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Old 12-01-2015, 05:17 PM
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Exclamation ISIS blood libel:

ISIS blood libel:
A fast mutation of a major hate motif
New and old forms of blood libel abound, but this mutation is a new low.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

December 01, 2015

For many centuries Jews have been accused of embodying absolute evil by their most vile enemies. This motif formed the unifying thread passing through blood libels, accusations of poisoning, conspiracy theories involving Jewish financial and military manipulations, and suchlike. The central hate tactic used was frequent emotive, often religion-oriented repetition.

We are currently witnessing this process in action yet again, as modern anti-Semitic hate propaganda constantly reiterates the absurd proposition that Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East, is associated with the most negative developments faced by people throughout the world.

From June 2014 the Islamic State movement ISIS became notorious worldwide for its conquests and cruelty. The latter was extreme, even for a Muslim terrorist movement. Soon after ISIS began to attract public notice, accusations arose that it was created by Israel or linked to it.

Extreme Iranian hate mongers were among the first to point the irrational finger. In summer 2014 Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency published a story accusing America of mounting its offensive against ISIS as a means of destabilizing the region to protect Israel. The article cited a fabricated “interview” with American whistleblower Edward Snowden. The authors of the lie attributed a statement to Snowden that the US, UK, and Israel collaborated to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” Similarly, in June of that year the Iranian Fars news agency quoted Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, who claimed that ISIS “is an Israel[i] and America[n] movement for the creation of a secure border for the Zionists against the forces of resistance in the region.”[1]

The World Association for Al-Azhar Graduates is an umbrella group for scholars connected to Al-Azhar University. It is the leading academic institution of Egypt, a country which is at peace with Israel. In June 2014 this association published a statement on its website claiming that ISIS and other extremist groups were “[a] Jewish product under various names that change every now and then.” The statement also quoted the head of the association’s Pakistani chapter Sheik Sahab Zadeh Aziz, who said, “the terrorist organization ISIS is a Zionist plot which aims to murder Muslims, shed their blood, and rape [their] women and girls.”[2]

"When a new perception of absolute evil emerges, Israel is linked with it almost simultaneously."

Aya*tol*lah Sayed Mor*tada Al-Qazwini, a popular Shia cleric in Iraq gave a sermon in summer 2014 declaring ISIS a “ Jewish Israeli organization, estab*lished to tear apart the land of Muslims.”[3] In February 2015 Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide – referred to ISIS and Boko Haram: “I said CIA and the Mossad stand behind these organizations. There is no Muslim who would carry out such acts.”[4] Al Jazeera’s Arabic website, published in August 2015 an article claiming that Israel was behind ISIS.[5]

Many in the Western world are only gradually accepting the view that ISIS represents absolute contemporary evil. The Paris November 13 massacres have strengthened this perception. At the same time, additional elements have started to relate Israel to ISIS. Palestinians have been in the frontline in putting forward such claims.

Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah leadership said that Israel and ISIS are “two sides of the same coin.”[6] The official Facebook page of the Fatah movement posted a cartoon depicting the Paris attacks, showing Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a Nazi-reminiscent Jewish star armband and helping an ISIS terrorist aim his machine gun.[7] Another cartoon there showed two matches in a matchbox labelled “terrorism,” with the head of one match featuring an ultra-orthodox Jew and the other, an ISIS terrorist.[8] A cartoon published on November 15 in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official PA daily, displayed an Israeli “beheading” the Dome of the Rock and an ISIS terrorist beheading a prisoner together, using the same elongated sword.[9]

The above illustrates that the false connection between Israel and ISIS has been fabricated and promoted primarily by Muslim sources. However, some others have also joined in, such as former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who in September 2014 accused US Senator John McCain and Israel of conspiring to create the Islamic State.[10]

In the Netherlands much media attention was given to a tweet by the Muslim Yasmina Haifi, a low-ranking candidate put forward by the Labor party in the 2012 parliamentary elections. In August 2014, she tweeted, “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam…it is a plan of Zionists who want to blacken Islam.”[11] Haifi tried thus to dissociate the world’s most extreme Islamo-Nazi movement from Islam and to spread a conspiracy about Zionists. Haifi was employed as a project manager at the time by the Dutch Justice Ministry’s Cyber Security Center.[12]

As mentioned this idea of Jews being absolute evil is ensconced in history. Christianity has long promoted it by saying that the Jews were eternally responsible for killing the “son of god.” This was in their view the worst imaginable act. In his book, The Devil and the Jews, Joshua Trachtenberg wrote that medieval Christendom perceived the Jew as “sorcerer, murderer, cannibal, poisoner, blasphemer.”[13]

The perception of absolute evil has changed over time. The Nazi movement labelled the Jews as subhuman, thus justifying their extermination. For a long time after the Second World War and until now European society considers Nazis to be the embodiment of absolute evil.

