Tag: Bahsar Assad

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE IN SYRIA SENDS MESSAGE TO IRAN, HEZBOLLAH, RUSSIA, & U.S.

With Alleged Airstrike, Israel Punctuates Opposition to Syria Ceasefire Pact: Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, Sept. 7, 2017— The situation playing out now with North Korea is a nightmare scenario of the dangers of nuclear proliferation.

Israel Slow to Recalibrate on Syria: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, September 4, 2017— Middle East developments over the past few years — including the civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State, the expected fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the violence in Iraq — have all affected Israel’s conception of national security.

And the Winner in Syria Is … Iran: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2017— A flurry of diplomatic activity is currently taking place in the Syrian and Iraqi arenas.

Iran, Operating From Syria, Will Destroy Europe and North America: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Aug. 27, 2017  — Iran and Russia plan to destroy Western Europe, the US and Canada by means of a new wave of millions of Syrian Sunnis fleeing to the West to escape the Shiite takeover of Syria.

 

On Topic Links

 

Ex-IDF Intel chief: Israel Enforcing its ‘Red Lines’ with Syria Strike: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Sept. 7, 2017

'Israel May Have Struck the Syrian Weapons Facility Before Hezbollah Could Take Over': Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 7, 2017

Cornered in Raqqa: The Last Days of ISIS: Raja Abdulrahim, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2017

Iranians at the Gates: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Sept. 3, 2017

 

 

WITH ALLEGED AIRSTRIKE,

ISRAEL PUNCTUATES OPPOSITION TO SYRIA CEASEFIRE PACT

Judah Ari Gross

Times of Israel, Sept. 7, 2017

 

The timing of the airstrike allegedly carried out by the Israel Air Force against a Syrian advanced weapons development facility early Thursday morning could not have been more apt. The aerial attack came nearly 10 years to the day after Israel allegedly destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor; a few weeks after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah visited Damascus; two weeks after a meeting between Russian and Israeli heads of state; a day after a United Nations report formally blamed the Bashar Assad regime for a sarin gas attack earlier this year; and in the midst of the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly two decades, in which tens of thousands of soldiers are simulating a war with Hezbollah, a key part of the Syrian-Iranian Shiite axis.

 

In addition to whatever tactical value was gained from destroying such a facility, the early Thursday morning bombing run also presented a message to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, as well as to the United States and Russia, that Israel would continue to act in the war-torn country if necessary — ceasefire between the regime and rebels be damned.

 

The target was a Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility, which reportedly produces and stores both chemical weapons and precision missiles, located outside the city of Masyaf, in Syria’s northwestern Hama region, nearly 300 kilometers away from Israel’s northernmost air base. “It targeted a Syrian military-scientific center for the development and manufacture of, among other things, precision missiles which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict,” wrote Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence, on Twitter.

 

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, also noted that the rockets fired by Hezbollah at a Haifa train station during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which killed eight people, were manufactured at the Masyaf facility. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly that Israel would act in Syria, during their meeting last month in the Russian city of Sochi. “We will act when necessary according to our red lines,” Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting. “In the past, we have done this without asking permission, but we have provided an update on what our policy is.”

 

But while declaring a policy publicly might send a message to Israel’s allies and enemies about its intentions, nothing can state that position more clearly than a missile. Yadlin noted that Russia and the US, which are helping negotiate and maintain a ceasefire in Syria, have been “ignoring the red lines that Israel has established.” For instance, last week, the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the US agreed to let Iran-backed militias take positions within 10 kilometers of Israel’s border with the Syrian Golan Heights, a troubling notion for the Jewish state as it would open up yet another potential front for terrorist groups in a future conflict.

 

According to Yadlin, the overnight airstrike also served to show that the presence of Russian troops — and their advanced air defense systems — “do not prevent actions, which are attributed to Israel, in Syria.” Israeli airstrikes in Syria, while not quotidian, have been a fairly common occurrence over the course of the country’s civil war, which began in 2011. The Jewish state has long-held a public policy of maintaining “red lines” and taking action if they are violated. Yet Thursday’s strike also represented a change in tack for Israel, Amidror said during a phone briefing with reporters organized by the Israel Project.

 

Yadlin wrote that the attack was “not routine.” Indeed, it was the first airstrike apparently conducted by the IAF since the Russian-American brokered ceasefire went into effect earlier this summer. Israel has cast doubts over the agreement, which it says allows Iran to entrench itself near the Golan border in southern Syria. According to Amidror, the strike on the CERS base was the first time Israel targeted not a Hezbollah weapons convoy nor a Hezbollah warehouse on a Syrian base, but an Assad regime production facility. The former national security adviser connected the airstrike to Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus last week. He said that during the terrorist leader’s visit to Syria, he likely secured a deal in which Assad would either “transfer the facility to Hezbollah or at least supply weapons to Hezbollah.”…

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

 

 

 

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ISRAEL SLOW TO RECALIBRATE ON SYRIA

Ben Caspit

Al-Monitor, September 4, 2017

 

Middle East developments over the past few years — including the civil war in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State, the expected fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the violence in Iraq — have all affected Israel’s conception of national security. In light of these developments and the fact that for the first time in its history, Israel was not surrounded by conventional armies capable of threatening it, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made several important changes: armored divisions were dismantled, land forces were diverted to different positions, commando units were established and infantry units were upgraded. In general, the IDF adapted itself more to guerilla warfare and fighting against widely dispersed networks of terror organizations rather than traditional large-scale wars against regular standing armies.

 

But over the last few months, a new perspective is beginning to penetrate Israeli’s security officials. The working assumptions that took root in recent years have been undermined and are starting to fall apart. We are not yet at the stage at which the IDF is changing course, but if events continue to advance in the direction they have gone in the last half year, then anything is possible. A formerly very high-placed source in Israel’s security system spoke to Al-Monitor last week. He said on condition of anonymity, “It’s high time to admit that perhaps all our assessments were erroneous. The prevailing consensus of the last five years was that Syria will never return to its former state. We thought that however this turns out, the Syrian state as we knew it had passed from the world. But evidently we were wrong.”

 

Israel’s top decision-makers have not changed course, but it is likely that such arguments are heard in private discussions, and top-secret intelligence assessments see it as a real possibility that Assad is capable of outsmarting those who prematurely eulogized him and Syria as we knew it. “Syria is returning, that is clear now,” said the source. “It’s not about the quantity of territory, it’s about central rule. If nothing unexpected happens, in the near future, Assad will be declared the final, unequivocal winner of this war. Following that, the path to Syria’s rebuilding and reconstruction will be short.”

 

In the current era, predictions are difficult to make and anything is possible in the Middle East. Nothing here is over until it’s over — and sometimes not even then. Recall that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced in January 2012, shortly after the civil war in Syria began, that Assad’s fate was sealed and his regime would collapse within a matter of weeks. The Israeli assessment has changed drastically, and now the fighting is expected to continue for many long years with no real winner. However, now even this outlook is shaky.

 

The possibility that Syria may well reinvent itself is a dramatic change from Israel’s viewpoint, obliterating the idea that the conventional Mideast front with its regular armies and heavy weaponry was a thing of the past. “It is safe to assume,” said the source, “that the Iranians will invest a fortune in rebuilding the Syrian army and we will return to dealing with [Syria’s] Division 4 or Corps 5 or the various presidential forces we got to know in the decades preceding this war,” he said.

 

Israel’s military and intelligence analysts must now regret all the opportunities they missed: to create important alliances with pragmatic Sunni rebels, to deliver the final mercy blow to the Assad regime during those decisive moments when battles raged around the presidential palace itself or to create a kind of security strip in the territory opposite the Golan Heights. Israel did none of these things — and cannot be faulted for doing what was safest and most convenient: standing aside and wishing success to both sides, as the fighting spared Israel from any real worries from the north or east.

 

But it appears now that the fighting will not last forever. When it ends, a new Syria will emerge — one much more dangerous than its predecessor. “This time,” an Israeli security source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “it will be a Syria that is connected to Iraq, that is connected to Iran, which are both connected to Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s Lebanon. If in the past, the Syrian ruler was independent and it was impossible to pit him against Israel directly, it may soon be revealed that Syria has become a protectorate of Iran. It may become just another proxy with the goal of spilling as much Israeli blood as possible.”

 

On Aug. 23, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hurried off to another urgent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. According to the report by Pravda, Netanyahu appeared to be in a panic and spoke with great emotion. The Russian newspaper is well-known for its close contacts with the Kremlin. However, it evidently does not keep close tabs on the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. Whenever Netanyahu has talked about the threats accumulating around Israel, he has always done so with great emotion, excessive pathos and wild exaggeration. His behavior in this meeting was evidently true to form. Yes, developments on the Syrian front do worry Israel greatly, but they are not expected to change the basic components of Israeli deterrence. Israel will continue to emphasize that in the next confrontation in the north, it will destroy Lebanon, as the Lebanese state and Hezbollah are one and the same. The new Syria will find itself in a similar situation.

 

After more than six years of horrific warfare that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, there will be very few political and security figures in Damascus who will aspire to return to the horrors of war, at even greater intensity. Israel’s capacity for inflicting devastation is well-known to the entire Middle East, and it has only upgraded its abilities over the years. Thus, the tense quiet between Israel and its neighbors in the north is set against the backdrop of this deterrence equation. The choice to violate the quiet remains in Tehran's hands.                                                             

 

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AND THE WINNER IN SYRIA IS … IRAN

                                                Jonathan Spyer            

Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2017

 

A flurry of diplomatic activity is currently taking place in the Syrian and Iraqi arenas. While the moves are occurring on separate and superficially unrelated fronts, taken together they produce an emergent picture. That picture is of two camps, one of which works as a united force on essential interests, the other of which at present does not.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week travelled to Sochi to discuss the issue of Syria with Russian officials. Specifically, Jerusalem is concerned with Iranian advances in the country. Israel considers that the de-escalation agreement for south west Syria reached by Washington and Moscow makes inadequate provision for ensuring that Teheran and its militia allies do not establish themselves along the borderline with the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan. It is noteworthy that this visit followed an apparent failure by a senior Israeli security delegation to Washington DC to ensure a US commitment in this regard.

 

As the officials were talking, the fighting fronts were on the move. Sunday saw the opening of the offensive to take the town of Tal Afar, 60 kilometers west of Mosul city, from the now crumbling Islamic State. Among the forces taking part in the offensive are the Hashd al-Sha'abi/Popular Mobilization Units. The PMU is the alliance of Shia militias mobilized to fight IS in the summer of 2014. Most prominent among them are Iranian-supported groups such as the Badr Organization, Ktaeb Hizballah and the Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

An additional notable process now under way is the attempt to induce the Iraqi Kurds to abandon their proposed independence referendum, scheduled to take place on September 25. Iran is fiercely opposed to any Kurdish move toward independence. Teheran is in the process of moving forward to a clearly dominant position in Iraqi politics, through its sponsorship of the Shia militias and the ruling Dawa party. The last thing Teheran wants would be for a major part of the country to split away. But as has become clear, the European and US allies of the Kurds are also hostile to any Kurdish bid for independence. Both German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have made their respective countries' opposition to the referendum and any hopes of Kurdish exit from Iraq plain.

 

Last week saw evidence of the growing closeness between Iran and Turkey. Iran's chief of staff, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, met with President Recep Tayepp Erdogan. Following the meeting, Erdogan announced that the two countries have agreed on joint military action against the Kurdish PKK and its Iranian sister organization, PJAK. Bagheri's visit to Ankara was the first by an Iranian chief of staff since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. An additional new development came to light in the course of last week – namely, the new role of Egypt as a player in the Syrian arena. Egypt has in recent weeks played a role as a mediator in de-escalation agreements in the eastern Ghouta area and in Homs, with the permission and approval of both the Russians and the Saudis. Finally, the recent period saw the surprising visit of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr to Riyadh, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Sadr, a sectarian Shia figure who retains ties to Iran, has nevertheless sought to position himself as an Iraqi patriotic leader in recent months.

 

So what does all this diplomatic and military activity mean? In looking to locate the pattern of events, one becomes immediately aware that the activities of only one player add up to a unified whole. That player is Iran. In backing the Shia militias as political and military forces, opposing Kurdish aspirations to independence, seeking by all possible means to establish forces along the border with Israel, and seeking to draw Turkey away from the west and toward itself, Teheran is pursuing a coherent, comprehensive policy and strategy. This strategy ignores any distinction between Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, treating all three as a single arena of conflict. Allies and assets are all utilized to build the project of maximizing Iranian geographic reach and political and military potency within this space.

 

The Russians have limited goals in Syria, and little interest in Iraq. Russia should not be considered a strategic ally in this. The Russians have more modest goals in Syria, and little interest in Iraq. Moscow favors the increased Egyptian role in Syria which Teheran surely opposes. Russia is also not indifferent to Israeli and Saudi concerns and interests, hence the Netanyahu visit to Sochi. The US also does not currently seem to wish to be a primary player in this arena. Washington does not appear to be developing a real strategy for containing the Iranians in eastern Syria. The internal strains and turmoil in the US may indeed be a core factor preventing any real possibility of a US focus on this contest…

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

 

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IRAN, OPERATING FROM SYRIA, WILL DESTROY

EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

                             Dr. Mordechai Kedar

                                                 Arutz Sheva, Aug. 27, 2017

 

Iran and Russia plan to destroy Western Europe, the US and Canada by means of a new wave of millions of Syrian Sunnis fleeing to the West to escape the Shiite takeover of Syria. In my weekly column two months ago, I claimed that Iran is the real victor in the Syrian civil war.  Using the war against ISIS as a smokescreen, it is taking over large swathes of Syrian territory, mainly in the scarcely populated middle and eastern parts of the country. In the more fertile and densely populated west of Syria, there are Iraqi, Afghan, and Iranian Shiite militias augmenting Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who were given carte blanche to do whatever Hassan Nasrallah decides to do there.

 

Assad's strength continues to increase as ISIS and the other rebel forces lose ground.  The brutality of Russian involvement and the cruelty of Shiite militias overcame the anti-Assad forces, the turning point occurring when in 2015, Turkey' s Erdogan was forced by Russia to cease his aid to the rebels and ISIS. Today, although Erdogan is an unwilling ally of Russia, Alawite Assad still sees him, justifiably, as an Islamist enemy.

 

The Kurds of northeast Syria, treated as below third class citizens until 2011, will never agree to live under Arab mercy once again and it is reasonable to assume that should Syria remain an undivided country under Assad's rule, the Kurds will preserve relative autonomy in their region – or fight the regime for their rights. That is certainly a problem, but the main issue facing a united Syria is going to be the drastic demographic changes the country is going to face.

 

First of all, about half of Syria's citizens – close to 10 million – are refugees, half located in Syria and the other half in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, other Arab countries, Europe, North and South America, Australia and even Israel.  Syrian refugees who reached points outside the Arab world will in all probability stay put, benefitting from the secure and orderly lives they can now lead. On the other hand, the 3.5 million now in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are awaiting the end of hostilities in order to return to their homes.

 

Those expectations may be dashed, however, because Syrian reality is totally changed, and large parts of its cities are in ruins after six and a half years of a cruel and bloody war.  Countless bombs dropped from planes and helicopters, artillery and tank barrages, mines and explosives planted by both sides have made much of urban Syria, where most of the fighting took place, unsafe to live in. In Homs, Aleppo, Adlib, Hamat and many other cities, entire neighborhoods will have to be razed and their infrastructure rebuilt from scratch. Decades and billions of dollars are needed to rebuild the country and I, for one, do not see the world's nations standing on line to donate the necessary funds.  Refugees will not agree to switch their tents in Jordan for ruined buildings lacking basic infrastructure in a desolate and destroyed Syria.

 

The other reason the refugees will not return is their justified fear of the new lords of the land – the Shiites. Iran has been moving Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan to Syria for a long time in a clear attempt to change the demographic makeup of the country from the Sunni majority it had before the civil war broke out in 2011. The issue could not be more clear because it is no secret that the pre-civil war Sunni majority considered the Alawite rulers heretic idol worshippers who had no right to live in Syria, much less rule over it.

 

The Alawites know well that the Sunnis rebelled against them twice: The first time was from 1976 to 1982, a rebellion that took the lives of 50,000 citizens. The second time, slowly drawing to an end, has cost the lives of half a million men, women, children and aged citizens of Syria.  The Alawites intend to prevent a third rebellion and the best way to do that is to change the majority of the population to Shiites instead of Sunnis.  They will not allow the Sunni refugees to return to their homes, leaving them eternal refugees whose lands have been taken over by the enemy. Iran, meanwhile, will populate Syria with Shiites from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

 

This ethnic cleansing is the Ayatollah's dream come true, the dream that sees a Shiite crescent drawn from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. This will cover the eastern Arab world from the north, while the war in Yemen is being fought in order to create a parallel southern crescent, entrapping Saudi Arabia and Jordan between the two. With the help of Allah, both those countries and Israel, the Small Satan, will soon fall into the hands of the Shiites, while Europe and America do nothing because who cares when Muslims fight other Muslims?…

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

           

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On Topic Links

 

Ex-IDF Intel chief: Israel Enforcing its ‘Red Lines’ with Syria Strike: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Sept. 7, 2017—A former head of Israeli military intelligence said Thursday that an overnight airstrike on a Syrian chemical weapons facility that was attributed to Israel sends a message to world powers that the country intends to enforce its red lines when it comes to protecting itself.

'Israel May Have Struck the Syrian Weapons Facility Before Hezbollah Could Take Over': Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 7, 2017—There's a strong probability that the Syrian military research center allegedly struck by Israeli warplanes on Thursday morning was targeted because of concerns that Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nassrallah had asked Damascus to hand over the facility to the Lebanon-based Shi'ite terror group.

Cornered in Raqqa: The Last Days of ISIS: Raja Abdulrahim, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2017—Before launching the battle to capture Islamic State’s de facto capital, the U.S.-led military coalition dropped leaflets calling on extremists to surrender. On the ground, militants were going door to door, demanding that residents pay their utility bills.

Iranians at the Gates: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Sept. 3, 2017—Unless something changes, Israel is sprinting headlong into another violent confrontation along its northern border, this time against either Iranian troops or Iranian backed fighters with missiles made to order from Tehran.

 

 

 

 

 

IN SYRIA, TURKEY BOMBS U.S.-BACKED KURDS, ISRAEL MONITORS I.S. THREAT, & TRUMP RESTORES U.S. CREDIBILITY

 

ISIS and the US Warning to Turkey Against Attacking Syrian Kurds: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2017 — An Islamic State attack at dawn on Tuesday killed some two-dozen people in a Syrian town on the Iraqi border.

Israelis Learn to Live With a New Neighbor: Islamic State: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27, 2017— On one side of a fence that snakes through eucalyptus-covered ridges is a swath of Syrian villages held by Islamic State.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Show the Limits of Arms Control: Rebeccah Heinrichs, National Review, May 4, 2017 — Arms control failed to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using weapons of mass destruction against noncombatants, and this should serve as another hard lesson in its limitations.

A Strike in Syria Restores Our Credibility in the World: Tom Cotton, New York Times, Apr. 8, 2017— After President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again attacked his own citizens with poison gas, the civilized world recoiled in horror at images of children writhing in pain and suffocating to death.

 

On Topic Links

 

Iran's Ambitions in the Levant: Ehud Yaari, Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2017

How Iran Enables Syria’s Chemical Warfare Against Civilians: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2017

The Syrian Sarin Attacks of August 2013 and April 2017: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Apr. 26, 2017

Will Jordan Confront IS in Southern Syria?: Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor, Apr. 18, 2017

 

 

 

ISIS AND THE US WARNING TO TURKEY

AGAINST ATTACKING SYRIAN KURDS   

Seth J. Frantzman                                     

Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2017

 

An Islamic State attack at dawn on Tuesday killed some two-dozen people in a Syrian town on the Iraqi border. Many of the victims were refugees who were fleeing ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria on their way to Kurdish-held Hasakah, Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters. The SDF and US soldiers who support them are in the midst of an offensive to take Raqqa, ISIS’s Syrian capital, and have recently made significant gains against the extremists in Tabqah. However, recent attacks by Turkey against Kurdish areas in Syria have threatened to distract attention from the offensive against ISIS.

 

On April 25, Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish positions at Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and at Karachok Mountain in northeastern Syria. Turkey claimed it targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which it views as a terrorist group and has repeatedly asserted is working with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria, against which Turkey appeared to threaten further action.

 

For the US this is a red line. The YPG is part of the SDF, with which the US has partnered in the war against ISIS. US forces on the ground have cultivated a close relationship with the Kurds in Syria over the last two years. Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said on April 25 that the US was “deeply concerned” about the Turkish air strikes, which he said were made “without proper coordination either with the US or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS.” Toner said the strikes caused a “loss of life of our partner forces” and that the safety of coalition personnel must be ensured.

 

On April 30, after visiting the site of Turkish air strikes in Syria, the US sent its forces to patrol alongside the YPG – flying US flags – on the border with Turkey. The decision to display the colors and patrol along the border was intended by its visible show of force to deter further Turkish attacks. The US did the same thing in early March, around the northern Syrian town of Manbij. The SDF took Manbij from ISIS in 2016, but Turkey threatened to attack the town in March alongside its Syrian-rebel allies. The US flag-waving patrols deterred Turkey in Manbij and the tactic appears to have deterred Turkish forces again.

