Tag Archives: Middle East

Déjà Vu All Over Again

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
February, 2016

This 18th year of the Second Cold War is, simultaneously, the 40th year of the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s.

The First Cold War lasted 45 years, from 1945 to 1990. It was over once the Soviet system of States collapsed, due in great part to the inability of that system to manage a competitive, modern economy. The Chinese, Indians and others began to realize that a global economy was forming under the leadership of the United States and have adjusted accordingly. The Russians and others, including the Arab States, have had a more difficult time making that adjustment. The United States itself is now also having to adjust to its success in creating an increasingly interconnected world, largely of its own making, where it constitutes only about 4-5% of the global population. But, that is another story.

In 1618, the Holy Roman Emperor of the time decided to begin forcing all the subjects in lands under his nominal control to behave like Catholics. Since a large number of them had been practicing Protestants for nearly a century, this did not go down well. The resulting conflicts and revolts among the multitude of German States and principalities drew in other, foreign players such as France, Holland and Sweden. The War ended some 30 years later and left Germany exhausted and destroyed. There was no equivalent to the Marshall Plan to revive Germany at this time and the area remained a disunited ‘geographical expression’ for most of the next 2 ½ centuries.

The Muslim version of the Thirty Years War began with some inter-Arab States meddling in each others’ business, followed by a civil war in Lebanon, mostly along religious-ethnic lines. As the war dragged on, it dragged in the Cold War adversaries along with the neighboring Israelis. It took 14 years, from 1975 to 1989 for the parties to exhaust themselves and to encourage a political relationship that more equitably allocated legislative seats to Christians, Sunnis, Druze and Shia Muslims. By then, Shias elsewhere had become more aggressive following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and, in reaction, the Iraqi leadership, with a Sunni dictator controlling a country that was majority Shia, began the Iraq-Iran War that lasted from 1980-88. As that petered out, the Iraqis invaded their smaller neighbor, Kuwait, bringing an American-led coalition that threw the Iraqis out.

Sunni extremism flowered as part of the distribution of Wahabi doctrine from Saudi Arabia, along with subsidies for mosques and imams worldwide. It was also helped along by active American support for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation of their country. Once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, these occupiers had withdrawn and some of the veterans on the Afghan side, especially from other Muslim States, began to consider the possibilities of carrying the fight to other Muslim countries in Africa and Asia. The bombings of American embassies in Africa in 1998 began the Second Cold War.

But what about the core Muslim areas and the Thirty Years War there? The probability is that before it ends in exhaustion, the Arab States in Asia will have all been devastated. So far, only Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been spared, but serious pressures and conflicts that could lead to war also affect them. Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon have been torn apart by violence and overlapping ethnic and religious communities have been set against each other, not unlike Germany in the 1600s.

All kinds of outside States are involved, sometimes allied and sometimes at odds. Communities of believers outside the area of direct conflict have been drawn in, especially in terms of ‘foreign fighters’ joining a new player, the Sunni extremist ISIL, which has taken territory from both Syria, whose Shia-supported leadership is entangled in a civil war with the majority Sunni population and Iraq, with its Shia government, which has succeeded in alienating the Sunni Arabs in the south. Both countries have also lost control of the areas inhabited by Sunni Kurds in the north.

It is commonplace to note that 75-80% of Muslims globally are Sunni, not Shia, but in the immediate zone of conflict, that is not relevant, as most Sunni States, with the exception of Turkey, are far distant. The major Arab player, Egypt, is blocked from direct intervention by the location of Israel, though it could still come to the aid of Saudi Arabia. The major player on the Shia side, Iran, is not Arab, though somewhat bigger than Egypt and, even under international sanctions, is probably more formidable. The Turkish interest is focused on the Sunni Kurds who have carved out a State for themselves in Iraq and northern Syria and have muted ambitions in eastern Turkey. Finally, the largest community of Muslim believers is a minority within the vast numbers of Indians.

Most likely, the endpoint will come with the sad removal of large and small pockets of Sunnis and Shia from their ancient communities, along with the uprooting of Christians and others who will become another wave of refugees from ethnically cleansed pockets. I take as a model the traumatic and bloody ‘exchange of populations’ between Greece and Turkey in 1922-3.

The Middle East will become more uniform, with two hostile camps watching each other. This will come at a price. The United States has learned that one of its most vital sources of creativity has come from the waves of people pushed out of places like Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe, Mexico and China. The diversity is valuable, but difficult to manage. The uniformity so popular elsewhere leads to, well, dullness.

As to that Second Cold War, Year 18 corresponds to about 1963 in the First Cold War. That was the year the United States began to ‘get serious’ about supporting South Vietnam. No boots on the ground yet, but a lot of advisors and air support. Of course, there had been no real American combat since the Korean War had ended a decade before, but then we are now a decade since the beginning of the Iraq campaign.

So, is the United States likely to re-engage in terms of Islamic State or the resurgent Taliban? I doubt whether the Second Cold War will end any sooner than the first, which argues that the conflict will drag on until the 2040s. By then, like Germany after the 30 Years War, the Arab East will be a real mess and like Vietnam, it will make its peace with American business and (possibly) will develop a new relationship with some former enemy in the face of a new one. By then, the emerging global culture will be too strong to resist.

The lessons I would draw from these historical events is not to bet against whatever side the United States is on in a long-run Cold War situation. It is the acknowledged ‘champion’ of Cold Wars and will not give up its place in the face of Wahhabi/ Salafi/ Al Queda/ Taliban/ Islamic State, etc. pressure any time soon. As well, unlike the threat from the Soviets, this new opponent does not have the backing of a nuclear-armed, large-economy State. The United States will not abandon its globalization project no matter how much some elements in countries dreaming of alternatives, religious or socialist, would like to see this happen.

— With acknowledgements to Yogi Berra

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

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Next, read Jim McNiven’s column The Cold War 2.0 from our 2014 archive:

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek. … continue reading The Cold War 2.0

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America. www.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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Insight: The road to Aleppo – how the West misread Putin

 

By Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Jonathan Landay and Maria Tsvetkova
February, 2016

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Last July, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seemed to be losing his battle against rebel forces. Speaking to supporters in Damascus, he acknowledged his army’s heavy losses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

Western officials said the Syrian leader’s days were numbered and predicted he would soon be forced to the negotiating table.

