators to the region.”

“In fact, my preference would have been for Congress to be deployed months ago,” she added.

 

Citing overwhelming support from the international community—including that of the Arab League, Turkey, and France, as well as Great Britain, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Japan, Mexico, China, and Canada, all of whom are reported to be unilaterally in favor of sending the U.S. Congress to Syria—the majority of survey respondents said they believe the United States should refocus its entire approach to Syria’s civil war on the ground deployment of U.S. senators and representatives, regardless of whether the Assad regime used chemical weapons or not.

 

In fact, 91 percent of those surveyed agreed that the active use of sarin gas attacks by the Syrian government would, if anything, only increase poll respondents’ desire to send Congress to Syria. Public opinion was essentially unchanged when survey respondents were asked about a broader range of attacks, with more than 79 percent of Americans saying they would strongly support sending Congress to Syria in cases of bomb and missile attacks, 78 percent supporting intervention in cases of kidnappings and executions, and 75 percent saying representatives should be deployed in cases where government forces were found to have used torture.

 

When asked if they believe that Sen. Rand Paul should be deployed to Syria, 100 percent of respondents said yes. “There’s no doubt in my mind that sending Congress to Syria—or, at the very least, sending the major congressional leaders in both parties—is the correct course of action,” survey respondent and Iraq war veteran Maj. Gen. John Mill said, noting that his opinion was informed by four tours of duty in which he saw dozens of close friends sustain physical as well as emotional injury and post-traumatic stress. “There is a clear solution to our problems staring us right in the face here, and we need to take action.”

 

“Sooner rather than later, too,” Mill added. “This war isn’t going to last forever.”

 

Contents

 

 

Text: Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 14, 2013

Taking into account the decision of the Syrian Arab Republic to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the commitment of the Syrian authorities to provisionally apply the Convention prior to its entry into force, the United States and the Russian Federation express their joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program (CW) in the soonest and safest manner.

 

Into the Syrian Bazaar: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2013—Politicians on the right and left are praising Saturday's U.S.-Russia "framework" to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons as a step away from American intervention. That is true only in the looking-glass world in which politicians are desperate to avoid voting on a military strike. The reality is that the accord takes President Obama and the U.S. ever deeper into the Syrian diplomatic bazaar, with the President hostage to Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin as the friendly local tour guides.

 

Russia Wants Seat Back at Mideast Table: Steven Hurst, Real Clear World, Sept. 16, 2013—The U.S. deal with Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons has pulled the Obama administration into deep waters: the Kremlin's long-standing drive to put the brakes on American power and to restore Moscow to its place as a pivotal Mideast player.

 

 

Across Enemy Lines, Wounded Syrians Seek Israeli Care: Maayan Lubell, Reuters, Sept. 13, 2013—Not a hundred miles from Damascus, a Syrian rebel lies in a hospital bed, an Israeli sentry at the door. Nearby a Syrian mother sits next to her daughter, shot in the back by a sniper.

 

 

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Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

SYRIA & OBAMA (& PUTIN), III – DISPUTIN’ PUTIN: THE THINGS HE DIDN’T SAY, AND THINGS OBAMA HASN’T DONE

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Contents:

 

 

Contents:

A Plea for Caution From Russia: Vladimir V. Putin, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2013—Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

 

What Putin’s Op-Ed Forgot to Mention: Anna Neistat, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 12 2013—It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Mr. Putin overlooked.

 

The Laurel and Hardy Presidency: Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2013—After writing in the London Telegraph that Monday was "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began," former British ambassador Charles Crawford asked simply: "How has this happened?"

 

Obama’s Syrian Disaster: Father Raymond J. de Souza , National Post, Sept. 12, 2013—This is how a superpower ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Syrians weep. Assad mocks. Putin laughs. And Americans rub their eyes in disbelief. Who would have thunk it? The issue of Syria — yes, Syria — suddenly has unified America, Russia and even Syria itself around a common project: giving U.S. President Barack Obama a face-saving pretext to back away from his misguided, unpopular and potentially disastrous plan to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 

On Topic Links

 

Our Conflicted Commander in Chief: Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

The Putin Doctrine: Ilai Saltzman, LA Times, September 12, 2013

Obama’s Missteps on Syria Lead to Retreat: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2013

US Attacks, Syrian 'Perfidy,' and Future Mega-Terror on Israel: Louis René Beres, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013

The West’s Cowardice and Inaction on Syria Will Lead to Blowback: Terry Glavin,Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 11, 2013

The Six Steps to Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: Cheryl Rofer, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 11 2013

The Complicated Fallout of the Diplomacy Over Syria: David Ignatius, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Sept. 12, 2013        

 

A PLEA FOR CAUTION FROM RUSSIA

Vladimir V. Putin

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

 

Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

 

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

 

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

 

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

 

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fuelled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world….

 

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

 

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

 

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

 

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

 

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect. The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen non-proliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

 

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement. A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action….
 

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

 

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

 

Contents
 

 

WHAT PUTIN’S OP-ED FORGOT TO MENTION

Anna Neistat

The Globe and Mail, Sept. 12, 2013

 

It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Mr. Putin overlooked.

 

There is not a single mention in Mr. Putin’s article, addressed to the American people, of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government and extensively documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry, local and international human rights groups, and numerous journalists: deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. His op-ed also makes no mention of Russia’s ongoing transfer of arms to Bashar al-Assad throughout the past two and a half years.

 

The Russian president strategically emphasizes the role of Islamic extremists in the Syrian conflict. Yes, many rebel groups have committed abuses and atrocities. Yet Mr. Putin fails to mention that it is the Syrian government that is responsible for shooting peaceful protesters (before the conflict even started) and detaining and torturing their leaders – many of whom remain detained – and that the continued failure of the international community to respond to atrocities in Syria allows crimes on all sides to continue unaddressed.

 

Mr. Putin’s plea to use the United Nations Security Council to resolve the conflict sounds great, until you remember that, from the very start of this conflict, Russia has vetoed or blocked any Security Council action that may bring relief to Syria’s civilians or bring perpetrators of abuses in Syria to account.

 

While Russia’s proposal for international monitoring of Syria’s chemical weapons is a welcome step, it will do nothing to bring justice to hundreds of victims of the latest attack, let alone to thousands of others, killed by conventional weapons. And when Mr. Putin squarely blames the opposition for the August 21 chemical attack – against all available evidence and without presenting a shred of his own evidence – one can only wonder why Russia remains so vehemently opposed to referring Syria to the International Criminal Court, an action that would be fully in line with international law, which Mr. Putin seems so keen to uphold in his op-ed, and would enable an investigation into abuses by both sides of the conflict.

 

Finally, the sincerity of Mr. Putin’s talk about democratic values and international law is hard to take seriously when back home his own government continues to throw activists in jail, threatens to close NGOs, and rubber-stamps draconian and discriminatory laws. Mr. Putin should give more credit to his audience: Russia will be judged by its actions, both on the international arena and domestically. So far, Russia has been a key obstacle to ending the suffering in Syria. A change towards a more constructive role would be welcome. But a compilation of half-truths and accusations is not the right way to signal such a change.

 

Anna Neistat is associate director for Program and Emergencies division at Human Rights Watch

 

Contents

 

THE LAUREL AND HARDY PRESIDENCY

Daniel Henninger

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013

 

After writing in the London Telegraph that Monday was "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began," former British ambassador Charles Crawford asked simply: "How has this happened?" On the answer, opinions might differ. Or maybe not. A consensus assessment of the past week's events could easily form around Oliver Hardy's famous lament to the compulsive bumbler Stan Laurel: "Here's another nice mess you've gotten us into!"

 

The past week was a perfect storm of American malfunction. Colliding at the center of a serious foreign-policy crisis was Barack Obama's manifest skills deficit, conservative animosity toward Mr. Obama, Republican distrust of his leadership, and the reflexive opportunism of politicians from Washington to Moscow.

 

It is Barack Obama's impulse to make himself and whatever is in his head the center of attention. By now, we are used to it. But this week he turned himself, the presidency and the United States into a spectacle. We were alternately shocked and agog at these events. Now the sobering-up has to begin. The world has effectively lost its nominal leader, the U.S. president. Is this going to be the new normal? If so—and it will be so if serious people don't step up—we are looking at a weakened U.S president who has a very, very long three years left on his term.

 

The belief by some that we can ride this out till a Reagan-like rescue comes in the 2016 election is wrong. Jimmy Carter's Iranian hostage crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979. One quick year later, the American people turned to Ronald Reagan. There will be no such chance next year or the year after that—not till November 2016….

 

A congressional vote against that Syria resolution was never going to include a sequester for the Middle East. Iran's 16,600 uranium-enrichment centrifuges are spinning. Iran's overflights of Iraq to resupply Damascus with heavy arms and Quds forces will continue until Assad wins. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies, will start condominium talks with Iran, a U.S. enemy. Israel will do what it must, if it can….

 

The White House, Congress and Beltway pundits are exhaling after the president of Russia took America off the hook of that frightful intervention vote by offering, in the middle of a war, to transfer Syria's chemical weapons inventory to the U.N.—a fairy tale if ever there was one. Ask any chemical-weapons disposal specialist.

 

Syria looks lost. The question now is whether anyone who participated in the fiasco, from left to right, will adjust to avoid a repeat when the next crisis comes. The president himself needs somehow to look beyond his own instinct on foreign policy. It's just not enough. The administration badly needs a formal strategic vision. Notwithstanding her piece of Benghazi, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who gave a surprisingly tough speech Monday on the failure of the U.N. process and America's role now, may be the insider to start shaping a post-Syria strategy. Somebody has to do it. Conservative critics can carp for three years, which will dig the hole deeper, or contribute to a way forward. Allowing this week to become the status quo is unthinkable. A 40-month run of Laurel and Hardy's America will endanger everyone.

 

Contents

 

 

 

OBAMA’S SYRIAN DISASTER

Father Raymond J. de Souza

National Post, Sept. 12, 2013

 

This is how a superpower ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Syrians weep. Assad mocks. Putin laughs. And Americans rub their eyes in disbelief. Who would have thunk it? The issue of Syria — yes, Syria — suddenly has unified America, Russia and even Syria itself around a common project: giving U.S. President Barack Obama a face-saving pretext to back away from his misguided, unpopular and potentially disastrous plan to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 

Obama dug his hole a year ago, when he declared that Syrian chemical-weapon usage was a “red line” issue. Once evidence emerged suggesting that Assad’s regime had gassed its own citizens, including a large-scale attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, Obama had no choice but to start beating the war drums. Barack Obama had stood by for two years as the carnage in Syria mounted, rejecting the counsel of his cabinet secretaries to intervene. Then, after some 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees, Bashar al-Assad stood accused of using chemical weapon to kill some 1,400 people. President Obama has declared that this method of killing is different in kind, not merely degree, and therefore warrants a military response to preserve American credibility — his “red line” threat from 2012 — and to send a message to other tyrants.

 

So there is now a case for armed intervention. But the bombing plan proposed by Obama would not aim to change the balance of power in the civil war, would not seek to precipitate the fall of Assad, would not seek to seriously degrade Assad’s military force, and may not even seriously degrade his chemical weapons stockpile. The Syrian campaign would be for only a matter of a few days, and would be “small,” so that everything could return to normal forthwith. Obama ran for president damning the “dumb wars” of George W. Bush. His Syrian strikes are aimed at teaching Assad to be smarter about how he massacres his people. It’s war as pedagogy.

 

Facing a lack of enthusiasm for this weekend seminar by cruise missile, Obama is eager to share the blame with Congress. But it now seems unlikely that Obama will get his authorization. Facing what is in Washington a real calamity — a weakened president unable to gain support for military action, ahead of midterm elections — the debate here has been disgusting in its crass political calculation….

 

In seeking to extricate himself from a confused policy of his own making, Obama has been taken to school by Vladimir Putin. The idea that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, in the middle of a civil war, would be tranquilly handed over to genteel United Nations inspectors in a deal brokered by Syria’s principal patron, is laughable. So desperate though is Obama not to be mocked for lacking muscularity, he is willing to play along with the joke.

 

The best outcome of the president Syria’s policy is that nothing will change, save that Assad will show better manners in killing his own people. The more likely outcome is that Assad will be strengthened by his ability to face down Western leaders; the dominant Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis will grow stronger; and Russia will return to being a Middle East power, something it has desired since Anwar Sadat turned his back on the Soviet Union 40 years ago.

 

In short: a disaster for the United States, a disaster for Iranian-threatened Israel, a disaster for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States who wish to contain Iran, and a disaster above all for the Syrian people, who now face not Assad alone, but Assad supported by a newly-strengthened Putin.

 

Contents

 

 

Our Conflicted Commander in Chief: Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2013—In his Tuesday afternoon visit with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama said that his evening television address would not cause a 20-point rise in support in the polls for an attack on Syria. The president told GOP senators that while he was good, he was not that good. According to people in the room, the audience chuckled—after which Mr. Obama added, "Although I am pretty good." Actually no, Mr. President, you are not.

 

The Putin Doctrine : Ilai Saltzman, LA Times, September 12, 2013—For more than a decade — after he replaced Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin and even during the time he had to serve as prime minister under his protege, Dmitry Medvedev — Russian President Vladimir Putin has systematically and consistently pursued a policy that can be labeled the Putin Doctrine.

 

Obama’s Missteps on Syria Lead to Retreat: Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2013—Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility.

 

US attacks, Syrian 'perfidy,' and future mega-terror on Israel: Louis René Beres, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013 —Should American  bombs and missiles actually land in Syria, a more or less substantial number of Syrian noncombatants would be killed. For the most part, these anticipated losses would be the result of a Syrian regime resort to "human shields," that is, to the legally unacceptable practice of moving civilians into designated military areas, or into those places most apt to be targeted. In  jurisprudence, the precise name for this violation of humanitarian international law is "perfidy."

 

The West’s Cowardice and Inaction on Syria Will Lead to Blowback: Terry Glavin,Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 11, 2013—To understand the latest cruel twists in the story of the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century, it is necessary to solve the riddle of how it came to pass that this week U.S.President Barack Obama was all of a sudden publicly and happily contemplating a tripartite collaboration with the brutish Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin and his sociopathic Syrian client-sidekick, the mass murderer Bashar Assad.

 

The Six Steps to Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: Cheryl Rofer, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 11 2013—Suddenly this week, both John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov began to pressure Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control. France is putting a resolution before the United Nations Security Council to that effect. Syria seems to have accepted.

 

Putin’s Chemical Weapons Plan Is Already a Success: Kelly McParland, National Post, Sept. 12, 2013—There are lots of reasons to question Russia’s proposal for isolating Syria’s chemical weapons. In a practical sense, none of them matter much. If the aim of the West is to ensure the weapons aren’t used again, the goal has already been achieved.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

SYRIA & OBAMA, II: ASSAD-RUSSIAN CHEMICAL PROPOSALS A PLOY, ENABLE OBAMA TO DODGE (TEMPORARILY) DEFEAT ON BOMBING STRATEGY, AND DECISION ON IRAN

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Contents:

Russia’s Absurd Proposal on Syria’s WeaponsMax Boot, Commentary, Sept. 9, 2013—The debate over Syria took a new turn on Monday when Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Bashar Assad could avoid American airstrikes if he would “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.” Kerry added that Assad “isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”
 
Lavrov may Have Helped Obama Dodge the Syrian BulletNoah Beck, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013—Any diplomatic initiative on Syria coming from Russia, whose UN votes have perpetuated Assad's killing machine for over two years, should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Nevertheless, the latest Russian proposal merits serious consideration.
 