 

The deeper meaning of the patrols is, the US is warning off its older ally in favor of its Kurdish relationship. Turkey and the US have 70 years of close relations, formed during the Cold War. But the war on ISIS has led the US defense establishment to conclude that the best bet to defeat ISIS lies with Kurdish forces and the SDF. The Turks have a different agenda which focuses on the PKK and its affiliates. Turkey has often accused the YPG of being in the same terrorist category as is ISIS. The Turkish view sees every step toward Raqqa by the SDF and the Americans as empowering the YPG, .

 

While career diplomats in the State Department and CIA may prefer their traditional relationship with Turkey, the US Defense Department – and those who listen to it in the White House – have settled on defeating ISIS the fastest way possible. That means defending the Kurdish region from air strikes so its forces and allies can focus on Raqqa. Nothing would be more disastrous for the US than a war between Turkey and the YPG while ISIS gets breathing space to carry out attacks as it did on Tuesday.

 

Turkey will continue to challenge US policy in Syria in the coming months and try to find allies in Washington who will listen to its point of view. Turkey views a permanent US presence in northeastern Syria as highly problematic and a provocation against its sphere of influence. At the same time, the US must decide if its relationship with the Kurds in Syria is merely one of convenience – until ISIS is defeated – or if it will build on it in the coming years.

                                                                       

 

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ISRAELIS LEARN TO LIVE WITH A NEW NEIGHBOR: ISLAMIC STATE

Yaroslav Trofimov

Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27, 2017

 

On one side of a fence that snakes through eucalyptus-covered ridges is a swath of Syrian villages held by Islamic State. On the other, Yitzhak Ribak grows his Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs. “My grapes are just 10 meters from the border fence. Sometimes I hear the booms on the other side. Sometimes I see people on the other side. They look like shepherds, but who knows,” said the Israeli winemaker. “It’s crazy.” So far, Islamic State hasn’t bothered his vineyard. “I am here all alone on my tractor at night and I am not afraid.”

 

While most attention has focused on Islamic State’s shrinking but still vast territory in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, the extremist group has also proved surprisingly resilient in the pocket of land it controls just outside Mr. Ribak’s vineyard. The area sits at the confluence of Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Known as the Khalid bin Walid Army, the local Islamic State affiliate has rebuffed repeated offensives by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and other moderate rebels. The porous nature of Syria’s front lines and corruption within FSA ranks have allowed Islamic State personnel and weapons to infiltrate the area known as the Yarmouk Basin, said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a security analyst who follows the group.

 

The presence of Islamic State so close to Israeli-populated towns and villages along the demarcation line in the Golan Heights poses an obvious threat—albeit one that so far hasn’t materialized into cross-border attacks. “The Golan is still the quietest place in the whole country,” said Yoni Hirsch, chairman of the municipal council of Nov, an Israeli community of some 800 people about 2 miles from Islamic State-held areas. “But we know what is happening across the border, and we are getting ready for what may happen,” he added. “We know that in one day with the decision of one person on the other side, our lives can change.”

 

The Israeli government is taking no chances. Over the past three years, it has replaced the old security fence in the Golan Heights, a plateau seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, with a new structure some 20 feet high and equipped with modern sensors. It is also erecting a new fence further south along the border with Jordan. “As the dangers go up, so does the fence,” Mr. Hirsch said.

 

Islamic State, like other jihadist groups, has repeatedly pledged to eliminate Israel as part of its plan to build a world-wide Islamic caliphate. “We don’t have any doubt about their ideology and their dedication to destroying Israel,” said retired Israeli Brig Gen. Effie Eitam, a former cabinet minister and a resident of Nov. But Islamic State also has priorities and in southern Syria, the militants have focused on fighting more moderate rebels. “They are cleverer than attacking Israel. They know Israel has an army and can launch airstrikes and they don’t want to open another front line,” said Free Syrian Army Maj. Issam al-Reis, a spokesman for the coalition of rebel groups known as the Southern Front. “They are not interested in killing Israelis. What they are interested in is killing us.”

 

Such an unexpectedly peaceful coexistence with Islamic State next door helps explain Israeli perceptions of the Syrian conflict. The U.S. and its European allies view Islamic State, which has carried out terrorist attacks in the West, as the principal threat. Israeli officials, by contrast, are far more alarmed by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Preventing Iranian proxies from getting close to the Golan has emerged as a key Israeli priority in the Syrian conflict.

 

Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, “is not powerful enough to make us fear,” said Ayoob Kara, the only Arab minister in the Israeli government who says he is in regular contact with various Syrian factions. “Daesh is going to lose,” he added. “There is no way it is going to be successful and by the end of the year, we won’t see it in any state around here. The problem of the Middle East is the capital of extremism that is Iran.”

 

On Thursday, Syria said Israel had launched a strike near the international airport in Damascus, where nearby buildings are believed to hold Iranian-supplied weapons bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Israel neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the blast. Later Thursday, Israel’s military said its Patriot missile defense system struck a drone over the Golan Heights that entered Israeli airspace.

 

For Mr. Ribak, who moved to Eliad in 1973 a few months before Syrian tanks attempting to recapture the Golan were stopped outside the village, the growth of Islamic State across the fence carries a clear message. Israel was lucky, he said, that its lengthy attempts at peace talks with Syria, based on trading the Golan Heights for a peace treaty, finally collapsed in 2010. “If we had given the Golan to Syria then, it would have all become ISIS-land,” Mr. Ribak said on a drive along the border fence, the minarets of a Syrian village across the valley glistening in the sun.

 

Like many people in the region, Mr. Ribak, who markets his wine under the Chateau Golan brand, said he has developed his own answer to the Middle East’s intractable problems. “I know how to solve it,” he said, proffering his peace plan. “Very simple. If all the people here start to drink wine, they will become happy and then there is no problem.”

                                                                       

 

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SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS SHOW THE LIMITS OF ARMS CONTROL

Rebeccah Heinrichs

                                                National Review, May 4, 2017

 

Arms control failed to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using weapons of mass destruction against noncombatants, and this should serve as another hard lesson in its limitations. Civilized nations have sought to abolish the use of chemical weapons (CWs) for nearly a century, as evidenced by the 1919 Versailles Treaty, the Geneva Protocol, and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibited not only the use of chemical weapons but the production and stockpiling of them as well.

 

The CWC was negotiated by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, who signed the multinational treaty in 1993. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty during the Clinton administration in 1997, but the objections to it then have proven prescient. One such objection to it was the inability to truly verify compliance, a necessary condition for any useful agreement, lest the “agreement” serve as a restraint only to the states that are already self-restraining.

 

Assad’s chemical weapons attacks certainly underscore this problem. After President Obama drew his infamous red line regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then failed to persuade the Senate he had planned a prudent military response, Putin and Obama set out to strike a deal with Assad. This deal would entail Assad ratifying the CWC, something Syria had previously refused to do.

 

But believing that Assad would fully cooperate with inspectors and comply with the CWC was obscenely, willfully naïve. Assad clearly believed that it was in his country’s interest to possess and use chemical weapons, and he had just witnessed Obama’s unwillingness to quickly and decisively retaliate with force in response to several CW attacks. And, undoubtedly, he had noted how utterly unable the American president was to persuade senators who were inclined to support using force that he had a clear military plan in response. In other words, Assad knew threats of force were empty, and he did not fear them. Thus, it was foolish for Obama-administration diplomats to have any measure of confidence that Assad would comply with the treaty when they had provided no credible incentive for him to do so.

 

Sure, he declared enough of his chemical weapons to please his patron, Putin, who was exploiting the international crisis for Russia’s gain. But it never made sense that Assad had suddenly changed his calculus and concluded it was in his interest to forgo all CWs. This didn’t stop Obama officials from asserting that he did, and then they took credit for it.

 

On July 20, 2014, in a Meet the Press interview, Secretary John Kerry said of Syria, “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.” On August 18, 2014, President Obama said, “Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical-weapons stockpile.” Then, remarkably, after subsequent chemical-weapons attacks by the Assad regime, President Obama’s national-security adviser, Susan Rice, said on January 16, 2017: “We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. . . . We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”

 

The audacity of these statements became all the more apparent when Tony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and former deputy national-security adviser under Barack Obama, told the New York Times, “We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration.” Raising the obvious question: Why would so many in the administration and those in the arms-control community who advocated for the administration’s “diplomatic accomplishment” continue to be enthusiastic about a deal that was only partially followed by the other side? Their support stems from a belief that arms control is a worthy end in itself, rather than a potential means to achieve peace or mitigate the effects of an enemy’s aggression. And it reveals an unrealistic devotion to diplomacy absent the credible threat of military force.

 

But, as history shows, this kind of dogged devotion to the “give peace a chance” slogan often leads to war and human suffering. Assad’s willingness to flout the Obama-Putin deal certainly demonstrates this in our day. To be sure: Restraining the employment of chemical weapons is a worthy endeavor. Chemical weapons, like nuclear weapons, are strategic in nature. Chemical warfare in the First World War led to renewed, immediate efforts to restrain their use even though they killed far fewer people than conventional arms, as is the case in the contemporary Syrian war. But there is more to war than body counts. There is a psychological side to war — a moral side to war, and chemical weapons fall outside the norms of what the most battle-hardened soldiers from civilized nations are willing to accept.

 

Chemical weapons cause long, agonizing deaths and, for those who survive them, a life of suffering. Chemical clouds, sometimes a ghoulish color, although often invisible, sweep silently, secretly, and indiscriminately across enemy lines . . . and across homes and schoolyards and hospitals filled with hapless noncombatants: the elderly, women, and children. Death for the victim is often preceded by seizures, foaming at mouth, and other disturbing effects that traumatize the witnessing loved ones. They are, by their very nature, weapons of terror. The United States should not — cannot — permit their use, lest they become a normalized and conventional weapon of war. And to the Trump administration’s great credit, the United States demonstrated what we can and should do if they are used. Just as verification is a necessary condition to a useful arms-control deal, so is enforcement. For just as President Obama said in his famous 2009 disarmament speech in Prague: “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” Obama proved unwilling to enforce this sentiment, but his successor certainly seems willing.

 

The U.S. military strike against Syria’s Shayrat Airfield in response to Assad’s most recent chemical-weapons attack was carefully planned, limited in its military objective, and brilliantly executed. It seems to have achieved its desired tactical and strategic outcomes. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, the attack “severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.” It also communicated to Syria and every other nation in possession of chemical weapons that the United States has the ability and the will to make it known that any use of chemical weapons is not worth the cost.

 

Assad and those like him certainly don’t care about “international norms” let alone notions of what civilized nations deem inherently immoral. But they do care that the world not see them as weak, and they care about their own survival. They do care if we embarrass them by showcasing their weakness, and if we threaten their survival by using force. And the more credible the U.S. threat of force is, the less we will have to use it.                                                            

 

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A STRIKE IN SYRIA RESTORES OUR CREDIBILITY IN THE WORLD                                                                  

Tom Cotton                                                                                                                    

New York Times, Apr. 8, 2017

 

After President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again attacked his own citizens with poison gas, the civilized world recoiled in horror at images of children writhing in pain and suffocating to death. President Trump voiced this justified outrage at a news conference on Wednesday, and the next day he took swift, decisive action against the outlaw Assad regime. But these strikes did more than simply punish Mr. Assad and deter future attacks; they have gone a long way to restoring our badly damaged credibility in the world.

 

It’s hard to overstate just how low the standing of the United States had fallen because of President Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” against Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013. I was one of the few Republican members of Congress who supported strikes against Syria then. Because of that, I’ve heard from dozens of world leaders expressing their doubts about the security commitments of the United States. These doubts originated from surprising places. Of course our longtime Arab allies expressed their misgivings. Yet European and even Asian leaders have privately wondered to me whether the red-line fiasco called into question America’s security alliances in their regions. While far removed from the Middle East, they still depend on the United States and the threat of force to defend our mutual interests.

 

It wasn’t only Mr. Obama’s refusal to act in the moment that undermined our credibility. The fig leaf to justify inaction was an agreement with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, which Russia and Syria plainly violated from the outset. Yet Obama administration officials continued to celebrate it as a triumph. It’s also worth remembering that Mr. Obama backed down partly because he so badly wanted a nuclear deal with Mr. Assad’s patron, Iran. But his weakness in Syria only emboldened Iran, ultimately producing a worse deal while encouraging Iran’s campaign of imperial aggression in the region, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.

 

In one night, President Trump turned the tables. He showed the world that when the United States issues a warning, it will back up its words with action. There was no hand-wringing, no straw-man choice between doing nothing and launching a massive ground invasion, no dithering for consultations with others who do not have the power to act. The American president voiced his disapproval, conducted an orderly and secret process at the National Security Council, and then delivered a retaliatory strike many years overdue.

 

The world now sees that President Trump does not share his predecessor’s reluctance to use force. And that’s why nations across the world have rallied to our side, while Russia and Iran are among the few to have condemned the attack. The threat of the use of force — and its actual use when necessary — is an essential foundation for effective diplomacy. Mr. Obama’s lack of credibility is one reason the United States watched in isolation as Russia and Iran took the lead at recent Syrian peace conferences. It’s also why Iran got the better of us in the nuclear negotiations and North Korea has defied us for years.

 

With our credibility restored, the United States can get back on offense around the world. In Syria, Mr. Assad knows that we have many more Tomahawk missiles than he has airfields. So do his supporters in Moscow and Tehran. Further, leaders in Iran must now question the risks of being put “on notice” earlier this year by President Trump. After all, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo are noted Iran hawks. If they recommended decisive action in Syria, the ayatollahs have to wonder if they may be next…

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

 

 

 

Contents

On Topic Links

 

Iran's Ambitions in the Levant: Ehud Yaari, Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2017 —In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the administration of President Donald Trump is currently “reviewing ways to confront challenges posed by Iran.” This most likely means looking for ways in which to curb Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East.

How Iran Enables Syria’s Chemical Warfare Against Civilians: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2017—The 59 Tomahawk missiles the US fired at the Shayrat Air Base served to punish dictator Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons against civilians. The strikes on April 6 also helped shine a spotlight on Iran’s role in Assad’s repeated use of nerve agents, because the mullahs’ Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were at Shayrat.

The Syrian Sarin Attacks of August 2013 and April 2017: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Apr. 26, 2017—Although the accumulating evidence is not yet formally conclusive, it appears that chemical weapons (CW) containing the sarin nerve agent were employed by the Syrian regime’s air force against Khan Shaykhun during the massacre of April 4.

Will Jordan Confront IS in Southern Syria?: Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor, Apr. 18, 2017—Jordan could be preparing for joint military operations with US and British special forces against Islamic State (IS) militants in southern Syria following King Abdullah’s meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on April 5. The talks dealt with a number of issues but centered on the US-led fight against the terrorist group, the creation of safe zones in Syria and Jordan’s role in both. In his interview with The Washington Post the same day, the king alluded to Jordan’s readiness to deal with threats to the kingdom’s northern borders, saying that “non-state actors from outside coming toward our border are not going to be tolerated.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SYRIAN WAR: ASSAD-IRAN-RUSSIA AXIS DOMINATES AFTER 500K KILLED & MILLIONS DISPLACED

Syria – the Beginning of the End?: Sarit Zehavi, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2017— In the past two months, several things happened in Syria that oblige us to examine the question of where this five-year civil war is going.

Pitting Russia Against Iran in Syria? Get Over It: Frederick W. Kagan, Fox News, Feb. 15, 2017— Faced with the Syrian debacle, Trump administration officials, among others, claim that the U.S. can exploit the weakness of the growing strategic coalition between Russia and Iran…

Trump’s Bid to Keep Syrian Refugees Safe — at Home: Benny Avni, New York Post, Feb. 8, 2017— President Trump’s refugee restrictions dominated days’ worth of news cycles, but it’s only half of his approach to Syria.

Syrian Refugees Are the New Jews. So Who Are the Nazis?: Lee Smith, Tablet, Feb. 2, 2017— For the last week, protestors have been filling American airports from JFK to LAX…

 

On Topic Links

 

Iraq Takes the Fight Against ISIS to Syria: Ben Kesling, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2017

The Fall of Aleppo: Fabrice Balanche, Middle East Forum, Feb. 7, 2017

A Journey Through Assad's Syria: Fritz Schaap, Spiegel, Feb. 20, 2017

Syria and the Failure of the Multicultural American Left: Yoav Fromer, Tablet, Feb. 12, 2017

 

SYRIA – THE BEGINNING OF THE END?

                                                Sarit Zehavi                            

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2017

 

In the past two months, several things happened in Syria that oblige us to examine the question of where this five-year civil war is going. Namely the fall of Aleppo, followed by the cease-fire declaration and the peace talks in Astana. Seemingly, the talks are just another failed attempt at halting the fighting while the regime and the Russians continue to attack areas and organization that have signed on to the cease-fire. Despite this, why is it that we are now able to point to a changing trend in contrast with the previous cease-fires that were signed?…

 

Much has been written on the numerous deaths that have resulted from Russian and Syrian bombing. Aleppo was the symbol of this carnage. But very little has been written about the implications of the convoys of buses that evacuated the rebels and their families from the city and the resulting demographic and geopolitical ramifications. The fall of Aleppo symbolizes Syrian President Bashar Assad’s victory. This was the largest city in Syria, with some 2.5 million inhabitants prior to the civil war. Aleppo possesses a history and heritage dating back thousands of years; it is in fact one of the world’s most ancient cities.

 

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was considered to be the commercial center for the region lying between Mesopotamia in northern Iraq and the Mediterranean. However the city descended from its high position over the past several decades, mainly due to the development of alternative commercial routes as Damascus evolved into the capital of the A-Sham (Levant) region.

 

Aleppo residents were primarily Sunni, while the city also had a Christian quarter. The city’s demographics reflect a process that all of Syria underwent prior to the civil war. The Sunni population has grown significantly over the years. However, this sizable population lived in poverty and oppression. This is in contrast with only a moderate increase in the population of the minorities. Thus, the Sunnis became an absolute majority in the country, and therefore endangered the coalition of minorities headed by the dictatorship of the Alawite Assad family.

 

As in many cases of revolutions in history, the phenomenon of people taking to the streets is linked with socioeconomic conditions among others; often, this serves as fertile ground for the sprouting of ideological, religious and other conflicts. In mostly Sunni Aleppo, with the city’s magnificent history etched in the DNA of its residents, the poor neighborhoods rebelled, while the revolutionary movements were much less successful in the rich neighborhoods.

 

After a sustained siege of the city’s rebel- controlled quarters and virtually indiscriminate killing of citizens, the largest human evacuation of the Syrian war took place in Aleppo. In an interview with Fatma, the mother of Bana, a seven-year-old girl who last year told the entire world of the happenings in Aleppo via Twitter, she said: “I left my soul there, they make us leave our country. I don’t want to be like a refugee in other countries.” From Fatma’s words it appears that she doesn’t envision the possibility of returning to Aleppo in the foreseeable future. The evacuation of Aleppo residents, under UN protection, is not really aimed at saving their lives; rather, it is aimed at vacating the city of its Sunni rebel residents and bringing about a change in its demographic composition.

 

A website identified with the Syrian opposition’s Southern Front (Al-Jabha al-Janoubiya) aptly described it this way: “Control of this historic and important city…has been taken by Iran, the Persian state, together with the Assad regime. This conquest is of a totally clannish hue.” Even if it is not entirely clear how many Sunnis remain in Aleppo, the tour of the city’s streets by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Suleimani after the city’s fall only strengthens this perception. This method was also used in other areas of Syria prior to the fall of Aleppo. However, it was particularly effective after the city’s collapse because Aleppo has become a model. That being the case, the war in Syria has not ended with the fall of Aleppo as there are highly active pockets of resistance in the large cities.

 

However, the fall of the city enables the regime to fulfill its goal in a far more methodical and easy manner – to bring about a demographic change in Syria and create a 50-100 km. wide “strip” in western Syria, from north to south. The strip comprises the large cities, which would have a less than 50% Sunni minority facing a coalition of minorities headed by Shi’ites of different varieties. Thus, for example, Shi’ites were settled in villages along the Syria-Lebanon border from which Sunnis were expelled/evacuated in order to create a Shi’ite continuity between the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and Shi’ite villages on the Syrian side of the border. Several Arab sources have coined the term “La Syria Utile” for this policy, taken from the term used by the French Mandate following the First World War.

 

In his speech of July 2015, prior to Russia’s intervention in the fighting, President Assad stated: “The Syrian army must withdraw from certain areas in order to protect other, more important areas.” Then, Assad was ready to temporally forgo Aleppo as part of this policy to ensure his control in western Syria, however Russian intervention two months later allowed him to expand the boundaries of his ethnic cleansing and include Aleppo…

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

 

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PITTING RUSSIA AGAINST IRAN IN SYRIA? GET OVER IT

Frederick W. Kagan

Fox News, Feb. 15, 2017

 

Faced with the Syrian debacle, Trump administration officials, among others, claim that the U.S. can exploit the weakness of the growing strategic coalition between Russia and Iran, ultimately using Russia to contain Iran in Syria and throughout the Middle East. The Obama administration had this idea too, and it remains wrong. Circumstances could arise that might split the partners, but American outreach to Moscow won’t do it. A bigger question for the U.S. right now is whether we can prevent other nations vital to our interests from shifting toward the new Russian-Iranian orbit.

 

There are reasons why the Russia-vs-Iran fantasy is attractive. Historical tension between Iran and Russia is real, and neither state knows how to be a good ally. Russia sees itself as a superpower and disdains to treat other states as equals. Iran sees itself as the natural hegemon of the Middle East and leader of the vast Shi’a Muslim denomination. Marginalization and persecution of Shi’as over the centuries makes it hard for the Islamic Republic to trust outside powers. Tehran also has had tensions with Russia over Caspian Sea resources and oil.