It did not turn out that way. Secret preparations were already underway for a major deployment of Russian and Iranian forces in support of Assad.

The military intervention, taking many in the West by surprise, would roll back rebel gains. It would also accelerate two shifts in U.S. diplomacy: Washington would welcome Iran to the negotiating table over Syria, and it would no longer insist that Assad step down immediately.

“That involved swallowing some pride, to be honest, in acknowledging that this process would go nowhere unless you got Russia and Iran at the table,” a U.S. official said.

At the heart of the diplomacy shift – which essentially brought Washington closer to Moscow’s position – was a slow-footed realization of the Russian military build-up in Syria and, ultimately, a refusal to intervene militarily.

Russia, Iran and Syria struck their agreement to deploy military forces in June, several weeks before Assad’s July 26 speech, according to a senior official in the Middle East who was familiar with the details.

And Russian sources say large amounts of equipment, and hundreds of troops, were being dispatched over a series of weeks, making it hard to hide the pending operation.

Yet a senior U.S. administration official said it took until mid-September for Western powers to fully recognise Russia’s intentions. One of the final pieces of the puzzle was when Moscow deployed aircraft flown only by the Russian military, eliminating the possibility they were intended for Assad, the official said.

An earlier understanding of Russia’s military plans is unlikely to have changed U.S. military policy. President Barack Obama had made clear early on that he did not want Washington embroiled in a proxy war with Russia. And when the West did wake up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, it was short of ideas about how to respond.

As in Ukraine in 2014, the West seemed helpless.

French President Francois Hollande summed up the mood among America’s European allies: “I would prefer the United States to be more active. But since the United States has stepped back, who should take over, who should act?”

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Russian warplanes fly in the sky over the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, Syria, in this January 28, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki /Files

Russian warplanes fly in the sky over the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, Syria, in this January 28, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki /Files

SIGNPOSTS

In July last year, one of Iran’s top generals, Qassem Soleimani, went to Moscow on a visit that was widely reported. The senior Middle Eastern official told Reuters that Soleimani had also met Putin twice several weeks before that.

“They defined zero hour for the Russian planes and equipment, and the Russian and Iranian crews,” he said.

Russia began sending supply ships through the Bosphorus in August, Reuters reported at the time. There was no attempt to hide the voyages and on Sept. 9 Reuters reported that Moscow had begun participating in military operations in Syria.

A Russian Air Force colonel, who took part in preparations and provided fresh details of the build-up, said hundreds of Russian pilots and ground staff were selected for the Syria mission in mid-August.

Warplanes sent to Syria included the Sukhoi-25 and Sukhoi-24 offensive aircraft, U.S. officials said. In all, according to U.S. officials, Russia by Sept. 21 had 28 fixed-wing aircraft, 16 helicopters, advanced T-90 tanks and other armoured vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of marines at its base near Latakia.

Despite this public build-up, the West either played down the risks or failed to recognise them.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sept. 22 that Russian aircraft were in Syria to defend the Russians’ base – “force protection” in the view of U.S. military experts.

At the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, the French announced their own first air strikes in Syria.

“The international community is hitting Daesh (Islamic State). France is hitting Daesh. The Russians, for now, are not doing anything,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius Fabius said at the time.

The next day Russia announced its strikes in Syria.

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Souvenir plates depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen among other items for sale in old Damascus, Syria, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Souvenir plates depicting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are seen among other items for sale in old Damascus, Syria, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

WARNINGS

One former U.S. official, who was in government at the time, told Reuters that some U.S. officials had begun voicing concern that Russia would intervene militarily in Syria two weeks before the bombing began.

Their concerns, however, were disregarded by officials in the White House and those dealing with the Middle East because of a lack of hard intelligence, the former U.S. official said.

“There was this tendency to say, ‘We don’t know. Let’s see,'” recounted the former U.S. official.

Yet between October and December, American perceptions shifted, as reported by Reuters at the time.

By December, U.S. officials had concluded that Russia had achieved its main goal of stabilizing Assad’s government and could maintain its operations in Syria for years.

“I think it’s indisputable that the Assad regime, with Russian military support, is probably in a safer position than it was,” a senior administration official said.

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Souvenir plates depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen among other items for sale in old Damascus, Syria, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Souvenir plates depicting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are seen among other items for sale in old Damascus, Syria, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

DIPLOMATIC U-TURN

At that point, the U.S. pivoted to the negotiating table with Russia and Iran. Officials say they had few other options with Obama unwilling to commit American ground troops to Syria, aside from small deployments of Special Operations forces, or provide U.S.-backed opposition fighters with anti-aircraft missiles.

In Munich on Feb 12, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced an agreement for humanitarian access and a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria, far short of a ceasefire.

“Putin has taken the measure of the West… He has basically concluded, I can push and push and push and push and I am never going to hit steel anywhere,” said Fred Hof, a former State Department and Pentagon Syria expert now at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Today, U.S. officials sound a far different note than in the early days of the uprising against Assad when they said his exit must be immediate. Now, with the war entering its sixth year, they say they must push the diplomatic possibilities as far as possible and insist Kerry is fully aware of what Russia is doing to change facts on the ground.

In congressional testimony on Wednesday, Kerry acknowledged there was no guarantee the “cessation of hostilities” would work, adding: “But I know this: If it doesn’t work, the potential is there that Syria will be utterly destroyed. The fact is that we need to make certain that we are exploring and exhausting every option of diplomatic resolution.”

For the rebels, the reality is bleak.

Government forces have closed in on the city of Aleppo, a major symbol of the uprising. Their supply routes from Turkey cut, rebels in the Aleppo area now say it may only be a matter of time before they are crushed altogether.

“We are heading towards being liquidated I think,” said a former official in a rebel group from the city.

Other fighters remain determinedly upbeat, saying Assad is only gaining ground because of Russian air power and he will not be able to sustain the advances.