However, as a result of a constant deluge of anti-Israel propaganda, over 40% of EU citizens of sixteen years and older consider Israel to be either a Nazi state or a state that conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians. These poll results point to an active desire to equate Israel’s actions with absolute evil.

The relating of ISIS to Israel is an illustration of how, when a new perception of absolute evil emerges, Israel is linked with it almost simultaneously. Since this new incitement originates, for the most part, in the Muslim world, this process demonstrates how fast an ancient extreme anti-Semitic hate motif can mutate in that environment into a contemporary variant.


[1] “Why Iran Believes the Militant Group ISIS Is an American Plot,” Time, 19 July 2014.

[2] “Claims That ISIS Has Jewish Roots Grow In Muslim World,” The Anti-Defamation League, 26 August 2014.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Exclusive: CIA and Mossad are behind Boko Haram and ISIL, says Sudan president,” Euronews, 16 Febuary 2015.

[5] “Allegations That Israel Is Behind ISIS Emerge On Al Jazeera,” Anti-Defamation League, 24 August 2015.

[6] חבר הנהגת פתח: "ישראל ודאעש - שני צדדים של אותו מטבע", YNet, 22 November 2015. Hebrew.

[7] “Fatah cartoon: Israel together with ISIS behind Paris terror ‎attacks,” Palestinian Media Watch, 16 November 2015.

[8] “Fatah cartoon compares Jews to ISIS,” Palestinian Media Watch, 16 November 2015.

[9] “Cartoon that shows Israel beheading the Al-Aqsa Mosque compares Israel to ISIS,” Palestinian Media Watch, 15 November 2015.

[10] Cheryl K. Chumley, “Fidel Castro accuses John McCain, Israel of creating Islamic State,” The Washington Times, 5 September 2014.

[11] “PvdA-ambtenaar: ISIS is complot van zionisten,” Telegraaf, 13 August 2014. [Dutch]

[12] “Dutch gov't worker Yasmina Haifi tweeted: ‘ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It’s part of a plan by Zionists who are deliberately trying to blacken Islam’s name,:’ “The Jerusalem Post, 16 August 2014.

[13] Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews (Cleveland: Meridian, 1961), 159.
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Old 02-07-2016, 02:48 PM
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Exclamation Middle East Strategic Outlook

Middle East Strategic Outlook, February
by Shmuel Bar

February 7, 2016

The EU-Turkey agreement of 25 November, which provided Turkey with 3 billion euros over two years in order to stop the flow of refugees to Europe, has not achieved that goal. Speaking privately, EU officials complain that Turkey has not taken any concrete measures to reduce the flow of refugees. In our assessment, Turkey will continue to prevaricate on steps to stem the flow of refugees as pressure on the EU to give more concessions.

During the coming year there will certainly be further terrorist attacks that will push European public opinion further to the right.

We assess that Iran will continue in indirect channels with a parallel nuclear program, realized long before the 10-year target of the JCPOA.

The demand for unification of Kurdistan -- Iraqi and Syrian -- will also begin to be heard. It is highly likely that Russia will take advantage of the trend and support the Kurds, effectively turning an American ally into a Russian one.

The announcement by the IAEA that Iran has fulfilled its obligations according to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has triggered "Implementation Day" and the removal of the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. The JCPOA, however, did not deal with Iran's ballistic missile program, and the sanctions related to it are still nominally in force. These sanctions are minor and will not have any real effect on the Iranian missile program. The missile program will mature during this period and will include Ghadr missiles with ranges of 1,650-1,950 km, which may be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The question now is: whither the Iranian nuclear program? After the lifting of sanctions, and taking into account the impracticality of "snap-back" of sanctions, we assess that Iran will now initiate a parallel nuclear program. This will, of course, be far slower than the program that was dismantled by the JCPOA, but it will be realized long before the 10-year target of the JCPOA. One possibility for Iran to continue its nuclear program is through North Korea. The wording of the JCPOA is ambiguous on nuclear Iranian nuclear cooperation with other countries that are not a party to the agreement. North Korea could produce the whole chain of nuclear weapons and put it at Iran's disposal in return for Iranian funding. North Korea would certainly profit economically from such collaboration and would not risk further sanctions. Such cooperation would be difficult to detect, and even if detected, may not reach the threshold of a material breach of the JCPOA.