 

Thinking too much about these historical disagreements, however, obscures the deep commonality of aims shared by Moscow and Tehran–driving the U.S. from the Middle East being the chief of these common goals. Iran’s leaders constantly assert that the Middle East should be free of the influence of outside powers. They never point that argument at Russia or China, but rather at the U.S., Britain, and their allies. Russia’s leaders and doctrines assert that the U.S. must abandon its position as a global power and yield to a multipolar world order in which Russia is its equal.

 

Russia and Iran also share allies and goals around their periphery. Both back Armenia over Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. Russia has kept a military base in Armenia since the end of the Cold War, while Iran fears that Azerbaijan could attempt to stir up separatism within Iran’s large Azeri population. Both seek stability in Afghanistan and prefer to work with local Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras rather than Pashtuns. Both have, however, worked with, and even supported, Taliban factions when it suited them.

 

Only extreme circumstances will split the Russo-Iranian coalition in Syria—if the Assad regime faces defeat, or the pro-regime coalition succeeds enough that it can move on to consider its next goals. Neither is likely. Vladimir Putin would give up on Bashar al Assad long before Ayatollah Khamenei would, but right now Putin needs an Alawite government like Assad’s to let him keep his new military base on the Mediterranean. Ayatollah Khamenei needs the Assad regime to give the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force and its Hezbollah allies a secure rear-area from which to confront Israel. Russia needs Iran in Syria at least as badly as Iran needs Russia.

 

The Assad regime and army are kept alive artificially by tens of thousands of Iranian, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’a militia, and Afghan and Pakistani militia troops, all provided, paid for and commanded by Iranians. The Russians neither can, nor would, replace these forces with their own. If the Russians agreed to drive the Iranians from Syria, the Assad regime and Russia’s position would collapse. Russian and Iranian aims in the region diverge significantly on two points. The Islamic Republic is committed to destroying Israel and containing or collapsing Saudi power. Moscow shares neither goal. But Moscow has done nothing to protest or contain Iran’s harassment of Israel using Hezbollah and Hamas.

 

The Russians have also reached out to the Saudis and Gulf states to mitigate damage their support for Iran has done to their position in the region. Moscow would prefer a Sunni power to balance Iran, where Tehran prefers unquestioned hegemony. There is some surprising overlap even in this divergent effort, however. Egypt is drifting away from the Saudi bloc and toward Moscow and even Tehran. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi voted for Russian initiatives in Syria at the U.N. and even sent a small number of Egyptian troops to Syria on behalf of the Russo-Iranian coalition.

 

The Iranians have no quarrel with Sisi, and have never directed against him the kind of vitriol they reserve for the Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies. Russia and Iran may, in fact, come to see Cairo as a mutually acceptable contender for leadership of the Sunni Arabs in the region at the expense of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. This would be a formidable new challenge to American strategy and statecraft. American policy-makers must get past facile statements about the supposed limits of Russian and Iranian cooperation and back to the serious business of furthering our own interests in a tumultuous region. The Russo-Iranian coalition will no doubt eventually fracture, as most interest-based coalitions ultimately do. Conditions in the Middle East and the world, however, offer no prospect of such a development any time soon.

 

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TRUMP’S BID TO KEEP SYRIAN REFUGEES SAFE — AT HOME

Benny Avni

New York Post, Feb. 8, 2017

 

President Trump’s refugee restrictions dominated days’ worth of news cycles, but it’s only half of his approach to Syria. The other half is designed to keep Syrians from becoming refugees in the first place. The idea of creating “safe zones” in Syria was high on the agenda Wednesday when Trump spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish sources tell me the two leaders didn’t get into details, but CIA Director Mike Pompeo will visit Turkey on Thursday to try to flesh it out.

 

Trump vowed back in November to build “a big beautiful safe zone,” where, he said, Syrian refugees will “have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier.” And in his first week at the White House, he once again promised to “absolutely do safe zones in Syria.” That’s where Erdogan comes in. He’s long advocated carving out an area in Syria where refugees can feel safe under Turkish protection and stem the tide of migrants into neighboring Turkey and on to continental Europe.

 

But President Obama shot the idea down. He was wary of any serious American involvement in the Syrian crisis, and, just as importantly, he had soured on Erdogan by the time the idea was broached. That was a big change from early in his presidency, when Obama consulted Erdogan more than any other regional leader and cited Turkey as proof that democracy can flourish under an Islamist ruler.

 

Erdogan liked to brag about Turkey’s foreign-policy doctrine of “no problems” with its neighbors, but even Obama eventually woke up to the reality that Turkey was in fact at war with each of its neighbors — and that Erdogan methodically suffocated Turkey’s democracy. Erdogan, meanwhile, was angry with Obama for supporting the YPG, a Kurdish faction that became our only fighting ally in Syria. (Turkey considers it a terrorist organization.)

 

For better or worse, Trump’s leadership style prioritizes transactional realism over America’s traditional moralism. As such, he might have more patience with authoritarians like Erdogan. Erdogan is also working with Vladimir Putin on Syria because, with Iran, Russia is the most powerful foreign actor in the conflict. And Putin doesn’t necessarily oppose creating humanitarian safe zones. And why not? Half of Syria’s population is homeless. Its neighbors — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — carry most of the burden of handling the refugees.

 

And they’re exhausted. Europe is facing a populist backlash against its permissive refugee resettlement. Same here, though Obama took in just a minuscule number of Syrians to begin with. Hence, despite the obvious challenges in getting under control a bloody civil war that has so far killed a half-million, keeping Syrians in Syria is starting to look like it’s worth the effort. With nearly 2 million Syrians in camps inside Turkey, Erdogan would love to move them back into Turkish-controlled areas inside Syria. Meanwhile, Trump could answer critics of his immigration ban: Safe zones, he’ll argue, will alleviate the humanitarian crisis better than taking in asylum seekers.

 

The catch: Moscow, always fearing an American occupation and US military “mission creep,” won’t bless any of this before seeing the details. Ah, the details. “We have in history different examples of safe zones, and some of them were tragic,” new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently. Specifically, the United Nations is traumatized by Srebrenica, a supposedly “safe” zone in Bosnia, where in one 1995 week, 8,000 Muslims were massacred as UN guards helplessly watched. Would anyone have better luck in similarly bloody Syria? Can any zone, no matter how well guarded, be completely safe? Also, occupying a slice of Syria could turn expensive and bloody. Trump indicated that Gulf states would finance the project. Turkey, which already occupies parts of northern Syria, would shoulder most of the military burden. But America would still need to take a larger military and diplomatic role, which was more than Obama was willing to do.

 

Done right, safe zones could ease one of the biggest challenges the Syrian war presents to the West. Yes, it’s a complex operation, but not necessarily undoable. Question is, can Trump (or more likely Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and the rest of the team) work out the details? Because, good or bad, no idea will succeed unless it’s well-planned and well-executed. For that to happen, the chaotic early days of the Trump presidency will have to give way to competence and order — and soon.

 

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SYRIAN REFUGEES ARE THE NEW JEWS. SO WHO ARE THE NAZIS

Lee Smith

Tablet, Feb. 2, 2017

 

For the last week, protestors have been filling American airports from JFK to LAX, demonstrating against President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban”—the executive order that in fact suspends for 90 days the issuance of visas to seven countries that are either major state sponsors of terror, or failed states without functioning governments where terror groups like ISIS, Al-Qaida, and their various off-shoots are flourishing. But the EO also suspends indefinitely the issuance of visas for Syrian refugees. And the opinion of protesters, as well as much of the press, is that Syrian refugees are like the Jews—fleeing genocide in search of safe shores: How can we have forgotten the past so completely that we deny entry to those whose suffering and want must serve as a reminder of our past failures to protect others, like the Jews that America so coldly turned away in the 1930s and 1940s?

 

In December, my Tablet colleague James Kirchick warned that “invoking the Holocaust for contemporary political debates is an inherently tricky business.” Nonetheless, it’s become the consensus take in the media, as seen with The Washington Post, Politico, Cokie Roberts on “Morning Joe,” and, of course, The New York Times, including a signature Nicholas Kristof column arguing that “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” Former President Barack Obama may have been among the first to make the comparison. In a December 2015 address to newly minted American citizens, Obama said: “In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.” Obama’s conviction that the suffering of Syrian refugees is directly similar to that of Europe’s Jews is perhaps why he appointed his former top lieutenant Ben Rhodes to the Holocaust Memorial Council, responsible for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Maybe Rhodes will ensure that the Museum commemorates the trials of the Syrian people, a people who suffered, as the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis, at the hands of…

 

Wait, at whose hands did the Syrian people suffer something like genocide? If they are like European Jews fleeing the Nazis, then who are the Nazis? In the various articles, statements, tweets, Facebook posts making explicit comparisons between Syrian refugees and Jewish refugees, no one, it seems, has bothered to identify the agents responsible for the murder, suffering, and dislocation of so many Syrians. So where are the Nazis? Who are they? It has to be Trump. Well, it is true that the new president has indefinitely suspended issuing visas to Syrian refugees, but the Nazis didn’t simply turn Jews away, they murdered them—and the analogy was popular well before Trump became President. Trump is rather more like FDR in this scenario, the American president who refused to provide sanctuary for victims of a genocidal regime.

 

So who has actually been exterminating Syrians—Syrian men, women, children and the elderly—as if they were insects, as the Nazis exterminated Jews? It is true that ISIS murders Christians and other minorities and has also killed members of its own Sunni sect, but the vast majority of those who have been murdered in Syria are Sunni Arabs. The Sunnis have been the target of a campaign of sectarian cleansing and slaughter since the earliest days of the nearly six-year-long Syrian conflict. The Sunnis therefore also make up the preponderance of those seeking refuge the world over, from Turkey and Lebanon, to Europe and North America.

 

At first, the Sunnis were fleeing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but Assad has become a relatively insignificant factor in the war. In this scenario, Assad is rather like Mussolini, a dictator in charge of incompetent and dwindling forces incapable of holding ground. The Alawite sect (around 11 precent of a country with a pre-war population of 22 million) that Assad depended on for his survival was too small to ensure his survival against the country’s Sunni majority, 74 percent of the population, 80 percent of which are Sunni Arab. Hence, Assad needed to mobilize his allies, especially the regime’s chief protector, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

Iran sent in its crack troops, the Quds Force, led by Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit. Also at Iran’s disposal was a large number of regional organizations, ranging from the elite Lebanese militia Hezbollah to less prestigious fighting outfits, like Iranian-backed paramilitary groups from Iraq, or ragtag bands of Shia fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan and trained by Iran. It was these groups, later joined by Russia, that hunted Sunni Arabs like animals and slaughtered them or sent them running for their lives. These are the Nazis. That’s who sent the Syrians running for their lives like Jews fleeing Hitler.

 

It is terrible that Syrian refugees are suffering. It is wrong that the Trump Administration has cruelly shut America’s doors on children who have known nothing in their short lives except to run from the jaws of a machine of death. But America’s shame is much, much worse than that. For in securing his chief foreign policy initiative, Barack Obama made billions of dollars and American diplomatic and military cover available to Iran, which it has used to wage a genocidal war against Syria’s Sunni Arab population.

 

Not only have we failed so far to protect today’s Jews by stopping today’s Nazis, the 44th president of the United States assisted them in their campaign of mass murder. That’s why when people liken Syrian refugees to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, no one dares to complete the analogy and identify today’s Nazis—it’s Iran. America’s shame is worse than anything that the protesters at airports imagine. Donald Trump is a latecomer who has arrived mid-way through the final act of a tragedy which has been unfolding for the past five years, and in which the US has been something more than an idle or disinterested bystander. The refugees are real, the genocide they are fleeing is real, and the Nazis are also real. What we have done is unspeakable.

 

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On Topic Links

 

Iraq Takes the Fight Against ISIS to Syria: Ben Kesling, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2017—Iraq’s air force on Friday carried out its first-ever strikes against Islamic State in neighboring Syria, the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, marking a dramatic escalation in its effort to roll back the insurgency by pounding a sanctuary across the border.

The Fall of Aleppo: Fabrice Balanche, Middle East Forum, Feb. 7, 2017—The fall of Aleppo was a turning point in the Syrian civil war. In an impressive feat, the Russian-backed Syrian army dealt a crushing blow to the rebel forces, driving many of them to entertain a compromise with the Assad regime.

A Journey Through Assad's Syria: Fritz Schaap, Spiegel, Feb. 20, 2017—On an icy January evening in eastern Aleppo, a grotesque scene of destruction, five men are standing around a fire in a battered oil drum in a butcher's shop.

Syria and the Failure of the Multicultural American Left: Yoav Fromer, Tablet, Feb. 12, 2017—Among the countless heartbreaking images that came out of the earthly inferno of Aleppo, one remains particularly haunting: that of a grief-stricken mother cradling the lifeless body of her child emerging out of the rubble and raising her face to the heavens in a deafening cry of despair. The human tragedy in the war-ravaged Syrian city mercilessly bombarded by Russian jets operating in the service of Bashar Assad was so disturbing because it was so familiar.

 

 

 

WHILE OBAMA FIDDLES: SYRIA BURNS, RUSSIA & IRAN MAINTAIN ASSAD, & TURKEY ATTACKS U.S.-ALLIED KURDS

The Only Syrian Solution: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5, 2016— Barack Obama’s efforts to reach a Syrian cease-fire deal with Vladimir Putin went nowhere again on Monday, with the president citing “gaps of trust” with his Russian counterpart.

The Betrayal of Syria’s Kurds: Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, Sept. 2, 2016— From Moscow to Washington, we are told that the principle enemy in the Middle East is the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization.

A Bad Defense for a Mistaken Policy: Frederic C. Hof, Atlantic Council, Aug. 29, 2016— More than half of Syria's pre-war population now falls into one of the following categories: dead; dying; disabled; tortured; terrorized; traumatized; sick; hungry; homeless.

The "Other" Palestinians: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 31, 2016— It seems as though the international community has forgotten that Palestinians can be found far beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

 

On Topic Links

 

What's Ankara Doing in Syria?: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 1, 2016

How the Turks deceived the Americans on Syria: Alex Fishman, Ynet, Aug. 31, 2016

Syria’s Civil War: Stage for Greater Chinese Involvement in the Middle East?: Mordechai Chaziza, Rubin Center, Sept. 5, Third Lebanon-Israel War: Not ‘If’ But ‘When’: Eliana Rudee, Observer, July 15, 2016

 

 

 

THE ONLY SYRIAN SOLUTION

Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5, 2016

 

Barack Obama’s efforts to reach a Syrian cease-fire deal with Vladimir Putin went nowhere again on Monday, with the president citing “gaps of trust” with his Russian counterpart. So what else is an out-of-ideas administration to do except immediately return to the same failed cease-fire negotiations—only this time with more cowbell?

 

To date, there have been 17 major peace initiatives for Syria in a little more than five years. These include the Annan plan of 2012; the Brahimi plan from later that year; Genevas I, II, and III; the “Vienna Process”; the “Four Committees Initiative.” Every name smacks of failure. The result is close to five million refugees, some eight million internally displaced people and 400,000 dead. Why does Mr. Obama think that a new cease-fire deal will succeed where all previous ones have failed? My guess is he doesn’t, but then again a policy of diplomatic gestures is what you’re left with when you give up on a policy of military leverage. The gesture toward a humanitarian cease-fire for the besieged city of Aleppo is merely of a piece with the president’s other empty declarations, like his 2011 demand for Bashar Assad to go and his 2012 chemical weapons red line.

 

Mr. Obama will leave office in 136 days, and the new administration will need its own Syria policy. The first and most essential step: Renounce the “fundamental principle,” laid down last year by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that “Syria should be a unified country.” The war in Syria is a complex business, significantly involving four foreign states—Russia, Iran, Turkey and the U.S.—and at least five major nonstate militias, along with the Assad regime itself. But at its root the war is a zero-sum struggle for power. Either Mr. Assad wins absolutely or his opponents do. No government can long accept a compromised sovereignty. If Syria is to remain a unified country in principle, its warring factions will fight for as long as they are able to make it unified in fact.

 

The opposite of absolute victory in Syria is absolute annihilation, which is why it was foolish of the Obama administration to predict that the Assad regime, champion of a four-million-strong Alawite minority, was going to crumble the way the Gadhafi regime did in Libya. The brutality of Mr. Assad’s forces is merely the reflection of what they fear will be done to them. The more brutal they are, the more brutal they must become.

 

How to move beyond the logic of win or die? The best option is to partition the country. The idea isn’t new, and critics point out that partition plans have been known to fail, that drawing boundaries is messy, that new borders won’t necessarily solve (and could aggravate) internecine rivalries, and that outside actors—Turkey above all—would have the grounds and the means to object. All this is true, but it needs to be weighed against the likely alternative, which is some variation of the diplomatic efforts now taking place. Will advocates of the current course admit they have failed when the fatality rate rises to 500,000? Or does it have to go all the way to one million?

 

The point of partition isn’t to solve all of Syria’s problems. It’s to shrink them to more manageable dimensions. A future Alawite state along Syria’s Mediterranean coast might ensure the political survival of the Assad dynasty. But it could be a secure ethnic homeland, free from the brutal entanglements of the rest of Syria, especially if it has security guarantees from Russia. A Kurdish zone, joined to Iraqi Kurdistan, would be viewed as a threat by the Turks. But it could be a safe haven for civilians if defended by U.S. air power.

 

As for the rest of Syria, pacification would require a limited but decisive NATO intervention to rout ISIS from its strongholds, equip and aid the Free Syrian Army so that it can lift the siege of Aleppo and march on Damascus, and enjoin Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to deploy a long-term Arab stabilization force. The prospect for any of this happening is directly correlated to the perception of American seriousness—a perception that will only materialize once Mr. Obama leaves office.

 

It’s true that for each of these points there are reservations and doubts. Can the Turks accept an extended Kurdish state? They already do with Iraqi Kurdistan, and the U.S. could mollify Ankara by insisting the Syrian Kurds sever ties with the Kurdish PKK guerrillas in Turkey. Would the Assad regime’s patrons accept a rump Alawite state? They might, if the alternative is utter defeat. Will ISIS be easy to defeat, and the rest of Syria easy to pacify? No, but ISIS and its terrorist cousins will have to be destroyed sooner or later. In the 1990s the world was confronted by a similar spiral of horrors in the Balkans. The U.S. belatedly intervened with military force and local proxies to achieve decisive political results. What was once Yugoslavia is today seven separate countries. The foreign-policy achievement of the Clinton administration could yet be the model for its successor.

 

 

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THE BETRAYAL OF SYRIA’S KURDS

Ben Cohen

Algemeiner, Sept. 2, 2016

 

From Moscow to Washington, we are told that the principle enemy in the Middle East is the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization. At the same time, the outside powers that have intervened in Syria’s horrendous conflict are waging a phantom war against IS as a cover for separate military campaigns that end up empowering these very same barbarians.

 

We’ve known that the Russians and the Iranians have been following this strategy for at least three years. Both Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the Islamist mullahs in Tehran have backed the regime of President Bashar al Assad to the hilt, with the tacit approval of the United States. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, the Obama administration’s determination to secure last year’s flimsy nuclear agreement with the Iranians meant that the “red lines” the president declared in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons turned out to be a more anemic color. The Iranians got their deal and all the financial benefits that went with it, while the peoples of Syria and the entire region were forced to realize that, under Obama, the much vaunted American empire is actually what Chairman Mao [Zedong] once called a paper tiger.

 

Just as the war against Islamic State has, for Russia and Iran, been a war to keep Assad in power and extend the territory under his control, so it is with Turkey, which last week sent its troops over the border into Syria. The Turks say they are targeting IS, but in the same way that the Russians and Iranians have turned their firepower on civilian targets and non-Islamist rebels alike – strengthening IS by default – Turkey’s real agenda in Syria is to crush the burgeoning Kurdish national movement in the north and east of that country. The visceral hostility of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Kurdish aspirations has been well documented. In the wake of July’s failed military coup, Erdogan has banked the messages of support from foreign leaders, particularly in the United States, to launch a crackdown on the universities and the press, and to continue the demonization of Turkey’s own Kurdish minority as a fifth column threatening the country’s integrity.

 

Erdogan set the tone for his latest campaign against the Kurds at a rally in Istanbul a few days after the coup attempt, when the Turkish leader addressed a massive crowd waving banners with such IS-style slogans as, “Order us to die, and we will do so.” Erdogan’s call for national unity, however, did not extend to the Kurds, and the pro-Kurdish HDP party was deliberately excluded from the rally. As one of the leaders of the HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, pointed out in an interview with the Kurdish website Rudaw, the coup was carried out by the same Turkish military that had repeatedly attacked the Kurds. Now Erdogan, he added, is “kicking the HDP out of the political conversation in the country.”

 

On the military front, the Turks have long been concerned by the successes of the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, claiming that these fighters are indistinguishable from the militants of the PKK, who have been fighting Ankara’s rule in the south-east of Turkey for decades. The US it should be said, does not share this view, and regards the YPG as the most able and courageous fighters in that part of the Middle East. “[W]e draw clear delineation between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds, as I said, who are part of the many groups that are fighting against Daesh,” US State Department spokesman John Toner explained on July 2.” Toner added that Washington had been in dialogue with the Turks over its support “for those Kurdish forces who are, frankly, very capable forces fighting to remove Daesh from its foothold in northern Syria.”