For Syrians living under government rule in Damascus, Moscow’s intervention has inspired a degree of confidence. They credit one of the calmest periods since the start of the war to the death of rebel leader Zahran Alloush, killed in a Russian air strike on Christmas Day.

There are few foreign visitors these days. Bashar al-Seyala, who owns a souvenir shop in the Old City, said most of his foreign customers are Russians. His shop had just sold out of mugs printed with Putin’s face.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Lesley Wroughton, Warren Strobel, Lou Charbonneau and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Giles Elgood; editing by Janet McBride)

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Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 23, 2016

Among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. Italy / boat people / The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.   / UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 14, 2015

Palermo, Italy – The Italian Coast Guard ship Gregoretti disembarks 1,169 migrants, of various nationalities, in April, 2015. UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 2015.

In an eerie reflection of the start of the Arab Spring five years ago, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Friday demonstrating outrage at the death of a young man protesting his lack of a job.

Authorities responded with a nighttime curfew after police stations across the country were attacked by protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. The trigger for the uprising was the death on Sunday of Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, who electrocuted himself by climbing a transmission tower after failing to win a government job.

With unemployment at about 30 per cent among young people, Yahyaoui’s suicide is a grim echo of the death of 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death after police confiscated his street stall. Five years ago protests at Bouazizi’s death quickly turned into an outright revolt. On January 14, 2011, the dictator President of 23 years, Zine Ben Ali, was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia after the military and police joined the uprising.

The events in Tunisia ricocheted across the Middle East, toppling dictatorships in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

The shock wave from Tunisia also set off the civil war in Syria, which is now one of the world’s worst humanitarian and political catastrophes. At least 250,000 people have died in the Syrian fighting, according to the United Nations. More than four million people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Last year about one million refugees made the perilous sea crossing to find safety in Europe. At least 2,500 people died attempting the Mediterranean crossing last year and 3,500 in 2014.

The flood of a million refugees into Europe has ignited a political crisis, which some leading political figures, such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, are warning threatens the survival of the European Union.

That is not as alarmist as it might sound. The crisis of the common currency “euro zone” is largely unresolved, and later this year Britain is due to hold a referendum on continued EU membership. That vote could go either way, but a vote for what is being called “Brexit” could easily be the first domino in a cascade.

Meanwhile the chaos in Syria has provided a breeding ground for the vile Islamic State (IS) group, whose trade-mark is the butchery of its enemies or anyone it considers heretic by the most brutal means possible. The group has used crucifixion, burning alive, throat slitting, beheading, burying alive, all carefully videoed and posted on-line in a macabre and depressingly successful recruitment campaign aimed at disaffected young Muslim men and women in the West.

IS has not only grabbed control of large tracts of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, it has spawned equally violent disciple groups in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. IS claims its followers have also been responsible for deadly attacks in France and the United States.

It is sobering to remember now the optimism that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments.

The fallout from Bouazizi’s sacrifice and the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia swiftly engulfed Egypt. On February 11 2011 and after 30 years in power President Hosni Mubarack was removed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces following 18 days of demonstrations in Egypt’s major cities.

What became swiftly apparent, however, was that the throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility. Demonstrations demanding political reform continued through 2011 and into 2012, when a democratically elected People’s Assembly was created. This was followed by the election of President of Mohammed Morsi in June 2012. But Morsi was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also dominated the Assembly, and its work of writing a new constitution.

It is often the case that authoritarian states breed oppositions that are just as intolerant and rapacious as they are. And to survive, the opposition is usually as brutally disciplined as the state it seeks to overthrow. That is certainly the case with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic movement whose dubious credits include being the inspiration for the al-Qaidi terror network and, by extension, the butchers of the Islamic State.

The Egyptian experience was an uncomfortable lesson for U.S. President Barack Obama and the European leaders, who had applauded the advent of elections, but were appalled by the outcome.

Over their year in office, Morsi and the Brotherhood made is clear they intended to turn cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant Egypt into an Islamic State. In the run-up to the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency in June 2013, there were new street protests and on July 3 the military launched a coup and removed him from office.

In all likelihood the street demonstrations were inspired by the military to justify the coup. The result is that Egypt is now back in the firm grasp of another military dictator, former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The sense of relief in Washington and Europe is palpable.

The revolution was even more messy in Libya, where the sinisterly eccentric Muammar Gaddafi had ruled since 1969. The uprising boiled up along communal lines in this highly tribal country. Gaddafi used his armed forces to strike back uncompromisingly against his ungrateful subjects. Indeed, there were atrocities on both sides and in March 2011 the UN Security Council allowed the imposition of a no-fly zone to try to protect civilians from the depredations of Gaddafi’s air force. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, including Canada, began bombing in April, aiming at Gaddafi’s military in support of rebel fighters moving westward out of the eastern city of Bengazi. In August the rebels took the capital, Tripoli, and Gaddafi fled to his home town, Sirte, where rebels cornered him in a drainpipe on October 20 and then killed him.

The NATO allies may have been in a rush to help depose Gaddafi, but they had no intention of aiding in the construction of a functioning state after he was gone. The last four-and-a-half years in Libya have been a grim catalogue of death and destruction as the various tribal groups have battled for supremacy. There have been several battles for the capital and usually at least two groups claiming to be the legitimate government.

This maelstrom has, of course, been fertile ground for the Islamic State to win converts and take root. It has also sent thousands of ousted members of Gaddafi’s armed forces into the Sehal region across North Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. In many cases these fighters have teamed up with local al-Qaida-linked groups to spread the spores of Islamic terrorism.

And for many ordinary Libyans, putting themselves in the hands of human traffickers and risking the terrors of crossing the Mediterranean to Europe has seemed preferable to the horrors of home.

Belatedly, the UN has stepped in. It is attempting to end the civil war and begin national reconstruction by appointing Prime Minister, Fayez Sarraj, who has selected a 32-member cabinet. However, not too much confidence should be placed in this initiative. Neither of the two rival governments in Libya recognize the Sarraj administration. The Sarraj government is also hampered by being unable to enter Libya for security reasons. It is currently operating out of a hotel in neighbouring Tunis.