The most immediate reward that Iran will receive is the release of frozen Iranian funds ($100-$150 billion). In addition, Iran may now market oil stored offshore in tankers (about 50 billion barrels) and is preparing to increase its production by 500 thousand bpd (from 2.8 million bpd). It is doubtful that Iran can truly increase its production as planned. Even if it does, the addition of Iranian oil is likely to drive prices down even further, counter-balancing much of the potential profit. Sanctions relief also is not a quick fix for the Iranian economy. While it removes legal impediments for investment and business in Iran, the risks that Western companies will face due to residual non-nuclear sanctions (that may be enhanced and enforced by a future American administration), lack of government protection, corruption, and the weakness of the Iranian market cannot be removed by decree. Therefore, European banks and investors may not hurry to invest in Iran at the levels needed to jump-start the Iranian economy after years of sanctions.

The Iranian regime's goal is not only to block the path to the reformists or reformist-minded, but also to the extremists on the right to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Such a balance could help the Iranian system maintain its "centrist" orientation and guarantee the continuity in the event of Khamenei's death and the appointment of a new successor (or a triumvirate of several potential leaders). It will also facilitate the eventual takeover of the regime by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) after the demise of Khamenei. The backing that the Guardian Council received from the Supreme Leader for the results of its vetting process, in the face of Rouhani's condemnation of the disapproval of almost all reformists, is also indicative of the balance of power in the regime.

The Iranian seizure of two US Navy patrol boats on January 12 and the publication of drone pictures of a US Navy aircraft carrier underlined the sense of immunity that Iran has achieved. These actions should be seen in the context of Iran's attempt to change the rules of the game in the Persian Gulf, while testing the waters of American tolerance and sending to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States an indirect message that Iran is ready and willing to risk conflict with the US and that the US is a paper tiger that cannot be relied upon in a confrontation between the Gulf States and Iran. In our assessment, Iran will continue with shows of force such as seizing of naval vessels of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, stop and search operations of commercial vessels en route to the Gulf States, naval exercises -- including missile tests close to Gulf sea-lanes and to the territorial waters of the Gulf States -- in international waterways that implicitly interrupt and threaten shipping in the Gulf, "spooking" of Gulf aircraft and even false flag operations of mining, piracy or attacks by proxies in the Gulf and the Red Sea along the Yemeni coast. We may expect as a result possible frontier skirmishes on the shared littoral borders of Iran and Saudi Arabia, gas fields and disputed islands and in the international waters of the Gulf.

The Iranian seizure of two US Navy patrol boats on January 12 underlined the sense of immunity that Iran has achieved.

Saudi Arabia is drawing up its own map of interests and areas of influence that it is projecting as "no-go zones" for Iran -- a Saudi "Monroe Doctrine" for the region. The most critical of these are: Yemen (due to the potential for threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Straits), subversion in the Gulf States (primarily Bahrain), the Strait of Hormuz and the international waters of the Gulf. To this list one must add the obvious: any Iranian-inspired or -planned attack on the Saudi homeland itself -- government facilities, oil installations etc. -- would be perceived as crossing a red line. While neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran is interested in direct conflict, and both would prefer to continue to work through proxies and in areas outside their respective sovereign territories, the dynamic nature of the situation can easily lend itself to misreading of such red lines and such miscalculation may lead to direct confrontation between them. While all-out direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia remains a low probability, this assessment should be revisited again in the near future.

In Syria, American positions have undergone a strategic shift that reflects the new balance of power created by the Russian intervention. On the military side, the Russian presence imposes a heavy constraint on the American activities, and U.S. officials caution that the success of the Ramadi operation will not be followed by a concerted effort to roll back the "Islamic State" in the Syrian theater. In regards to a political solution, the US has accepted the Russian-Iranian four-point-plan that envisages Bashar al-Assad remaining in office during a transition period and being allowed to run for President in "internationally supervised elections". In our assessment, the Syrian opposition and their Arab supporters cannot accept any blueprint that would leave any doubt regarding Bashar al-Assad relinquishing power before any process begins. These developments will only feed the sense of the Sunni Arabs that the United States has turned its back on them and is supporting Iranian-Russian hegemony in the region. On this background, the prospects that the Syrian "peace talks" in Geneva will achieve any progress towards resolution or even mitigation of the civil war are close to nil.