 

And yet now that Turkey is attacking an ally of the US, the Obama administration is restricting itself to verbal criticism. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is one of several officials to have called on both Turkey and its local allies and the Syrian Kurds to concentrate on defeating IS, rather than each other. But Secretary of State John Kerry has already shifted the balance towards the Turks. Speaking at an August 26 press conference in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Kerry played down the US relationship with the YPG, speaking of a “limited engagement” with “a component of Kurdish fighters on a limited basis.” These are, frankly, mealy-mouthed words, given the central role played by the Kurds in liberating the town of Manbij, just south of the border with Turkey, from IS. It also shamefully ignores that the YPG is the only military force in Syria to have carried out a humanitarian operation, rescuing thousands of sick and dying Yazidis in the Sinjar region from further massacres and other outrages, including the kidnapping of young girls, by IS terrorists in the winter of 2015.

 

On top of that, the US now looks like it has been blindsided by the Turkish offensive, thereby delivering another blow to America’s standing in the region. The State Department behaves as if it really believes that war against IS can be separated from the other challenges in the region, whereas a successful policy needs to deal with the unresolved issues that allowed IS to flourish in the first place. Chiefly, this means setting the removal of the Assad regime as a specific goal, and seeking a political solution that will permit all the nations and ethnicities in northern Syria – Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans among them – to live with a minimum of conflict. As long as Turkey carries out its aggression against Syria under the pretext of pushing the Kurds east of the Euphrates River, and as long as Iran and Russia continue to back Assad with impunity, Syria’s agony will continue.

 

We have been in this position many times before. Some might remember that in September 2013, Putin penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which he praised Obama for seeing the opportunity behind “the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction.”  We all know where that led us. The next American president will face a stark choice. Either succumbing to a regional alignment that now includes Turkey, which has abandoned its longstanding aim of demanding Assad’s removal, alongside Iran and Russia, or striking out on a different path to end Syria’s suffering and the extraordinary instability that goes with it.

 

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A BAD DEFENSE FOR A MISTAKEN POLICY

Frederic C. Hof

Atlantic Council, Aug. 29, 2016

 

More than half of Syria's pre-war population now falls into one of the following categories: dead; dying; disabled; tortured; terrorized; traumatized; sick; hungry; homeless. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the bulk of this rampant, remorseless criminality. The administration of Barack Obama, if it stays on its present course, will make it through noon, January 20, 2017, without having defended a single Syrian civilian from the Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught. This thoroughly avoidable result may well serve to define Mr. Obama—accomplishments at home and abroad notwithstanding—as a failed president.

 

President Obama has provided historians with important—and potentially damning—evidence in his various interviews on the subject of Syria. Describing the September 2013 red line climb down—a body blow to American credibility not lost on Russia's Putin—as his proudest presidential moment, will not likely attract critical acclaim in the decades to come. And White House spokesman Joshua Earnest continues to violate the first rule about climbing out of a hole: stop digging.

 

In his August 25, 2016 press briefing Mr. Earnest was asked about the administration's failure to protect Syrian civilians in the face of what he described as the Assad regime's "unconscionable use of violence against civilians." He clarified, using language that defines vacuity, the administration's policy as follows: "But our approach to the Assad regime has been to make clear that they've lost legitimacy to lead that country." Claiming, in a sentence that defines wishful thinking, that "Russia shares this assessment," Earnest suggested that the way forward toward ending mass murder is for Moscow to live up to its commitments and rein-in its homicidal client. He did not mention Russia's own growing portfolio of war crimes in Syria.

 

In fact the administration's policy toward Assad Syria (as opposed to ISIS Syria) rests on its desire to accommodate Iran—a full partner in Assad's collective punishment survival strategy—so that the July 14, 2015 nuclear agreement can survive the Obama presidency. In the case of ISIS, Earnest noted with evident pride that the United States has put boots on the ground in eastern Syria and is at war with a loathsome terrorist group. In the case of offering Syrian civilians not the slightest modicum of protection from Assad, however, Mr. Earnest had an excuse evidently not applicable to ISIS: Iraq 2003.

 

According to Earnest, "We've got a test case just over the border in Iraq about what the consequences are for the United States implementing a regime-change policy and trying to impose a military solution on the situation." Warming to the subject, Mr. Earnest went on to say, "And look, there are some people who do suggest that somehow the United States should invade Syria." Shame on a news media that consistently permits this dissembling to go unchallenged. Mr. Earnest, if asked, would be unable to name anyone counseling the invasion of Syria. Mr. Earnest would be unable, if asked, to explain why limited military measures designed to end Assad's mass murder free ride—such as that offered by the 51 dissenting State Department officers—amounts to "regime-change" and "trying to impose a military solution." Indeed, if challenged, Mr. Earnest would be required to retract his subsequent false claim that no critic of the president's Syria policy has ever offered specific, operationally feasible alternatives to a catastrophe-producing approach.

 

The point here is not to vilify Joshua Earnest. He does not dissemble as a free agent. He does so on behalf of a president unwilling to say something like the following: 'Look, I realize what a catastrophe Syria is. It's the premier humanitarian abomination of the 21st century. I know that Russia and Iran have enabled a despicable family and its gangster entourage to commit mass murder and state terror. I've read all of the intelligence about Russia deliberately targeting civilian hospitals. I can see the effects that mass migration from Syria is having on our European allies and even on us during this election year. I get it all: a lost generation of Syrian children, people being shelled, strafed, sexually assaulted, and starved to death by their own so-called government. What I want people to understand is that I've had to make the hardest of calls. I think the nuclear agreement with Iran prevented a war and opens a door. I'm afraid that if I use cruise missiles or supply anti-aircraft weapons to make Assad pay a price for mass murder, Iran's supreme leader—who sees Assad as an invaluable agent—will scuttle the nuclear deal. I may be wrong, but that's the call I've made. That's why I get paid the big bucks.'…

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

                                   

 

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THE "OTHER" PALESTINIANS

Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Aug. 31, 2016

 

It seems as though the international community has forgotten that Palestinians can be found far beyond the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These "other" Palestinians live in Arab countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and their many serious grievances are evidently of no interest to the international community. It is only Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that garner international attention. Why? Because it is precisely these individuals that the international community wield as a weapon against Israel.

 

Nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. But because these Palestinians were killed by Arabs, and not Israelis, this fact is not news in the mainstream media. This figure was revealed last week by the London-based Action Group For Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), founded in 2012 with the goal of documenting the suffering of the Palestinians in that country and preparing lists of victims, prisoners and missing people in order to submit them to the databases of human rights forums.

 

Yet the "human rights" forums pay scant attention to such findings. They are indeed too busy to take much notice, wholly preoccupied as they are with Israel. By focusing their attention only on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, these "human rights" forums continuously seek to find ways to hold Israel responsible for wrongdoing, while ignoring the crimes perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. This obsession with Israel, which sometimes reaches ridiculous heights, does a great disservice to the Palestinian victims of Arab crimes.

 

If you take some numbers, according to AGPS, 85 Palestinians were killed in Syria in the first year of the civil war in 2011. The following year, the number rose to 776. The year 2013 saw the highest number of Palestinian victims: 1,015. In 2014, the number of Palestinians who were killed in Syria was 724. The following year, 502 Palestinians were killed. And since the beginning of this year (until July), some 200 Palestinians were killed in Syria. How were these Palestinians killed? The group says that they were killed as a result of direct shelling, armed clashes, torture in prison, bombings, and as a result of the besieging of their refugee camps in Syria.

 

Yet the plight of its people in Syria does not seem to top the list for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Pride of place on that list goes to assigning blame to Israel for everything the PA itself has caused. For PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials in the West Bank, the Palestinians in Syria simply do not rate. In fact, in a step that boggles the mind, the PA leadership is currently seeking to improve its relations with the Assad regime in Syria — the very regime that is killing, imprisoning and torturing scores of Palestinians on a daily basis.

 

In a move that has enraged many Palestinians in Syria, the Palestinian Authority recently celebrated the inauguration of a new Palestinian embassy in Damascus. "They [the PA leadership] have sold the Palestinians in Syria and reconciled with the Syrian regime," remarked a Palestinian from Syria. Another Palestinian commented: "Now we know why several PLO delegations have been visiting Syria recently; they sought to renew their ties with the regime and not ensure the safety of our refugee camps or seek the release of Palestinians held in [Syrian] prisons." Others accused the Palestinian Authority leadership of "sacrificing the blood of Palestinians." They pointed out that the Syrian regime, by permitting the opening of the new embassy, was rewarding the PA for turning its back on the plight of the Palestinians of Syria. The Palestinians complained that PA diplomats and representatives in Damascus, to whom they appealed in the past for help, have ignored their calls.

 

International media outlets regularly report on the "water crisis" in Palestinian towns and villages, especially in the West Bank. This is a story that repeats itself almost every summer, when some foreign journalists set out to search for any story that reflects negatively on Israel. And there is nothing more comfortable than holding Israel responsible for the "water crisis" in the West Bank. But how many Western journalists have cared to inquire about the thirsty Palestinians of Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria? Does anyone in the international community know that this camp has been without water supply for more than 720 days? Or that the camp has been without electricity for the past three years? Yarmouk, which is located only eight kilometers from the center of Damascus, is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. That is, it was the largest camp. In June 2002, 112,000 Palestinians lived in Yarmouk. By the end of 2014, the camp population had been decimated to less than 20,000. Medical sources say many of the residents of the camp are suffering from a host of diseases. These figures are alarming, but not to the Palestinian Authority leadership or mainstream media and "human rights" organizations in the West…

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

 

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On Topic Links

 

What's Ankara Doing in Syria?: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 1, 2016—After its incursion into Syria, Turkey will have to decide whether to declare "Euphrates Shield" a success or to continue seeking to destroy the Kurdish-led SDF in the face of US opposition. The Turkish incursion into the north Syrian town of Jarabulus and its environs, which began on August 24, is the latest dramatic re-shuffling of the deck in a long and agonizing conflict.

How the Turks deceived the Americans on Syria: Alex Fishman, Ynet, Aug. 31, 2016—The Americans are now selling out the Syrian Kurds to the Turks—but we've already gotten used to their cynical foreign policy. What Israel is having a hard time getting used to, however, is the fact its biggest ally is completely disregarding Israeli interests in the Middle East.

Syria’s Civil War: Stage for Greater Chinese Involvement in the Middle East?: Mordechai Chaziza, Rubin Center, Sept. 5, 2016—Years of armed conflict and unrest have turned the security situation in Syria into a refugee crisis and humanitarian nightmare. The Syrian civil war has entered its sixth year, becoming one of the worst crises of the twenty-first century in the Middle East. From the start of the Syrian conflict, China has kept its distance and focused mainly on protecting its expanding commercial and investment interests in the region. Nevertheless, escalating violence from Syria in 2016 has pressured Beijing to move off the sidelines and take a more active role in the international efforts to bring peace and stability to the country.

Third Lebanon-Israel War: Not ‘If’ But ‘When’: Eliana Rudee, Observer, July 15, 2016 —In the Middle East, non-state actors, terrorist organizations, and regimes prepare for war long before it appears imminent. Considered inevitable, the only question is timing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Will Lead the United Nations?: John Bolton, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7, 2016—Although few Americans are paying attention, the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as United Nations secretary-general is well under way.

THE SYRIAN AND SPANISH CIVIL WARS— BOTH PRELUDES TO WIDER CONFLICTS?

 

 

 

 

 

To the already-crowded military field in Syria, with its various Sunni Muslim and Alawite-Shiite militias, Iranian, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russian actors, as well as the U.S., British, and French-led allied air coalition, we now learn that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey may also soon be directly involved. This fraught and unstable internationalized battleground should recall Spain from 1936-39, which was in important respects the antechamber of World War II.

 

In 1936 Spanish pro-fascist monarchist forces under General Francisco Franco attacked the legitimate government of the Spanish Republic, setting off a civil war.  This war was soon internationalized, with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supporting Franco’s nationalist forces, and Leon Blum’s “Popular Front” France initially providing some military aid (Britain remained “neutral”) to the Republic. Soviet Russia, pushing “Popular Front” politics, also /countered Nazi-fascist support for Franco with military equipment and advisers. As well, thousands of largely socialist and communist volunteers, organized into International Brigades, came to the aid of the Republic. 

 

The viciously partisan war, pitting Catholics against leftists, fascists and monarchists against liberal, socialist, and anarchist republicans, ended with the defeat of the Republican forces in March, 1939, as the Western democracies provided little help and Stalin’s Soviet Union, after failing to dominate the anarchist (POUM)-led Republic, withdrew its initial support. The long war entailed massive urban and rural destruction, with an estimated half-million deaths, and over 400,000 Republican refugees, military and civilian.

 

The Spanish Civil War should, mutatis mutandis, in some ways remind us of the increasingly complex and even more destructive and dangerous civil war in Syria, now almost five years old, with eight million internal and over four million external refugees and a death toll approaching 300,000.  In Syria, of course, the government was, and is, not a legitimate representative Republic, but a one-man, one-party dictatorship, while the initial Syrian rebels were not proto-fascist monarchists but relatively moderate Muslims,  demanding, in one of the last gasps of the failed regional Arab Spring, a truly representative government.

 

While the Assad-family dictatorship had traditionally been supported by the Soviet Union, a policy continued by its Russian successor, the direct intervention of Moscow would come only later. Initially, the West supported the rebels indirectly, with the American President, Obama, calling for Assad’s removal but providing no aid to his opponents.  As Assad moved militarily against his largely civilian opponents, new factors entered the equation: Shiite Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah clients ramped up support for the Alawite Syrian ruler, while the anti-Assad Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arabs (and to some extent the Turks) supported the largely Sunni rebels.

 

Soon, however, as the conflict deepened, a new element entered the increasingly volatile mix.  An extreme Islamist force, IS, or Islamic State (or ISIL [Arabic “Daesh”]), breaking away from Al Qaeda, established itself, proclaiming a sharia-based Caliphate in both Iraq and Syria. Bloodily repressive, beheading and burning captives and raping and enslaving subordinate Yazidi and other women, IS quickly conquered part of northern Syria, around Raqqa, and a swath of Iraq around Ramadi, first threatening and then taking Iraqi-Kurdish Mosul, and threatening Baghdad.

 

As in the Spanish Civil War, an initially internal conflict was soon internationalized. In Spain, the conflict was deepened and broadened by Italian-German military support for the monarchist-conservative-Catholic Franco’s Falange movements, and indirect Western, and then direct Soviet Russian, support for the secular liberal-socialist-anarchist Republican forces.  In Syria, the initial moderate Muslim rebels were soon overshadowed by more radical anti-Assad Islamist forces, financed and supported by Sunni Saudi Arabia, while Bashar Assad received Iranian funding and arms, troops from Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah, and increasing Russian support. And the pro-Republican International Brigades in Spain were inversely mirrored in Syria by thousands of young pro-IS Islamist volunteers from around the world.

 

In Spain France gave only minor, indirect support to the Republic (the International Brigades, however heroically motivated, were of relatively modest military weight), and the Soviets, while providing arms and some military cadres, never went “all in”. Similarly, in Syria, where Obama kept the US (and NATO) out of direct involvement, moderates received Western moral, but little direct military, aid, and their weakness created a   pro-Sunni, anti-Assad power vacuum soon filled by IS.

 

(The rise of IS can, in fact, in large part be laid at Obama’s feet. Allergic to providing  “boots on the ground”, Obama—who had already fostered IS’s rise by prematurely withdrawing American forces from Iraq–reneged on a pledged “red line” after Assad’s use of chemical weapons was discovered. Lack of American resolve and leadership created the Syrian political vacuum into which IS expanded.)

 

As the crisis deepened, and IS expanded while Assad’s area of control steadily shrank, the interventions were radicalized. The U.S. in 2014, after the public outcry over IS’s savaging of the Yazidis in Iraq, championed a Western-Sunni Arab (Jordan) “Allied” air campaign against IS (but still no “boots on the ground”, save for the use of Kurdish forces in the north-east). Now Iranian support for Assad (before, during, and after its nuclear deal with Obama) was ramped up, and then Russia–with naval and air bases in north-west Syria–intervened directly by bringing ground-attack aircraft into play. (Putin’s air campaign, from his Syrian base near Latakia, while supposedly directed against the IS, in fact has concentrated largely on what Putin called “terrorists”, that is, the relatively moderate–and supposedly US-backed–Sunni anti-Assad coalition.)

 

Now, in February, 2015, Russia’s involvement has deepened (advanced S-400 missile anti-aircraft batteries are in place, heavy bombers from Russia are being used, and there is evidence of augmented Russian ground forces). Meanwhile the American-led air campaign still shows little sign of markedly impeding IS (and Canada under its new Prime Minister is withdrawing its six F-18 fighters). In a partial Obamian about-face, the U.S. Administration–under increasing domestic pressure, as the Presidential election campaign heats up–has announced the placing of an initially small (50!) contingent of American special forces troops on the ground and a ramping up of the aerial sorties. 

 

As the Saudis and Turks reportedly contemplate direct intervention, the two leading world-powers and their proxies are now directly facing off against one another in the downwardly-spiralling Syrian civil war. Despite hurried “deconfliction” talks to avoid accidental confrontations, incidents like Turkey’s recent downing of a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber, and continued claimed border incursions by Russian aircraft, could easily spark a deeper crisis.  

 

In Spain, Nazi-fascist support trumped ineffectual Western, and manipulative Soviet, aid (see George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, on the Soviets’ duplicity), resulting in a Francoist victory and the destruction of the Republic.  In Syria at this point, Russian-Iranian support for Assad (the equivalent of German-Italian aid to Franco) seems about to trump the moderate rebels who, weakly backed by the U.S. (like the Spanish Republicans by France), are losing.

 

Here IS, as a kind of relatively independent third party to the conflict, breaks the structural parallelisms. IS–playing off the Alawites and the moderate Sunnis against one another, and oddly (or not so oddly) not constituting the direct target of either the Russians or the Turks, or for that matter of Assad—is, despite some recent allied air force-backed Sunni and Kurdish advances, holding its own, or better (see its recent expansion into Libya and Afghanistan).

 

(Indeed, some analysts argue that Assad has in fact used IS against the moderate rebels, and is willing, at least in the short-to-medium run, to divide Syria with them to do so. It is also pointed out that Turkey’s Erdogan, focused on fighting the Kurds, not IS, has maintained porous Turkish-Syrian borders, allowing IS reinforcement and supply. And, further, that the mass emigration of millions of Sunni Syrians to Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps, and on to Germany and Sweden through southern Europe–  worsened recently by continuing Russian-supported bombings of civilians–is in fact a kind of ethnic cleansing strengthening Assad’s minority Alawite constituency.)

 

If the Spanish Civil War was a prelude to World War II, strengthening and encouraging the fascist-Nazi forces, demonstrating the weakness and appeasement of the democracies (and of Stalin)  and, not least, demonstrating the irrelevance of the League of Nations,  is the Syrian Civil War (also demonstrating the weakness of the West, and the impotence of the UN) the antechamber of a wider and deeper  conflict?

 

The book of the future is the hardest of tomes to read, but the obviously deeply unstable Syrian situation indeed has within itself elements of a wider conflict. Accidental confrontations—Russian and American aircraft encountering one another, a Russian-American naval crisis in the Mediterranean, an incident issuing from recently-emplaced Russian guided-missile batteries (which “cover” Israel as well as Syria and the Turkish border), the possible shooting down of an allied coalition (or as happened recently, a Russian) aircraft, a Russian cruise missile going astray, aand so on– could lead to serious consequences.

 

At the same time, more “structural” elements, radicalized by the ongoing conflict, may well come into play (Turkey, after all, which may soon enter the fray, is, like the U.S., the French, and the British [whose Parliament recently voted to join the bombing campaign in Syria],  a NATO member).

 

Syria today has become what Hobbes, reflecting on an earlier civil war, termed a bellum omnium contra omnes, a “war of all against all”.  The UN, despite the periodic protestations of Ban Ki Moon, is—like the League of Nations in 1936—irrelevant, and recent attempts to convoke an effective peace conference leading to a general truce and a political solution have again foundered (on sustained Russian bombing and “moderate” Muslim forces’ opposition to Russian demands that Assad stay in place in any ensuing “caretaker” regime).

 

Syria,, where the civil war is entering its sixth year, is the scene of increasing internationalized combat and socio-economic disintegration, reinforcing already massive population flows. America (still isolated by isolationism in 1936, and having once again largely withdrawn from the world under Obama) has, as IS continues to spread and the Russians and the Iranians step up their own involvement, been partially sucked back into the vortex despite the evident distaste of its President.

 

The Saudis and Gulf Arabs (already bogged down in Yemen by opposing the Iranian-backed Houthi revolt there) are nevertheless also deeply involved in Syria, supporting both elements of the moderate Sunni opposition and IS.  IS itself remains a destabilizing expansionist factor, with footholds in Libya and Afghanistan, connections to Boko Haram in Nigeria, terrorist killings of over 200 Russians in the Sharm El-Sheikh airplane bombing over the Sinai and 130 Frenchmen through multiple terrorist attacks in Paris, and scores of other dead in Beirut and in San Bernardino, Ca., where one of the Muslim killers of fourteen innocents had pledged her allegiance to IS by cellphone.

 

Russia-backed Iran, doubling down in Syria, is sending thousands of its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard units under IRG officers (over 400 killed in combat), to support Assad. Turkey, where conservative Sunni Islamist Erdogan was handed a reinforced nationalist majority in recent elections, is moving against the Kurds, inside and outside the Syria-Turkey border, despite the fact that they are the U.S.’s only effective “boots on the ground” ally in Syria.