The Bed Obama and Kerry MadeBret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2013—So much for John Kerry's "global test," circa 2004. So much for Barack Obama slamming the Bush administration for dismissing "European reservations about the wisdom and necessity of the Iraq war," circa 2007.
 
Obama Misunderstands Wartime LeadershipMichael Gerson, Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2013—In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt told his speechwriter Sam Rosenman, “It’s a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead — and to find no one there.” For President Obama to have arrived at this place is uncomfortable but not unprecedented.
 


Say It Again. Kurdish Independence NowJonathan Spyer, Tower Magazine, September 2013—The civil war in Syria and the increasing fragility of Iraq have thrown the long-term future of these states into question. For years, they were ruled by brutal regimes that held power in the name of Arab nationalism; as a result, they failed to knit together the populations they ruled into a coherent national identity.



Obama’s Dithering Frustrates IsraelisVivian Bercovici ,Toronto Star, Sept. 10 2013—Consensus in the Middle East is rare, but it seems that President Barack Obama has forged one inadvertently. Whether supporting or opposing American military intervention in Syria, there is little, if any, enthusiasm in any quarter for his dithering decision-making.

 

On Topic Links

 
Blocking Action on Syria Makes an Attack on Iran More LikelyDennis Ross, Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2013
Iran is Testing Obama in SyriaSaeed Ghasseminejad, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9, 2013
How not to Deal with SyriaJonah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 10, 2013


Syria, America and Putin's BluffGeorge Friedman, Stratfor, Sept. 10, 2013

 

Max Boot
Commentary, Sept. 9.2013

 
The debate over Syria took a new turn on Monday when Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Bashar Assad could avoid American airstrikes if he would “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.” Kerry added that Assad “isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”
 
But that didn’t stop Russia and other nations from jumping on the idea after the Syrian government said it welcomed the idea. Now this seemingly offhand suggestion–which Kerry apparently did not mean to float as a serious proposal–is being seriously debated as an alternative to American military action.
 
If Assad were serious about turning over his entire chemical weapons stockpile–not to mention destroying all capacity to manufacture more such weapons in the future–this might conceivably be a deal worth taking even at the risk of Assad rebuilding his chemical weapons capacity sometime in the future. But the odds of Assad assenting to such a deal are slight: Why should he when he knows that, worst case, he faces an “unbelievably small” American airstrike, as Kerry himself has said?
 
Chemical weapons are an important source of power for the Assad regime, not only for the threat they pose to Israel but, more immediately, for the threat they pose to Assad’s rebellious subjects. He is unlikely to give up such an advantage, which is so crucial to his regime’s survival, unless he were convinced that his regime would crumble otherwise. But nothing that President Obama or his aides have said would lead him to come to that conclusion.
 
Even if Assad claimed to be serious about such a deal–and he has said no such thing yet, in fact he hasn’t even acknowledged that he possesses chemical weapons–it is hard to know how such a deal could be implemented or enforced. It is one thing for inspectors to travel to Libya in 2003 to make sure that Gaddafi was giving up his entire WMD program. Libya then was a peaceful if despotic place. It is quite another thing to do so now in Syria where violence is commonplace–in fact UN inspectors looking for evidence of chemical-weapons use have already been shot at. How on earth could international inspectors possibly roam Syria in the middle of a civil war to confirm that Assad has no more chemical weapons left?
 
The task is daunting, indeed nearly impossible, in no small part because of our lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of his arsenal. The New York Times reports: “A senior American official who has been briefed extensively on the intelligence noted in recent days that Washington has firm knowledge of only 19 of the 42 suspected chemical weapons sites. Those numbers are constantly changing, because Mr. Assad has been moving the stores, largely for fear some of them could fall into the hands of rebels.”
 
Even if we knew where all the stockpiles were, removing them and destroying them–presumably a process that would have to occur outside the country–would be an enormous undertaking that could easily involve thousands of foreign workers along with thousands, even tens of thousands, of soldiers to protect them. It is hard to imagine such an undertaking occurring in wartime; few if any nations will risk their troops on the ground in Syria to make the process possible and Syria’s government would be unlikely to grant them permission to do so.
 
This, then, is not a serious alternative to military action. It is a stalling tactic to allow Assad to retain his chemical-weapons capacity–and other weapons that have killed far more people. It is also a distraction from the real issue, which is not Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpile but the continuing existence of the Assad regime itself.
 
More than 100,000 people have already died in the Syrian civil war and more will continue to die as long as the Assad regime remains in power. There are admittedly real dangers in what post-Assad Syria will look like, but we already know what Syria under the Assad regime looks like today–it is a disaster, not only from a humanitarian but also from a strategic standpoint, because al-Qaeda is already consolidating control over parts of northern Syria while Iran is able to maintain a client regime in power in Damascus.
 
The U.S. policy should be not just the removal of the chemical-weapons stockpile but of the Assad regime itself. In fact Obama has said that is his goal–but he is not willing to take the actions necessary to bring it about. In the face of this leadership vacuum, it is hardly surprising that all sorts of odd ideas are being floated.

 

LAVROV MAY HAVE HELPED
OBAMA DODGE THE SYRIAN BULLET

Noah Beck
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2013

 
Any diplomatic initiative on Syria coming from Russia, whose UN votes have perpetuated Assad's killing machine for over two years, should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Nevertheless, the latest Russian proposal merits serious consideration.
 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's proposal, which exploited an offhand remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry, calls for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal in exchange for a cancellation of the US military action against Syria being debated by Congress. Russian national interests underlie this proposal: helping Russia's last Mideast client state to survive, reinforcing the image of Russia as a Mideast power broker, and diminishing the perception that Russia supports chemical weapons use. But these interests intersect with US interests insofar as a diplomatic solution decreases the odds of an Islamist takeover of Syria (should US strikes actually alter the balance of power between the Syrian regime and the opposition) while possibly removing the need for potentially risky and costly US military action — without further undermining US credibility.
 
The humanitarian justification for intervention — with over two million Syrian refugees and 110,000 dead — grows stronger by the day. The geo-strategic reasons for US action are also manifest: Syria's chemical weapons could be used unpredictably by the Assad regime, its terrorist ally Hezbollah, or Islamist rebels; rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran will view US inaction as a green light to oppose US interests where they see fit (particularly with respect to their nuclear plans); and the toppling of Assad's regime — Iran's closest ally — would weaken the Iranian regime while signaling that it is next unless diplomacy quickly resolves the Iranian nuclear standoff.
 
But opinion polls have consistently revealed that the US public opposes involvement in the Syrian conflict. Had Obama shown more active and forceful leadership on the Syrian conflict back when the opposition was comprised mostly of secular rebels, it's unlikely that the tragedy — and related US policy options — would have deteriorated into what they are today. Had Obama not drawn a "red line" to show that the US still cares about international norms (particularly when their enforcement makes the US safer), the potential damage to US. credibility caused by inaction might not have been so great. Finally, had Obama strongly backed the Syrian rebels from the outset, Russia might not have opposed US interests as aggressively, US allies might have been more forthcoming with their support for any eventual military action, and Americans might not have reflected the ambivalence and confusion of their president when it comes to Syria.
 
Given these policy blunders and the unfortunate circumstances they produced, Obama's best move now is to explore the Russian proposal for the remote chance that it can improve the Syrian situation at little cost. Success would mean that Russia effectively enabled Obama to dodge the Syrian bullet. Failure would force Obama to return to the three bad options available before the Russian proposal: 1) stay out of the conflict (despite the damage to US credibility and the risk of an even bigger crisis requiring intervention later, 2) enter with the necessary strategy and commitment for victory, or, worst of all, 3) launch "symbolic strikes" that only boost Assad's standing (for successfully withstanding the "mighty" US before continuing with his murderous military campaign) and possibly draw the US into a much greater conflict on terms dictated by Assad, Hezbollah, and/or Iran.
 
Exploring the Russian diplomatic initiative offers two key advantages: 1) it will provide even greater legitimacy to any eventual US military strike, if the Syrian regime violates the terms of an agreement to destroy its chemical weapons, and 2) if properly executed, Syria's voluntary disarmament could actually be far more effective than military strikes, given the challenge of completely destroying all relevant targets comprising Syria's chemical arsenal and the attendant risks of military escalation and collateral damage. Moreover, if implementation of the Russian proposal actually eliminates Syria's chemical weapons, US deterrence will be somewhat restored, because the US will have demonstrated that it can rattle its saber and rally the international community to produce meaningful changes on the ground.
 
But to ensure that Russia's proposal isn't just a stalling tactic to benefit Assad, there should be very specific requirements and deadlines, any willful violation of which authorizes military action. The Assad regime must disclose a complete and accurate list of chemical weapons sites and materials, and this list must be verified and modified as needed using the best military intelligence available to the US and its allies. A timetable for the confirmed removal and destruction of all chemical weapons must involve just enough time for the disarmament to be done safely and should include detailed milestones that can be easily monitored.
 
The biggest challenge will be establishing an efficient and safe disarmament process that can be reasonably executed and verified in the middle of a civil war, while minimizing the opportunity for Syrian rebels to exploit the situation by trying to seize the chemical weapons and/or causing the Assad regime to violate its commitments under the disarmament schedule. Force might still be required to enforce any agreement with the ruthless and mendacious Assad regime, but the justification — and the domestic and international support — for military action will then be far greater.
 
The Russian proposal demonstrates what Obama himself acknowledged when discussing it: a credible military threat generates diplomatic openings that otherwise would not exist. Will Obama remember this truth when dealing with the far more serious threat of a nuclear Iran, looming just around the corner?
 
Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.


 

 
So much for John Kerry's "global test," circa 2004. So much for Barack Obama slamming the Bush administration for dismissing "European reservations about the wisdom and necessity of the Iraq war," circa 2007. So much for belittling foreign leaders who side with the administration as "poodles." So much for the U.N. stamp of legitimacy. So much for the "lie/die" rhyme popular with Democrats when they were accusing George W. Bush of fiddling with the WMD intelligence.
 
Say what you will about the prospect of a U.S. strike on Syria, it has already performed one useful service: exposing the low dishonesty, the partisan opportunism, the intellectual flabbiness, the two-bit histrionics and the dumb hysteria that was the standard Democratic attack on the Bush administration's diplomatic handling of the war in Iraq.
 
In politics as in life, you lie in the bed you make. The president and his secretary of state are now lying in theirs. So are we. And then some. All Americans are reduced when Mr. Kerry, attempting to distinguish an attack on Syria with the war in Iraq, described the former as "unbelievably small." Does the secretary propose to stigmatize the use of chemical weapons by bombarding Bashar Assad, evil tyrant, with popcorn? When did the American way of war go from shock-and-awe to forewarn-and-irritate?
 
Americans are reduced, also, when an off-the-cuff remark by Mr. Kerry becomes the basis of a Russian diplomatic initiative—immediately seized by an Assad regime that knows a sucker's game when it sees one—to hand over Syria's stocks of chemical weapons to international control. So now we're supposed to embark on months of negotiation, mediated by our friends the Russians, to get Assad to relinquish a chemical arsenal he used to deny having, now denies using, and will soon deny secretly maintaining?
 
One of the favorite Democratic attack lines against the Bush administration was that it was "incompetent." Maybe so, but competence is also a matter of comparison. So let's compare. The administration will be lucky to win an unbelievably thin congressional majority for its unbelievably small plan of attack. By contrast, the October 2002 authorization for military force in Iraq passed by an easy 77-23 margin in the Senate and a 296-133 margin in the House.
 
The administration also touts the support of 24 countries—Albania and Honduras are on board!—who have signed a letter condemning Assad's use of chemical weapons "in the strongest terms," though none of them, except maybe France, are contemplating military action. Yet Mr. Bush assembled a coalition of 40 countries who were willing to deploy troops to Iraq—a coalition Mr. Kerry mocked as inadequate and illegitimate when he ran for president in 2004.
 
Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on whitehouse.gov. The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."
 
By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.
 
The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.
 
So what should President Obama say when he addresses the country Tuesday night? He could start by apologizing to President Bush for years of cheap slander. He won't. He could dispense with the talk of "global norms" about chemical weapons and instead talk about the American interest in punishing Assad. He might. He could give Americans a goal worth fighting for: depose Assad, secure the chemical weapons, lead from the front, and let Syrians sort out the rest. Well, let's hope.
 
In the meantime, Republicans should ponder what their own political posturing on Syria might mean for the future. When a Republican president, faced with a Democratic House, feels compelled to take action against some other rogue regime, will they rue their past insistence on congressional approval?
 
 
 
In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt told his speechwriter Sam Rosenman, “It’s a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead — and to find no one there.” For President Obama to have arrived at this place is uncomfortable but not unprecedented. Democratic majorities generally do not clamor for the application of violence in global affairs. Usually it is a president who sees a strategic problem requiring the use of force and must persuade his fellow citizens.
 
During his news conference following the Group of 20 summit in Russia, Obama’s reference to the example of FDR — trying to persuade a reluctant nation to help the British — was revealing. Roosevelt won the approval of historians by challenging, even circumventing, American resistance to war. His foreign-policy leadership consisted of opposing a shortsighted democratic consensus….
 
Obama affirmed in his news conference that he “was elected to end wars, not start them.” He then proceeded to show how unsuited his skills and strategies are to the task of beginning an armed conflict. His goal? To maintain an “international norm.” His current options? Not “appetizing.” His future methods? “Limited.” The level of opposition? “You know, our polling operations are pretty good.” His main argument? “I think that I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.”
 
So far, the president’s case for attacking Syria can be summarized as follows: Precisely because Obama has been hesitant and conflicted about intervention for two years, Americans should trust that the intervention he now proposes is unavoidable. His very ambivalence is the source of his credibility. And a war-weary nation can be assured that Obama has chosen minimal objectives and will employ minimal force — a strike Secretary of State John Kerry calls “unbelievably small.”
 
The questions arising from Congress and the public have been predictable. If the methods are so minimal, will they actually accomplish anything except risking retaliation? If the president is so ambivalent, why should people rally to his cause, particularly to the legal abstraction of enforcing a “norm”?
 
Obama’s approach represents a misunderstanding of wartime leadership. It is not possible for a president to justify the use of force by downplaying it. Americans support armed conflict when the stakes are highest, not when the costs are lowest. It is a tribute to their moral seriousness. There is no way for a president to accommodate American war weariness by setting “unbelievably small” goals; he must overcome it by explaining urgent, unavoidable national purposes. If Obama can’t define those purposes in Syria, his wartime leadership will not succeed.
 
He has a strong moral and strategic case to make. Bashar al-Assad is the author of poison gas attacks against children — the latest in a series of mass atrocities aimed at civilians. Tolerance for such butchery would be a source of historical shame and an invitation to future crimes. But this moral stand is located within a broader strategic argument. A dangerous alliance of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, with outside support from Russia, is seeking dominance in a region essential to U.S. interests. It is important to prevent their victory in the Syrian civil war and to avoid the destabilization of key allies. And it is necessary to make clear that Iran’s proxy, the Assad regime, cannot use weapons of mass destruction with impunity. For Congress to undercut Obama in his confrontation with Damascus would invite future miscalculations in Tehran.
 