Last month's visit by Chinese President Xi Jin Ping to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran was the first such visit of a Chinese President in the region since 2002, and the first foreign head of state to visit Iran since the announcement of "Implementation Day" of the JCPOA. The Chinese emphasis in all the visits was on economic cooperation, development and stability, but above all -- in an implicit stab at the US and Russia -- emphasizing that China does not seek proxies, to fill a power vacuum or hegemony in the region. The leitmotif of the visit was the integration of the Middle Eastern partners (i.e. the Arabs in general and Iran) into China's "Belt and Road Initiative." In spite of the inclusion of Iran in the visit, President Xi took care not to offend the Arabs. The agreements with Saudi Arabia included nuclear cooperation in a scope far greater than that which was offered to Iran, and the joint statement reflected the Saudi position on Yemen, stating, "both sides stressed support for the legitimate regime of Yemen."

The "Arab Policy Paper" published on the eve of the visit stresses China's commitment to "non-intervention and opposition to interference in the affairs of other countries". This is seen by the Arab policy communities as a sign of implicit Chinese support for their position vis-à-vis Iran's activities in the region, though they would have welcomed more explicit statements of support. There is no expectation in the region that China is going to play the "Big Power" card in the region. Taking sides in this conflict would be out of character for China. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states will attempt to convince China to refrain from demonstrations of rapprochement with Iran and to support the Arab positions vis-à-vis Iranian provocations in the Gulf, Syria and Yemen. While China may show a slight implicit leaning towards the Arab position on these issues, it is not likely to take a clear anti-Iranian/pro-Arab position in the near future.

The European Union-Turkey agreement of 25 November, which provided Turkey with 3 billion euros over two years in order to stop the flow of refugees to Europe, has not achieved that goal. Speaking privately, EU officials complain that Turkey has not taken any concrete measures to reduce the flow of refugees. In our assessment, Turkey will continue to prevaricate on steps to stem the flow of refugees as pressure on the EU to give more concessions. Turkey has already signaled that the sum will not suffice for the task of maintaining the refugees inside Turkey alone, and certainly not for other security measures such as blocking the border with Turkey to prevent passage to and fro of "Islamic State" foreign fighters.

Aside from the 3 billion euros, the EU commitments will also not be easily implemented; visa waivers for Turkish citizens in general will encounter massive opposition within the EU. The road to Turkish accession to the EU must also go through complex negotiations on various aspects of compatibility of Turkey to the standards of the EU. All these discussions will encounter a veto by Cyprus, pending a peace deal with Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. This veto may be resolved if a referendum on unification of Cyprus takes place and supports re-unification later this year. However, the real obstacle towards Turkish accession is not technical or due to the Cyprus question; it revolves around the shift in European public opinion towards absorption of immigrants from Muslim countries. During the coming year, there will certainly be further terrorist attacks that will push European public opinion further to the right. Under these circumstances, Turkish accession or even visa waiver will be very unlikely.

In our assessment, the trend towards Kurdish independence will eventually lead to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. The events in Syrian Kurdistan will also affect the pace and direction of the independence movement in Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Unification of the parts of Syrian Kurdistan in the face of Turkish opposition and under Russian protection will give impetus to the demand to create a political fait accompli of independence in Iraqi Kurdistan. As the principle of Kurdish independence in Iraq gains more and more support and becomes a reality, the irredentist demand for unification of Kurdistan -- Iraqi and Syrian -- will also begin to be heard. This is the fulfillment of the Kurdish nightmare that Turkey has always feared. With the deterioration of relations between the AKP government and the Turkish Kurds inside Turkey, such a political reality of independent Kurdistan will add fire to the flames of the Kurdish rebellion in southern Turkey. It is highly likely that Russia will take advantage of the trend and support the Kurds, effectively turning an American ally into a Russian one. If this happens, the US will have lost an important potential ally in the new map of the Middle East.