 

Note that nothing to this point has been said of Jordan, or Egypt. King Abdullah, who has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, is under both IS and Moslem Brotherhood domestic pressure. And Egypt’s Gen. el-Sissi, in a domestically precarious position facing IS terrorism in the Sinai and continuing Moslem Brotherhood radical opposition domestically, also has a direct stake in the Syrian outcome.

 

Israel, too, which has studiously avoided getting directly involved to this point, save to prevent transhipment of advanced war materiel from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, remains a potentially (major) wild card. With IS forces in the Egyptian Sinai, Iranian-led troops near the Golan Heights, Russian planes over the borders, Iran-backed Hamas terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah Shiite fighters (with 100,000 rockets) on the southern Lebanon border, dangerous incidents are possible, and could easily escalate.  

 

The American abdication of regional leadership, despite the rising stakes of the Middle East game, has emboldened the deepening Russian and Iranian intervention; indeed, whether Obama is in fact collaborating de facto with Russia (and Iran) in Syria remains moot.  This would seem to indicate that the Syrian Civil War, like Spain’s, could, sooner or later, burst out of its domestic container. By 1939, Hitler, emboldened by Franco’s victory in Spain and Western weakness and appeasement at Munich, had forced the Anschluss with Austria, and then signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with his erstwhile Bolshevik enemy.  The Nazi invasion of Poland, and the beginning of World War II, were only months away.

 

Could accidental confrontation, hubris-driven aggression, or a successful “victory” in Syria (e.g., a Western diplomatic “peace settlement” betraying the moderate Opposition, with Russia maintaining Assad in power and further emboldening the Iranian Mullahs and Putin–remember Crimea, and eastern Ukraine) spark a region-wide Middle East conflagration? Such an eventuality surely cannot be discounted. And could this, given the regional rivalries and NATO connections, spark a wider European war?  Given the current downward spiral, we could find out the answer, one way or another, in the not-so-distant future.

 

(Prof. Frederick Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

 

DESPITE FIVE YEARS OF WAR & MORE THAN 250K DEAD, RUSSIA, IRAN & SYRIAN “PEACE TALKS” AIM TO STABILIZE ASSAD

Syria’s Phony Peace Talks: Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2016 — Regarding the Syrian peace talks that began over the weekend in Geneva, allow us to raise two questions: What peace—and what talks?

Israel and the Russian Challenge: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Jan. 24, 2016— Israeli Air Force commanders are reportedly deeply worried about Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Turkey's Syria Problem: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Feb. 1, 2016 — Even before Vice President Joe Biden met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara last week, the Turks were displeased.

In Syria and Iraq, Canada Needs to go Big or go Home: Terry Glavin, National Post, Jan. 28, 2016— It’s bad enough that the House of Commons resumed its sittings this week without a clue about how Canada’s new government intends to participate in the global struggle against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL).

 

On Topic Links

 

Syrian Diplomatic Push Doomed to Fail: A.J. Caschetta, The Hill, Jan. 22, 2016

Russian Strikes in Syria Have Stabilized Assad, Top U.S. General Says: Helene Cooper, New York Times, Jan. 20, 2016

The Secret Pact Between Russia and Syria that Gives Moscow Carte Blanche: Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2016

In Syria, Locals Take the Fight Back to Islamic State: Jonathan Spyer, The Australian, Jan. 23, 2016

 

                  

SYRIA’S PHONY PEACE TALKS

                                            Wall Street Journal, Jan 29, 2016

 

Regarding the Syrian peace talks that began over the weekend in Geneva, allow us to raise two questions: What peace—and what talks? The regime of Bashar Assad is intensifying its longstanding “starve or kneel” policy against besieged enclaves containing an estimated half a million people. The regime has also scored recent battlefield victories against moderate opposition forces, aided by a combination of Russian air power, Hezbollah ground fighters and Iran’s elite Quds Force.

 

Meantime, the Institute for the Study of War reports that Islamic State (ISIS) has responded to its recent losses in Iraq by launching a fresh offensive in eastern Syria to consolidate control of the Euphrates River valley, while the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front is gaining strength in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital. Neither ISIS nor Nusra are at the talks, and they will continue to fight regardless of what comes out of Geneva. Also not represented are Kurdish forces, which have been the most effective ground fighters against ISIS but were excluded due to Turkish sensitivities.

 

Instead, the opposition is represented by an umbrella group backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia called the High Negotiations Committee, which is demanding that the regime lift its starvation sieges and end air strikes as a precondition to “proximity negotiations”—so named because the two sides won’t agree to sit in the same room. But the opposition’s diplomatic leverage has fallen with its battlefield fortunes, so any deal it might strike in Geneva would have little effect inside Syria.

 

None of this augurs well for the talks called Geneva III after the collapse of Geneva I and II. Why hold them at all? For President Obama, the effort fulfills his pledge after the San Bernardino terrorist attack to renew U.S. diplomatic efforts over Syria, regardless of the prospects for success. It also gives Hillary Clinton an opening to say on the campaign trail that Mr. Obama is “finally” on the right course in Syria, after her previous disagreements with Mr. Obama while Secretary of State.

 

The Assad regime welcomes talks because they offer international legitimacy as well as new opportunities to extract political concessions from its opponents. Russia sees the talks as a vehicle for its own diplomatic rehabilitation amid Western sanctions, even as it defends its clients in Damascus and extends its influence in the Middle East.

 

Less clear is how this helps the Syrian people. “As usual, the regime imposes the siege on the city before each conference or an important event,” a councilman in one starved and encircled town recently told the Journal. Creating catastrophes it can then “solve” in exchange for Western concessions is an Assad family specialty. It has already parleyed this into U.S. acquiescence in Mr. Assad’s participation in a “transitional” future government with no fixed timetable for his departure.

 

The tragedy for Syria is that, even as talks enhance Mr. Assad’s legitimacy and strengthen his hand, they will further discredit the moderate opposition, which is being pressured to participate in a transitional government with the same regime most Syrians are desperate to overthrow. The dragooning may further embitter moderates toward the U.S., while strengthening claims by Islamic State and the Nusra Front that they are the only serious Sunni opposition to the Shiite regime.

 

That point is worth underscoring as Republicans like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul argue that intervening against Mr. Assad would strengthen the jihadists. In reality, the regime and Islamic State are symbiotic enemies, each drawing political strength from the other’s brutality even as they both target more moderate forces. There’s a reason Russian warplanes have rarely targeted Islamic State and the Assad regime buys Islamic State oil.

 

Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian war. Nobody can claim there’s an easy solution to what has become the greatest geopolitical disaster of the decade. But a plausible solution isn’t possible as long as Islamic State controls much of the country and the Assad regime feels free with Russian help to force Syrians into exile with barrel bombs and hunger sieges. The only peace likely to come out of Geneva is if the U.S. bludgeons the moderate Sunni opposition into surrender.

 

Contents

                                       

ISRAEL AND THE RUSSIAN CHALLENGE

                             Caroline Glick

Breaking Israel News, Jan. 24, 2016

 

Israeli Air Force commanders are reportedly deeply worried about Russia’s military presence in Syria. When Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed his forces to Syria last year, he claimed that the deployment would be brief. Russian forces were placed in Syria, Putin said, to protect Assad and would leave once he was able to defend himself. Last week, when the terms of the deployment agreement concluded between Russia and Syria were made public, we discovered that those early claims were false. Under the terms of the deal, Russia can maintain permanent bases in Syria.

 

Israel’s Air Force is no match for Russia’s. The S-400 anti-aircraft system Russia is deploying to Syria covers half of Israeli territory. Russia’s deployment means that Israel has lost its regional air superiority. To be sure, Putin’s decision to set up permanent bases in Syria is not directed against Israel. He is interested in defending Russian interests in areas like oil and Syria where Israel is not an actor. This is the reason that Russia and Israel have been able to reach tactical agreements over Syria. Among other things, the sides agreed to de-conflict their aircraft flying over Syria.

 

But Israel’s ability to reach tactical understandings with Russia doesn’t mean Israel can trust that Russia’s operations in the area will not harm its national security in significant ways. For instance, the reports that Russia is transferring arms to Hezbollah are deeply worrying. For the past five years, according to reports in foreign media, the Air Force has repeatedly bombed shipments of Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

 

Israel is not in a position to contemplate bombing Russian military shipments to Lebanon. It is also not in a position to challenge a Russian decision to allow Hezbollah to use advanced weapons like Yakhont anti-ship missiles against naval ships either from Lebanon or Syria. And there is no reason to believe that Russia won’t do so. Russia has been acting in alliance with Hezbollah, Assad and Iran since the 1980s. Putin’s reported willingness to cooperate with Israel in various areas does not mean that Russia is no longer Iran’s partner in supplying Hezbollah and facilitating its operations.

 

The government and military have no options for dealing with Russia’s sudden emergence as a major power in our backyard. And there is nothing new in Israel’s helplessness. We’ve never had an option for reining in Moscow. But until Barack Obama came into office, Israel never had to worry about Russia. For 65 years, the US forced Russia to curb its activities in the Middle East.

 

Until Barack Obama entered the White House, every US president from Franklin Roosevelt on believed it was a US economic and strategic interest of the first order to curb Russian power in the Middle East. The chief reason the US began its strategic alliance with Israel after the 1967 Six Day War was because by defeating Russian clients Egypt and Syria, Israel proved its value to the US’s Cold War strategy. In the succeeding decades, Israel and the US had a division of labor. It was Israel’s job to defeat or deter Russian – or Soviet – clients in the Arab world. It was the US’s job to deter Russia – or the Soviet Union.

 

Now, in the final year of the Obama presidency, all that is gone. Obama is content to see Russia exert power and influence that none of his predecessors would have countenanced. And so, for the first time, Israel finds itself standing alone against Russia, with no clear means of protecting its vital national security interests. Obama’s refusal to take any steps to curb Russia’s deployment and ambitions in the region is not surprising.

 

It not that he doesn’t understand that Russia’s rise means America’s fall. He undoubtedly has been warned of the implications of Russia’s return to region by the relevant government agencies and the military. But none of that matters to him. The only thing that Obama cares about is his legacy. Obama cannot take action against Russia without discrediting his entire Middle East policy, and so destroying his own legacy.

 

Obama’s policy in the region is based on the assumption that the US is responsible for instability and war in the Middle East. As a consequence, Obama’s regional policy is one that requires the US to abandon those who benefited from US protection and partnership – first and foremost Israel and Saudi Arabia, and appeasing those who most oppose the US and its allies – first and foremost Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood…

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

                                                                       

Contents                       

TURKEY'S SYRIA PROBLEM

Lee Smith

Weekly Standard, Feb. 1, 2016

 

Even before Vice President Joe Biden met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara last week, the Turks were displeased. The day before, Biden had granted interviews only to opposition media and slammed the government for stepping on freedom of speech. “That's not the kind of example that needs to be set [for the rest of the region]," said Biden. He was referring to, among other issues, the arrest of two Turkish journalists who published information, almost certainly false, claiming that Ankara sends arms across the Syrian border to the Islamic State. He was also referring to the detention of 15 academics for signing a petition denouncing Erdogan's counterinsurgency against the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK).

 

The Turkish government overreacted in both cases, and under normal circumstances, it would have been unexceptional for a visiting American vice president to make remarks like Biden's. But circumstances aren't normal. The Obama White House has been putting regional allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and now Turkey in the deep freeze. At the same time, it has excused Iran for setting fire to Saudi diplomatic missions and taking American sailors hostage. The Turks understood Biden's remarks—and were likely correct in doing so—as being aimed less at free speech than at bullying them into following the administration's lead on regional policies, especially on Syria.

 

Secretary of State John Kerry's peace talks in Geneva are about one big thing: ending the war against Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Iran and Russia are in full agreement—indeed, it is they who dictated the terms that Kerry delivered last week to the Syrian opposition. Instead of a transitional governing body that would ease the Syrian dictator out, Kerry explained, there will be a national unity government—in other words, Assad stays.

 

Turkey is opposed to the plan, and has threatened to boycott Geneva. Erdogan's defiance is not simply a matter of protecting the prestige he staked when he demanded that Assad step down more than four years ago. The Syrian conflict has created a domestic crisis, leaving Turkey to care for, by some estimates, nearly two million Syrian refugees. Many of them are here in Istanbul, where they have better chances of finding work but are competing for jobs and services with Turks in a difficult economy. If Assad stays in power, few of the refugees will return to be ruled by a man who has waged war against them. Turkey will be saddled with millions of refugees for the foreseeable future, maybe permanently, as much of Europe is starting to shut its doors.

 

Administration officials say they want Turkey to close its border with Syria to stop ISIS, but that's code, which the Turks have no problem understanding. It's meant to implicate the Turks as supporters of ISIS and embarrass them into doing what the White House really wants, which is to stop providing logistical support to anti-Assad fighters. Without Turkey, the rebels would no longer be able to mount a fight against Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies.

 

The way the administration sees it, with the war against Assad over, the war against ISIS can continue. To that end, the Syrian Kurds of the Democratic Union party (PYD), who have proven themselves the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State, will continue to campaign against ISIS. This is fine with Iran and Russia. "As for specific ways of sealing the border between Turkey and Syria," Russian foreign minister Segei Lavrov has said, "Kurdish militia forces .  .  . could be used."

 

But the plan is anathema to Turkey. The PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK—the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that broke a ceasefire in June to resume its three-decades-long war against Turkey. In short, Biden was in Turkey to strongarm a longstanding ally into letting a deadly enemy control its long border with Syria. Biden insisted that the White House is not partnered with the PKK. "The PKK is internationally accepted as a terror organization and will remain to be so," he said here last week. He also recited the administration's familiar talking points—that there's a big difference between the PKK and the PYD. But that's not how Turkey sees it.

 

As Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the U.N. in October, "We consider the PYD the same way we consider the PKK." Yes, said Davutoglu, PYD is part of the fight against ISIS, but from Ankara's perspective that hardly makes them benign. "Fighting against [ISIS] does not make PYD a legitimate organization." In this case, the PKK agrees with Turkey—they and the PYD are the same thing. As one PKK fighter told the Wall Street Journal, "It's all PKK but different branches." Indeed, just last week, it was the PYD, ostensibly distinct from the PKK, that called for attacks on "the institutions of the Turkish state all over the world."

 

So why does the White House want to empower a terrorist group targeting a fellow NATO member? The ostensible reason is that the United States will work with anyone to crush ISIS, even another terrorist group like the PKK. But that's not the whole story. The fundamental requirement of any successful anti-ISIS campaign would be to get the region's Sunni Arab majority on board. But that won't happen so long as Washington is indulging the Iranian axis, including Assad. The surge in Iraq is the model. Al Qaeda was finally turned back there when the Sunni Arab tribes agreed to join Americans in fighting them. The tribes turned on al Qaeda only because the Bush White House resolved to simultaneously fight the tribes' other enemy, the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias.

 

The path to defeating ISIS is hardly shrouded in mystery—Obama knows it as well as anyone in the field and all the other actors in the region. It would require empowering the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq. But there is no way to do this without a U.S. turn against Iran, the opposite of Obama's policy. He gives every sign of sticking by Iran, even if it means undoing the alliance system in the Middle East built by Washington over more than half a century. The Obama pattern is more than clear: To secure his deal with Iran, he has been more than willing to downgrade allies and upgrade adversaries.

 

To be fair, Obama doesn't exactly see the world in terms of allies and adversaries. Sure, Iran misbehaves, as he's told many interviewers, but Saudi Arabia is no great shakes either. The problems of our friends in the Gulf Arab states, as Obama has said, come from among their own populations, not Iranian terrorism. The Israelis, from his perspective, won't grow up and make peace with the Palestinians, or with Iran for that matter. And Turkey, as Biden said last week here in Istanbul, doesn't set a good example.

 

There are no allies or enemies, as Obama sees it, just forces that he will bring into balance with each other. Bring some in closer, like Iran or the PKK, and push some a little further away, like Israel and Turkey. Obama couldn't be clearer: It's time for everyone in the Middle East to learn how to live with each other, or at least find ways to deter each other, without having to call in America all the time to solve their problems.

 

It's a nice academic theory but riddled with problems in the real world. Foremost among them: Iran is a revolutionary regime, a destabilizing force that seeks to overturn the status quo. Then there's the fact of the increasingly large and calamitous war in the middle of the region, which continues to pull all its neighbors into its gravitational field. There's no way around it: For the sake of theory, Obama is endangering U.S. allies and interests and putting millions of lives at risk.                                                                                                                                                

Contents                                                                                   

                    IN SYRIA AND IRAQ, CANADA NEEDS TO GO BIG OR GO HOME

Terry Glavin

National Post, Jan. 28, 2016

 

It’s bad enough that the House of Commons resumed its sittings this week without a clue about how Canada’s new government intends to participate in the global struggle against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL). Worse, Parliament began its proceedings against the backdrop of a recent meeting, in which our NATO allies had apparently sidelined us, or “snubbed” us, because of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s embarrassing incoherence on the subject.

 

It can be taken as a given that Trudeau and his ministers have utterly failed in their attempts to explain their rationale behind withdrawing the half-dozen Royal Canadian Air Force fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. As for having been rudely cold-shouldered last week when the United States convened coalition defence ministers from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands in Paris, it is just as plausible that that the White House simply wanted to avoid embarrassing us any further. In any case, knowing what everybody knows now about U.S. President Barack Obama’s abysmal failures throughout the Middle East, and particularly his catastrophic response to the Syrian debacle, what shame is there in Canada being slightly less implicated in the wreckage?

 

Being “snubbed” by Obama in these matters could just as easily be taken as a badge of honour. It would at least place Canada in the company of the only good guys involved in the Syrian mayhem. When the Islamic State’s campaign of genocide against the Yazidis finally shamed the Obama administration into authorizing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in September 2014, it was the U.S.-based Coalition for a Democratic Syria and the Istanbul-based National Coalition for Syrian and Revolutionary Forces that got snubbed. Obama’s air campaign began with “absolutely no coordination with moderate Opposition forces on the ground,” the coalition protested. Since then, Syria’s pro-democracy revolutionaries have been sidelined ever further. The Syrian corpse heaps have grown only higher. Half the Syrian population — 12-million people — have been rendered homeless, due almost entirely to the war that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah and lately Russia have been waging upon the Syrian people, mostly by means of barrel bombs and cluster munitions.

 

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been reduced to working as an errand boy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, instructing Syria’s rebel forces on what they may and may not put on the table in the latest United Nations’ “peace talks” charade, and making plain to everyone that Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are on the same page: forget about sending Assad to the International Criminal Court. The point of the talks is to secure Assad a place in some sort of gerrymandered, power-sharing transitional government arrangement. To be absent from the invitation list to “world stage” proceedings this disgraceful is not something that should hurt Canada’s feelings. The Opposition Conservatives are not helping to clarify matters by aping the New Democratic Party’s habit of construing Canada’s foreign-policy usefulness by what they imagine Canadians would want to see in a vanity mirror. “The Liberals’ incoherent and indecisive messaging has diminished Canada’s reputation on the world stage,” Conservative MP James Bezan told the House on Monday. Good grief.

 

When they were in power, we could at least count on the Conservatives to not particularly give a damn about what “the international community” thought. But now that the Liberals are calling the shots, or leaving everybody waiting to learn what shots they’re going to call, it suddenly matters? It doesn’t — certainly not to the people of Syria, whose agonies should be foremost in these considerations. The apocalyptic sundering of Syria has quite properly remained front-and-centre in the rumpus-making about the role Canada’s military might play in the paltry U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. This makes it particularly weird that Canada’s Operation Impact contribution has had practically nothing to do with Syria from the outset…                                                                                                                                      

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

 

On Topic

 

Syrian Diplomatic Push Doomed to Fail: A.J. Caschetta, The Hill, Jan. 22, 2016—The Obama administration will spend its final year attempting “to de-escalate the conflict in Syria…through a political transition.”

Russian Strikes in Syria Have Stabilized Assad, Top U.S. General Says: Helene Cooper, New York Times, Jan. 20, 2016—Russia’s campaign of airstrikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has stabilized Mr. Assad’s government, America’s top general said Wednesday.

The Secret Pact Between Russia and Syria that Gives Moscow Carte Blanche: Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2016—When you are a major nuclear power and you want to make a secretive deployment to a faraway ally, what is the first thing you do? Draw up the terms, apparently, and sign a contract.

In Syria, Locals Take the Fight Back to Islamic State: Jonathan Spyer, The Australian, Jan. 23, 2016—In late December, I travelled to northern Syria to take a closer look at how things were working out. Is Islamic State being contained and eroded? And if it is, who are the forces on the ground that are achieving this?

 

 

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

THE SYRIAN AND SPANISH CIVIL WARS— BOTH PRELUDES TO WIDER CONFLICTS?

 

 

 

 

 

In 1936 Spanish pro-fascist monarchist forces under General Francisco Franco attacked the legitimate government of the Spanish Republic, setting off a vicious and soon internationalized civil war. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany directly supported Franco’s nationalist forces, with air support, military equipment, advisers, and materiel; France provided some aid to the Republic while Britain maintained neutrality. Soviet Russia countered Fascist-Nazi support to Franco with military equipment and advisers, while thousands of largely socialist and communist foreign volunteers, organized into  International Brigades, also came to the aid of the Republic. 