The Obama administration already has elements of a regional strategy in place. It has imposed sanctions on the Assad regime and provided considerable aid to threatened neighbors. It is committed to training selected rebels. And it is hinting that strikes against Syrian targets may actually be larger than Kerry describes. “By degrading Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons,” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power recently argued, “we will also degrade his ability to strike at civilian populations by conventional means.” This sounds a lot like attacks on air bases, runways, aircraft and rocket launchers. It may be difficult, at this late date, to assemble these elements into a case that persuades Congress. But it is not even possible without the end of ambivalence.
 

 

 
 
 
The civil war in Syria and the increasing fragility of Iraq have thrown the long-term future of these states into question. For years, they were ruled by brutal regimes that held power in the name of Arab nationalism; as a result, they failed to knit together the populations they ruled into a coherent national identity. With the decline of repressive centralized authority in Syria and Iraq, however, older nationalities and identities are reemerging. Chief among them are the Kurds. Indeed, current regional developments make Kurdish statehood a realistic possibility for the first time in living memory.
 
I have reported on a number of occasions from both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan. I last visited these areas four months ago, and have an extensive network of friends and contacts there and in the wider Kurdish world. And it has become overwhelmingly clear to me that Kurdish sovereignty would be of benefit to the Kurds, the region as a whole, and Western interests in the Middle East. I find it unfortunate that the emerging Kurdish success story receives so little attention in the West—both among policymakers and the general public.
 
Kurdish statehood is good for the Kurds. It’s also good for the West.
The Kurds number around 30 million, and are generally considered to be the world’s largest stateless nation. A non-Semitic, non-Turkic people native to the Middle East, the Kurds believe themselves to be descendants of ancient Iranian tribes that predated the Turkish and Arab invasions.
 
When the Western powers carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, they promised the Kurds autonomy in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. Subsequent resistance to the treaty by the Turkish nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal led to its renegotiation at Lausanne in 1923, where the West recognized the borders of the new Turkish republic. As a result, the Kurds found themselves divided between the post-Ottoman states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with a small population in Iran.
 
Kurdish politics have been labyrinthine and divided ever since. No single, united pan-Kurdish national movement exists or has ever existed. Instead, the separated Kurdish populations each developed political movements of their own.
 
Unsurprisingly, the Kurds have developed a long tradition of heroic defeat over the course of the 20th century. Modern Kurdish nationalists like to trace the origins of their movement to the short-lived Mahabad Republic, the first attempt at Kurdish statehood. Officially known as the Republic of Kurdistan, it was declared in the Iranian city of Mahabad in early 1946, and was crushed by the Iranian army several months later.
 
The leader of the fleeting republic’s armed forces was Mulla Mustafa Barzani, an Iraqi Kurd and father of Massoud Barzani, the current president of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Kurdish agitation and uprisings continued under Barzani family leadership for years afterward. Most significantly, Mustafa Barzani led an unsuccessful military campaign in northern Iraq from 1961-70.
 
In 1983, the Iraqi Kurds rose up yet again, now led by Massoud Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party, in alliance with the younger Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani. This uprising was brutally crushed by Saddam Hussein in the infamous “Anfal” campaign, during which Hussein used poison gas against the civilians of the village Halabja in 1988, killing 3-5,000 people.
 
After the First Gulf War in 1991, a Kurdish autonomous zone was created in northern Iraq. Since the 2003 US invasion, this zone has emerged as a quasi-sovereign entity, with its own armed forces, political system, and economic interests. Traveling there today is to witness a little-known Mideast success story in the midst of regional chaos and meltdown. The autonomous zone is the most peaceful part of Iraq, and the absence of political violence is encouraging investment. Erbil, the capital city, feels like a boom town. There are construction cranes everywhere and brand new SUVs on the streets. Exxon Mobil has signed an agreement with the KRG to search for oil and develop an energy industry in the zone. The US, France, and a number of other countries now have consulates in the capital.
 
But Kurdish politics don’t start and finish in northern Iraq. The second major nationalist movement began with a 1984 uprising led by the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) in southeast Turkey, with the goal of founding a Kurdish state. The rebellion and the Turkish response to it went on to claim more than 40,000 lives. But this year, a ceasefire was declared and a peace process begun in hopes of ending the conflict.
 
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war has led to the emergence of a Kurdish-ruled enclave in the northeast of the country. This area is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD), an offshoot of the PKK. This embryonic autonomous zone is poorer and more fragile than its Iraqi counterpart. But it too is the quietest and most peaceful part of that war-torn country. PYD-imposed authority is ubiquitous. The Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (People’s Protection Units or YPG) militia does as much as possible to prevent the entry of both Islamist rebels and Assad regime soldiers. The militia and the Kurdish security service, the Asayish, maintain an extensive presence and a firm grip on the area.
 
It is very telling that the Kurdish areas in both Syria and Iraq have become destinations for Arab refugees from elsewhere in these countries. There is a simple reason for this: Generally speaking, where the Kurds are in control, things stay quiet.
 
The turbulent events of the last decade have brought an unexpected bonanza for the Kurds. Two powerful—if very different—Kurdish autonomous zones have emerged out of the collapsing societies of Iraq and Syria, while Turkey’s Kurds are engaged in negotiations to advance their rights. Only the Kurds of Iran remain firmly behind prison walls.
The question before the Kurds today is how to consolidate these gains and build on them. It is rarely discussed openly, but looming above it all is the question of Kurdish statehood and what it would mean for both the Kurds and the region in general. Will the Kurds continue to develop their quasi-states while avoiding a direct push toward sovereignty? Or are events leading inexorably toward Kurdish independence, with the resulting partition of Iraq and Syria?
 
The road to sovereignty for the Kurds remains strewn with obstacles. Not least among them is the absence of a united Kurdish national movement. As outlined above, there are two main forces in Kurdish politics today. One of them derives from the Iraqi Kurdish experience, the other from that of Turkey. In recent years, each of these factions has made considerable progress toward forming rival “pan-Kurdish” movements.
 
The first of these is Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq. While the KDP is based in northern Iraq, it maintains smaller offshoots and sister parties in both Syria and Iran. The second is the PKK, still officially headed by its jailed founder Abdullah Ocalan. Until recently, it was for all practical purposes led by Murat Karayilan, its commander in the Qandil mountains area, and is now headed by movement veteran Cemil Bayek. This movement and its various front organizations are the dominant force among both the Kurds of Turkey and the Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria. The PKK also has sister organizations among the Kurds of Iran and northern Iraq.
 
The KDP and the PKK have very different visions of the Kurdish future. The KDP is a traditional, conservative organization; it is pro-Western, pro-business, and pro-American in outlook, rooted in the clan and tribal structures of Iraqi Kurdish life. Its leader, after all, is a scion of the most prominent family in Iraqi Kurdish politics.
 
The PKK, by contrast, is a leftist organization, with its roots in the radical ferment of Turkey in the 1970s. Ocalan, its founder, is from a poor rural family. Although the movement has come a long way from its early days, it still represents a distinct, secular leftist nationalism of a type rarely found in today’s Middle East.
 
This is reflected in its very progressive approach to the role of women in society and politics, which is in stark contrast to the surrounding culture. Women, for example, serve in frontline units of PKK militias. This is not the case with the Pesh Merga, the armed forces of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous zone.
 
Both of these movements are political-military organizations, and suffer from the authoritarian tendencies inherent in such groups. There have been verified instances of political repression in both the Kurdish zones of northern Iraq and northeast Syria.
 
The PKK remains on US and EU lists of terrorist organizations. But this designation is more a concession to Turkish sensibilities and interests than an objective assessment of the group’s current modus operandi. Whatever may have been the case in the past, the PKK today is a guerrilla organization at war with Turkish security forces, not a group that deliberately targets civilians.
 
Neither the KDP nor the PKK is openly committed to the achievement of Kurdish statehood, albeit for very different reasons. Iraqi Kurdish officials will privately concede that an independent Kurdish state is their goal, but stress the difficulties of achieving it and the need for a pragmatic, cautious strategy. Some PKK members speak in similar terms, but others stress the views of their leader Ocalan, who is opposed to very idea of the nation-state and advocates a system of “democratic autonomy” or “radical democracy” for the entire Middle East.
 
These two very different movements are set to dominate the next and possibly decisive chapter in the modern political history of the Kurds.
Neither of these movements is going to replace or defeat the other; so the future of the Kurds is likely to depend on whether they can find a way to cooperate. This will probably be difficult, however, because of the KRG’s burgeoning strategic relationship with Turkey.
 
For decades, the Turks have seen Kurdish national aspirations as an anathema, but this is no longer entirely the case. Over the last few years, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish government have been building a close relationship based on mutual interests. Turkey currently relies on Russia and Iran for its oil supplies, and has deteriorating strategic relations with both. At the same time, the Kurdish zone is rich in oil and borders on Turkey. As a result, Turkey has recently been making private agreements with the Iraqi Kurds for the purchase of crude oil supplies. This is despite vocal objections from the US—which is opposed to any attempt by the Kurdish autonomous zone to secede from Iraq—and, of course, opposition from the central government in Baghdad.
 
The main obstacles to the burgeoning alliance between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are the future status of Turkey’s Kurds and the Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria, which shares a long border with Turkey. The situation is even more complex because the PKK uses the Qandil Mountains, which are under the control of the Iraqi Kurds, as a base for its insurgency against Turkey. Although the Kurdish zone’s government does not officially sanction the presence of the PKK, it does nothing to prevent it.
 
The emergence of a Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria helped push Turkey toward resolving its long conflict with the PKK. Should open hostilities resume, however, there is a real possibility that the long border controlled by the Syrian Kurdish zone and the Assad regime will be used as a base for attacks on Turkey. Partly as a result, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has entered into peace negotiations with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan; but talks have rapidly run aground. In mid-July, with the peace process frozen, the Kurdish leadership in northeast Syria declared an “interim administrative body” in the area under its control, alarming the Turkish government.
 
Relations between the Iraqi autonomous zone and its Syrian counterpart are similarly fraught; partly because of their differing relationships with Turkey. The Iraqi Kurds control the border between their own territory and that of the Syrian Kurds. When I crossed this border in March 2013 with a group of Syrian Kurdish fighters, it was necessary to avoid Iraqi Kurdish forces deployed along the border. At the same time, however, it was clear that a sort of ambiguous live-and-let-live attitude existed between the two groups, with each doing its best to ignore the other.
 
There is no likelihood of armed confrontation between these two nascent Kurdistans. But because of the role played by Turkey, unification seems equally elusive. The Iraqi Kurds needs their flourishing relationship with Turkey in order to continue on its path toward greater autonomy and possible independence. The PKK, however, has been at war with Turkey since 1984. For the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish zones to unify, the PKK must move toward rapprochement with Turkey. This means that Turkey has an effective veto over Kurdish unity and possible independence. To achieve their goals, the PKK and the Iraqi Kurds must find a way to neutralize it.
 
One way to do so would be for the US and other Western powers to support Kurdish sovereignty as a legitimate goal. This would pave the way for greater Western investment and diplomatic support for Kurdish goals and weaken Turkey’s ability to snuff out a Kurdish bid for independence. A second way is, of course, Kurdish unity. The establishment of a single “national congress”-type organization could defeat Turkey’s strategy of divide and rule. An upcoming conference in Erbil is intended to lay the foundation for such an organization. It remains to be seen if it will succeed.
 
If Kurdish unity and a strategy for statehood cannot be achieved, the most likely result is two Kurdish quasi-states, existing on adjoining territories but unable to maintain good relations with each other or achieve complete sovereignty. Such quasi-states have become a familiar feature of the Middle East and the post-Cold War world in general. They combine de facto sovereignty with an absence of international recognition. Hamas has been running such an entity in the Gaza Strip since 2007. The Hezbollah state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon is arguably another example—though in that case the quasi-state appears to have largely devoured the legitimate state.
 
The problem with such entities is that while they can survive on the basis of their monopoly on the use of force, they cannot thrive. Their uncertain status precludes the development of their economies or their civil and political institutions. As a result, they also tend to become centers of paramilitary and criminal activity, such as Gaza and Lebanon, as well as Kosovo, Bosnian Serbia, and Transnistria.
 
The Middle East remains beset by deeply problematic political trends that undermine political stability and economic development. Extremist political Islam, deeply rooted anti-Western sentiment, widespread and pervasive anti-Semitism, and hostility to non-Muslim minorities are all on the rise across the Arab world, Iran, and Turkey.
 
In this context, the Kurds represent an anomaly. There is no need to romanticize either the Iraqi zone’s government or the PKK in order to see this. Each of these entities has their own problems. They show certain authoritarian tendencies and the enclaves they rule are unlikely to resemble US or EU-style democracies any time in the near future. But Kurdish political culture is largely free of the kind of extreme dysfunction noted above.
 
Political Islam exists among the Kurds, but because of the predominance of ethnic identification, it has demonstrably less appeal than among other Mideast peoples. That the two primary rivals in Kurdish politics are both secular nationalist movements is proof of this. In the Iraqi zone, Islamist parties support the Gorran movement, a reformist party that does not even profess political Islam; which testifies to the relative weakness of the area’s Islamic movement. In Syrian Kurdistan, there is no identifiable Islamist movement, and the its militia has been actively engaged in combat with Syrian rebel groups associated with Al Qaeda.
 
The Kurds are also notably less hostile to the West than many others in the region. For the most part, their grievances are directed not against the US or Europe, but the local oppressors of the Kurds. Indeed, other than Israel, the KRG in northern Iraq is the most pro-Western of all the non-monarchical governments in the region. The ruling KDP is openly and outspokenly pro-Western and pro-American. And unlike the Arab monarchies, its pro-Western orientation is deeply rooted in popular sentiment.
 
The PKK, however, is more of a question mark. Due to Turkey’s de facto veto over Kurdish independence and the lack of Western support for the Kurdish cause, the PKK might turn toward Turkey’s main rival for support—Iran. This would be a disaster, and an entirely unnecessary one. Western support for Kurdish national aspirations would almost certainly prevent it.
The moral and strategic case for Kurdish sovereignty is therefore a strong one. Western endorsement of the principle of Kurdish statehood, removal of the PKK from lists of terror organizations, and the development of closer relations with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish enclaves could help break the current stalemate on the issue.
 
There is neither benefit nor justice in a situation where the legitimate national aspirations of a largely pro-Western people are subject to the veto of the Islamist prime minister of Turkey. This is particularly the case given that Prime Minister Erdogan is adopting an increasingly problematic stance vis-a-vis the West and more and more repressive domestic policies.
 
Other opponents of Kurdish statehood include the Maliki government in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, and Islamist groups among the Syrian rebels. Maliki and Assad are both clients of Iran, and the former is actively aiding the latter in his fight for survival. The Syrian rebels are Islamists and Arab nationalists who are determined to maintain the unity of the Syrian state. All of these forces are hostile to the West, and acquiescence to their rejection of Kurdish rights makes little or no sense.
 
The Middle East is in the midst of enormous historic changes, and the Kurds stand to be one of the main beneficiaries. Kurdish sovereignty would mean the establishment of a strong, pro-Western state in Middle East that is likely to be characterized by pragmatism, stable governance, and a pro-Western strategic outlook. It would also possess substantial natural resources and a mobilized populace willing to defend it. A Kurdish state in northern Iraq, moreover, would likely absorb the Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria, effectively breaking up Iraq and Syria—two failed states that have been a byword for war, repression, and terrorism for most of the last fifty years.
 