At the same time as the shockwave from the Tunisian revolution hit Egypt in January 2011 it broke over Yemen, where Ali Abdullah Saleh had been President for 30 years. After a few weeks of street protests, he swiftly promised not to run again for election, but few people believed him and as protests gathered in strength there were mass desertions from the armed forces and civil service.

The country dissolved, like Libya, into a maelstrom of regional, ethnic and religious contests for power. But in late 2014, fighters for the Shia Muslim Houthi sect from north-eastern Yemen, in alliance with the remnants of Saleh’s army, captured the capital, Sana’a. This alarmed the new King Salmand and his son and heir Prince Mohammed in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. As the champions of the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam, they smelled a conspiracy by their regional rivals Iran, the heartland of Shia Islam.

The over-excitable Prince Mohammed in particular believed Iran was aiding its co-religionist Houthis. In his capacity as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Mohammed mustered a regional alliance to launch air attacks against the Houthis and their allies. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt have all sent warplanes to join the Saudis, but, as everyone knows by now, air power alone cannot win wars. Efforts at the end of last year by the UN to broker a peace accord collapsed.

Iran has been circumspect in its support for the Houthis because it didn’t want to do anything that might derail the lifting of UN-imposed economic sanctions penalizing Tehran for its nuclear development program. The lifting of those sanctions this week after last year’s agreement to put the nuclear program under international limits and monitoring may now make Iran feel more free to support the Houthis and goad Saudi Arabia on its southern borders.

Tehran already has several proxy campaigns in play that challenge Riyadh’s assumption that it is the natural leader of the Muslim world. Tehran has significant influence over the Shia majority government in Iraq, and elements of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps are operating there against the Islamic State, which has seized much of Sunni Iraq.

Iran is also a firm backer of Syria’s besieged President Bashar al-Assad. Not only is Tehran giving him direct military aid, it has also dispatched fighters from its proxy Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon to support him.

Tentative efforts to start peace talks for Syria have got nowhere and there is no end in sight for the chaos there.

So the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

The irony today is that the one place where it looked as though political reform would take root was where the revolution started: Tunisia. It was not an easy transition. There was much unrest and violence in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s flight. And, as in Egypt, the first attempts at interim elections and writing a new constitution produced bodies dominated by previously outlawed, hardline Islamists. However, elections in later 2014 produced a broadly representative parliament and president.

But democracy has not produced a vibrant economy and corruption among officials and politicians is a constant irritant. Tourism has been about the only area of the economy that has continued to function well, which is why last year Islamic extremists began targeting visitors, who come mostly from Europe. Tourists were targeted in an attack on the world-famous Bardo Museum in Tunis early last year. Then in June, a gunman claiming allegiance to Islamic State attacked people on the beach in front of luxury hotels in the resort city of Sousse. He killed 39 people, including himself.

That attack has had a devastating effect on Tunisia’s tourist industry and exacerbated the unemployment problem which pushed Yahyaoui to scale a transmission tower on Friday and take his own life. The authorities have imposed a nation-wide nighttime curfew to try to calm passions. But clearly the Arab Spring has not yet ended its hunt for victims.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh. By Simon Mabon, Report

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh

By 
January, 2015  

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.

At the centre of things, the Syrian conflict has deepened – and while the brutality of Islamic State (IS) has been responsible for much of the recent chaos and tragedy across Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for seven times as many Syrian deaths as IS. Assad’s position was strengthened by continued support from Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, antagonising powerful states in the West and the Gulf – particularly Saudi Arabia. The Gulf states also faced domestic threats from IS, with the group carrying out a number of attacks on Shia sites and communities across the region.

The Syrian conflict became ever more internationalised in 2015. The number of foreign fighters on the ground – on all sides – continued to grow, while on the diplomatic level, the Vienna talks tried to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict – though they have yet to yield any decisive action.

The task of dealing with IS was further complicated by a batch of new wilayats, groups who declared allegiance to IS. Wilayat Sinai in particular was purportedly responsible for a range of acts, allegedly including a massive bomb attack in Cairo and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

All the while, Syria’s refugee emergency has now escalated to a point that United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, referred to it as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. It has now killed more than 200,000 people, displacing 7m within the country and driving more than 4m to flee abroad.

In neighbouring Lebanon, the state struggled to provide safe haven for the millions of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, a problem exacerbated by the Lebanese government’s long-term refusal to ratify the 1951 Refugees Convention. Government paralysis brought rubbish collection services in Beirut to a spectacular standstill over the summer, giving birth to the #YouStink movement – which left Lebanese politicians in little doubt as to what their people think of them.

Other neighbouring states also absorbed large numbers – Turkey took in more than 2m and Jordan a further 1.4m. Almost 250,000 refugees fled Syria and crossed the border into Iraq, where they face a precarious future.

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi, a year into his prime ministership, faced a welter of serious challenges which were all exacerbated by the fight against IS. While his government has tried to dilute the sectarian differences that so badly dogged Iraqi society under Nouri al-Maliki, the country is still facing the same deep-seated grievances that created the conditions for militant groups to spring up in the first place.

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Elsewhere, Benjamin Netanyahu won yet another term as prime minister of Israel, drawing support from an increasingly right-leaning electorate that was seduced by Netanyahu’s hawkish politics. Coupled with this victory was an increase in settlement building across Palestinian territories and, unsurprisingly, the freezing of the peace-process – leading to talk of a third intifada over the summer. While these pessimistic predictions have so far not come true, the intense frustration at the current situation is palpable.

Across the border, the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, increasingly concerned with security across the state, continued the counter-revolution and finally all but extinguished the hopes that lit up Tahrir Square in early 2011. Key Muslim Brotherhood figures, among them the country’s deposed president, Mohammad Morsi, and the group’s leading cleric, Mohammad Badie, were sentenced to death, leading to widespread condemnation and protests.

Almost in the background but no less seriously, the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran rumbled on, complicating events in Syria and Iraq and throwing up new crises of its own. In March, these tensions erupted into a full-blown proxy conflict in Yemen fought by a Saudi-led coalition of states against a coup mounted by Houthi separatists backed by Iran.