 

The viciously partisan war, pitting Catholics against secular Republicans, fascists and monarchists against liberal, socialist, and anarchist republicans, ended with the defeat of the Republican forces in March, 1939, as the Western democracies provided little real help, and the Soviets, fearing the Spanish anarchist-republicans (POUM), withdrew their support.  The war, entailing large-scale urban and rural destruction and dislocation (Guernica), produced the deaths of  hundreds of thousands of people, and over 400,000 Republican refugees.

 

The Spanish Civil War should in some ways, mutatis mutandis, remind us of the increasingly complex and even more destructive, dangerous and internationalized civil war in Syria. Now almost five years old, with eight million internal and four million external refugees and a death toll approaching 300,000, the Syrian civil war shows no signs of soon ending.   In Syria, of course, the government was, and is, not a legitimate representative Republic, but a one-man, one-party dictatorship, while the initial Syrian rebels were not proto-fascist monarchists but relatively moderate Muslims, demanding, in one of the last gasps of the failed regional Arab Spring, a truly representative government.

 

While the Assad dictatorship had traditionally been supported by the Soviet Union, a policy continued by its Russian successor, Moscow’s direct intervention has come only  recently. Initially, the West supported the rebels indirectly, with the American President, Obama, calling for Assad’s removal but providing no aid to his opponents.  As Assad moved militarily against his largely civilian opponents, new factors entered the equation: Shiite Iran ramped up its support for the Alawite Syrian ruler, while the anti-Assad Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs (and to some extent the Turks) supported the largely Sunni rebels.

 

Soon, however, the conflict deepened, with a new element entering the increasingly volatile mix.  An extremist Sunni Islamist force, IS, or Islamic State (or ISIL [Arabic “Daesh”]), breaking away from Al Qaeda, established itself and proclaimed a strict sharia-based Caliphate in both Iraq and Syria. A fundamentalist movement, bloodily repressive, beheading and burning captives and raping and enslaving subordinate Yazidi and other women, IS quickly conquered part of northern Syria, around Raqqa, which it proclaimed its capital, and a swath of north-eastern Iraq around Ramadi, threatening both Iraqi-Turkish Mosul and Baghdad.

 

As in the Spanish Civil War, an initially internal conflict was soon internationalized. In Spain, the conflict was deepened and broadened by direct Italian-German military support for monarchist-conservative Franco, and indirect and ineffective Western, and then direct Soviet Russian, support for the Republican forces. In Syria, the initial moderate Muslim rebels were soon overshadowed by more radical Islamist forces, financed and supported by Sunni Arab states (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States), and dedicated to removing Assad,  while Assad received Iranian funding and arms, troops from Iran’s Lebanese client Hezbollah, and increasing Russian support.

 

In Spain France and Britain gave only minor, indirect support to the Republic (the International Brigades, however heroically motivated, being militarily of relatively modest weight), while the Soviets, providing arms and some military cadres, but always with an eye on the larger international scene, never went “all in”. Similarly, in Syria, where Obama, while proclaiming that Assad had to go, kept the US (and NATO) out of direct involvement. The moderates received moral support, but little direct military aid, with their weakness creating a kind of pro-Sunni vacuum soon filled by IS.

 

(The rise of IS can, in fact, in large part be laid at Obama’s feet. Allergic to providing  “boots on the ground”, Obama reneged on a pledged “red line” after Assad’s use of chemical weapons was discovered. Lack of American resolve and leadership created the political vacuum into which IS expanded.)

 

As the crisis deepened, IS expanded and Assad’s area of control steadily shrank. The foreign interventions were now radicalized: the U.S. in 2014, after a series of IS  massacres and the beheading of American captives, championed a rather desultory Western-Sunni Arab  air campaign against IS (but still no “boots on the ground”, save latterly for the use of Kurdish forces in the north-east).  Iran’s support for Assad (before, through and after its nuclear deal with Obama) ramped up, Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops intervened directly, and, finally, as Assad’s regime seemed to totter, Russia intervened directly. (Putin mounted his own air campaign from his Syrian airbase near Latakia against the “terrorists” [supposedly including IS, but actually directed against the coalition of moderate anti-Assad Sunni forces].)

 

Now, in November, 2015, as Russia’s involvement deepens and the American-led air campaign still shows little sign of markedly impeding IS, the US, in an Obamian about-face, has announced the placing of an initially small contingent of American troops on the ground and a ramping up of the aerial sorties.  So suddenly the two leading world-powers are directly facing off against one another in the downwardly-spiralling Syrian civil war where, despite hurried “deconfliction” talks to avoid accidental confrontations, incidents sparking a deeper crisis—like the recent Turkish shooting down of a Russian bomber–remain quite possible.

 

In Spain, Nazi-fascist support trumped ineffectual Western, and manipulative Soviet,  aid (see George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, on the Soviets’ duplicity), resulting in a Francoist victory and the destruction of the Republic.  In Syria at this point, something similar in relation to the Assad regime is occurring: Russian-Iranian support for Assad (the equivalent of German-Italian aid to Franco) seems about to trump the moderate rebels who (like the Spanish Republicans), weakly backed by the US (equivalent to the weak British-French in Spain) are losing.

 

Here IS, as a kind of relatively independent third party to the conflict, breaks the structural parallelisms. Playing off the Alawites and the moderate Sunnis against one another, and oddly (or not so oddly)  not the direct target of the Russians,  the Turks, who have been opposed to Assad from the beginning, or of Assad —IS is holding its own, or better.

 

(Indeed, some argue that Assad has in fact used IS against the moderate rebels, and is willing—at least in the short-to-medium run–to divide Syria with them. It is also pointed out that the mass emigration of millions of Sunni Syrians to Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps, and thence to Germany and Sweden through southern Europe, is a kind of ethnic cleansing strengthening Assad’s Alawite constituency. And the Turks have proved more concerned with its traditional Kurdish enemies on the Syrian-Turkish border than with IS or Assad.)

 

The Spanish Civil War was a prelude to World War II, strengthening and encouraging the fascist-Nazi forces and, not least, demonstrating the irrelevance of the League of Nations as well as the appeasement of France and Great Britain.  Even before the War ended in 1939, Hitler had already affected the Anschluss with Austria,  at Munich Czechoslovakia had been abandoned; and by 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact aligned the Bolsheviks and Nazis, and led to the invasion of Poland and the beginning of WWII. Could the Syrian Civil War, similarly, be the antechamber of a wider regional conflict, one which  —remember Putin in Crimea and Ukraine—could mutate into a major European war?

 

The book of the future is the hardest of tomes to read, but the obviously deeply unstable Syrian situation indeed has within itself elements of a wider conflict. Aside from accidental confrontations—Russian and American aircraft encountering one another, a Russian-American naval crisis in the Mediterranean, recently-emplaced advanced Russian guided-missile batteries (inserted after the Turks shot down the Russian jet) shooting down a coalition (or Turkish, or Israeli) aircraft, and so on—more “structural” elements, radicalized by the ongoing conflict, may well come into play.

 

Syria today is what Hobbes, reflecting on an earlier civil war, termed a bellum omnium contra omnes, a “war of all against all”.  The UN, despite the periodic protestations of Ban Ki-moon, is—like the League of Nations in 1936—irrelevant. America, still isolated by appeasement in 1936, has once again withdrawn from world engagement under Obama. But as the Russians respond by stepping up their own involvement, and IS threatens to expand into a world-wide terrorist threat, the US has now begun to be sucked back, however unwillingly and despite the evident distaste of its President, into the vortex.

 

The Saudis and Gulf Arabs, fearful of Iran and already bogged down by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, are also deeply involved, supporting both elements of the moderate Sunni opposition and IS, while IS remains an expansionist factor with recent gains both in Syria and Iraq, and now in Libya and Afghanistan (as well as killing over 200 Russians by evidently bringing down a jetliner on its way to Moscow from Sharm El-Sheikh over the Sinai, and 130 Frenchmen by its terrorist attack in Paris).

 

Iran is doubling down by sending in thousands of its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard units, under IRG generals (several recently killed in combat) to support Assad. Turkey, where conservative Sunni Islamist Erdogan, initially against Assad, has been handed a reinforced nationalist majority in the recent election and is moving against the Kurds, inside and outside the Syria-Turkey border And the Kurds, in turn, are the U.S.’s only effective “boots on the ground” in Syria.

 

Hence the prospect in Syria is one of increasing, unstable, and internationalized combat, which could at points easily escalate into a wider war.  And nothing to this point has been said of Egypt, formerly leader of the Sunni Muslims, opposing IS in the Sinai, which also has a stake in the Syrian outcome.

 

Nor has mention yet been made of Israel, which to this point has studiously avoided getting involved, save to prevent transhipment of advanced war materiel from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet Iranian-led troops are on the Golan Heights border, and Hezbollah and some 60,000 rockets are on the southern Lebanon border. Fire between Israel and Iranian-backed troops on the Golan has been exchanged, and incidents there and in south Lebanon could easily escalate, and much the same can be said of the Iran-backed elements in Gaza (Hamas).   

 

Given the rising stakes of the game, the American abdication of regional leadership,   heightened Russian military involvement,  the rising strength of Islamist IS, and many other unstable variables, would seem to indicate that the Syrian Civil War, like Spain’s, could, sooner or later, burst out of its domestic container and spark, if not World War III, then certainly a severe and extremely dangerous regional Middle East conflagration.

 

(Prof. Frederick Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

 

 

 

AS U.S. PREPARES LIMITED STRIKE ON ISIS IN SYRIA— ASSAD’S IRAN-BACKED CRIMES SHOULD NOT GO UNPUNISHED

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 

 

Contents:

 

The Syria Campaign: Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2014 — American bombs aren't yet falling on Syria, but on Tuesday Chuck Hagel suggested they soon will.

14 Million Refugees Make the Levant Unmanageable: David P. Goldman, PJ Media, Sept. 8, 2014— There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population).

Assad Policies Aided Rise of Islamic State Militant Group: Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22, 2014 — The Islamic State, which metastasized from a group of militants seeking to overthrow the Syrian government into a marauding army gobbling up chunks of the Middle East, gained momentum early on from a calculated decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go easy on it, according to people close to the regime.

I Was Gassed by Assad: Qusai Zakarya, Foreign Policy, Aug. 22, 2014 — Every time I see President Barack Obama speak on television, I have horrible flashbacks.

 

On Topic Links

 

House Approves Obama’s Iraq-Syria Military Strategy Amid Skepticism: Ed O'Keefe & Paul Kane, Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2014

Israeli Official: Syria Kept 'Significant' Chemical Weapons: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 18, 2014

Chlorine Used as Weapon in Syria War, Group Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014

Faith, Fanaticism and Fantasy in the Middle East: Clifford May, National Post, Sept. 18, 2014

Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent: George Friedman, Real Clear World, Aug. 26, 2014

 

                            

                                      

THE SYRIA CAMPAIGN                                                                                           

Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2014

 

American bombs aren't yet falling on Syria, but on Tuesday Chuck Hagel suggested they soon will. "This plan includes targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria, including its command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure," the Secretary of Defense told the Senate. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, added that the attacks "will be persistent and sustainable." Let's hope so, because no campaign to destroy the Islamic State can succeed without waging a campaign on both sides of an Iraqi-Syrian border that the terrorist group long ago erased in the name of its caliphate. The Islamic State's capital is in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which it has held for over a year. It has recently scored major military victories against Bashar Assad's regime and moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), particularly in the embattled city of Aleppo.

 

Those ISIS victories are a reminder that time isn't on America's side in this fight, even as the Administration contemplates a long war. That's especially true if President Obama wants to avoid helping the Assad regime and its allies in Hezbollah and Iran. Mr. Obama is three years late in making a serious attempt to train and equip the FSA. Now that he's at last publicly promised U.S. support, he needs a military strategy that helps them win. Attacking the Islamic State advances that goal, and not only because of its military gains against the FSA. As the Journal reported Tuesday in an online video of life in Raqqa, the Islamic State rules in totalitarian fashion, complete with public crucifixions. The brutality has created conditions similar to those that preceded the Sunni Awakening in Iraq in 2007—the revolt by ordinary Sunnis and their tribal leaders in Anbar province against al Qaeda. The awakening would not have succeeded without the aid of U.S. forces, which were available in adequate numbers thanks to President Bush's surge. Nothing similar can happen now because of President Obama's short-sighted pledge to put no U.S. troops on the ground. But a devastating air campaign against the Islamic State might at least weaken the group sufficiently to embolden a revolt and send new recruits to the FSA. The model here is the air cover NATO gave to Kosovars as they fought Serbian aggressors in 1999 in the Balkans.

 

Defeating the Islamic State will also require attacks on the Assad regime. Sunnis will not support the campaign against Islamic State if they think our air strikes are intended to help the regime in Damascus and its Shiite allies in Beirut and Tehran. Assad had previously helped the Islamic State by releasing its fighters from his prisons and supplying it with oil in order to isolate the FSA and consolidate his political base among Syria's Alawites and Christians. Yet now he claims he is the only plausible alternative to the Islamic State. The U.S. will have to ensure that the Islamic State's losses benefit the FSA and not Assad. The best way to start would be for the U.S. to end the siege of Aleppo, where FSA forces are trapped both by the Islamic State and Assad's forces. Saving the city—Syria's largest—would end a humanitarian calamity and provide a major psychological boost to the FSA.

 

Sooner rather than later the U.S. will also have to do what Mr. Obama wanted to do a year ago and bomb Assad's airfields. His air force consists mainly of training aircraft dropping primitive—but devastating—munitions, some of them loaded with chlorine gas. Air power is one of his principle advantages over the FSA, and removing it would make Assad more likely to negotiate with the FSA rather than risk falling to Islamic State. Mr. Obama first promised to train and arm the FSA a year ago, but that effort was microscopic and half-hearted. That helps explain why neighboring Arab states like Jordan abandoned the effort or began aiding jihadist groups instead. They will help now only if they believe Mr. Obama is serious.

Some conservatives are criticizing any intervention in Syria, but House Speaker John Boehner is right to support Mr. Obama's funding requests, no matter GOP doubts about Mr. Obama's strategy and resolve. The Republicans who opposed Mr. Obama's short-living plan to intervene in Syria a year ago have been discredited by events. That walk-back gave Islamic State time to expand and take more territory. The political lesson is that the GOP should not be the midwife for Mr. Obama's weakness, much less as a pretext for his inaction. In foreign policy the best politics is to support the right policy. The U.S. is taking sides in Iraq and Syria against two entrenched enemies of American interests. Our key allies are the Kurds, the parts of the Iraqi military that aren't dominated by Iran's militia, and the moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq. They must win on the ground to defeat ISIS. Early action in Syria might have spared us this predicament, but that's all the more reason to act decisively now.

 

                                                                                               

Contents
                       

   

         

14 MILLION REFUGEES MAKE THE LEVANT UNMANAGEABLE                  

David P. Goldman                                                                                  

PJ Media, Sept. 8, 2014

 

There are always lunatics lurking in the crevices of Muslim politics prepared to proclaim a new caliphate; there isn’t always a recruiting pool in the form of nearly 14 million displaced people (11 million Syrians, or half the country’s population, and 2.8 million Iraqis, or a tenth of the country’s population). When I wrote about the region’s refugee disaster at Tablet in July (“Between the Settlers and Unsettlers, the One State Solution is On Our Doorstep“) the going estimate was only 10 million. A new UN study, though, claims that half of Syrians are displaced. Many of them will have nothing to go back to. When people have nothing to lose, they fight to the death and inflict horrors on others. That is what civilizational decline looks like in real time. The roots of the crisis were visible four years ago before the so-called Arab Spring beguiled the foreign policy wonks. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian farmers already were living in tent camps around Syrian cities before the Syrian civil war began in April 2011. Israeli analysts knew this. In March 2011 Paul Rivlin of Tel Aviv University released a study of the collapse of Syrian agriculture, widely cited in Arab media but unmentioned in the English language press (except my essay on the topic). Most of what passes for political science treats peoples and politicians as if they were so many pieces on a fixed game board. This time the game board is shrinking and the pieces are falling off.

 

The Arab states are failed states, except for the few with enough hydrocarbons to subsidize every facet of economic life. Egypt lives on a$15 billion annual subsidy from the Gulf states and, if that persists, will remain stable if not quite prosperous. Syria is a ruin, along with large parts of Iraq. The lives of tens of millions of people were fragile before the fighting broke out (30% of Syrians lived on less than $1.60 a day), and now they are utterly ruined. The hordes of combatants displace more people, and these join the hordes, in a snowball effect. That’s what drove the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648, and that’s what’s driving the war in the Levant. When I wrote in 2011 that Islam was dying, this was precisely what I forecast. You can’t unscramble this egg. The international organizations, Bill Clinton, George Soros and other people of that ilk will draw up plans, propose funding, hold conferences and publish studies, to no avail. The raw despair of millions of people ripped out of the cocoon of traditional society, bereft of ties of kinship and custom, will feed the meatgrinder. Terrorist organizations that were hitherto less flamboyant (“moderate” is a misdesignation), e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestine branch Hamas), will compete with the caliphate for the loyalties of enraged young people. The delusion about Muslim democracy that afflicted utopians of both parties is now inoperative. War will end when the pool of prospective fighters has been exhausted. That is also why ISIS is overrated. A terrorist organization that beheads Americans and posts the video needs to be annihilated, but it is not particularly difficult. The late Sam Kinison’s monologue on world hunger is to the point: they live in a desert. They may be hard to flush out of towns they occupy, but they cannot move from one town to another in open ground if warplanes are hunting them. That is what America and its allies should do.

 

More dangerous is Iran, as Henry Kissinger emphasized in a recent interview with National Public Radio. Iran’s backing for the Assad regime’s ethnic cleansing of Syrian Sunnis set the refugee crisis in motion, while the Iraqi Shi’ites’ alliance with Iran persuaded elements of Saddam Hussein’s military to fight for ISIS. Iran can make nuclear weapons and missiles; ISIS cannot. If we had had the foresight to neutralize Iran years ago, the crisis could have been managed without the unspeakable humanitarian cost. We cannot do the killing ourselves, except, of course, from the air. We are too squeamish under the best of circumstances, and we are too corrupted by cultural relativism (remember George W. Bush’s claim that Islam is “a religion of peace”?) to recognize utterly evil nihilism when it stares us in the face. In practice, a great deal of the killing will be done by Iran and its allies: the Iraqi Shi’a, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad regime in Syria. It will be one of the most disgusting and disheartening episodes in modern history and there isn’t much we can do to prevent it.

                                                                           

                                                                                               

Contents
                      

 

 

ASSAD POLICIES AIDED RISE OF ISLAMIC STATE MILITANT GROUP      

Maria Abi-Habib                                                                                                            

Wall Street Journal, Aug. 22, 2014

 

The Islamic State, which metastasized from a group of militants seeking to overthrow the Syrian government into a marauding army gobbling up chunks of the Middle East, gained momentum early on from a calculated decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go easy on it, according to people close to the regime. Earlier in the three-year-old Syrian uprising, Mr. Assad decided to mostly avoid fighting the Islamic State to enable it to cannibalize the more secular rebel group supported by the West, the Free Syrian Army, said Izzat Shahbandar, an Assad ally and former Iraqi lawmaker who was Baghdad's liaison to Damascus. The goal, he said, was to force the world to choose between the regime and extremists. "When the Syrian army is not fighting the Islamic State, this makes the group stronger," said Mr. Shahbandar, a close aide to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said Mr. Assad described the strategy to him personally during a visit in May to Damascus. "And sometimes, the army gives them a safe path to allow the Islamic State to attack the FSA and seize their weapons." "It's a strategy to eliminate the FSA and have the two main players face each other in Syria: Assad and the Islamic State," said Mr. Shahbandar. "And now [Damascus] is asking the world to help, and the world can't say no."

 

The Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, has emerged recently as a major threat to the entire region and beyond. Its seizure of territory in neighboring Iraq triggered American airstrikes, and its execution this week of kidnapped American journalist James Foley prompted President Barack Obama to vow to continue the U.S. air war against the group in Iraq and to relentlessly pursue the killers. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group can't be defeated without choking off its operations in Syria. This account of how the Islamic State benefited from the complex three-way civil war in Syria between the government, the largely secular, moderate rebels and the hard-core Islamist groups was pieced together from interviews with Syrian rebel commanders and opposition figures, Iraqi government officials and Western diplomats, as well as al Qaeda documents seized by the U.S. military in Iraq.

 

The Assad regime now appears to be shifting away from its early reluctance to engage the group. In June, Syria launched airstrikes on the group's headquarters in Raqqa in northern Syria, the first large-scale offensive against the militant group since it rose to power a year ago. This week, Syria flew more than three dozen sorties on Raqqa, its biggest assault on the group yet. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, denied that Damascus supported the Islamic State early on and praised his government's battlefield response to the group, pointing to dozens of recent strikes on the group's headquarters. "Our priorities changed as these groups emerged," Mr. Ali said in an interview at his office. "Last month it was protecting Damascus, for example. Today it is Raqqa." Speaking of the Islamic State aggression that has decimated the more secular FSA, he said: "When these groups clashed, the Syrian government benefited. When you have so many enemies and they clash with each other, you must take advantage of it. You step back, see who is left and finish them off."

 

Mr. Shahbandar said the Islamic State's recent success forced the Syrian government and its Iranian allies to ramp up their military assaults, hoping the West will throw its weight behind Damascus and Tehran to defeat the extremists. Such cooperation would put the U.S. and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia in an uncomfortable position, after years of supporting the FSA and demanding that Mr. Assad step down. There are some signs that the opposing sides might be willing to work together. In Iraq, the U.S. began arming Kurdish Peshmerga forces this month, while the Iranians sent advisers. The Syrian government facilitated the predecessor to the Islamic State—al Qaeda in Iraq—when that group's primary target was U.S. troops then in the country.