In order for this to happen, however, the US must adopt Kurdish sovereignty as a strategic goal. At the moment, caution, timidity, and the desire to withdraw from the region make this unlikely. The last of these is probably the most difficult to overcome. After all, if the US and other Western nations do not want to be involved in the Middle East, then there is no point in supporting the emergence of a pro-Western ally in the region. But recent events in Syria and Egypt have shown what happens when the West fails to cultivate allies or abandons reliable clients in the region: Chaos.
 
Moreover, the forces ready and willing to replace the US as the region’s strategic hegemon—above all, Iran and Russia—do not intend to manage it as custodians of order and stability. Their interest is in the promotion of movements and regimes aligned with them and hostile to the West. At the same time, the rise of the anti-Western Sunni Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic extremists with the support of Turkey and Qatar is leading to war and disorder across the eastern Mediterranean.
 
A sovereign Kurdish state could be a powerful bulwark against such disorder and a solid, pro-Western ally in this most troubled of regions. It would also realize the Kurds’ desire for long-delayed historic justice. It is an idea whose time has come.
 
Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Fellow at the Inter-Disciplinary Center at Herzliya.

 

Obama’s Dithering Frustrates Israelis
Vivian Bercovici
Toronto Star, Sept. 10 2013
 
Consensus in the Middle East is rare, but it seems that President Barack Obama has forged one inadvertently. Whether supporting or opposing American military intervention in Syria, there is little, if any, enthusiasm in any quarter for his dithering decision-making.
 
In Israel, as elsewhere, opinion as to whether the U.S. should strike Syria militarily is divided. But there is agreement regarding the significant damage to Obama’s credibility as a leader capable of making tough decisions in a decisive manner, not to mention his propensity to plan war on CNN. A weak president means a weak America, a very worrisome proposition for Israel.
 
“Now,” explained a professional friend in Tel Aviv, “Obama will not be taken seriously in this part of the world. The Iranians, all of the Middle East, is laughing.” An international businesswoman, she worries, as do many, that if Iran targets Israel with nuclear weapons, the West will go fetal. Israel will be utterly isolated. In Israel, such fears are existential and very real.
 
Everywhere, everyone spoke about Syria. They spoke about the new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. They buzzed around preparing for the Jewish New Year holidays. They sat in cafés, went to the beach, and worried, always worried, about “the situation,” as they call it, a euphemism for the constant challenge that is daily life.
 
Yes, a smattering of Israelis were lining up for hours to receive gas masks, in case the unthinkable should happen. But many more, particularly in Jerusalem, were preoccupied with the recent arrest of two East Jerusalem Arabs, allegedly planning a bomb attack in the outdoor Mamilla mall during the holiday season. Police reportedly located the device and detailed attack plans. The accused had worked as cleaners at Mamilla, giving them easy access to the premises.
 
As I walked through the packed mall the night before the onset of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the 10-day New Year period, I am sure that every person there, like me, was privately barraged with horrible images, images of unthinkable carnage averted, for now, contrasted with the immediate experience of civilians — Arabs and Jews — out for a pleasurable evening.
 
This, of course, is the paradox of the place, the extreme effort — mental and physical — that is expended to manage “the situation” so that life may continue with a degree of normalcy, commingled with a constant awareness of the fact that the status quo is unsustainable. Perhaps, in that, lies a second point of consensus in the Middle East: that there must be change in the Israeli-Palestinian imbalance.
 
Neither side, it seems, is wildly optimistic that the peace talks will develop significant momentum. The reasons are legion: the negotiators — PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni — lack “real” power; the negotiation paradigm promotes a “zero-sum” approach, which impedes trust-building and the achievement of tangible, incremental progress, so critical in such a fraught relationship; Israelis are intransigent; Palestinians are intransigent; Israelis will never relinquish settlements; Palestinians will never accept a Jewish state; and on and on it goes.
 
Driving to Hebron from Jerusalem in early September, my Palestinian guide pointed out the village of Beit Ummar. A farming town of 17,000 situated on the main road connecting the two cities, Beit Ummar’s land has been encroached upon by neighbouring Jewish settlements. Palestinian resistance is expressed by regular rock and stone throwing at passing settler vehicles. Stones can kill and injure. According to media reports and dispatches on the website of the Palestine Solidarity Project, the Israeli Defense Forces conduct frequent village raids, apprehending suspects, sometimes imprisoning them for years. And on, and on, it goes.
 
Improbably, peace was negotiated in 1979 by two unlikely allies, former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and hardline Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin. Far from perfect, it beats war. Ironically, today, Israel and the West Bank stand out as the most stable enclave in the perennially unstable region, which is especially volatile now.
 
“The situation” is either a semi-permanent entente or the beginnings of negotiations towards peace, on the ground, moment by moment, day by day. Perhaps, hopefully, the imperatives of daily life will force an imperfect coexistence on both peoples.
 
Vivian Bercovici is a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor at University of Toronto's Faculty of Law. Her column appears monthly.

 

 
Blocking Action on Syria Makes an Attack on Iran More LikelyDennis Ross, Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2013—The opponents of congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria are focused on one set of concerns: the belief that the costs of action are simply too high and uncertain. Syria for them is a civil war, with few apparent good guys and far too many bad guys.
 
Iran is Testing Obama in SyriaSaeed Ghasseminejad, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9, 2013—Many hope that US President Barack Obama finally understands the urgent need to stand against the butcher of Damascus, President Bashar Assad and the use of chemical weapons by his regime on civilians. Obama needs to send a strong message to the world that his redlines are not just cheap talk.
 
How not to Deal with SyriaJonah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 10, 2013—The hawkish case for striking Syria involves a coherent strategy of ousting President Bashar Assad or damaging his war-making ability to the point where the tide in the Syrian civil war is eventually changed in favor of militants hostile to Iran and amenable to U.S. influence.

Syria, America and Putin's BluffGeorge Friedman, Stratfor, Sept. 10, 2013Putin is bluffing that Russia has emerged as a major world power. In reality, Russia is merely a regional power, but mainly because its periphery is in shambles. He has tried to project a strength that that he doesn't have, and he has done it well. For him, Syria poses a problem because the United States is about to call his bluff, and he is not holding strong cards. To understand his game we need to start with the recent G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

 

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SYRIA RIVEN WITH CONFLICTS, JABHAL AL-NUSRA LEADING — IN LEBANON, MODERATE SUNNIS SURVIVE, BUT BARELY

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Contents:                          

 

Syria’s Six Simultaneous Conflicts: Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, Apr. 17—The conflict in Syria has assumed more dangerous dimensions with the latest developments along the Syrian-Lebanese border, where forces with and against both the Syrian government and Hezbollah have engaged in cross-border shelling. This builds on a recent spate of tit-for-tat kidnappings in northeastern Lebanon’s own frontier region that captures all the modern Arab world’s vagaries of nationalism, statehood, identity, sectarianism and citizenship.

 

Jabhat al-Nusra is Growing Menace to Mideast and Beyond: Bruce Riedel, Al-Monitor, Apr. 8, 2013—As the Syrian civil war gets ever more violent and destructive, there is a big beneficiary: al-Qaeda and its franchise in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra — which is now the fastest-growing al-Qaeda front in the world, attracting fighters from across the Islamic world. Today it's focused on destroying the Bashar al-Assad regime but its ultimate goals are much bigger, attacking America and its allies in the heart of the Middle East.

 

Why Lebanon Matters: Hussain Abdul-Hussain, Now Lebanon, April 16, 2013—Apart from hosting Hezbollah and bordering Israel, Lebanon has little international significance. But with the alarming rise of radical Sunni Islamism – from Mali to Pakistan – Lebanon stands as the last bastion of moderate Sunnis, something that Hezbollah might have realized.

Jewish sovereignty.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Argument for Assad: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, Apr. 11, 2013

Syria’s Forgotten Front: David Pollock, New York Times, April 15, 2013

Hezbollah Sacrifices Popularity for Survival: Hanin Ghaddar, Now Lebanon, Apr. 10, 2013

The End of Syria?: BESA Center, Jan. 29, 2013

What's the Least Worst Option in Syria?: Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World, April 4, 2013

‘Israeli Diplomats Met with Syrian Oppositionists’: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, April 17, 2013

 

 

SYRIA’S SIX SIMULTANEOUS CONFLICTS

Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star, Apr. 17
 

The conflict in Syria has assumed more dangerous dimensions with the latest developments along the Syrian-Lebanese border, where forces with and against both the Syrian government and Hezbollah have engaged in cross-border shelling. This builds on a recent spate of tit-for-tat kidnappings in northeastern Lebanon’s own frontier region that captures all the modern Arab world’s vagaries of nationalism, statehood, identity, sectarianism and citizenship.

 

The easiest way to describe the events in that region has been to speak of Sunni-Shiite fighting, or antagonisms between pro- and anti-Syrian government elements. The involvement of Hezbollah adds a significant new element to the mix, and also helps to clarify what the fighting in and near Syria is all about. It is much more than “spillover” of the Syrian war into Lebanon. I have previously described the war in Syria as the greatest proxy battle of our age, and that is now clearer than ever as we see how Syria comprises a rich and expansive web of other conflicts playing out on a local, regional and global scale. The war in Syria is so enduring and vexing precisely because it is such a multilayered conflict, comprising at least six separate battles taking place at the same time:

 

First, it is a domestic citizen revolt against the Assad family regime that has ruled Syria for 43 years. This aspect of the conflict reflects a widespread spirit of citizen activism for freedom, rights and dignity that continues to define much of the Arab world today. After the nonviolent demonstrations that erupted across the country in spring 2011 elicited a violent military response from the regime, this political conflict quickly became a militarized war.

 

Second, the armed battle for control of Syria reignited the second layer of conflict, which has defined the region since the 1950s – the Arab cold war between assorted regional forces that keep shifting over time, but can most easily be described as conservative versus radical, or capitalist versus socialist, or royalist versus republican, or Islamo-monarchist versus Arab nationalist, or pro-Western versus anti-Western, though none of these simplistic black-and-white dichotomies is fully accurate. At its simplest, this Arab cold war for decades has been led on the one side by Saudi Arabia and its conservative allies, and on the other by governments such as those in Syria, Egypt or Iraq at various moments.

 

The third layer of conflict in Syria is the old Iranian-Arab rivalry, recently also often defined as a Shiite-Sunni rivalry. This is symbolized by the Iranian government’s alliance with Syria since 1979, and recently including the close structural ties between Iran and Hezbollah (or, more accurately, the ties between Hezbollah and the institution of the Wali al-Faqih, or the supreme leader, in Iran).

 

Iran’s strategic links with both Syria and Hezbollah have been among the few foreign policy achievements of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, so the Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah leaderships will battle hard to maintain those mutual benefits that all of them derive from their relationships.

 

The fourth conflict taking place in Syria is the renewed but more limited version of the Cold War between the United States and Russia (with other players such as China and assorted European states hanging around to pick up energy contracts and other gains). At its most simple, this renewed Son of the Cold War sees Russia taking a determined stand in Syria to prevent the United States from unilaterally deciding which Arab leaders go and which ones stay, while also burnishing its renewed credentials as a global power. Almost a quarter of a century after the end of the original Cold War, Russia is trying to recalibrate global power relations, formally closing the “post-Cold War” era in which the U.S. was the world’s sole superpower in a unipolar world.

 

The fifth conflict in Syria – like the domestic citizen revolt against autocracy that reflects a regional trend – is the centurylong tension between the power of the centralized modern Arab developmental and security state and the forces of disintegration and fragmentation along ethnic, religious, sectarian, national and tribal lines. These subnational, ancient and primordial identities defined Arab societies long before the imposition of the modern Arab state, and are always there to reaffirm themselves when that state fails to function efficiently and meet citizen needs.

 

And the sixth and most recent strain of conflict in Syria is between the forces of Al-Qaeda-inspired Salafist fanatic militants, such as the Nusra Front, and mainstream opposition groups fighting to overthrow the Assad family regime, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or broader, more secular groups, such as the Syrian National Opposition Coalition. Hysteria has typically gripped some analysts in the region and in the West as they fret over the prospect of the Nusra Front and others like them taking control of all or parts of post-Assad Syria – an impossible prospect, in my view.

 

So what we are witnessing in and around Syria is a great deal more complicated than spillover into neighboring countries or a continuation of the Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

 

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR. 

 

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JABHAT AL-NUSRA IS GROWING MENACE TO MIDEAST AND BEYOND

Bruce Riedel

Al-Monitor, Apr. 8, 2013

 

As the Syrian civil war gets ever more violent and destructive, there is a big beneficiary: al-Qaeda and its franchise in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra — which is now the fastest-growing al-Qaeda front in the world, attracting fighters from across the Islamic world. Today it's focused on destroying the Bashar al-Assad regime but its ultimate goals are much bigger, attacking America and its allies in the heart of the Middle East.

 

The Syrian franchise gets crucial support from the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri issued a public call in February 2012 in which he urged “every Muslim and every free and honest person in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to rise and help their brothers in Syria with everything they have and can do.”

 

Zawahiri’s call, just after the announcement of the creation of Jabhat al-Nusra and its first major attacks in Aleppo, was clearly coordinated with the fighters on the ground. Since that call, at least one senior member of the al-Qaeda Shura Council in Pakistan has traveled to Syria to further coordinate plans and operations with the core hiding in Pakistan.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton termed the exchanges of messages between al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria as “deeply disturbing” in one of her final interviews in office.

 

Jabhat al-Nusra, translated variously as the Victory Front or the Support Front for the Syrian people, was officially founded in January 2012, almost a year after the first demonstrations against the dictatorship of President Basher al Assad.   It was created with the additional assistance of the al Qaeda franchise in Iraq which was formed nearly a decade ago during the American invasion of Iraq.  The Iraqi base provided a safe haven for setting up the front in Syria and still provides sanctuary for the Syrian group.

 

Estimates of the size of Jabhat al-Nusra vary but they may now account for up to a quarter of the opposition fighters in Syria. The al-Qaeda presence is stronger around Aleppo and the north than around Damascus but it is becoming a national phenomenon. Without doubt they are among the most effective fighters in the resistance to the Assad regime and the most willing to use multiple simultaneous suicide bombings, an al-Qaeda trademark. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has a wealth of experience in developing large sophisticated bombs which has been exported into Syria.

 

And the front is attracting more fighters rapidly, not just among Syrians but from across the Muslim world.  One estimate suggests that as many as 5000 foreign fighters have gone to Syria. A review of jihadist websites found more than 130 martyrdom notices — obituaries posted on extremist websites ‘celebrating’ the martyrdom of fighters in Syria.  Most are relatively new; 85 of the 130 were posted in the last few  months.  The majority of these were for fighters in Jabhat al-Nusra. They came to Syria from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Palestine, Lebanon, Australia, Chechnya, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, France, Iraq and Spain.