This made Yemen’s already tragic situation even worse, as socio-economic conditions rapidly deteriorated and the casualties rose beyond 40,000 in total – albeit to remarkably little international outcry. In recent days, the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels have called a ceasefire and have agreed to participate in talks in Switzerland. In an effort to create a coordinated counter-terrorism strategy across the region, Saudi Arabia established a coalition of 34 countries, most of them Muslim states. While the intent should be commended, Iran was not a part of the coalition and some members were surprised to be included, having not formally agreed to join, raising questions about the credibility of the coalition.

There was one rather remarkable ray of hope: the nuclear deal reached between the P5+1 powers and Iran. Probably the single biggest diplomatic success of the year, it was greeted with much chagrin by regimes in Israel and across the Gulf. The deal will lift economic sanctions on Iran, providing much needed injections of capital into the Iranian economy. The prospect of an increasingly influential Iran, galvanised by a growing economy, is a cause for concern for many in the Gulf – and there are fears that this could also strengthen the position of Iran’s allies, notably, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad.

But ultimately, the Middle East will remember 2015 above all for the continued brutality of IS and the fraught, messy efforts to contain it, all at a tragic human cost. Entering 2016, people across the region still face an array of existential threats.

The imperative to ensure that basic human needs are met is paramount: many people are struggling to access food, shelter and security, while millions of refugees and displaced people desperately need access to health care (both physical and mental) as well as education and employment.

And even in some of the Middle East’s more stable countries, the political and human cost of providing support to refugee populations that number in the millions is becoming a terrible strain – turning the screws on societies already pushed almost to the point of collapse.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Simon Mabon is a Lecturer in International Relations at Lancaster University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Syria: new weaponry test bed

By David Stupples, City University London 
October, 2015

E3 Sentry – NATO’s ‘eyes in the sky’

E3 Sentry – NATO’s ‘eyes in the sky’

The relationship between Russia and the West is becoming increasingly dangerous with potential flashpoints developing in both eastern Europe and Syria. After repeated incursions into Turkish airspace by Russian warplanes on bombing raids over Syria, NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow that it stands ready to “defend all allies”. Meanwhile Britain announced it would send troops to Baltic states to defend NATO’s eastern boundaries against possible Russian aggression beyond Ukraine.

Russia’s military presence in Syria has been steadily increasing over the past few months. Its warplanes are carrying out regular bombing raids against both Islamic State position and, reportedly, other rebel groups opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Its warships are launching cruise missiles against the same targets. But the latest reports are that Russia has also deployed its most modern electronic warfare system to Syria – the Krasukha-4 (or Belladonna) mobile electronic warfare (EW) unit.

The Krasukha-4 is a broad-band multifunctional jamming system designed to neutralise Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) spy satellites such as the US Lacrosse/Onyx series, airborne surveillance radars and radar-guided ordinance at ranges between 150km to 300km. The system is reported to be able to cause damage to the enemy’s EW systems and communications. The Krasukha-4 system works by creating powerful jamming at the fundamental radar frequencies and other radio-emitting sources.

Lt General Hodges, the commander of US Army Forces Europe, commented that Russia had demonstrated a high level of offensive EW proficiency against Ukrainian forces in Donbas using a first foreign deployment of the Krasukha-4 system.

Electronic warfare (EW) was first developed in World War II by the UK to defend against Axis bomber attacks and to defend Allied bombers from enemy surveillance systems. From that time there have been major technological breakthroughs and EW is now acknowledged to be a major fighting element of armed forces worldwide. The US, Russia and Europe invest billions of dollars each year in research and development in order to be the best at this essential military art, while Asian countries, led by China, also view EW as ta vital area for research and development.

EW is considered to include electronic attack/support, electronic intelligence and signals intelligence. In conflicts since World war II, EW has played an increasingly important role in major including Korea, Vietnam, Arab/Israeli, Balkans, Desert Storm/Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. EW is effectively employed before the hard fighting begins to deny an opponent intelligence and the use of weapon systems.

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, NATO countries led by the US and directly supported by the UK have been actively gathering intelligence from countries employing EW assets including low-orbit surveillance satellites (Lacrosse/Onyx series), reconnaissance aircraft (NATO E3 Sentry (AWACS), USAF RC135-Rivet Joint, RAF’s Sentinel R1 and Reaper drones), and sharing intelligence information with the side being supported in the conflict.

Since the land grab by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in both Iraq and Syria, NATO’s EW assets have been targeting IS rebel fighting units, gathering intelligence to provide tactical target information and to actively engage IS by denying rebel units radio communication and surveillance information – thus electronically blinding them. Sanitised intelligence information is shared with friendly forces including the rebel forces opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Until September 2015, Russia has been supporting Assad by supplying arms and training to Syrian forces. Bolstered by what it sees as Western indecisiveness on a Syria solution and by the West’s inaction on Russia’s military intervention in the Ukraine, Russia has decided to provide direct military air support to Syria. However, Assad’s enemies comprise all rebel groups opposing his rule – not just IS.

image-20151008-9637-1ja43a

The EQ9 Reaper drone: high tech target for Krasukha-4.

Russia is aware that NATO surveillance assets are able to monitor all Syrian-based Russian military aircraft activity including the rebel groups it is targeting, locations and weapons used. Some of these rebel groups are directly supported by the US and its allies which may result in Russia becoming in direct political conflict with NATO. To avoid being spied on, Russia needs to blind the eyes and silence the ears of NATO reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering assets so its actions are not open to close scrutiny.

So how can the Krasukha-4 be used to cloak Russia’s operations in Syria? In words – partially effectively. Its surveillance systems will not only be able to monitor NATO aircraft movement over Syria but also the types, and from its intelligence it will know the frequencies used and signal characteristics present – Lacrosse satellites and AWACS operate in S-band, Sentinel (and similar) in X-band, and drones in J-band. Lacrosse/Onyx satellite positions are continually tracked by Russia. With this intelligence detail the Krasukha-4 can be programmed to engage in order to deny or disrupt NATO intelligence gathering.