 

In 2007, U.S. military forces raided an al Qaeda training camp in Sinjar, northern Iraq. They uncovered a trove of documents outlining Damascus's support to the extremists, according to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which publicly released the records. The Sinjar records detailed the flow of extremists from across the Middle East to the Damascus airport. Syrian intelligence agents detained the fighters as they landed in the capital, holding them at the Sadnaya military prison on the city's outskirts. If deemed a threat to the country, they would remain imprisoned, the records indicate. But if their intentions were solely to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, Syrian intelligence would facilitate their flow across the border, the records show. Making that journey were many Saudis and Libyans—the same nationalities that today bolster the ranks of the Islamic State. Mr. Maliki's former spokesman, Ali Aldabbagh, said in an interview that he attended heated meetings in Damascus during which Baghdad asked Mr. Assad to stop the flow of al Qaeda militants across the border. He said Syria brushed off the requests. "The Assad regime played a key role in ISIL's rise," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf at a news conference earlier this month. "They allowed for a security situation where ISIL could grow in strength. The Syrian regime fostered the growth of terrorist networks. They facilitated the flow of al Qaeda foreign fighters in…Iraq." The Assad regime denies providing any support to the groups.

 

By the time the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, the militant group was nearly decimated. It regrouped in northeast Syria as the revolution was becoming a civil war. It was led by a charismatic figure from Samarra, Iraq, who goes by the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In May 2011, after the first protests broke out in Syria, the Syrian government released from the Sadnaya military prison some of its most high-value detainees imprisoned for terrorism, the first in a series of general amnesties. At least nine went on to lead extremist groups in Syria, and four currently serve the Islamic State, statements from the extremist groups and interviews with other rebels show. Mr. Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said Damascus had released only common criminals in the amnesties, who were then offered money by extremist groups to fight against the government. "When Syria released these people, they hadn't committed terrorist crimes," he said. "They were just criminals. In 2011, there were calls for freedom and accusations that Damascus was imprisoning people, so we hosted several amnesties [to demonstrate] our goodwill."

 

Bassam Barabandi, a diplomat in Syria's foreign ministry at the time who has since defected, offered a different explanation. "The fear of a continued, peaceful revolution is why these Islamists were released," he said. "The reasoning behind the jihadists, for Assad and the regime, is that they are the alternative to the peaceful revolution. They are organized with the doctrine of jihad and the West is afraid of them."…

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

 

                                                                               

Contents       

                                                                                     

I WAS GASSED BY BASHAR AL-ASSAD                                             

Qusai Zakarya                                                                                                                 

Foreign Policy, Aug. 21, 2014

 

Every time I see President Barack Obama speak on television, I have horrible flashbacks. My eyes are burning, I struggle to breathe, and when I inhale, the air stabs my lungs like a thousand daggers. A young child lies glassy-eyed in my arms, I load him into a truck, and then the world turns sideways and goes black.

Then, someone is shaking me, kissing me, crying over me. Suddenly, the world comes back into focus, and I see my friend, shouting: "You're alive! You're alive!" I am a survivor of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attacks of Aug. 21, 2013. One year ago today, my heart stopped for 30 minutes after I inhaled nerve gas launched by Assad regime forces on my hometown of Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus. The scene outside my front porch that morning was like something from Judgment Day: Neighbors I had known my whole life were running, screaming, and writhing in agony as an invisible killer claimed their lives.

 

Today, a year later, I remember my dear friends with sadness, knowing that the man who killed them was spared punishment for the atrocity he committed that day. But the worst sadness of my life did not come the day my friends died. It came three weeks later, while watching a livestream of President Obama. I learned from that speech that the United States would make a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, instead of striking at Assad for his atrocities. I had to translate this news into Arabic for my friends — we cried harder than we had on Aug. 21, because we knew that Assad now had a green light to kill all the Syrians he wanted, so long as he did not use sarin gas. The past year has played out as I feared. Assad may have relinquished most of his sarin gas, but he has also found a new weapon to replace it, which also kills invisibly on a massive scale. Americans might recognize this weapon because fanatics from the self-styled "Islamic State" recently used it to kill Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. That weapon is starvation. Over the past year, Assad has killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held areas across the country by denying them food, water, or medicine until they succumb to starvation. As with the Islamic State's pretend "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Assad's only goal with starvation is to inflict unbelievable pain and suffering on innocents until they assent to his bloody rule.

 

In my hometown, there are few extremists. Emissaries from al Qaeda who came to our town to scout for recruits left Moadamiya after concluding in one day that we were "apostates." We are locals fighting for democracy in Moadamiya — and for this reason, Assad is slowly starving us to death. I was in Moadamiya until February, and I saw the full impact of Assad's "starve and surrender" weapon myself. In October 2012, Assad's forces commenced a total siege on Moadamiya, blocking all food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies from entering the town. While we initially found sustenance from a bumper crop of olives, food began to run out as winter set in, and residents were reduced to eating weeds and stray animals. Once more, I held infants in my arms as they lay glassy-eyed and dying, this time from malnutrition. I consoled parents on the deaths of their young children — such as my friend Abu Bilal, who was a grocer before the siege but could not even save his own daughter during it. Another friend of mine was desperate to get medicine for his dying daughter, but was caught by regime intelligence. We found him with his throat slashed and the skin peeled off his entire body. These are daily realities for tens of thousands of Syrians. Entire towns are slowly dying of starvation, and the U.S.-Russian chemical weapons deal made it possible. I know that the United States can save my friends and family in Moadamiya, just as it saved the poor Yazidis on Mount Sinjar.

 

Obama recently dismissed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as "former doctors, farmers, [and] pharmacists," incapable of fighting Assad and the Islamic State at the same time. I know the FSA fighters in my hometown, and the president couldn't be more wrong to write them off: Before I blacked out a year ago today, I watched with my own eyes as they repelled a massive attack by Assad troops in full chemical gear. The "farmers and pharmacists" of the Free Syrian Army have defended Moadamiya from everything Assad has thrown at them, and they deserve America's support. Last November, I initiated an indefinite hunger strike to draw attention to the horrific daily realities in my hometown. The hunger strike garnered international attention, and Congressman Keith Ellison even fasted for a day in solidarity. But it also drew the attention of regime authorities, who began to seek ways to kill me. With death possibly just around the corner, I entered into "negotiations" with the regime and managed to trick Ghassan Bilal — the chief of staff for Maher al-Assad, Bashar's brother and feared enforcer — into thinking that I was ready to work with him. This allowed me to escape to Lebanon, and from there to Turkey, before I finally found refuge in the United States.

 

Since coming to the United States, I have been shocked at how little citizens of the world's most powerful nation discuss global affairs. But I have also been pleasantly surprised by Americans' generosity and love of liberty. I see statues all over Washington celebrating the American Revolution — a revolution that could not have happened without the many farmers and doctors who took up arms. I am confident that, once Americans realize what is happening in Syria, they will come to the aid of the Syrian "farmers and pharmacists" who power our revolution as well. Obama must realize that we are fighting for our liberty, and that his inaction while we are being slaughtered will go down in history as a moral stain on his presidency.

 

On Topic

 

House Approves Obama’s Iraq-Syria Military Strategy Amid Skepticism: Ed O'Keefe & Paul Kane, Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2014—The House on Wednesday approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to counter the growing threat of the Islamic State organization, even though lawmakers in both parties remain deeply skeptical about its chances for success.

Israeli Official: Syria Kept 'Significant' Chemical Weapons: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 18, 2014 —Israel believes Syria has retained caches of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions under pressure from foreign powers, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

Chlorine Used as Weapon in Syria War, Group Says: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, Sept. 10, 2014—A toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used as a weapon to attack Syrian villages in April, an international watchdog agency confirmed on Wednesday.

Faith, Fanaticism and Fantasy in the Middle East: Clifford May, National Post, Sept. 18, 2014 —“God created war,” theorized Mark Twain, “so that Americans would learn geography.” That’s as true today as it was two centuries ago. How many of us would be able to find Yemen, Somalia and Mali on a map if not for the conflicts raging in those lands?

Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent: George Friedman, Real Clear World, Aug. 26, 2014—Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

 

 

               

 

 

 

                      

                

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rob Coles, 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

IS SYRIA DOOMED? GENEVA II PROVES FRUITLESS, IRAN WATCHES THE U.S DITHER ON ASSAD, THE HUMANITARIAN TRAVESTY 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: rob@isranet.org

 



                                           

Syria Peace Plan: Kenneth Bandler, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2014— Does Syria have a future or is this Arab country doomed? The answer is not any clearer following the Geneva II peace talks.

The Syrian Constellation Before the Geneva 2 Peace Talks: David Barnett, JCPA, Jan. 26, 2014 — Geneva 2, the international peace conference on the future of Syria, began on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland.

Failure in Syria Will Doom Iran Nuclear Deal: William Tobey, Foreign Policy, Feb. 5, 2014 — The world's nuclear weapons proliferators watch each other. They look for warnings and opportunities in how their peers are treated.

Syria's Heart of Darkness: Sohrab Ahmari, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2014— The depravity of the Assad regime seemingly has no limit. Last month some 55,000 photographs appeared documenting the industrial-scale torture, starvation and execution of thousands of detainees by the regime.

Bashar Al Assad: An Intimate Profile of a Mass Murderer: Annia Ciezadlo, New Republic, Dec. 19, 2013 — In 1982, not long after his father's military pulverized a town called Hama, Bashar Al Assad got a jet ski.

 

On Topic Links

 

Israel Enmeshed in Complex Syrian Refugee Crisis: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2013

Is Hizbullah About to Withdraw From Syria?: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Jan. 28, 2014

Dutch Priest Trapped in Homs Says Residents Going Mad With Hunger: Magdy Samaan & Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2014

Foreign Jihadists in Syria: Tracking Recruitment Networks: Aaron Y. Zelin, Washington Institute, Dec. 19, 2013

Our Moral Duty to Syria’s Refugees: Craig Smith, National Post, Jan. 15, 2014

 

SYRIA PEACE PLAN                                                                                   Kenneth Bandler                                                         

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2014

 

Does Syria have a future or is this Arab country doomed? The answer is not any clearer following the Geneva II peace talks. To be sure, convening the meeting was a major achievement in itself. For the first time in three years of war, officials of the Assad regime and opposition leaders sat in the same rooms, conversing for more than a week. That alone might offer a modicum of hope. It was billed as a follow-up to Geneva I, held in June 2012, when world powers agreed on a goal of establishing a transitional governing body in Syria with “full executive powers.” That body, to be formed by “mutual consent,” would include “members of the present government and the opposition.”

One Syrian group came prepared, with a blueprint for peace, the Syrian Transition Roadmap. Developed over the course of a year by some 300 Syrians, the roadmap calls for political reforms, including a parliament that is representative of all Syrian citizens, a new constitution, economic reform and an overhaul of the country’s notorious security services. “The roadmap gives us the hope after all that has happened in Syria,” says Radwan Ziadeh, a leading Syrian dissident and president of the Syrian Expert House, the group that prepared the roadmap. Available in Arabic and English, it is a rare document emerging from the revolutions across the Arab world. Ziadeh, who was centrally involved in drafting the roadmap, views it as a bright spot at a time when “everyone lost hope with the revolution for dignity, human rights and democracy for all.” Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, praised the roadmap in September as a “much needed initiative that could prove most useful to the negotiators in Geneva.”

Unfortunately, Geneva II ended in deadlock. No serious discussion of transition took place. Even more tragically there was no breakthrough on delivering humanitarian aid to Syrian cities besieged by Assad’s forces. The situation has become so desperately chaotic that the UN recently announced it would no longer keep track of the death toll, which is estimated at over 130,000. Regime violence did not let up even during Geneva II. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that nearly 500 Syrians were killed by the regime during the talks.

Nonetheless, the Assad regime came to Geneva ready to portray itself as the victim. In his speech on the opening day of the conference, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem launched into a tirade against the “terrorists” threatening Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon objected to both Muallem’s tone and disregard for time limits, and repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to interrupt him. Even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reportedly embarrassed by his Syrian ally and counterpart, but apparently not enough to press Assad to alter course. Until Moscow changes its unqualified material and political support for Assad, the violence is not likely to end, unless Assad himself is persuaded, for the sake of Syria, to relinquish power…

Brahimi’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned only two months after Geneva I, largely out of frustration with Assad. Leaders like Assad “tend to believe in the world they create,” Annan told The New York Times at the time. In Assad’s world, it is outsiders and terrorists who cause Syria’s problems, and terrorists come in all ages, including the first group of children arrested and tortured in March 2011, the incident that launched the uprising against the regime. Brahimi is not yet giving up. With the support of Ban Ki-moon he is eager to bring the parties back together in Geneva soon. With a mounting death toll, millions of refugees testing the patience and resources of Syria’s immediate neighbors and other countries, and Syria’s education and healthcare systems in urgent need of repair, a heavy dose of realism is needed…

                                                           

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THE SYRIAN CONSTELLATION BEFORE THE GENEVA 2 PEACE TALKS

Pinhas Inbari                                                                           

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jan. 22, 2014

 

Geneva 2, the international peace conference on the future of Syria, began on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland. Sources in the Syrian opposition say the conference has come about because of agreement between the United States and Russia that the main danger posed by the situation in Syria is that of al-Qaeda, and that the course of events should be steered in order to obviate this danger. This inter-bloc agreement has put most of the Syrian opposition under great pressure. They see a danger that the two powers will meanwhile prefer to leave Assad in place since, if the choice is between him and al-Qaeda, then Assad is the better option. The problem is that the opposition is very fragmented and the two powers can force it to accept their dictates. On the issue of Geneva 2, there indeed is such a dictate. Whereas, at first, the Syrian opposition refused to participate in the conference with Assad loyalists, after heavy pressure that included American threats to cease assistance to them, much of the Syrian opposition acceded to the two powers’ demand that they attend.

 

What elements make up the Syrian opposition, what do they seek, and who stands behind them? First, the Geneva conference will not represent the fighters on the battlefield; neither the different al-Qaeda groups nor the Free Syrian Army will be in attendance. Al-Qaeda will not be there because the talks are aimed at counteracting it, and in any case al-Qaeda does not ordinarily take part in gatherings of this kind. As for the Free Syrian Army and its commander Salim Idris, they still are not prepared to sit in the same room with Assad’s loyalists, though there are reports of enormous pressure on Idris to attend. Basically, however, the talks will be attended by parties that are not active on the Syrian battlefield. Who are they? One large body, known as the National Coalition of Syrian and Regional Forces (also called the Syrian National Coalition), will be representing the opposition that is based outside of Syria. It is headed by Ahmed al-Jarba, a scion of the leading families of the large Shammar Bedouin tribe, which migrates among Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and is considered pro-Saudi. Saudi Arabia indeed supports this organization.

 

Another group within the “coalition” is the representative body of the Syrian opposition before the “coalition” was formed. Called the Syrian National Council (SNC), it includes the Muslim Brotherhood and pan-Arab nationalists and is supported by Turkey and Qatar. Although it is formally within the “coalition” framework, the competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia influences its relations with the coalition. All this was evident when decisions had to be made on whether to attend Geneva 2. After al-Jarba announced that he would go, his rivals in the SNC declared that they would not. The reasons for al-Jarba’s decision are not clear. Whereas one would have expected that, given the Saudis’ anger at Washington, the pro-Saudi faction would try to impede the conference, the opposite is what happened. Sources in the Syrian opposition said the Saudis did not want to bring tensions with the United States out in the open, and perhaps also did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda; instead the talks could always be undermined from within.

 

Russia, too, has its favored groups, and there is no surprise in the fact that they agreed to attend. These groups are old leftist factions that were part of the Syrian Ba’ath party. Syrian opposition sources point to the “Internal Opposition Group” headed by Kadri Jamil and Ali Haidar, two veteran Ba’athists who abandoned Assad. Alongside them is another group of veteran Arab nationalists headed by Haitham Mana’a and Hassan Abd al-Azim, called the “Coordinated Administration,” an array of coordinating committees for the rebels in the field. This group maintains its independence and does not receive aid from any party; it opposes Assad and will not attend Geneva 2. The powers’ need to convene the Geneva 2 conference stemmed primarily from the failure of the Free Syrian Army under General Idris to defeat Assad’s army and bring about regime change. Instead, the different al-Qaeda organizations have now prevailed in the local arena, and not long ago they handed Idris a defeat near Aleppo, taking over his main arms depot. The Free Syrian Army is also supported by Turkey and Qatar.

 

Who are the al-Qaeda forces operating in Syria? There are about forty groups with numerous names, but two are playing the main role on the ground. One is the Al-Nusra group led by Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani; the other is “Daash” – the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham (the Levant), also called ISIS. Al-Nusra is made up of Syrian and Jordanian mujahideen, while the Syria and Iraq group has an Iraqi leadership. Ironically, the success of the Salafi groups has worked in Assad’s favor. He claimed from the start that he was not dealing with a rebellion but with “terror,” and the al-Qaeda groups’ successes against the Syrian army and the Free Syrian Army helped Russia convince the United States that, at least for the time being, Assad should be left standing. The result is that Assad’s loyalists will be in attendance at the conference.

The opposition groups claim, however, that at least the ISIS organization is actually in league with Assad. They say the al-Qaeda fighters in this group were originally Syrian intelligence agents who were infiltrated into Iraq to operate against U.S. forces there, and after the revolt in Syria erupted, Assad’s intelligence service implanted them among the rebels as a way of proving that the revolt is nothing more than terror. These al-Qaeda groups have also acted against the Free Syrian Army and diverted it from the anti-Assad struggle….                                                                                                                        

[To Read the Full Article Follow This Link –ed.]       

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FAILURE IN SYRIA WILL DOOM IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL          

William Tobey

Foreign Policy, Feb. 5, 2014

 

The world's nuclear weapons proliferators watch each other. They look for warnings and opportunities in how their peers are treated. Iran halted its nuclear weapons development after Saddam was toppled for several years. Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi also got cold feet. Later, Tehran watched the tepid international responses to the 2006 North Korean nuclear test and to a secret Syrian plutonium production reactor (which Israel destroyed as it neared completion in 2007), and apparently decided that the rewards outweighed the risks associated with constructing a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom. What are the Mullahs watching now? Syria, where the Obama administration's policy is failing.

 

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reports that the first round of the Geneva 2 peace talks failed even to provide for any humanitarian relief, let alone to make progress toward a political settlement. He lamented that, "We haven't achieved anything." The Assad government then escalated its attacks against civilians by dropping "barrel bombs" packed with explosives and shrapnel on neighborhoods and mosques, continuing a brutal war that has already killed over 130,000 people and displaced millions. Even Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges that U.S. policy on Syria is failing.

 

More to the point for Tehran, the effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons has stalled. Last week, the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ambassador Robert Mikulak, blasted the Syrian government, noting that only 4 percent of priority one chemicals had been removed, despite a December 31, 2013 deadline for shipping all such materials out of Syria. He went on to accuse Damascus of a "bargaining mentality." Syria's compliance has been belated, incomplete, and grudging. Worse, while the agreement to remove Syria's chemical weapons has stalled, it has also effectively halted international efforts to remove Assad. The obvious lesson for Tehran: Reach an interim agreement that deflates international pressure for action, drag your feet on implementation, and keep your illicit weapons program as the world dithers.

 

The stakes in Syria have always been high. The civil war is a humanitarian catastrophe. Its outcome will determine whether or not Iran continues to extend its reach to the border of Israel through its Hezbollah proxies. It will affect prospects for peace and stability in Lebanon and perhaps Jordan. And, it will profoundly influence the outcome of nuclear negotiations with Tehran. So how are the nuclear negotiations going? President Obama sees the odds of success as no better than 50-50. The six-month interim deal has just gone into effect. It is basically a standstill agreement. It might provide the space necessary to attain a more comprehensive deal, or it could simply be a means to further Tehran's strategy to forestall international action as uranium enrichment centrifuges continue to spin.

 

Four indicators offer clues as to whether the interim agreement is a path toward real progress or simply a dead-end delaying tactic. First, is Tehran willing to address what the IAEA calls the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program? These are activities, procurements, and documents that only make sense as part of a nuclear weapons program. Unless Tehran is willing to satisfy the IAEA's concerns, there can be no confidence that the activities have ended, and with them the nuclear weapons program. Second, is the tone of the negotiations constructive? If the talks descend into diplomatic trench warfare, with every issue hard fought, it will be clear that Iran has not yet made a strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons, but instead has adopted what Amb. Mikulak called a "bargaining mentality." Third, is a final deal completed within the term of the six-month interim agreement? If Tehran drags out the negotiations as support for sanctions fades, it will become clear that the mullahs have little interest in a real deal. Fourth, have Tehran's illicit procurement efforts ceased? As long as Iran continues to make illegal procurements of nuclear-related materials and equipment, the presumption must be that it will cheat on any deal barring weapons development.

 

Talks with Iran will resume next week. Recent statements are not hopeful, with Iranian leaders stressing that they have not agreed to dismantle any part of their nuclear program. One point, however, is crystal clear. If the Obama administration cannot compel a weakened Assad government, beset by civil war and subject to international opprobrium for using chemical weapons, to comply with its disarmament obligations, it is unlikely to succeed in dealing with a much stronger Iranian regime. The price of failure in Syria could be a doomed nuclear deal with Iran.  