 

Several senior European intelligence officials have told me that there is a wave of angry young Muslim men from all across Western Europe going to Syria to join al-Qaeda and fight Assad.  The largest contingent is from the United Kingdom, perhaps over a hundred already. The Danish press reported that a 39-year-old Danish citizen, Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane,  along with another unnamed Danish citizen, were killed fighting in Syria. Abderrahmane, the son of a Danish mother and an Algerian father, had served two years in Guantanamo after being captured by American forces in Afghanistan in 2002. Danish reports say at least thirty Danish Muslims have gone to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

 

Jabhat al-Nusra is not the only jihadist group fighting in Syria that is linked to al-Qaeda. Other smaller groups with a local focus also support the al Qaeda movement and align themselves with Jabhat al-Nusra.

Assad, of course, from the beginning of the uprising against his tyranny has blamed it all on terrorists and al-Qaeda.  But the truth is that by refusing to give up power and by resorting to a brutal war against his own people, Assad has created a self-fulfilling prophecy and brought al Qaeda to Syria. The longer the war goes on, the stronger al-Qaeda will get in Syria.

 

The Syrian group has also tried to export its violence to Jordan. In October, the Jordanian intelligence service foiled a plot based in Syria by al-Qaeda to stage a mass casualty terror attack in Amman that was apparently modeled on the 2008 attack by Pakistani terrorists on Mumbai, India.  The Jordan attack would have begun with suicide bombings in two shopping malls in Amman, then when the security forces rushed to deal with those, other attackers would have struck the American Embassy and other western diplomats in the city.

 

Jordanian authorities believe that the plot was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of November 9, 2005, terrorist attacks in Amman, in which 60 people were killed and 115 injured in multiple hotel bombings. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the plot, citing its rejection of Jordan’s alliance with the United States and Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Jordanian intelligence said that the group nicknamed its new terror plot “9/11 the second” after the 2005 bombings.  Among those arrested were two cousins of the Jordanian founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musaib al Zarqawi, who planned the 2005 attacks.

 

For now, the jihadists are focused on Syria and winning the war against Assad.  But their ambitions are much larger. The groups’ amir or leader uses the nom de guerre of Mohammad al Golani, a clear indication of al Qaeda’s hope to use Syria as a base for attacking Israel.  Israeli sources say elements of Jabhat al-Nusra have already appeared opposite the Israel Defense Forces on the Golan Heights.

 

With a base in Syria, the jihadists can threaten American interests in the entire Levant region, Europe and our allies in Turkey, Jordan and Israel. The worst danger is that the al Nusra front will get control of some of Syria’s large chemical weapons arsenal.  Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, built a major chemical weapon capability in the 1980s which includes the deadly nerve agent Sarin which was first developed by the Nazis. Al-Qaeda has been trying to get a weapon of mass destruction for years. In February, Jabhat al-Nusra fighters seized the remnants of the North Korean-built nuclear reactor destroyed by the IDF in September 2007. Next the group could grab a working chemical weapon.

 

Bruce Riedel is the director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.

 

 

 

WHY LEBANON MATTERS

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Now Lebanon, April 16, 2013

 

Apart from hosting Hezbollah and bordering Israel, Lebanon has little international significance. But with the alarming rise of radical Sunni Islamism – from Mali to Pakistan – Lebanon stands as the last bastion of moderate Sunnis, something that Hezbollah might have realized.

 

Lebanon's moderate Sunnis, however, face the risk of extinction. Like their Arab peers who were sidelined by fanatic generals after the Palestine defeat in 1948, they are under pressure to either stand up to Shiite bullying, or make way for those who can like Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra and similar organizations whose thought, politics and looks belong to medieval times.

 

Hezbollah has seemingly understood the Sunni conundrum: Shut out the Hariri family and the moderates and you will have to deal with firebrands like Ahmad al-Assir and soon enough with Jabhat al-Nusra. Perhaps this made Hezbollah unclench its fist and allow the nomination of lawmaker Tammam Salam, a member of the Hariri bloc and descendent of one of Lebanon's best-known Sunni families.

 

To be sure, Hezbollah has not given up its control of Lebanon's security. It has been less than six months since the assassination of Information Branch Chief Wissam al-Hassan, who had put together a competitive intelligence agency that threatened the party's dominance.

 

But anything less than threatening Hezbollah's control of security now looks permissible. By allowing moderate Sunnis some room, Hezbollah has broken with a template that it inherited from the Syrian rulers of Lebanon.

 

When Bashar al-Assad intended to extend the mandate of former President Emile Lahoud in 2004, many of his allies counseled him to the contrary, but his response was to threaten to break Lebanon on the heads of late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and former French President Jacques Chirac. Assad doubled down on his show of force, and lost, a step he would imprudently repeat when families of Deraa's tortured children tried to reason with him against an undeserved harsh punishment, the incident that is believed to have been the spark of the Syrian revolution.

 

Hezbollah's leadership, for its part, looks smarter than Assad. It sends its ‘black shirts’ to the streets only sparingly and seemingly does its best to avoid unnecessary fights. Thus, with the incompetent Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) now history and Hezbollah's undisputed dominance of the nation's security, the party feels secure enough to let Lebanon politics run its course and keep Sunni moderates stronger than their militant rivals.

 

This is good news for Lebanon. It shows that Hezbollah understands the shortcoming of its power, especially as the Arab Spring makes it harder for the practice of absolute authority. It is good news for the Levant too. Lebanon's Sunni leaders are the only remaining cosmopolitan politicians from Ottoman times. They are mostly college graduates and self-made businesspeople, which sets them apart from other Lebanese sects whose leaders mostly come from the army corps, the religious establishment, or civil war militias.

 

Those who saw Salam's picture kissing his mother might have noticed that for someone her age, mother Salam was not veiled. This is not to judge veil, but to argue that Lebanon's Sunnis are still diverse rather than uniformly attached to an austere interpretation of Islam like in most of the region.

In fact, it was Salam's paternal aunt, Anbara, who caused a stir when she took off her veil in public in 1927. Born in 1897 and dead in 1986, Anbara was among the first Arabs to advocate women's rights, long before there were radical takfiris or other distractions.

 

The majority of Lebanon's Sunnis are known for their peaceful temper to the extent that it becomes hard to imagine them forming militant groups or producing the likes of Abu Hafs al-Libi, of Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra, or of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, of Iraq's Islamic State.

 

The mere fact that over the past decade almost none of al-Qaeda leaders held the surname "al-Lubnani," or the Lebanese, speaks volumes. While some Lebanese Sunnis, mainly on the fringe, might have joined al-Qaeda, their number seems insignificant.

Since he was forced out of Lebanon in 2005, Assad tried to sponsor radical Lebanese Sunni groups, a tactic that he replicated in Syria in 2011. Assad reasoned that if his enemies are radical Sunnis, rather than moderate ones, he would be justified to use brutal force against them and sell such effort to world powers striving to fight these same groups.

 

But this is another tactic on which Assad and Hezbollah diverge, and therefore where MP Michel Aoun disagrees with Hezbollah over Salam. The Party of God has enough of a Shiite base to remain in power without the need for radical Sunni enemies to justify its power. Hezbollah might also believe that Assad’s tactics could backfire: Pretend radical Sunni groups might become real, snowball and turn into a formidable enemy that the party can do without.

 

With Hezbollah so far proving saner than blood-drenched Assad, and with Lebanon's moderate Sunnis getting a chance at resurgence, Lebanon should matter. Relations between its Shiites and Sunnis, though still tense, might be better than how things are in Syria and Iraq. The world should take notice.

 

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai.

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On Topic

 

The Argument for Assad: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, Apr. 11, 2013—Analysts agree that the erosion of the Syrian regime’s capabilities is accelerating, that it continues to retreat, making a rebel breakthrough and an Islamist victory increasingly likely. In response, I am changing my policy recommendation from neutrality to something that causes me, as a humanitarian and decades-long foe of the Assad dynasty, to pause before writing: Western governments should support the malign dictatorship of Bashar Assad.

 

Syria’s Forgotten Front: David Pollock, New York Times, April 15, 2013—As the civil war in Syria rages on, the risk that Israel will be drawn into the fray is rising. Just last Friday, shells fired from Syria again hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and Israel fired back. It’s not the first time tensions in the area have flared.

 

Hezbollah Sacrifices Popularity for Survival: Hanin Ghaddar, Now Lebanon, Apr. 10, 2013—A dozen Hezbollah fighters were killed and over 20 injured in an ambush Monday in Sayyida Zainab outside Damascus, Al-Arabiya reported Tuesday. The station cited sources as saying that a number of the wounded were transferred to the Rasul al-Azam Hospital in southern Beirut’s Dahiyeh suburb.

 

The End of Syria?: BESA Center, Jan. 29, 2013.

 

What's the Least Worst Option in Syria?: Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World, April 4, 2013—There are no good options in Syria. No matter what happens, the current civil war has triggered divisions between Sunni, Alawite, Kurd, and Syria's smaller minorities that will take a decade or more to heal and leave lasting anger and hatred between Sunni and Alawite.

 

‘Israeli Diplomats Met with Syrian Oppositionists’: Elhanan Miller, Times of Israel, April 17, 2013—Israeli diplomats and officers have met with members of the Syrian opposition in Amman, likely in order to gauge the possibility of establishing a buffer zone along the Golan Heights border, a Jordanian news site reported on Wednesday.

 

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CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

ARTIFICIAL PEARLS, REAL SWINE: AFRICAN “STATES” CONFRONT POST-LIBYA ISLAMISTS

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

In Mali, the Domino Theory is Real: Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, Jan. 23, 2013—As the French military intervention in Mali nears the end of its second week, French and Malian forces have begun making slow advances into the territory controlled by several different Islamist and separatist groups. What began a year ago as a Tuareg secessionist rebellion fuelled by weapons and mercenaries returning from Libya expanded into a larger war Jan. 11, when France attacked advancing Islamist forces that were moving towards Mali’s capital, Bamako.

 

Al-Qaeda's Soft Power Strategy in Yemen: Daniel Green, Washington Institute, Jan.24, 2013—Learning from jihadist mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has become adept at aligning with local political movements and building popular support in Yemen. In doing so, it has morphed into an insurgency while retaining its roots as a terrorist group.

 

Nigeria – Where Every Problem is Too Hard to Fix: Gwyne Dyer, The New Zealand Herald, Jan 2, 2013—It is not known if the word "dysfunctional" was invented specifically to describe the Nigerian state but the word certainly fills the bill. The political institutions of Africa's biggest country are incapable of dealing with even the smallest challenge.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

'Darker Sides': The Vast Islamist Sanctuary of 'Sahelistan': Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Jan Puhl, Thilo Thielke, Der Spiegel, Jan 28, 2013

Connecting the Dots in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya: Abukar Arman, The Commentator, Jan. 7 2013

The Mali Blowback: Patrick J. Buchanan, American Conservative, Jan. 18, 2013
Mali and the al-Qaeda Trap: Paul Rogers, Real Clear World, Jan. 25, 2013

 

 

IN MALI, THE DOMINO THEORY IS REAL

 

Daniel Larison

The American Conservative, Jan. 23, 2013

 

As the French military intervention in Mali nears the end of its second week, French and Malian forces have begun making slow advances into the territory controlled by several different Islamist and separatist groups. What began a year ago as a Tuareg secessionist rebellion fueled by weapons and mercenaries returning from Libya expanded into a larger war Jan. 11, when France attacked advancing Islamist forces that were moving towards Mali’s capital, Bamako. Unlike most previous Western interventions over the last two decades, France is here supporting the internationally recognized government of Mali, and its intervention has so far been welcomed by most Malians as necessary for the defense of their country. Unfortunately, French intervention now likely would not have been necessary had it not been for the intervention in Libya in 2011 that the last French president demanded and the U.S. backed. Had Western governments foreseen the possible consequences of toppling one government two years ago, there might be no need to rescue another one from disaster now.

 

France says it will continue fighting until the Malian government’s control over its northern territory is restored and Islamist groups are defeated, which promises to be a protracted, open-ended commitment for a nation that was already weary of its role in Afghanistan and unable to wage the war in Libya without substantial American help. The U.S. role in the conflict remains a minimal one, confined so far to intelligence assistance and logistical support. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) does pose a real security threat to North and West Africa, and it could pose a threat to Europe, but the threat to the U.S. from AQIM is minimal, if it exists at all. The U.S. has far less at stake in this fight than France or the countries in the region, so it is appropriate that they bear the costs of countering that threat.

 

The Libyan war did not create Mali’s internal divisions, which have existed since independence, but the destabilizing effects of changing one regime in the region exacerbated many of the country’s political weaknesses. As a result, the country was effectively cut in half, its democratically-elected president was overthrown in a coup, and hundreds of thousands of its people have been forced to become refugees. Adding to the embarrassment of Western interventionists, up until then Mali had been something of the poster child for successful democratization and development in Africa. Now it is in danger of being reduced to an even more misleading caricature as “another Afghanistan” or “another Somalia.” But thinking in these terms is bound to fail. Mali’s predicament has to be understood on its own terms.

 

Despite broad French and Malian support for French intervention, it is far from obvious that President Hollande’s decision was a wise or well-considered one. One of the few prominent French opponents of that decision, Dominique de Villepin, voiced his doubts shortly after the intervention began:

 

In Mali, none of the conditions for success are met. We will fight blindfolded absent a clear objective for the war. Stopping the southward advance of the jihadists, and retaking the north, eradicating AQIM bases are all different wars. We will fight alone absent a reliable Malian partner. With the overthrow of the president in March and the prime minister in December, the collapse of the divided Malian army, and the overall state failure, on whom can we depend? We will fight in a void absent strong regional support. ECOWAS is in the rear and Algeria has signaled its reluctance.

 

Like Sarkozy’s decision to use force in Libya, Hollande’s decision to go to war in Mali has been a popular one and a much-needed political boost for his ailing government, but that popularity will disappear if French involvement becomes prolonged and costly. Unless Hollande limits French objectives to those that are realistic and obtainable, he will find that de Villepin was as prescient in his warnings about war in Mali as he was when he admonished the U.S. against invading Iraq.

 

As far as America is concerned, there is no compelling national interest that obliges the U.S. to become more involved in the conflict in Mali. One lesson of the Libyan war is that the U.S. shouldn’t join wars of choice that our allies insist on fighting. Americans should remember that one of the reasons the French are fighting in Mali is that our government agreed to support the last French-backed military adventure in Africa. What other countries in the region would suffer serious unintended consequences from doing the same thing in Mali? How many other countries have to be wrecked before American leaders acknowledge that their interventionist remedies often do more harm than good?

 

The Libyan intervention’s consequences in Mali tell a cautionary tale about the disaster that unnecessary war can unleash on an entire region, but most of the Obama administration’s opponents in the U.S. refuse to understand this. Instead of seeing Mali’s current woes as a warning against going to war too quickly, hawkish interventionists are already crafting a fantasy story that this is a result of excessive American passivity. This virtually guarantees that Republican hawks will keep attacking the administration for “inaction” when they could instead be trying to hold it accountable for its past recklessness in using force. Absent a credible opposition, the administration will keep receiving the benefit of the doubt from the public on foreign policy, even when it isn’t deserved.

 

If the U.S. learned anything from the Libyan war experience, it ought to be that our government should be far more cautious about resorting to force and much less willing to dismiss the importance of regional stability when considering how to respond to a brutal and abusive regime. Unfortunately, the bias in favor of (military) action in U.S. foreign-policy discourse makes it virtually impossible for these lessons to take hold.