But it is not all one way – US and NATO intelligence gatherers will have “electronic counter counter measures” (ECCM) to combat Russian EW interference – and so the cat and mouse game of the Cold War is repeated. Intelligence gathering and radar-guided munitions will suffer some disruption and mistakes may be made but operations will continue.

ECCM may include being frequency agile and dodging the jamming signal or pointing the receive antenna away slightly from the jamming source. There are also many tricks that can be played with signal processing that will mitigate the effects of jamming. Of course, it would also be possible for NATO to jam the Russian surveillance radar, denying them of identification and positioning of NATO aircraft – but this would really ramp up the war of words with Vladimir Putin. We must also accept that the Krasukha-4 EW system is an essential part of the defence of Russian forces at the Latakia airfield in Syria and this must not be denied them.

Russian military has long appreciated that “radio-electronic combat” is integral to modern warfare and accordingly that it offers a set of relatively inexpensive weapons that can potentially cripple an opponent’s ability to sense, communicate and exercise command and control within a battlespace.

Russia will now be able to test its new EW systems in live combat but avoiding direct conflict with NATO – it will enhance overseas sales prospects of the Krasukha-4 system. NATO will be able test its ECCM against another EW system, presumably with similar ends in mind.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

David Stupples is Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Director of Electronic Warfare, City University London. He specialises in research and development of radar systems and electronic warfare. For a number of years he undertook research in this area at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE) at Malvern in the UK followed by surveillance and intelligence systems research for the UK Government. He then spent three years developing surveillance systems and satellites for Hughes Aircraft Corporation in the US. In his early career, Dr David Stupples was employed in radar and EW by the Royal Air Force. Later, he was a senior partner with PA Consulting Group where he was responsible for the company’s consultancy work in surveillance technology.

At City University London his research is now firmly focused in electronic warfare and radar counter measures. He is working with industry on low probability of intercept radars under the ELINT banner. David Stupples is an active member of the Association of Old Crows.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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What about Israel?

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem. Creative Commons

TOM REGAN  
March 8, 2015  

You really have to hand it to the Israeli government – in fact, a long succession of Israeli governments. There is probably no government in the world more skilled at being able to get what it wants, or that knows just the right buttons to push, to get what it wants from the government of the United States. 

We saw that this month in Washington when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to address the United States Congress at the invitation of the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. The Israeli government has a way of making its point, even when doing so might not serve its more long-term interests. In this case Mr. Netanyahu’s visit drastically complicated the relationship between the Obama administration and his government, which has caused much concern in both countries.

It probably doesn’t matter. Netanyahu knows that for all the huffing and puffing that goes on in official Washington circles about the crisis in the United States relationship with Israel, there are few relationships that are less susceptible to criticism than it is. Netanyahu knows that the Israeli-American relationship has long been protected both by the outspoken support of Jewish organizations in America and by many American politicians, particularly Democrats, who know how important the Jewish vote is to their electoral success.

And that’s why it’s time for that relationship to change. Maybe that relationship has been protected from a much needed critical examination for too long and the Israeli government feels that it has a mostly freehand to do what it wants, without having to worry about what the most powerful government in the world, and its major ally, will say. For while the results may have fulfilled the Israeli government’s goals at the time, they have often lead to serious problems and complications for the United States with other allies in the region and the world.

(I use the term Israeli government rather than the more commonly used Israel because the Israeli government is not Israel nor all Israelis. Because of its largely dysfunctional electoral system, the Israeli government is cobbled together like a Rube Goldberg-contraption, in which small far-right parties can exert influences that far outweigh their actual representation among the Israeli people. Israel is not a monolith, despite the attempts by Mr. Netanyahu to paint it as such.)

Now I am not for a moment advocating the end of our relationship with Israel. Israel is an important ally of the United States, and the two countries have long and historic ties. But the world is a changing place and it’s time for the relationship between United States and Israel to take on a new form, one that offers a little more tough love from our side then we have shown in the past.

The most important thing to understand about the way the Israeli government conducts itself with both its neighboring states and with the world at large is that the Israeli government will do what it thinks best for the state of Israel, and it really doesn’t give a damn about what the rest of the world thinks. It is most concerned about its security, and that is understandable. When you consider the Holocaust of the last century, and the enmity of many neighboring states to its existence, it’s easy to see why the Israeli government really doesn’t give a Fig Newton about what organizations like the United Nations think about its actions.

But too often this “we don’t give a damn what you think” approach helps in the short-term but is disastrous for the country’s future. History won’t stop happening. By trying to constantly maintain a secure status quo and not crafting a secure long-term future, the Israeli government is actually making that country less safe.

Just look at its current policies and actions: Its reluctance, or even refusal sometimes, to deal with the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the ongoing establishment of illegal settlements, the treatment of Arab-Israelis as second-class citizens in their own country, its bellicose actions towards countries like Lebanon, its wars that affect civilian populations in places like Gaza or Beirut, its use of weapons that have been banned by international organizations. These policies not only fail to provide Israel with the security it so desperately wants, and create many security and economic problems for the United States as well, but have also turned Israel into a pariah in the eyes of many around the world.

And as noted above, these actions have also created problems for this country. The Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, to give just one example, has long been a source of recruitment and funding for terrorist organizations that seek to strike the U.S. And it has often created problems with Arab allies in the region whose support is just as important, if not more so, that Israel’s to finding a solution to the region’s turmoil.

And yet what has caused problems for Israel because of its situation, may be just what this government needs. That is why it makes sense for the United States government to adopt the Israeli government’s “what’s best for us” approach. It is time for the U.S. government to update its view of what is the best way to deal with the situation in the Middle East, and what best for the United States. Period.

Often that will mean supporting many of the same things that the Israeli government supports. But sometimes it won’t.

If the United States adopts a “What’s best for the U.S.” policy in dealing with the Middle East, perhaps Israeli leaders will see the need to ameliorate and fix their policies towards the region and the world that are not providing Israeli citizens with the security they want, nor the admiration and support of other countries which Israel will need to survive in the long-term.