The large number of players on the ground that may take a part in the campaign for Mosul will only complicate the campaign further and -- if the city or part of it is retaken, will increase the chances of internal fighting between the components of the ad-hoc alliance of Iraqi government forces, Shiite militias, Sunni militias, Kurdish Peshmarga, Turks and American forces.

On this background, the Syrian "Peace Talks" in Geneva started (29 January) as "proximity talks" in which the UN representatives shuttle between the rooms of the opposing parties. The Saudi supported High Negotiations Committee (HNC) of the Syrian opposition ceded their original conditions -- cessation of the attacks on civilians -- though they refuse to meet with the regime representatives while the latter refuse to meet with "terrorists". The Syrian regime representation is low-level as an indication that there is no intention to hold real negotiations. Furthermore, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose military wing, the YPG, is the most effective fighting force on the ground against the "Islamic State," were not included in the opposition delegation because of the Turkish threat to boycott the Geneva negotiations if it participates. Under these conditions, the prospects that the talks will achieve any progress towards resolution or even mitigation of the civil war are close to nil.

Dr. Shmuel Bar is a senior research fellow at Israel's Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel and a veteran of Israel's intelligence community.

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Old 02-10-2016, 04:24 PM
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Exclamation Syria: Checkered Past, Uncertain Future

Syria: Checkered Past, Uncertain Future

February 10, 2016

Because almost every religious and/or ethnic community in Syria is divided, some siding with Assad and others fighting against him, it is difficult to establish clear sectarian demarcation lines. Syria today is a patchwork of emirates.
  • The Islamic Republic of Iran needed Syria to complete the "Shiite Crescent" which it saw as its glacis and point of access to the Mediterranean. Iran is estimated to have spent something like $12 billion on its Syrian venture. By the time of this writing, Iran had also lost 143 ranking officers, captain and above, in combat in Syrian battlefields.
  • Turkey's "soft" Islamic leadership, the main source of support for anti-Assad forces, has always had ties to the global movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is likely that Turkey's leaders see the Syrian imbroglio as an opportunity for them to "solve" the problem of Kurdish-Turkish secessionists based in Syrian territory since the 1980s.
  • Turkey has become host to more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, posing a long-term humanitarian and security challenge. Ankara's decision to goad large numbers of refugees into the European Union was an attempt at forcing the richer nations of the continent to share some of Turkey's burden.
  • The country most dramatically, and perhaps permanently, affected by the Syrian conflict is Lebanon. More than 1.8 million Syrian refugees have arrived, altering the country's delicate demographic balance. If the new arrivals stay permanently, Lebanon would become another Arab Sunni majority state.

Next March will mark the fifth anniversary of what started as another chapter in the so-called "Arab Spring" morphed into a civil war, degenerated into a humanitarian catastrophe and, finally, led to the systemic collapse of Syria as a nation-state.

That sequence of events has had a profound impact on virtually the whole of the region known as the Greater Middle East, affecting many aspects of its component nations ranging from demography, ethno-sectarian composition and security. Since the purpose of this presentation is not to offer an historic account of the events, a brief reminder of some key aspects would suffice.

Five years ago, when the first demonstration took place in Deraa, in southern Syria, much of the so-called "Arab World" was in a state of high expectations in the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that seemed to have ended decades of despotic rule by military-security organs of the state. Despite important differences, the Syrian state at the time fitted the description of the typical model of the Arab state as developed after the Second World War.

It was, therefore, not fanciful to think that it might respond to the first signs of popular discontent in the same ways as similar states had done elsewhere in the Arab World. One important difference was that at the time the uprising started, the Syrian state, arguably the most repressive in the modern Arab World, apart from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, had embarked on a program of timid reform and liberalization. The new dictator, Bashar al-Assad, had tried to portray himself as a Western-educated reformer attracted to aspects of pluralism and a market economy. He had allowed the emergence of the first privately owned banks and privatized a number of state-owned companies. He had also allowed the private sector to take the lead in a number of new sectors, notably mobile phones and the Internet. To be sure, the new banks, the privatized companies and the new technology companies were almost all owned by members of the Assad clan and associates with the military-security apparatus keeping a close watch on all activities. Nevertheless, there was some consensus among Syria-watchers in the West that the young Assad was taking the first steps necessary towards reform. This impression was reinforced by the fact that the regime allowed the emergence of a number of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) active on a range of issues, including human rights, albeit with security services keeping a close watch.