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AL-QAEDA'S SOFT POWER STRATEGY IN YEMEN
Daniel Green

Washington Institute, Jan.24, 2013
 

Learning from jihadist mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has become adept at aligning with local political movements and building popular support in Yemen. In doing so, it has morphed into an insurgency while retaining its roots as a terrorist group. To counter the group's political, legal, and social-welfare efforts in areas outside the capital, the Yemeni and U.S. governments must supplement their counterterrorism campaign by expanding services to the provinces in a decentralized fashion.
 

Since its founding in January 2009, AQAP has repeatedly attacked the United States and its interests. Washington has responded by significantly expanding its drone strikes in Yemen and bolstering the government's ability to fight AQAP itself through additional military aid and training.

 

When the Arab Spring began to sweep the region in 2011, a political crisis emerged in Yemen between then president Ali Saleh, who had ruled for over thirty years, and opponents who criticized the regime's corruption, lack of services, and leadership. As the crisis unfolded, Yemeni security forces became involved in political struggles in Sana, with many units moving from the south to the capital. Sensing a vacuum, AQAP launched a series of raids throughout the south that year, using conventional tactics to overrun large swathes of territory, including many districts and a provincial capital.
 

After seizing control of various southern Yemeni towns and districts, AQAP moved beyond its terrorist focus, adopting the characteristics of an insurgency and holding territory in order to create a nascent government. Its ability to do so was based not only on its enhanced military capabilities and the departure of government security forces, but also on its effective community engagement strategy.

 

Capitalizing on longstanding southern grievances regarding insufficient education, healthcare, security, rule of law, political representation, and economic development, AQAP sought to replicate the central government's functions throughout the region. Its political agents established a form of stability based on Islamic law, convening regular meetings with community leaders, solving local problems, and attempting to replace chaotic tribal feuds with a more ordered and religiously inspired justice system. This effort included mitigating tribal conflicts, protecting weaker tribes from stronger rivals, and creating opportunities for some ambitious locals, including weaker tribal factions, to rise beyond their social position and seize power in their communities. AQAP also provided humanitarian assistance such as fresh water and food for the indigent, basic healthcare, and educational opportunities (albeit only Quranic teachings).

 

Many of these efforts appealed to the population, not only because they were better than what the local government had provided, but also because many tribal sheiks had previously been discredited for not living up to their responsibilities. Additionally, Quran-based engagement was highly appealing to communities in which that book was often the only text residents knew.
 

Al-Qaeda's strategy in Yemen reflects many of the lessons it learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it frequently alienated locals through the brutality of its rule. In addition, Yemeni tribal structures are far stronger than in those two countries, and tribal leaders are much more adept at governing their traditional areas of control. AQAP has therefore pursued a softer approach not simply because it wants to, but because it must, since the tribes have far greater power than it currently wields.

AQAP has also been effective at joining its cause with local political movements in Yemen, as it did in Iraq with Sunni Arab nationalists. To date, it has aligned its interests with southern elements seeking greater autonomy from the central government or complete independence from Yemen (though it is probably not working with the longstanding Southern Mobility Movement).

 

Finally, al-Qaeda does not have as strong a foreign character in Yemen as it did in previous conflicts. This reduces Washington and Sana's ability to separate the population from the terrorist group by using national pride, ethnic/tribal differences, or simple xenophobia to rebuff AQAP's advances.

 

Last year, in response to AQAP's gains, the Yemeni military launched widespread operations against the group's forces in the south. Although these efforts were largely successful in pushing AQAP out of areas it overran in 2011, the group continues to pose a threat. Having retreated to its traditional safe havens in the interior, al-Qaeda has since undertaken a concerted assassination campaign against Yemeni security, military, and intelligence officials as it reconstitutes its forces.

 

In addition, the group still commands sympathy and influence in the south. To be sure, AQAP eventually reverted to harsh rule in many communities once it consolidated power there, alienating many locals and spurring the exodus of thousands from areas under its sway. Yet many others remain sympathetic to the group, not just for religious or culturally conservative reasons, but also out of a general feeling that al-Qaeda, with all its imperfections, is still a better alternative than the Yemeni government.

 

Although relief efforts for war refugees did much to improve Sana's image among southerners, only a sustained governance and development initiative — one highly synchronized with military clearing and holding operations against AQAP — will consolidate support for the central government. Yet this sort of initiative will not come naturally to Sana or Washington. The lack of such efforts following last year's clearing operations is already undermining popular support, creating another opportunity for a chastened but resilient AQAP to leverage the south against the central government. The group is already adapting its community engagement strategy by apologizing for the excesses of its recent rule and making overtures to key local leaders to lay the groundwork for reasserting control.

 

Thus far, most U.S. efforts against AQAP have been limited to counterterrorism operations, which are unable to address the fundamental issues prompting Yemenis to either tolerate the group's presence or actively support its goals. In fact, the heavy reliance on sometimes-inaccurate drone strikes has allowed AQAP to take advantage of U.S. and Yemeni mistakes and further bolster its support among the population…..

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NIGERIA – WHERE EVERY PROBLEM IS TOO HARD TO FIX

Gwyne Dyer

The New Zealand Herald, Jan 2, 2013

 

It is not known if the word "dysfunctional" was invented specifically to describe the Nigerian state – several other candidates also come to mind – but the word certainly fills the bill. The political institutions of Africa's biggest country are incapable of dealing with even the smallest challenge. Indeed, they often make matters worse.

 

Consider, for example, the way that the Nigerian Government has dealt with the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram. Or rather, how it has failed to deal with them. Boko Haram (the phrase means "Western education is sinful") began as a loony but not very dangerous group in the northern state of Bornu who rejected everything that they perceived as "Western" science. In a BBC interview in 2009 its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, claimed that the concept of a spherical Earth is against Islamic teaching. He also denied that rain came from water evaporated by the sun.

 

Bornu is a very poor state, however, and his preaching gave him enough of a following among the poor and ignorant to make him a political threat to the established order. So hundreds of his followers were killed in a huge military and police attack on the movement in 2009, and Mohammed Yusuf himself was murdered while in police custody. That was what triggered Boko Haram's terrorist campaign.

 

Its attacks grew rapidly: by early last year Boko Haram had killed 700 people in dozens of attacks against military, police, government and media organisations and against the Christian minorities living in northern Nigeria. So last March Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan, promised that the security forces would end the insurgency by June. But the death toll just kept climbing.

 

In September, an official told the Guardian newspaper, "There is no sense that the Government has a real grip. The situation is not remotely under control." Last week alone, six people died in an attack on a church on Christmas Day, seven were killed in Maiduguri, the capital of Bornu state, on December 27 and 15 Christians were abducted and murdered, mostly by slitting their throats, in a town near Maiduguri on December 28.

 

President Jonathan's response was to visit a Christian church on Sunday and congratulate the security forces on preventing many more attacks during Christmas week: "Although we still recorded some incidents, the extent of attacks which [Boko Haram] planned was not allowed to be executed." If this is what success looks like, Nigeria is in very deep trouble.

 

Part of the reason is the "security forces", which are corrupt, incompetent, and brutal. In the murderous rampages that are their common response to Boko Haram's attacks, they have probably killed more innocent people than the terrorists, and have certainly stolen more property.

 

But it is the Government that raises, trains and pays these security forces, and even in a continent where many countries have problems with the professionalism of the army and police, Nigeria's are in a class by themselves. That is ultimately because its politicians are also in a class by themselves. There are some honest and serious men and women among them, but as a group they are spectacularly cynical and self-serving.

 

One reason is Nigeria's oil: 100 million Nigerians, two-thirds of the population, live on less than a dollar a day, but there is a lot of oil money around to steal, and politics is the best way to steal it. Another is the country's tribal, regional and religious divisions, which are extreme even by African standards. In the mainly Muslim north, 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line; in the mostly Christian south, only half do.

 

Now add a ruthless Islamist terrorist group to the mix, and stir. Boko Haram's support does not just come from a tiny minority of religious fanatics and from grieving and angry people turned against the Government by the brutality of the security forces. It also comes from a huge pool of unemployed and demoralised young men who have no hope of doing anything meaningful with their lives.

 

Democracy has not transformed politics dramatically anywhere in Nigeria, but the deficit is worst in the north, where the traditional rulers protected their power by making alliances with politicians who appealed to the population's Islamic sentiments.

 

That's why all the northern states introduced sharia law around the turn of the century: to stave off popular demands for more far-reaching reforms.

 

But that solution is now failing, for the cynical politicians who became Islamist merely for tactical reasons are being outflanked by genuine fanatics who reject not only science and religious freedom but democracy itself.

 

Nigeria only has an Islamist terrorist problem at the moment, mostly centred in the north and with sporadic attacks in the Christian-majority parts of the country. But it may be heading down the road recently taken by Mali, in which Islamist extremists seize control of the north of the country and divide it in two. And lots of people in the south wouldn't mind a bit. Just seal the new border and forget about the north.

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'Darker Sides': The Vast Islamist Sanctuary of 'Sahelistan': Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Jan Puhl and Thilo Thielke, Der Spiegel, Jan 28, 2013—France is advancing quickly against the Islamists in northern Mali, having already made it to Timbuktu. But the Sahel offers a vast sanctuary for the extremists, complete with training camps, lawlessness and plenty of ways to make money.

 

Connecting the Dots in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya: Abukar Arman, The Commentator, Jan. 7 2013—Just as the temperature of ‘security threat’ slowly declines in Somalia, it rises in other parts of East Africa. Elements of mainly political, religious, and clan/ethnic nature continue to shift and create new volatile conditions. Though not entirely interdependent these conditions could create a ripple effect across different borders.  It is a high anxiety period in the region – especially the area that I would refer to as the triangle of threat: Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
 

The Mali Blowback: Patrick J. Buchanan, American Conservative, Jan. 18, 2013—“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” is Newton’s third law of physics. Its counterpart in geopolitics is “blowback,” when military action in one sphere produces an unintended and undesirable consequence in another. September 11, 2001, was blowback.

Mali and the al-Qaeda Trap: Paul Rogers, Real Clear World, Jan. 25, 2013—A series of events and statements in the early weeks of 2013 suggests that the "war on terror" declared in 2001 is entering a new phase. The escalation of war in northern Mali and the siege of the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, followed by the sudden advice from several European governments that their citizens in Benghazi should leave immediately, all focus security attention on northern Africa. At the same time, there are signs of an increase in Islamist influence among the opposition forces in Syria's ongoing war, and of an intensified bombing campaign against government and Shi'a sites in Iraq.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

DISQUIETING ISLAMIST “ARAB SPRING” IN TUNISIA & LIBYA, AND SADISTIC ISLAMIST INSURGENCY IN NIGERIA, NIGER & BEYOND

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Ennahda Clears the Decks to Dominate: Sana Ajmi, The Daily Star, Dec. 11, 2012—Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly – the democratically elected body responsible for drafting the country’s constitution – put forward a new bill on Nov. 23 which would exclude politicians once affiliated with the former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) from political life for 10 years.

 

Boko Haram’s Growing Presence in Niger: Jacob Zenn, Jamestown Foundation, Nov. 2, 2012—The recent arrests of Boko Haram members in the Niger town of Zinder come at a time when the Islamist movement’s fighters are taking advantage of the porosity of the Nigeria-Niger border region to avoid security crackdowns in Yobe, Borno and other states of northeastern Nigeria.

 

Libyans Say Sharia Will Be Law of the Land: Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast, Dec 11, 2012—The constitutional debate that Libya is likely to have in the coming months is going to be different from Egypt’s…Across the political spectrum, there’s a general acceptance that the country’s new laws must reflect religion and that sharia will figure prominently—only a small minority question this.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy: Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, Nov. 11, 2012
Boko Haram’s Dangerous Expansion into Northwest Nigeria: Jacob Zenn, Counter Terrorism Center, Oct 29, 2012
Nigeria’s Most Sadistic Killers: Why is Boko Haram not Designated a Terrorist Group?: Eli Lake, The Daily Beast, Oct 16, 2012
List of Designated Terrorist Organizations: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

ENNAHDA CLEARS THE DECKS TO DOMINATE

Sana Ajmi

The Daily Star, Dec. 11, 2012

 

Members of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly – the democratically elected body responsible for drafting the country’s constitution – put forward a new bill on Nov. 23 which would exclude politicians once affiliated with the former ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) from political life for 10 years. Entitled “The Protection of the Revolution,” the measure – proposed and supported by Ennahda parliamentarians – is being seen by some as a tactic to hinder an opposition front to Ennahda and ensure the Islamists’ dominance in the upcoming election. Its supporters, however, see it as a protective measure necessary to safeguard the revolution.

Sahbi Atig, the head of Ennahda’s parliamentary bloc, explained that the bill would forbid any politician who had served in the RCD from running for president and participating in political life. Ennahda controls 89 out of 217 seats in Constituent Assembly and can easily pass the bill by an overwhelming majority – with the support of four other major blocs backing the measure: This includes the Fidelity to the Revolution, Congress For the Republic, Freedom and Dignity, and the Democratic Bloc – as well as some independent parliamentarians.

Farida Laabidi, head of the government’s Commission on Rights and Liberties (and a member of Ennahda himself) explained that “Through this law we will guarantee that those who served under the former repressive and corrupt regime will not rule the country again.”

This envisioned ban on former RCD members has sparked controversy particularly within the ranks of center-left parties in the opposition, a number of whose members were associated with the old regime. Parties like the newly formed Nidaa Tunis (as well others like Al-Moubadara and Al-Watan) have condemned the proposed bill. Khmais Ksila, a member of the Constituent Assembly representing Nidaa Tunis and who is formerly a member of the center-left Ettakatol Party (currently in coalition with Ennahda), described the proposed law as “anti-revolution”; the bill would render certain Tunisians second-class citizens based on political affiliations, and that these kinds of laws only encourage a revenge mentality among Tunisians and threatens to “resort to international institutions to invalidate it.”

Analysts have argued that Tunisia’s transitional democratic process cannot be based on exclusion. Kais Saiyed, a constitutional law expert at the Faculty of Political Science in Tunis, believes that proposing such a law contradicts the principles of democracy: “It is up to the people to decide who to exclude from the political,” he says. Furthermore, other figures – like Kamel Morjane, the former minister of foreign affairs under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the leader of Al-Moubadara, and Beji Caid Essebsi, the octogenarian head of Nidaa Tunis and interim prime minister during the transition (and also former interior minister under Habib Bourghuiba) – all see this as a purely politically motivated attack to eliminate parties and coalitions capable of competing with Ennahda in the upcoming election.

Nidaa Tunis has a wide range of secular liberals formerly associated with the RCD – which claimed a membership of 2 million people before its dissolution. Many of these saw in Essebsi’s party an opportunity to revive their political chances and perhaps even regain their lost status. Nidaa Tunis, which aims to unite Tunisia’s non-Islamist parties in a national unity movement, was perceived as a way to “protect” them from religious extremism and to uphold a modernist interpretation of Islam initiated under the Bourghuiba and Ben Ali regimes – which these former RCD-associates see Ennahda failing to do, if not supporting explicitly. Essebsi himself is especially outspoken in his criticism of the ruling coalition for its “failure” to protect its people from religious extremism and Salafism.

The pragmatism of which Essebsi’s party boasts and its espousal of “modernist” values – coupled with Ennahda’s perceived failures to deal with pressing socio-economic issues – have all given Nidaa Tunis an edge and a chance to have a strong showing in the coming election. According to a recent poll conducted by the Tunisian poll office and 3C Etude, Ennahda and Nidaa Tunis rank close in popularity.