Because the Israeli government cannot continue to make the same decisions in the same way again and again and again, and neither can the United States. For if we continue down this same old tired road, nothing will ever change and we still will be asking “What about Israel?” for many years to come.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com 

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

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Saudi Arabia upheaval will soon rock Middle East and beyond

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul al-said  in 2007. U.S. government photo/ Cherie A. Thurlby.

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul al-said in 2007. U.S. government photo/ Cherie A. Thurlby.

Politics are heating up in Saudi Arabia, a key player in the three-cornered contest in the Middle East between modernity, theocracy and absolutism, a contest waged between warring proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, and felt in corners of the world from Paris to Nigeria. International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe notes that, like many countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia was born out of the destruction of the Ottoman Turkish empire in the First World War. The turmoil that will soon wrack the country will reverberate far beyond its borders, due to its wealth and its influence as the leading exponent of Sunni Islam in the contest for regional pre-eminence with Shia Islam, led by Iran. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails:

It’s been a long time coming, but the looming crisis in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy is finally in clear sight.

What has brought matters into focus was the dispatch to hospital in Riyadh this week of 91-year-old King Abdullah, who is suffering from pneumonia. The king’s months of evident ill health come after his attempt to embed some political stability in the country of 29 million people and the world’s largest oil producer by appointing not only his successor, but also his successor’s successor.

Far from providing security and continuity, Abdullah’s action is more likely to set off a potentially disastrous contest for the throne among Saudi Arabia’s princely families.

The prospect of political upheaval in Saudi Arabia is severe. Saudi Arabia is the heartland of the Sunni Muslim sect and the home of the most sacred Islamic sites. But it is has a large and restive population of Shia Muslims and is the fountainhead of the most fanatical and violent Muslim organizations such as Al-Qaida and the Islamic State group (ISG), also known by the Initials ISIS and ISIL.

Vast floods of income from its oil reserves and reasonable cohesion within the royal family have enabled the Saudi government to keep a lid on the country’s internal contradictions. But if the current halving of oil prices continues indefinitely, with resulting damage to Saudi Arabia’s patronage-based economy, and the royal family of about 15,000 princes and princesses shatters into contesting factions, then the future looks grim for not only the country but the region. Log in first to continue reading Saudi Arabia succession struggle looms as king ails (subscription required*)

Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription.  See Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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Jerusalem attack: The third intifada is here

 

Jersualem’s Western Wall, or wailing wall, and the adjacent Temple Mount are Judaism’s most sacred spaces. ZACHI EVENOR/CREATIVE COMMONS

Jersualem’s Western Wall, or wailing wall, and the adjacent Temple Mount are Judaism’s most sacred spaces. ZACHI EVENOR/CREATIVE COMMONS

By Asaf SiniverUniversity of Birmingham
November 21, 2014

The attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in which four Jewish worshippers were killed and eight were injured has sparked new fears that fighting between Israel and Palestinian could flare up once more.

The attack, by two Palestinians carrying meat cleavers and a gun, has the potential to kick off fresh religious confrontation and a third intifada.

The immediate trigger for the attack was the death of a Palestinian bus driver in Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities who carried out the autopsy on the body concluded that the driver hanged himself but a Palestinian pathologist who participated in the autopsy argued that the bus driver was probably murdered. Hours earlier a Palestinian had stabbed an Israeli with a screwdriver near the Damascus Gate.

In a conflict littered with seemingly isolated incidents, attacks and counter-attacks, it is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. But taking a long-range view of the conflict since the failure of US secretary of state John Kerry’s mission to the region that ended in April 2014, the inescapable conclusion is that the third intifada is already here.

The city of Jerusalem, and the dispute over Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif in particular, is at the heart of this conflict. This is the holiest site in Judaism. It is where God is believed to have created Adam, where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, and where the two Holy Temples once stood. For Muslims, it is from this spot that the Prophet Muhammad visited Heaven during his nocturnal journey. It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the June 1967 war and continues to manage security and access to the holy sites of the old city, but the mount is managed by Muslims.

On October 29, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem attempted to assassinate a prominent rabbi who advocated free Jewish access to Temple Mount. In response, Israeli authorities temporarily closed off the site to both Jews and Muslims. Israel has since allowed access once more but the violence has not abated. Jerusalem is still very much in the eye of the storm.

The attempt on the rabbi’s life was the culmination of months of tension in East Jerusalem. The city is home to around 250,000 Palestinians who hold Israeli ID cards and pay taxes to Israel, but there have been repeated efforts by certain Jewish religious groups to buy Palestinian property in order to create a Jewish majority in the city.

The synagogue attack is therefore neither isolated nor random. The murder of Jews in their place of worship by Palestinians is hugely symbolic though. This was not merely an attack on the Jewish state, but an attack on Judaism itself.

In the first intifada of 1987, the Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for the first time. The 2000 intifada followed a failed peace process. But this intifada is not being fought over territory or negotiating positions. It is a religious conflict that is bubbling up as a result of contrasting claims to sovereignty over the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The language used by both sides to describe the current tensions points to these religious undertones. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has asked the international media to refrain from using the Jewish name of Temple Mount when reporting the story. It says the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not a disputed territory and so any other name for it is null and void. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has characterised the synagogue murders as the latest in a series of acts of Palestinian terrorism designed to damage Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and to kill Jews just because of their religion.

The Israeli government has responded to the attack by ordering the immediate demolition of the perpetrators’ houses and the bolstering of security in the city. This decision was as swift as it was predictable, and is unlikely to calm the situation.

But Israel’s options are limited – the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not subjected to the same restrictions of movement and employment as the people living in the West Bank and there seems to be no central authority behind these spontaneous attacks. Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of inciting this wave of religious violence against Jews in Jerusalem but the organisation does not have the civil authority in the city to bring the situation under its control.

Tensions will without doubt escalate in the coming days and weeks. It is clearer than ever that Israelis and Palestinians will not resume the stalled peace process for the foreseeable future. To think so would be naïve at best.