The Western powers tried to encourage what they saw as a slow-moving process of reform by offering Assad economic aid, largely though the European Union, and deference at the diplomatic level. Assad was invited to high-profile state visits, including to Britain and France, where he was given a front seat at the traditional 14thof July military parade in Paris.

At the time marchers were gathering in Deraa, the Obama administration was preparing the ground for Assad's visit to Washington, with a number of high profile Democrats penning op-eds in praise of the Syrian leader as a reformer and moderate.

The then head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the US Senate, Senator John Kerry, had forged a personal friendship with Assad, whom he had met in a number of visits to Damascus, where their respective wives also developed a bond of sympathy.

Not long before the war in Syria began, Bashar Assad was hailed as a reformer and invited to high-profile state visits in the West. Above, Bashar Assad relaxing with Turkey's then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left), and with then Senator John Kerry (right).

The fact that Assad's relations with the Bush administration had been stormy, to say the least, also helped Assad's image with the Obama administration, which was building a foreign policy based on anti-Bush sentiments. (Bush had forced Assad to end Syria's occupation of Lebanon; Assad had retaliated by allowing Islamist terrorists to pass through Syria to kill Americans in Iraq.) For three decades, Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad had been the only Arab leader to have had tête-à-tête meetings with all US Presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush had broken that tradition by not bestowing the same distinction on Bashar al-Assad.

In the end, the Assad regime repeated the experience of virtually all authoritarian regimes that have tried the recipe for "guided reform."

An authoritarian regime is never more in danger than when it attempts liberalization. Also, the fact is that not all authoritarian regimes have efficient mechanisms for reform. In some cases, the choice is between crushing popular demands for reform and the risk of regime change. As Latin Americans know well, while dictablanda (light dictatorship) could be reformed, dictadura (hard dictatorship) has to be overthrown.

After a brief period in which, Hamlet-like, he wondered whether to kill or not to kill, Assad opted for the latter, sending his tanks to crush Deraa. The recipe had been tried in 1982 under his father, General Hafez al-Assad, in Hama and had worked, ensuring almost three decades of stability for the regime.

Like other Arab authoritarian regimes facing popular revolts, the Assad regime was, at least in part, a victim of its own relative success.

The decades of stability after Hama and Syria's effective, though not formal, end of the state of war with Israel, had allowed the formation of a new urban middle class, an impressive quantitative growth of educational facilities, and the revival of traditional sectors of the economy, notably agriculture and handicraft industries, that escaped central government control.

Assad's record in such domains as literacy, improved health services that helped raise life expectancy levels, and access to higher education, was significantly better than the average for the 22 members of the Arab League. A new urban middle class with Western-style political aspirations had emerged only to find itself constrained by a Third World-style political system. The problem was that this new middle class, politically inexperienced not to say immature, could not go beyond expressing its aspirations in a haphazard way. It had no political structure and leadership to translate those aspirations into a strategy for a radical re-shaping of Syrian society.

Thus, like other nations experiencing the Arab Spring, not to mention the European Revolutions of 1848, the Syrian uprising faced the prospect of defeat by the authoritarian state it wished to reform. The failure of the uprising to develop a coherent strategy created a vacuum that other forces soon tried to fill.

The first of those forces was the Muslim Brotherhood, the longest-standing adversary of the Assad regime and its Arab Socialist Baath ("Resurgence") Party machine. Having remained as mere spectator in the early phases of uprising, the Brotherhood, its leadership then based in exile in Germany, reactivated its dormant cells and started promoting sectarian themes: Sunni Muslims against the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs.

Paradoxically, the regime indirectly encouraged the ascent of the Brotherhood for two reasons. First, it hoped that a dose of sectarianism would unify the Alawite minority, 10 per cent of the population, around the regime, while persuading other minorities, notably Christians, some 8 per cent of the population, and Ismailis and Druze, another two per cent, that they would have a better chance with a secular authoritarian regime rather than a militant Sunni Islamist one. To drive that point home, the regime started releasing large numbers of militant Sunni Islamists, among them many future leaders of the Islamic Sate Caliphate (or ISIS). Assad also worked on Kurds, around 10 per cent of the population, many of whom had had their Syrian nationality withdrawn in the 1960s. In a presidential decree, he promised to restore their nationality while hinting at major concessions on the issue of internal autonomy for ethnic minorities.