 

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SYRIA'S HEART OF DARKNESS                                              

Sohrab Ahmari                                        

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2014 

 

The depravity of the Assad regime seemingly has no limit. Last month some 55,000 photographs appeared documenting the industrial-scale torture, starvation and execution of thousands of detainees by the regime.

The gruesome photos were leaked by "Caesar," a defector from the Syrian military police. An international team of legal and forensic experts retained by the Qatari government, including a former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, concluded that the photos present "clear evidence" of "systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government."

 

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has now obtained additional photographs that appear to belong to the same batch. The brutality depicted in these photographs is almost beyond description: The corpses of detainees lie atop one another, their emaciated limbs contorted in apparent agony; the bodies invariably show extensive bruising and abrasions; jaws are dislocated; eyes are gouged out. The opposition Syrian National Movement, which provided the Journal with these images, says they were "transferred and broadcast from inside [the regime] through a complicated process to maintain the security" of sources. The movement adds that the images were "leaked from the areas of Damascus, Syria, and its surrounding countryside" from September 2011 to August 2013.

 

While it's impossible to independently verify the authenticity of the images, they appear to be consistent with the "Caesar" images: Each body is accompanied by an identification card held up by the photographer or a colleague. As the experts who examined the "Caesar" images noted in their report, "The reason for photographing the executed persons was twofold: First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out." The first round of Geneva II came to an inconclusive end last week. The Obama administration insists the opposition must sit down with the butcher Assad when talks resume on February 10.

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BASHAR AL ASSAD:                                                                           

AN INTIMATE PROFILE OF A MASS MURDERER                       

 

Annia Ciezadlo

 New Republic, Dec. 19, 2013

 

In 1982, not long after his father's military pulverized a town called Hama, Bashar Al Assad got a jet ski. It was the tail end of one of the bloodiest periods in Syrian history—what one intellectual called “the hunting time.” In Damascus, a white Peugeot 504 idled on every other corner with mukhabarat, or secret police, inside. Corruption and smuggling were ubiquitous; at least 30 percent of the country’s GDP, and probably much more, came from the black market. Everyday goods like bananas and paper tissues were hard to find; jet skis were practically unknown.

 

Bashar was 16 years old, a pudgy, frizzy-haired kid with chipmunk cheeks and a double chin he would never grow out of. He had his own bodyguards but was so shy about his appearance that he would cover his teeth with his hands when he smiled. One day, as the story goes, Bashar was sitting at home with a friend when some boys he knew called. They were going on an excursion to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Could they borrow his new toy? Yes, yes, of course! Bashar said. As soon as the boys hung up, Bashar summoned the head of the guards at the presidential palace. Some friends of mine might come and ask to use my jet ski, he said. If they do, tell them it’s broken.  

If there’s one thing those who know him agree on, it’s that Bashar Al Assad is awfully eager to please. Friends and even some enemies portray the Syrian president as a kind and generous man, always ready to use his connections to provide a favor: for a job, a heart operation, or just the permit the government has required, under Syria’s authoritarian form of socialism, to buy a tank of propane gas for cooking food. “Easygoing,” say diplomats who have faced him in negotiations. “I would have described him as a real gentleman, before this,” says a Damascene businessman who was part of Assad’s social circle and has now fled the country to escape its ongoing civil war. The subtext here is that Assad is weak; the polite phrasing, among educated Syrians, has always been that he “does not have the qualities of a leader.” That is to say, he does not have the gravitas of his ruthless, gnomic father, Hafez Al Assad, who ruled the country from 1970 until June 2000. Other Syrians put it less delicately. They call him donkey, giraffe, taweel wa habeel—a Levantine putdown for a big, bumbling doofus. Diplomats, analysts, and a few heads of state have been just as harsh, predicting his imminent downfall since the day he took power.

Two-thousand thirteen was the year when it seemed as if those predictions would finally come true. As the uprising against him ground into its third summer, his regime lost territory and international legitimacy. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states lavished cash and weaponry on rebel fighters. Even the United States was reluctantly edging closer to supporting the revolution with something more than words. Then, on August 21, Assad’s regime used the nerve gas sarin to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians, crossing the “red line” that Barack Obama had said would prompt a U.S. military response. It looked like the end. If a formerly untouchable military dictator like Hosni Mubarak could go down in Egypt, then why not Syria’s lanky, lisping president?

 

What outsiders have been slow to realize is that in the game Assad is playing, a weak man (or one perceived that way) can cling to his throne just as tenaciously, and violently, as a strongman. Over the course of his reign, he has learned how to turn his biggest shortcomings—his desire for approval, his tendency toward prevarication—into his greatest assets. The world wants him to give up the chemical munitions he used against his own citizens, and he has begun to do that. The world wants an end to the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and displaced millions more; his government is now willing to participate in peace talks. This nebbishy second son, who was never meant to inherit the family regime, has proved exceptionally talented in the art of self-preservation.

 

“He’s more clever than all the Western and U.S. politicians, for sure,” Ayman Abdelnour, a close adviser to Assad before he fell out of favor and fled into exile, told me. Abdelnour then recalled—by way of explaining why Assad was so difficult to take down—something the young president would tell his inner circle about their foreign adversaries. “They are here for a few years,” Assad would say. “My father, seven presidents passed through him.”…                                                                                          

[To Read the Full Article Click the Link –ed.]                                                                                                                                                  

Israel Enmeshed in Complex Syrian Refugee Crisis: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 2, 2013 —With the collapse of peace talks on Friday between President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition, the prospect of more wounded Syrians seeking treatment and refuge in Israel will continue to rise.

Is Hizbullah About to Withdraw From Syria?: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Jan. 28, 2014 —Hizbullah’s military involvement in Syria is now a subject of heated domestic debate in Iran.

Dutch Priest Trapped in Homs Says Residents Going Mad With Hunger: Magdy Samaan & Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, Feb. 2, 2014 —A Dutch priest trapped in the siege on the Syrian city of Homs has told how residents around him are being driven mad with starvation, as they are "abandoned" by the international community.

Foreign Jihadists in Syria: Tracking Recruitment Networks: Aaron Y. Zelin, Washington Institute, Dec. 19, 2013

Our Moral Duty to Syria’s Refugees: Craig Smith, National Post, Jan. 15, 2014 — The Syrian war has generated the worst population displacement crisis since the Second World War and the most rapid growth of the global refugee count since the tragic confluence of the Rwandan genocide and the breakup of Yugoslavia nearly 20 years ago.

 

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Rob Coles, 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

EGYPT

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

 

 

Morsi and the General: Daniel Nisman, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals.

 

A Warning to John Kerry: Egypt Could Become the Next Iran: Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Terror in Tahrir: Diana Sayed, Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

Egypt's New Coptic Pope Tawadros Faces Religious Tension, Uncertain Future: Joseph Mayton, Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country. 

On Topic Links

 

 

Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram,  Mar. 2, 2013

Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013

Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013

The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013

 

 

 

MORSI AND THE GENERAL

Daniel Nisman

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013

 

In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals. President Morsi was empowered by popular anger following 17 months of incompetent military rule over post-revolution Egypt. But now, six months later, the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have returned to challenge an increasingly loathed President Morsi—quite possibly laying the groundwork to bring Egypt back under military rule.

 

General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, whom Mr. Morsi chose to replace Field Marshal Tantawi, was originally presumed to be sympathetic to Egypt's popularly elected Islamist leadership. Perhaps it was the notable opposition to U.S. foreign policy exhibited in his past writing, or the traditional Muslim headscarf worn by his wife. To suggest however, that a Brotherhood-sympathizer could have risen to the rank of general under Hosni Mubarak is to ignore the former dictator's unrelenting, decades-long rivalry with political Islam. Gen. Sissi's first move after being appointed was to make a tactical retreat, pulling the military back from the political sphere and restoring the prestige it lost during Egypt's tumultuous transition period. From there, Gen. Sissi has had a comfortable vantage point from which to observe the decline of the headstrong Muslim Brotherhood.

 

It didn't take long for the show to start. Last November, President Morsi plunged the country into violence after issuing a decree to help push an Islamist-backed draft constitution to referendum. During that month-long period of unrest, the fissure between Gen. Sissi's military and the Brotherhood had already begun to reopen. Amid ongoing military attacks against Islamist compounds across the country, President Morsi and his cohorts fumed at the military's refusal to send troops to protect their installations. The Brotherhood's leadership reportedly pressured President Morsi to reject a SCAF offer to mediate dialogue with the political opposition….

 

In January came more civil unrest, ignited by the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, particularly violent in Cairo. By then, relations between the Brotherhood and the military had gone from bad to worse. The Suez Canal region also saw particularly ugly clashes after a court issued death sentences against dozens of Port Said residents for their involvement in a deadly soccer riot last year. The Interior Ministry's failure to restore order to the country's most strategic region forced a hesitant President Morsi to make a request from the military to impose martial law.

 

Ironically, this handed Gen. Sissi a perfect opportunity to side with the people of the Suez Canal cities against President Morsi. Gen. Sissi agreed to deploy to the Canal, but ordered his troops to protect the waterway itself rather than submit to President Morsi's bidding by cracking down on a restive populace. The ensuing scenes of Port Said residents marching in the streets, side-by-side with military troops in defiance of President's Morsi's curfew, bore semblance to those of the 2011 uprising, when military officers were received in Tahrir Square by cheering revolutionaries. Those images emanating from Port Said soon led to whispers of support for a military coup in Cairo.

 

In the Sinai meanwhile, Gen. Sissi has gone ahead and strengthened his position with Washington at President Morsi's expense. The military's unprecedented crackdown on smuggling to the Gaza Strip most recently culminated in a campaign to destroy hundreds of tunnels on the Rafah border by flooding them with water. The military has made sure to publicize each of their seizures in a direct affront to President Morsi's pledges of support for Gaza's ruling Hamas regime.

 

Gen. Sissi has continued to publicly deny any intentions to seize power unless he is "called upon by the people" to do so—a hazy notion which has sparked fears of a coup within the Brotherhood leadership. On Feb. 20, the Egyptian press reported that the SCAF had been holding meetings behind closed doors in the president's absence on matters relating to security and stability. Since then, Egyptian media has been awash with rumours over a possible scheme by the president to sack Gen. Sissi as he did Field Marshal Tantawi…

 

Currently, neither President Morsi nor Gen. Sissi looks to be in a position to overpower the other. But the Machiavellian discipline displayed by the general may just be enough to outlast the Islamist politician. Egypt's secular opposition remains in disarray, unable to prove its worth as a viable alternative to President Morsi's floundering leadership. That leaves Gen. Sissi's increasingly trusted military as the only entity with the influence and organization needed to bring Egypt back from the brink of collapse.

 

Mr. Nisman is the Middle East and North Africa section intelligence director at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm.

 

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A WARNING TO JOHN KERRY:
EGYPT COULD BECOME THE NEXT IRAN

Nesreen Akhtarkhavari

Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013

 

As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Opposition leaders’ refusal to meet with Mr. Kerry over what they perceive to be as unprincipled US support for Mr. Morsi should serve as a wake-up call and warning to Washington.

 

Morsi’s first step after winning the June 2012 presidential election was to create an alliance with other Islamic groups, and sideline seculars and liberals who could derail the establishment of a religious state. Next, he gave himself immunity from legal prosecution and managed to quickly hoard more power than deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak ever dreamed of having. After a number of manoeuvres, Morsi pushed forward a constitution drafted mostly by Brotherhood members and their allies, ignoring the protests of secular opponents, Christians, women, and liberals against the discriminatory language and key articles placed in the new constitution.

 

The new constitution sets the legal ground for creating what could become an Islamic state. It restricts the role of the judicial and legislative branches and stipulates that laws and their interpretations are subject to Islamic jurisprudence. It further gives legal-oversight power on “matters related to the Islamic sharia” to Al-Azhar University, the oldest and highest Sunni religious institution in Egypt.

 

The new constitution and its wide implications for personal freedom and social justice should concern the international community. It explicitly recognizes only the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and leaves other minorities, such as those of the Baha’i faith, without meaningful constitutional protection. Strict adherence to the concept of apostasy prevents Muslims from changing their religion, a crime punishable by death. Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of expression, especially on religious matters, with retributions as severe as death for comments related to the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.

 

According to Sunni jurisprudence, women are subject to male guardianship under which their personal freedoms, social life, and career choices are severely restricted. This restriction is not banned under Egypt’s new constitution. And because the new constitution fails to set a minimum age for marriage and does not criminalize sexual trafficking of minors, children, especially girls, could be forced into marriages at the age of nine with the approval of their male guardians.

 

During the last three decades, Iran, under the control of the Islamic Shiite clergy, was transformed into a religious state with endless human rights violations. In most cases, the world stood by watching. Egypt is learning from the Iranian experience. If the political conditions in Egypt remain the same, Egypt could soon follow Iran’s footsteps…..

 

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Terror in Tahrir

Diana Sayed

Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013

 

Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

 

In the midst of all the chaos of the country’s politics, there seems to be one constant: Women are being pushed, figuratively and, in many cases, literally, out of the public sphere. Despite being at the forefront of the revolution that occurred two years ago, women continue to face much the same kind of systematic targeting they faced under the Hosni Mubarak regime.

 

For example, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, seen as the heart of the protest movement, has become a dangerous place for women. On 25 January 2013, the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, numerous women reported being sexually assaulted, including many who were raped. Nazra for Feminist Studies, an Egyptian NGO, documented one protester’s story about what happened to her at Tahrir when she was caught in a crowd of demonstrators: “I did not understand anything at that moment … I did not comprehend what was happening … who are those people?”

 

“All that I knew was that there were hundreds of hands stripping me of my clothes and brutally violating my body. There is no way out, for everyone is saying that they are protecting and saving me, but all I felt from the circles close to me, sticking to my body, was the finger-rape of my body, from the front and back; someone was even trying to kiss me … I was completely naked,” she recounted. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the attacks….

 

In response to such violent attacks, Nazra and other leading Egyptian NGOs, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, HarassMap and Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, have formed Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, often abbreviated as OpAntiSH. The coalition has been a prominent critic of revolutionary groups and political parties that have failed to combat attacks on female protesters.

 

Though it is not certain who is behind the frequent attacks, OpAntiSH suggests they are not random. “We believe they must be organized, because they happen most of the time in the exact same spots in Tahrir Square and they use the same methodologies,” the coalition said, adding that testimonies collected were similar to accounts of 2005 attacks thought to have been instigated by secret police. Nazra adds, “We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes. Sexual harassment is a social disease that has been rampant for years, used by the regime to intimidate girls and women.”

 

This is not a new problem in Egypt, but it is one that grows more disturbing with each brutal attack. According to a 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. The problem is exacerbated by a failure to prosecute the perpetrators.  One activist recently observed, “There is no accountability for these people. They know that they can get away with it again and again.”

 

The Egyptian Railways Authority announced last week that it would enforce women’s-only train cars on several popular routes to and from Cairo in a move to try and curtail the rampant sexual harassment. However, it’s a move that some activists say addresses the symptoms and not the cause of the attacks. The issue frequently happens in the shadows of more well-documented news events surrounding Egypt’s journey toward democracy. It is clear that Egypt is a nation in desperate need of stability that is safeguarded by institutions established to guarantee human rights.

 

It’s not easy bringing in democracy after generations of dictatorship or to change mindsets that have been entrenched for so long. But if the new Egypt is to emerge stronger and better than the one of the past, women must be permitted to safely participate in political dialogue. They must be able to walk down the street or into areas of protest safe from fear of attack.  If the revolution of Tahrir Square is to take hold permanently, all Egyptians — men and women, alike — must be able to participate to ensure that every Egyptian lives with dignity and enjoys democracy.

 

Diana Sayed is Human Rights First’s Pennoyer fellow and an advocate and researcher in the Human Rights Defenders Program.

 

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EGYPT'S NEW COPTIC POPE TAWADROS

 

FACES RELIGIOUS TENSION, UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Joseph Mayton

Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013

 

In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country. His comments are unlikely to go over well with a majority of Egyptians, who have turned even more toward their Islamic faith since the January 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak from power.

 

Nevertheless, Pope Tawadros, like the Coptic community, is forging ahead, asserting their identity despite fears of a conservative backlash that has already threatened Egypt's social fabric. The new pope's ascension comes at a time when relations between Muslim and Christian Egyptians are strained at best. Reports of girls having their hair cut off on public transportation by Salafist (Islamic puritan) women in niqab, the full-face-covering veil popular among the ultra-conservatives, or of a teacher cutting students' hair for failing to cover their heads with a hijab are just the tip of the iceberg.

 

In an early November incident, a group of Salafists occupied a plot of land on the outskirts of Cairo owned by the Coptic Christian Church and attempted to turn it into a makeshift mosque. It took police a full day to arrive. Luckily for residents, violence and clashes did not break out, but it would not have been the first time Christians and Muslims have battled.

 

The average Egyptian Christian is uncertain which way the church will go under Pope Tawadros. As George Zaki, a young man studying to become a Coptic priest, says, right now "it is really up in the air" in which direction the church will head. Zaki wants a strong leader who is willing to speak his mind, but doesn't feel that immediately lashing out at the Salafists is a good move. "Many of us are definitely fearful of the Salafists, even my Muslim friends," he explains, "because we all fought and protested for a new Egypt that wouldn't see religion be part of the political make-up."

 

Prior to Pope Tawadros' appointment on Nov. 4, the Muslim Brotherhood began talking about working with the new pope, and those who cover religious issues on the ground say they support the status quo. "What the Coptic community doesn't need is someone who will anger the Islamists in government right now," says Yussif Qandeel, a reporter at an Egyptian Arabic daily who regularly covers Christian issues. Judging by his conversations with members of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)—the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing—Qandeel says "they want to see someone be pope who they can work with, which means continuing the [late Pope] Shenouda tradition." Not everyone in the Coptic community may agree, however. Although Pope Shenouda, who died on March 17, was extremely popular, many Copts considered him weak in standing up for the community's rights and ability to function in Egyptian society.

 

Still, overall the Christian community is inclined to support the new pope, who already has demonstrated his ability to combine the strengths of the Shenouda era with distancing himself from what many perceived to be Shenouda's willingness to acquiesce to the Mubarak regime. Certainly it will be difficult to replace a man who presided over the Coptic community for more than four decades, as Shenouda did. Despite the growing internal struggle within the church, however, most are optimistic, including Zaki, who believes the future will find the Coptic Church stronger than ever.

 

"We are a strong people, a strong group of Christians and we have been through a lot in the past years," he explains, "so I think the future of the Church will not be determined by one choice, but by the strength of our own community and by our people as Egyptians." Fears of anti-Christian sentiment received a reprieve earlier this year when the country's leading Islamic institute, al-Azhar, called for a Bill of Rights to be adopted before a constitution is drafted. The idea, simply, would be to establish certain "inalienable" rights for all Egyptians, including freedom of speech, assembly and, most importantly, freedom of religion. The proposed document received massive popular support from activists, liberals, Islamists, intellectuals and Christians alike. Nevertheless, the implementation of these "inalienable" rights remains to be seen.

 

In the process of drafting a new constitution, the Constituent Assembly was consumed with the question of shariah, or Islamic law, leaving many Egyptians wondering what happened to the proposed Bill of Rights.

 

For its part, the Coptic Church has historically avoided advocating separation of church and state, despite the inclination of the greater Coptic community, which has long demanded that the government end its preferential treatment of Muslim Egyptians. This was evident a few years back, when a Coptic woman had to fight numerous court battles in order to retain custody of her two children, who grew up Coptic but whom the government reclassified as Muslims after their father converted to Islam. Although its views on religion in Egypt are becoming more liberal, the Coptic Church has long preferred a separate set of laws for Egypt's Muslim and Christian communities to a unifying concept of freedom of religion.

 

While the Coptic community is hopeful about the future of Egypt and the social and political roles it will play, they must have reservations about how far the Christian community can realistically advance. Not only do Coptic Egyptians have limited mobility and limited parliamentary representation, but the country's turn toward conservatism may well be a major impediment to creating a robust civil society that treats Coptic Christians with equal weight. The new constitution undoubtedly will provide the first look at just how much unity and freedom its citizens, Muslim and Coptic alike, will enjoy in the new Egypt.

 

Joseph Mayton is a free-lance journalist based in Cairo.

 

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Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram,  Mar. 2, 2013A rumour has spread in the Upper Egyptian city of Kom Ombo that a divorced Muslim woman in her mid-30s was kidnapped by the Coptic Church and converted to Christianity. In an area divided by tribal and religious allegiances, the story has fuelled violence against the area's Christian minority.

 

Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013On the night of December 7, Ahmed Abdel Hamid sensed violence coming. A 35-year-old Salafi activist with a rugged black beard and a pro wrestler’s build, he and a few thousand of his hardline religious comrades had massed outside the futuristic compound in western Cairo known as “media city,” the heart of Egypt’s expanding TV-news universe. They waited for word from the capital’s east.

 

Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013Two years ago, the popular narrative on Egypt was all about a nation getting rid of a despot and heading for a golden future. Today, we have a litany of woes depicting Egypt as a wayward ship in a stormy sea. But what if both narratives miss the point?

 

The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013Never has Egypt been so close to civil war and today it seems that only the army can prevent the worst from happening. The Muslim Brothers and the opposition are both doing their utmost to bring the army to their side, with little success so far: Field Marshal Abd el-Fattah El-Sisi, the defense minister, never loses an opportunity to state that the army is taking no part in the political struggle and devotes its energy to protecting the country – while adding that it will not let it plunge into chaos.

 

 

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