This intractable conflict has long been defined by issues such as the future of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Now the added burden of more religious tensions is certain to condemn the people of the Holy Land to many more years of bloodshed.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Asaf Siniver does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Further reading on Facts and Opinions:

Israel at the Boundary, by Chris Wood (Free public access*)

A friend — I hope I may still call him one — recently chastised me for selectiveness in my criticism on social networks of Israel’s Gaza campaign, and my comparative silence about the horrors occurring in Syria and Iraq. The unspoken implication that there was something particular about Israel that inclined me to single it out, embedded another: that the something particular was Israel’s Jewishness. The suggestions are sufficiently morally impugning, and implicate enough of my personal friendships, that they deserve a thoughtful response. 

Hamas Leads Gaza Down a Dead-end Street, by Jonathan Manthorpe (Paywall*)

Not the least of the problems of finding any kind of solution to the plight of the Palestinians is that the Hamas zealots who control Gaza are incompetent terrorists and jihadis. Hamas’ sole strategic objective, the purpose of its jihad, is to overrun Israel and drive its 6.1 million Jewish residents into the sea. This latest month-long conflict shows Hamas has no capacity to do that and has no idea how to go about it.

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (Free public access*)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.

The Decline in Global Violence, By Andrew Mack (Free public access*)

In the new Human Security Report, The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation, global security specialist Andrew Mack examines a critical question: Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But Mack writes that there is little evidence to support them.

Jon Stewart Learns What Happens When You Criticize Israel (F&O Blog)

 

*You’ll find lots of great free stories inside our site, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising, and reader payments are essential for us to continue our work. Journalism to has value, and we need and appreciate your support (a day pass is $1 and a monthly subscription is less than a cup of coffee). 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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On Middle East context and media

 

Among the 21st century weaponry the American military is deploying against columnist Jim McNiven’s “eighth century caliphate” is the Tomahawk cruise missile. This one was launched Sept. 23 from an American warship on station in the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo

Among the 21st century weaponry the American military is deploying against columnist Jim McNiven’s “eighth century caliphate” is the Tomahawk cruise missile. This one was launched Sept. 23 from an American warship on station in the Persian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo

Put events in the Middle East in context, Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven urges in a new column. “Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are working their way through a kind of 100-years of religious war, partially similar to that between Protestants and Catholics that devastated Germany in the 16th and 17th Centuries,” he writes. Excerpt of Islamic State threat a media creation:

The popular media, always looking for the next big thing, has fastened upon the swift victories and social media brutalities of the group calling itself Islamic State.1 The various media have portrayed the organization as a worldwide threat and a number of governments have organized themselves to deal with it, led by the United States. 

You have to read between the lines on this one. First, this terrible threatening force is actually weaker than the Taliban force that was over-running Afghanistan in 2002. That push ended when a few American spotters on the ground called in coordinates for bomber strikes. Deserts are unlike Vietnam: there is no jungle canopy to hide in. Very quickly, the Taliban were back in their mountains where they have mostly been ever since.

ISIS, or IS, is also in the desert and, to my knowledge, has no air capability. You may have noticed that the ISIS advance did not hold up any better than the Taliban against American drones and fighters, once they were deployed. In Iraq, the only mountains for an ISIS retreat are home to the Kurds, a Sunni nationality that has a very different agenda than the Arabs in ISIS. There, ISIS personnel will have to hide in the cities they have captured, but then a collapse from lack of munitions or money is but a matter of time. These guys are incapable of building or producing anything; they can only pillage and plunder. … click to read Islamic State threat a media creation.

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Elsewhere: France 24 obtained a video by a student in Raqqa, Syria, taken this week before Arab and American bombs began falling on the city. It’s a surreal YouTube glimpse of daily life under fundamentalist control: armed men stopping the female student and tell her to behave, by fully covering her face; there is also an overheard conversation in an Internet cafe. In it, a covered Muslim French woman and her family are overheard arguing, and they plead with her to return. “I’m not planning to come back, Mama … I’m happy here.” 

 

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Replace Westphalian Nationalism with Green Unity: Chris Wood

1200px-Marsh_Arabs_in_a_mashoof

Marsh Arabs poling a mashoof in the marshes of southern Iraq. Photo by Hassan Janali, United States Army Corps of Engineers

National sovereignty, no matter how zealously protected, cannot achieve natural security, writes Chris Wood in today’s Natural Security column. Critical ecological infrastructure can only be assured if we get past misguided nationalisms, nativism and deep-rooted tribalisms —  past a way of thinking about the world that dates back 366 years and has come to be tagged the “Westphalian” world-view. An excerpt:

My Facts and Opinions colleague Jonathan Manthorpe writes insightfully about the affairs of nations. His great talent is the ability to reveal how their competition, so often ‘analysed’ as though it were the political analog of the FIFA World Cup, is in fact more a case of national logos plastered over vicious backroom feuds among rival local powers vying for control of a lucrative franchise to exploit or, very occasionally, to serve. 

This column has taken the view that those narratives, while still relevant, are increasingly eclipsed by a much bigger one, both overarching and undergirding every other human story. That is the question, put bluntly, of how or whether we will survive the ecological exhaustion of our planet.

This view received an endorsement this past week, from the New York Times’ gadfly of globalization, Thomas Friedman. In a column titled “The Real War of Ideas,2” Friedman brought attention to a diffuse movement that is the other group, beside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seeking to bring the Middle East under one rule — for quite different ends — from its mountain wall along the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea and south to the Persian Gulf. These are the region’s environmentalists.

Their key insight: their deepening eco-pocalypse can only be avoided by letting nature’s geography trump that of nations. ‘Avoided’ may in fact be too optimistic a term for the region often called the cradle of civilization. Millennia of not-always-wise irrigation, a century of water seizures for national ends, and decades of conflict, have not been kind to the once-lush basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. A less unrealistic goal might be “recovery.” And that might be possible, in the unlikely event that Friedman’s environmentalists-without-a-name let alone an army, unify the Levant under a Green  … read more (subscription required*).

*Log in on the top right of each page, or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site day pass, to read Wood’s column:

Let Nature’s Geography Trump Westphalian View

Click here for Chris Wood’s’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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