The party has also announced an initiative to merge with the ranks of other center-left parties – among which include Al-Joumhouri, Al-Massar, and the Popular Movement, as well as others – in anticipation of the 2013 parliamentary and presidential elections. Essebsi and his followers believe that the only way to counter Ennahda is through a united opposition front.

Ennahda’s fear of a more robust opposition in the upcoming election may well be the motive behind its support of the proposed bill. And whether or not a concern for the rise of former-regime sympathizers is founded, a bill based on political exclusion and score-settling does not bode well for Tunisia’s fragile political process. By pushing it forward, Ennahda is doing exactly what it claims to protect the revolution from: creating a one-party system and attempting to ensure an opposition vacuum – bringing the ruling party more in line with the RDC than it would perhaps like to admit.

 

Sana Ajmi is a Tunisian journalist and writer. This commentary first appeared at Sada, an online journal published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

 

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BOKO HARAM’S GROWING PRESENCE IN NIGER

Jacob Zenn

Jamestown Foundation, Nov. 2, 2012

 

The recent arrests of Boko Haram members in the Niger town of Zinder come at a time when the Islamist movement’s fighters are taking advantage of the porosity of the Nigeria-Niger border region to avoid security crackdowns in Yobe, Borno and other states of northeastern Nigeria. On September 27, a Nigerien security official reported that five Boko Haram members were arrested in Zinder, one of the rare times that Boko Haram members have been arrested outside of Nigeria since Boko Haram launched an insurgency in September, 2010 to dismantle Nigeria’s secular regime and “entrench a just Islamic government”. The only similar case in Niger occurred last February, when 15 suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger’s easternmost city, allegedly planning to plant bombs in several of the city’s public places. Diffa and Zinder (the largest city in southern Niger) both border Nigeria’s Yobe State, where Boko Haram—then popularly known as “the Nigerian Taliban”—established a base nicknamed “Afghanistan” in a village three miles south of the border with Niger in 2003. Diffa is believed to be a principal refuge for Nigerian Boko Haram fighters.

 

On both sides of the Nigerian-Nigerien border, as well as in northern Cameroon and western Chad, Sunni Islam and the Hausa language are predominant. However, there are sizable minorities of Shuwa Arabic and Kanuri speakers in Diffa, western Chad and Nigeria’s far northeastern Borno State, which has been Boko Haram’s main area of operations since the start of the insurgency. These cross-border ties help unite the peoples of the border region.

 

The movement of Boko Haram members into Niger follows a series of blows inflicted on the movement by Nigerian security services in recent weeks:

 

    On September 24, Nigeria’s Joint Task Force (JTF) killed 35 Boko Haram members and seized ammunition and weapons in house-to-house searches in Yobe;

    Also on September 24, the Special Security Squad launched “Operation Restore Sanity” in Mubi, Adamawa State, which borders Borno to the south. 156 Boko Haram suspects were arrested, four of whom were believed to be unit commanders. A top commander, Abubakr Yola (a.k.a Abu Jihad) was killed in the operation;

    On October 15 the Joint Task Force in Borno State killed 24 Boko Haram members during a series of night raids in Maiduguri; and

    On October 20, security forces arrested a wanted Boko Haram leader, Shuaibu Muhammad Bama, in Maiduguri at a house owned by his uncle, Senator Ahmad Zanna, who represents Borno Central.

 

Nigeria shares approximately 2,000 miles of border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad, but, according to the Nigerian Immigration Service, only 84 border points are staffed by immigration officials. Nigeria has previously closed the border after major Boko Haram attacks, such as the Christmas Day 2011 church bombings in Madalla, a city outside of Abuja. The Borno State National Service Immigration Comptroller said at the time that such measures were the only way to “prevent the entry and exit of suspected Boko Haram sect members and illegal aliens that have no travel or residence permit documents to remain in the country”.  

 

Due to the linguistic and cultural ties along the 950-mile Nigerian-Nigerien border, Nigerien Muslims can easily cross the border and assimilate into Boko Haram’s ranks. According to local reports in Niger, many Nigeriens have joined Boko Haram because of economic rather than religious or ideological motives. Unlike northern Nigeria, Niger does not have a legacy of religious extremism, but it is one of the world’s least developed and most impoverished nations.

 

With an estimated 200,000 herdsmen and farmers in Niger subsisting on Red Cross food rations due to severe drought, the $30 that Boko Haram offers its members for killing Nigerian security officers—or the $60 it offers for also stealing the officer’s weapon—can be an effective recruiting tool.. The hundreds of thousands of dollars that Boko Haram has acquired in several dozen bank robberies in the past two years, can provide additional economic motivation for the poor to join the insurgency, whether or not they share the same motivations as Boko Haram leader Abu Shekau. If such reports are true, the poor Nigeriens who are taking up arms for Boko Haram may join other illicit economic activities such as selling black market gasoline and cigarettes. In February, captured Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa told interrogators that Nigeriens were among the groups commonly chosen by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings.

 

Boko Haram’s infiltration of the immigration service also facilitates its operations in the border region. Two days after the arrests of the five Boko Haram members in Zinder, the Nigerian Army announced it had arrested a Nigerian immigration official posing as an army officer. Under interrogation, the official confessed to having been trained along with 15 other Boko Haram members in weapons handling, assassinations and special operations in Niger, and named other officials who were conspiring with Boko Haram. The October 19 killing of a customs official and his son in Potiskum, Yobe State, by Boko Haram members was likely intended to coerce other officials to comply with – or at least not obstruct – Boko Haram’s efforts to infiltrate the immigration service. Boko Haram has similarly assassinated dozens of Islamic clerics, politicians and journalists who disagreed with Boko Haram’s ideology and militant activities in order to deter other influential figures from speaking out.

 

Since April, there have been reports of several hundred Nigerian and Nigerien Boko Haram members helping al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) consolidate control of northern Mali after the three militias expelled the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the ethno-national secular Tuareg militia. As a result, the territory of Niger separating northern Nigeria from northern Mali—only 300 miles across at its shortest point, Sokoto to Gao—is becoming an important area of transit for the insurgents. Niger is the one country of these three that has thus far avoided an Islamist insurgency on its territory, but Niger has a restive Tuareg population in the northern Agadez region bordering northern Mali and an increasing Boko Haram presence in its southern border cities—both representing potential sources of instability. Given this pressure, Niger and Nigeria agreed on October 18­—after four years of discussion­—to deploy joint patrols along their border in order to prevent the Boko Haram presence in southern Niger from growing into a cross-border insurgency. 

 

Jacob Zenn is a legal adviser and international affairs analyst who focuses on the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria.

 

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LIBYANS SAY SHARIA WILL BE LAW OF THE LAND

Jamie Dettmer

The Daily Beast, Dec 11, 2012

 

“Egypt is Islamic, it will not be secular!” Islamist supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi have taken to chanting this slogan during street protests in Cairo. While the mantra fills opponents of the Egyptian president with dread, as does a Morsi-backed draft Constitution ensuring laws and rights will be strictly subordinated to sharia law, such chants would hardly prove controversial in Libya, Egypt’s neighboring Arab-Spring country—nor would they propel tens of thousands onto the streets of Tripoli or Benghazi to express dissent.

 

The constitutional debate that Libya is likely to have in the coming months—once its new rulers have decided on how to proceed with a draft—is going to be different from Egypt’s, and less about whether Islamic law should figure in the Constitution. Across the political spectrum, there’s a general acceptance that the country’s new laws must reflect religion and that sharia will figure prominently—only a small minority question this.

 

During the campaign for the country’s elections last July, party leaders—even those from moderate parties, such as Mahmoud Jibril, leader of the National Forces Alliance—acknowledged that sharia would significantly influence any Constitution. New laws should have a “reference to sharia,” Jibril told The Daily Beast, arguing, “Sharia law, when it was understood in the proper way, managed to create one of the great civilizations in human history. The problem is not with sharia or Islam; the problem is with the interpretation of sharia.”

 

Even among women agitating for a greater role in public and political life here, there’s agreement that sharia law should be at the heart of the country’s new Constitution. The only disputes are about the drafting process; whether the members of a 60-strong drafting panel should be elected or appointed by the country’s new Parliament, the General National Congress; and whether sharia should be the “only source of law” or a “principal source of law,” with the latter allowing greater possibility of adopting laws used in non-Muslim countries.

 

“Libyans wouldn’t accept a Constitution that isn’t informed by Sharia,” says 20-year-old Issraa Murabit, a second-year medical student from the town of Zawiyah and vice president of The Voice of Libyan Women, an NGO campaigning for greater women’s rights.

 

She says that a majority of women involved with civil-society activism are broadly comfortable with sharia and don’t see any contradiction between Islamic law and their demands for gender equality and a bigger role for women in Libyan society.  Some women activists argue that women’s rights are, in certain cases, better protected under sharia than they are in the West. They cite property protections afforded to divorced spouses. “In the West, they think we are the oppressors of women and they have the best rights for women, but we have a different perspective,” says Murabit, who was raised in Canada until her early teens. “Islam doesn’t undermine women’s rights—the problem is with Muslim men and how they try to use sharia against women.”

 

For Western commentators, the mere mention of Islamic law prompts, at best, suspicion and oftentimes pure horror. “A dangerous pattern is emerging,” Bonnie Erbe, host of the PBS show, To the Contrary, wrote recently. “Islamic countries more often than not replace tyrants with religious dictators who can become even more despotic than their predecessors. Look at Iran. Unfortunately, look at Egypt.”

 

Libyan activists say such sentiments tarnish the Arab Spring and that the problem with Morsi’s draft Constitution lies with the underhand manner of its drafting process, involving a lack of consultation by the country’s Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. Islamists railroaded approval of the final draft in an all-night session on November 30….

 

When Libya’s government—led by the new prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and the country’s Congress—eventually decide on the process for the drafting the Libyan constitution, activists warn that Morsi’s example shouldn’t be followed.  “If they are inclusive and consult and have women among the drafters, there won’t be a problem,” says Murabit.

 

One key area of contention could be over who interprets the Sharia provisions included in any Libyan constitution. Morsi’s Egyptian opponents take issue with the draft Constitution’s provision that Muslim clerics will be Sharia’s arbiters. Under the charter, clerics from Egypt’s conservative Al-Azhar University are “to be consulted on any matters related to Sharia.” Libyan women activists say no religious body or figures should be allowed under Libya’s Constitution oversight of the country’s laws—only the courts should decide. Others argue that religious arbiters would be acceptable as long as women religious scholars were also included.

 

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Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy: Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, Nov. 11, 2012—On the Friday after Tunisia’s president fell, Mohamed al-Khelif mounted the pulpit of this city’s historic Grand Mosque to deliver a full-throttle attack on the country’s corrupt culture, to condemn its close ties with the West and to demand that a new constitution implement Shariah, or Islamic law.

 

Boko Haram’s Dangerous Expansion into Northwest Nigeria: Jacob Zenn, Combatting Terrorism Center, Oct 29, 2012—During the past year, the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has expanded from its traditional area of operations in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State and is now capable of conducting attacks across a 900-mile breadth of northern Nigeria, including in the strategic state of Sokoto.

 

Nigeria’s Most Sadistic Killers: Why is Boko Haram not Designated a Terrorist Group?: Eli Lake, The Daily Beast, Oct 16, 2012—The group is one of the deadliest organizations in Africa, accused of killing at least 1,500 people between June 2009 and September 2012. Its victims are the cops, Christians, and those Muslims it sees as betraying the true faith. It is alleged to sabotage oil pipelines, take down automated teller machines, and rip up telephone lines in a violent jihad against the West.

 

List of Designated Terrorist Organizations: Wikipedia—This is a list of designated terrorist organizations by national governments, former governments and inter-governmental organizations, where the proscription has a significant impact on the group's activities.

 

 

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Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org

The Ups and Downs of Islamist Fortunes in Yemen, Somalia, and Mali

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Contents:                          

(Please Note: articles below may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click on the link for the full article.)

 

Why Yemen is the Scariest Challenge Facing Obama Abroad: Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast, Nov. 9, 2012     —The scariest terrorist challenge facing the re-elected President Obama comes from Yemen. Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on.

 

Somalia’s Tentative Recovery: Irfan Husain, Dawn, Dec.10, 2012—Finally, some good news from Somalia: In large measure, this return to normalcy is due to the defeat of the terrorist group Harkat al-Mujahideen al-Shebab by the forces of the African Mission for Somalia established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

 

A Trip Through Hell: Daily Life in Islamist Northern Mali: Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Der Spiegel, Oct. 30, 2012—For months, an Islamist regime has been terrorizing northern Mali. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the region, and those who have stayed behind are experiencing new forms of cruelty with each passing day. A Spiegel reporter documents a two-week journey through a region Europe fears will become the next Somalia.

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Losing Yemen: Gregory Johnsen, Foreign Policy,  Nov. 5, 2012

Saudi Arabia – Yemen Border Dispute: Chris Murphy, ICE Case Studies,  Nov., 2006

Remote U.S. Base at Core of Secret Operations: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, October 25, 2012

In Yemen Trading Girls is Economical: Hind Aleryani, NOW Lebanon, December 10, 2012

 

 

 

WHY YEMEN IS THE SCARIEST
CHALLENGE FACING OBAMA ABROAD

Bruce Riedel

The Daily Beast, Nov 9, 2012

 

The scariest terrorist challenge facing the re-elected President Obama comes from Yemen….Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on. The response must be nimble and careful because AQAP’s real goal is to drag America into another bleeding war in the Muslim world, this time hoping it will spread into the oil rich deserts of Saudi Arabia….

 

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia by Gregory Johnsen is a detailed narrative account of the development of AQAP [see link in On Topic below – Ed.]….The story is fascinating, this is a group that was virtually destroyed in 2004 by drone attacks and effective counter terrorism operations, and then it recovered, helped immensely by the Arab world’s anger over the American invasion of Iraq. In 2009 it rebranded itself with new leadership composed of Saudis and Yemenis, several of whom had been prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It’s number two, Saeed al Shihri, spent five years America’s Cuban prison before being released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 where he fled into Yemen. A drone had allegedly killed him last month, then he reappeared alive in a message threatening more attacks on America.

 

Since 2009 AQAP has tried to attack the American homeland at least three times. On Christmas Day 2009 it almost succeeded. [A] suicide terrorist…successfully penetrated American security and got a bomb on a Detroit bound flight that day. President Obama was absolutely right when he said after the fact “we dodged a bullet, but just barely” because the bomb failed to detonate properly. Johnsen reveals that AQAP’s master bomb maker, a Saudi named Ibrahim Asiri has now built a bomb with two detonators so it can’t fail.

 

The Arab Awakening came to Yemen in 2011 with a vengeance and has left the country completely fragmented. AQAP has thrived. Yemen has always been a difficult and inhospitable place. Its most desolate region, where Osama Ben Laden’s family comes from and Shihri was nearly killed, is the Hadramawt which means “death has come” in Arabic and is said to contain the gate to hell in one of its wadis. Today Yemen is running out of oil and water, more than half the population is under 18, half goes to bed every night hungry and the national government barely controls even parts of the capital.