By encouraging the sectarian aspects of the conflict, Assad also hoped to win sympathy and support from Western democracies that, then as now, were concerned about the rise of militant Islam as a threat to their own security.

By playing the sectarian card, Assad also won greater support from the Shiite regime in the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Shiism does not recognize Alawites, better known in clerical circles as Nusayris, as Muslims, let alone Shiites.

Nevertheless, Tehran knew that while the Nusayri-dominated regime in Damascus posed no ideological-theological threat to it, the Muslim Brotherhood and its doctrine of pan-Islamism did. Tehran needed a friendly regime in Damascus to ensure continued access to neighboring Lebanon, where the Islamic Republic was the major foreign influence, thanks to its sponsorship of the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.

Already enjoying a major presence in Iraq, the Islamic Republic needed Syria to complete the "Shiite Crescent" which it saw as its glacis and point of access to the Mediterranean.

Even then, the struggle for Syria did not become, and even today is not, a sectarian war, although, within it we have a war of the sectarians. Other forces are present in this complex conflict. Among them are dissidents of the Ba'ath, especially members of its leftist tendencies who had been suppressed under Assad senior. The remnants of Syria's various Communist parties are also active, as are small but experienced Arab nationalist (Nasserist) groups.

Because almost every religious and/or ethnic community is divided, some siding with Assad and others fighting against him, it is difficult to establish clear sectarian demarcation lines. Even the Kurds are deeply divided among themselves with the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish party, present in Syria as exiles for decades, holding the balance of power.

A further complication is due to the involvement of a growing number of foreign powers, the latest being Russia.

We have already mentioned Iran's involvement in trying to protect a regime with which it never succeeded in forging a genuine friendship. This was an alliance of necessity, not of choice, from the start, because Tehran needed Damascus to split the Arab World during the eight-year long Iran-Iraq war against a background of rivalry between Assad senior and Saddam Hussein for the leadership of the pan-Arab Baath.

Assad senior visited Tehran only once, for a few hours, and took extra care to impose strict limits on Iranian presence in Syria, while profiting from Iranian largesse in the form of cut-price oil, cash handouts and delivery of weapons. It was only under Bashar that Syria allowed Iran to open consulates outside Damascus and, eventually, set up 14 "Cultural Centers" to promote Shiite Islam. It was also under Bashar that Tehran and Damascus concluded a relatively limited "Defense Cooperation Agreement" that included joint staff conversations and exchanges of military intelligence.

Although more than a million Iranians visited Syria each year on a pilgrimage to the Tomb of Lady Zeynab near Damascus, almost no Syrians visited Iran, while trade between the two allies remained insignificant. In an interview given shortly before his death in combat near Aleppo, Iranian General Hussein Hamadani, recalled how senior Syrian army officers were "extremely unwilling" to let the Iranian military have a say in planning, let alone conducting, operations against anti-Assad rebels. The Syrian generals had a secular upbringing, loved their drinks, and regarded the Iranians as medieval fanatics clinging to anachronistic dreams.

By 2015, however, Iran was the principal supporter of the Assad regime. Iran is estimated to have spent something like $12 billion on its Syrian venture, including the payment of the salaries of government employees in areas still under Assad's control. By the time of this writing, Iran had also lost 143 ranking officers, captain and above, in combat in Syrian battlefields. Sent to fight in Syria on orders from Tehran, the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah has played a crucial role in limiting Assad's territorial losses, especially in the south close to the border with Lebanon and the mountains west of Damascus. Conservative estimates put the number of Hezbollah's losses in 2014 and 2015 at over 800, a third higher than its losses in the war with Israel in 2006.

Iran's "Supreme Guide," Ali Khamenei; has gone on record as saying he would not allow regime change in Damascus; he is the only foreign leader to do so.

While Iran is the major force backing Assad, Turkey has emerged as the main source of support for anti-Assad forces. In the first decade of the new century, Turkey, its economy experiencing sustained growth, invested more than $20 billion in Syria, thus turning Aleppo and adjacent provinces into part of the Turkish industrial hinterland. While Turkey's critics accuse it of harboring neo-Ottoman dreams of domination in the Middle East, it is more likely that Ankara leaders see the Syrian imbroglio as an opportunity for them to "solve" the problem of Kurdish-Turkish secessionists based in Syrian territory since the 1980s.