 

For over a decade America has been trying to fight al Qaeda in Yemen without getting dragged deeper and deeper into its internal dysfunctional politics….America’s key ally in this war is Yemen’s bigger and richer brother, Saudi Arabia, the real prize in the struggle. Bin Laden and his protégés in AQAP have always had their focus on the Kingdom and the House of Saud. Johnsen details just how deeply the Saudis have become involved in the war in Yemen including how its intelligence service has foiled two AQAP plots against America and its Royal Saudi Air Force is now flying bombing strikes against AQAP targets deep inside the country.

 

AQAP entitled the video it produced about the Christmas Day plot “the Final Trap.”  Shihri was one of the narrators. What the title meant was that al Qaeda hopes to draw America deeper and deeper into a quagmire with more and more boots on the ground in Yemen. It wants another Iraq, another Afghanistan. An attack in America that killed hundreds would force America to take on the challenge of rebuilding Yemen with our own hands, a final trap that would bleed America’s military, our economy, and our morale.

 

President Obama has wisely avoided the trap for the last four years but the Yemeni threat has not gone away and the slow collapse of the Yemeni state offers little hope that it will.  Washington has a long-term challenge in Arabia…..

 

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SOMALIA’S TENTATIVE RECOVERY

Irfan Husain

Dawn, Dec.10, 2012

 

Finally, some good news from Somalia: according to a new issue of the French weekly Paris Match, the Somali shilling has doubled in value against the dollar over the last two years. The international airport at Mogadishu has been refurbished, and now boasts of a duty-free shop. Turkish Airlines operates three weekly flights to Istanbul as a result of a visit by Recep Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister….The same issue of the magazine informs us that the price of fish has shot up because of new restaurants opening up to cater for the increasing number of foreigners and returning expatriate Somalis. A new six-story hotel is coming up in the capital. Male and female students are returning to schools and university.

 

In large measure, this return to normalcy is due to the defeat of the terrorist group Harkat al-Mujahideen al-Shebab by the forces of the African Mission for Somalia established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This force, sanctioned by the UN, has been very successful in pushing the terrorists out of Mogadishu, and from other towns as well. The effort to eject the extremist thugs out of the country began last year, and has made steady success.

 

The other factor underpinning the Somali success story is the return of some 300,000 migrants who had been forced to leave their country due to the complete breakdown of law and order. With their money and their entrepreneurial spirit, the rebuilding of Somalia is under way. Scattered across North America and Europe, this diaspora made its mark by dint of hard work and self-help.

 

Considering that Somalia was for years synonymous with our notion of a failed state, this recovery is nothing short of miraculous. For decades, the country was caught up in murderous tribal warfare that destroyed much of Mogadishu. A slice of this mayhem was captured by the Nineties film Blackhawk Down that depicted the failed American effort to restore some order and bring in food supplies. In the event, Bill Clinton pulled out US forces after they lost a number of soldiers….

 

Whatever was left was demolished by the Shebab in their bid to impose a Taliban-like theocracy on Somalia. These holy warriors modelled themselves on the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, banning everything from music to sports. Symbolising the return to sanity is the reopening of the National Theatre, a building earlier used by the Shebab as an arms depot and then as a public toilet….

 

Repeated bouts of famine, in part caused by the civil war,…hastened Somalia’s descent into chaos. After a provisional government was established with international support, the country was again subjected to yet another round of violence when the Shebab attempted to take control. For years, Mogadishu was a divided city with the young terrorists calling the shots. The country is also plagued by a nest of pirates who prey on ships sailing hundreds of miles from the coast. Their links to the Shebab have been reported, and their depredations have been the subject of widespread international concern and action….

 

The return of a tenuous stability augurs well for this east African state. If it can build democratic institutions, it might well emerge from decades of violence and abject poverty. Luckily, it has many well-wishers: the West as well as its neighbours realize that a collapsed Somali state means trouble for the entire region…..

 

One lesson from Somalia is that given political will and firm military action, the extremist scourge can be defeated. The reality is that jihadis, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, have very little public support. Even though they fly the Islamic banner, they are actually fighting for power and money. They recruit poor, gullible young men to their cause, but the leaders are cynical killers who use religion as a ploy to silence their opponents.

 

In Somalia, the Shebab faded away when confronted with well armed and disciplined troops. While they killed and terrorised unarmed civilians, they were no match for the OAU force….

 

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A TRIP THROUGH HELL:
DAILY LIFE IN ISLAMIST NORTHERN MALI

Paul Hyacinthe Mben

Der Spiegel, Oct. 30, 2012

 

For months, an Islamist regime has been terrorizing northern Mali. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the region, and those who have stayed behind are experiencing new forms of cruelty with each passing day. Northern Mali is virtually inaccessible to journalists at present. Sharia law has been in effect there since last spring, when fundamentalists took control of a large part of the country, which had been considered a model nation until then. The fundamentalists stone adulterers, amputate limbs and squelch all opposition. They have destroyed tombs in Timbuktu that were recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site….

 

A checkpoint set up by the Islamist police on the road to Gao marks the beginning of the region controlled by the new rulers of northern Mali. Adolescents wielding Kalashnikovs stand at the barrier with their legs apart. The oldest one keeps repeating the same instructions through a megaphone: "No cigarettes, no CDs, no radios, no cameras, no jewelry," an endless loop of prohibitions, a list of everything that's haram, or impure, with which this journey to the north begins. The men stand guard in the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

 

With arrogant gestures, they stop the few long-distance buses still coming from southern Mali. One of the men, holding his weapon at the ready, inspects the busses by walking down the aisle and checking to make sure everyone is in compliance with the Islamists' rules: Are women and men sitting in separate areas? Are the women wearing the hijab? And are the men wearing trousers that reach to their ankles, the kind of trousers that radical Muslims believe the Prophet favoured? They are now obligatory in Gao….

 

Mali has been a divided country since April, when Islamists took control of a region in the north larger than France, while the south is still administered by a government that is incapable of defending itself. This spring, forces with the Tuareg ethnic group drove the Malian army out of the country's northern regions within only a few weeks. They proclaimed the Tuareg nation of Azawad, which no nation in the world has recognized.

 

Then came the Islamists, armed to the teeth with what was left of the arsenal of the former Gadhafi regime in nearby Libya. The Islamists are also well connected with al-Qaida fighters who for some years now have found a safe haven in the Maghreb region of North Africa and the countries of the Sahel zone south of the Sahara Desert. Those Tuareg who didn't join the Islamists were driven out. The fronts of buildings in Gao still show traces of the power struggle between the two groups, including bullet holes and blackened and crumbling walls. The world is now deeply concerned that Mali could turn into another Somalia or Afghanistan.

 

In principle, the United Nations Security Council has already approved the deployment of international troops against the north. The European Union has decided to send military advisors, and the United States is even considering the use of remote-controlled drones to fight the Islamist leaders. Northern Mali, less than a five-hour flight from Paris, cannot become a new hotbed of terrorism or a second Somalia, says German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. His US counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believes that the Islamists in Mali were behind the attack that led to the death of the American ambassador in the Libyan city of Benghazi seven weeks ago.

 

Gao, a city of 100,000 people, has become a lifeless place since the Islamists took over. It was once a stopping point for tourists traveling to Timbuktu, but now the roadside stands have disappeared, bars and restaurants are boarded up and music is banned. The new strongmen proclaim their creed on signs posted at street corners, written in white Arabic lettering on a black background, that read: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."

 

To make matters worse, garbage collection has been suspended, leaving waste to rot in the streets at temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Around 400,000 people have already fled the Islamists. Most who have left represent the better-educated parts of the work force, like the engineers who kept the power plant and waterworks in operation. Foreign aid organizations are gone, as are government officials who were in the process of implementing a new road construction program.

 

"Gao is a dead city," says Allassane Amadou Touré, a mechanic, as he drinks tea in the shade. He is unemployed, like many in the city, and says that Gao's economic output has "declined by 85 percent" since the spring. The Islamic police have become the city's biggest employers. Ironically, their headquarters are on Washington Street in downtown Gao. From there, the armed police officers, most of them young men who are little more than children, are sent out into the neighborhoods to drum into residents what is considered "haram" and "halal," or pure.

 

Until recently, the Sharia courts' sentences were also carried out on Washington Street, but now the Islamic police have become more cautious. Since an angry crowd managed to rescue people who had been convicted of crimes from the executioner, hands and feet are now being severed in secret. The Sharia court uses a former military base outside the city to carry out its grisly punishments.

 

One of its victims was Alhassane Boncana Maiga, who was found guilty of stealing cattle. Four guards drag Maiga, wearing a white robe, into a dark room and tie him to a chair, leaving only one hand free. A doctor gives the victim an injection for the pain. Then Omar Ben Saïd, the senior executioner, pulls a knife out of its sheath. "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful," he calls out, takes the convicted man's hand and begins to slice into it, as blood squirts out. It becomes more difficult when Saïd reaches the bone, and it's a full three minutes before the hand drops into a bucket. The executioner reaches for his mobile phone, calls his superior and says: "The man has been punished."…

 

One of the masterminds behind Islamist terror in Mali is Iyad Ag Ghali. He lives in Kidal, 320 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Gao, in an opulent house near the airport, which is now closed. A short man with a long beard and sunglasses, Ag Ghali is constantly surrounded by a throng of heavily armed men with the group Ansar Dine, or "Defenders of the Faith."

Ansar Dine is a new organization. Until last year, Ag Ghali was known as a leading Tuareg separatist. He vacillated between seeking dialogue with Bamako and declaring an independent Tuareg state. Ag Ghali had a reputation for smoking and drinking, but he was also considered unreliable, so the Tuareg rebels marginalized him politically last November. That was probably the moment Ag Ghali discovered Islamism. From then on, instead of calling for a Tuareg nation, he promoted Sharia, saying: "All those who do not walk on Allah's paths are infidels." His change of heart secured him the support of al-Qaida and other extremists from the Maghreb.

His group is also involved in the drug trade in the Sahara. South American cartels send cocaine by ship to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. From there, the drugs travel northward by land, transported — in return for a hefty share of the profits — by rebels, revolutionaries and bandits, like the Ansar Dine combatants. Kidnappings are another source of income for the "Defenders of the Faith." When the UN approved the deployment of troops to northern Mali in mid-October, Ansar Dine threatened to kill French hostages under its control. Ag Ghali has little to say to the visitor. "Welcome to the Islamic city of Kidal," he says, before getting into his SUV and racing off, followed by his entourage.

But Kidal isn't really welcoming at all. Half of its residents have fled to Mauretania or Niger, and Islamic police in pickup trucks patrol the streets. The market is closed, and women are no longer permitted to go out in public alone in the city.  The men were instructed to grow beards. Those who do not obey the muezzin's call to prayer are either whipped or jailed for three days. Listening to the radio is banned, and the new rulers have simply sawed off satellite dishes on the roofs of houses.

 

Yacouba Mahamane Maiga is dozing under a tree. He is wearing a washed out T-shirt and shorts. He was one of the richest men in the city before the Islamists came to Kidal. "I can't stand any of this anymore," he says, making a fist and pointing it in the direction of the boys with the Kalashnikovs. Before the takeover, his construction company had just been hired to build a new prison and a new courthouse, both government contracts worth millions. Maiga invested €1.5 million ($1.9 million) in new excavators and cranes.

 

But there has been no construction in Kidal since the Islamists arrived, and Maiga is forced to look on as his country falls apart. His machines are covered in desert dust, and his employees have fled. "I worked with these hands my entire life," he says. "Those stupid Salafists." He refuses to take them very seriously and isn't fooled by their piety. He calls them bandits, not holy warriors.

Tirades in public can be dangerous. The Islamic police are everywhere, and yet Maiga no longer makes any effort to hide his anger. There are more than 20 ethnic groups in Mali, and until now, Muslims, Christians and animists coexisted peacefully. Religion was always a private matter, says Maiga. He is convinced that the Islamists have no popular support, and he says that the people of Kidal are tired of being pushed around by adolescents.

Maimouna Wallet Zeidane, 27, is one of the people who are trying to organize the resistance that is popping up everywhere. When it was still allowed, she was very athletic and shared a two-room apartment with her boyfriend in the Etambar neighborhood. Now she lives alone. Thugs with Ansar Dine wanted to cut off her boyfriend's hands, because they were living together. He has since fled to Algeria. "We live in 2012. How can they try to turn back time to the days of the Prophet?" Zeidane asks.

She wears jeans and a T-shirt at home, but if she wore such clothing outside she would be beaten with a stick. She has spread out sheets of paper in her living room and started writing out slogans. One reads: "Islamists = Drug Dealers." There is a knock at the door, and she quickly puts away the paper. "If the Islamic police find this here, they'll burn down the building." She puts a veil over her head and opens the door, by only a crack at first, but then all the way. Three women, her fellow campaigners, walk into the apartment. They call themselves the "Kidal Amazons." The group also consists of 250 women, and it grows larger at every demonstration, they say.

They'll be back on the streets in a few days, holding up their banners, in the middle of the Islamic city of Kidal. They'll risk beatings, each consisting of at least 40 lashes with a stick or a whip, and they'll go to prison. But Zeidane is determined to take that risk. The Islamists have destroyed her life, and she is no longer afraid of the men with the beards and guns. "They should all burn in hell," she says.

 

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Losing Yemen: Gregory Johnsen, Foreign Policy,  Nov. 5, 2012—AQAP has repeatedly tried to strike the United States — with a pair of parcel bombs in 2010 and another underwear bomb that was uncovered in early 2012 — while the United States has responded with ramped-up drone and air strikes along with increased economic aid to the central government in Sanaa.

 

Saudi Arabia – Yemen Border Dispute: Chris Murphy, ICE Case Studies,  Nov., 2006—Even though a common border was delineated by the Taif Treaty in 1934, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have had continued conflict over the issue. The possible oil reserves, civil war, and Saudi interventions in Yemeni politics have driven the conflict for much of the last century.

 

Remote U.S. Base At Core Of Secret Operations: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, October 25, 2012—Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at a U.S. military base here, the combat hub for the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.

 

In Yemen Trading Girls Is Economical: Hind Aleryani, NOW Lebanon, December 10, 2012 —Exchange, or tradeoff, marriages provide a suitable solution to address the problem of high dowries and dire living conditions in Yemen. Basically, whoever is unable to pay the dowry of the girl he wants marry has to offer his sister to be married to the bride’s brother. Both men thus avoid paying dowries, while the bridegroom’s sister is denied her right to choose her husband, or even her right to a dowry.

 

 

Visit CIJR’s Bi-Weekly Webzine: Israzine.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing is available by e-mail.
Please urge colleagues, friends, and family to visit our website for more information on our ISRANET series.
To join our distribution list, or to unsubscribe, visit us at http://www.isranet.org/.

The ISRANET Daily Briefing is a service of CIJR. We hope that you find it useful and that you will support it and our pro-Israel educational work by forwarding a minimum $90.00 tax-deductible contribution [please send a cheque or VISA/MasterCard information to CIJR (see cover page for address)]. All donations include a membership-subscription to our respected quarterly ISRAFAX print magazine, which will be mailed to your home.

CIJR’s ISRANET Daily Briefing attempts to convey a wide variety of opinions on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world for its readers’ educational and research purposes. Reprinted articles and documents express the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

 

 

Ber Lazarus, Publications Editor, Canadian Institute for Jewish ResearchL'institut Canadien de recherches sur le Judaïsme, www.isranet.org

Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284 ; ber@isranet.org