Turkey's "soft" Islamic leadership has always had ties to the global movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and is determined to see its Syrian allies end up with a big say in the future of that country.

Turkey has paid more for its Syrian involvement than has Iran for its meddling. Unlike Iran, which has not admitted a single Syrian refugee, Turkey has become host to more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, posing a long-term humanitarian and security challenge at a time Ankara is grappling with economic recession and rising social tension.

Ankara's decision to goad large numbers of refugees into the European Union was an attempt at forcing the richer nations of the continent to share some of Turkey's burden. After four years of lobbying, Turkey has not succeeded in persuading its US ally to endorse the establishment of a "safe haven" and no-fly zone in Syria to persuade at least some Syrians to remain in their own homeland rather than become refugees in Turkey and other neighboring states.

However, the Iranian assumption that whatever happens in Syria will have no bearing on Iran's own national security, while Turkey is in direct danger, may be misguided. The Islamic State Caliphate (ISIS) has already reached a tacit agreement not to go beyond a 40-kilometer line from Iran's borders with Iraq, thereby indicating its desire to avoid a direct clash with Tehran at this point.

There is no guarantee that such self-restraint will remain in place in the context of failed states in Syria and parts of Iraq. Iranian authorities have publicly stated that some 80 Islamic State armed groups are present in Afghanistan and Pakistan close to Iranian borders. Iran's security could also be threatened by a deeper involvement of various Kurdish communities, Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian exiles in those countries, in a broader regional conflict. Iran's total support for Assad may also land the Islamic Republic on the side of losers, when, and if, the remnant of the regime in Damascus collapses.

Russia, which has also entered the fray in support of Assad, may already be rethinking its rash decision to become involved in a conflict it does not quite understand and in a country where, a quarter of a century after the fall of the USSR, it has few reliable contacts.

Three events seem to have persuaded President Putin to soft-pedal his initial gang-ho posture. The first was the downing of the Russian passenger airliner by ISIS, a reminder of the vulnerability that Russia shares with all other states in the face of global terrorism. The second was the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane by Turkey, a reminder that in a situation as messy as the one in Syria, there is no way to guarantee that everything will remain under control all the time. The third event was the attack organized by a pro-Caliphate crowd on a Russian military base in Tajikistan, ostensibly to avenge the murder of a local girl by a Russian soldier.

Russia is home to an estimated 20 million Muslims, practicing or not, mostly of Sunni persuasion and at least theoretically sympathetic to the Syrian Sunni majority fighting Assad. Russia's firm backing for Assad could provoke a terrorist response not only against Russian tourists, as we saw in Sharm al-Sheikh, but inside the federation itself.

The country most dramatically, and perhaps permanently, affected by the Syrian conflict is Lebanon. More than 1.8 million Syrian refugees have arrived, altering the country's delicate demographic balance.

The current Lebanese caretaker government, with the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister holding immense executive powers, is keen to grant the new arrivals citizenship as fast as possible. If the new arrivals do stay permanently, Lebanon would become another Arab Sunni majority state with Christians, Shiites and Druze together accounting for no more than 45 per cent of the population.

Neighboring Jordan is also affected in a major way, this time in favor of the dominant Hashemite elite. The absorption of some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, most of them Sunni Muslims, and a further half a million Iraqi Sunni refugees would dilute the demographic mix in favor of non-Palestinian communities, notably Bedouin Arabs, Circassians, Druze, Turkic and Christian minorities, which account for no more than 35 per cent of the population.

The country most directly affected so far is Iraq, which has lost a good chunk of its territory, notably its third most populous city, Mosul, to the Islamic State caliphate centered at Raqqah in Syria. Baghdad's leaders are concerned by the thought that Western powers may end up accepting a new partition of the Middle East that would include the emergence of a new Sunni-majority state composed of four Iraqi and five Syrian provinces.

The idea of talking to ISIS has already been raised in Britain by the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, with the suggestion that second-track channels be opened with the Caliphate to probe the possibility of peace talks and a compromise. Such a move would amount to a first step towards recognition of a separate new Sunni state.

Iraq is also concerned about the future of Kurdish areas taken back from the ISIS Caliphate by Kurdish fighters from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Will the Kurds give back those lands to Baghdad once calm returns?

The idea of a new Sunni state on the Euphrates has promoted another idea, that of a state for minorities such as Alawites, Christians, Ismailis and Druze on the Mediterranean, extending from parts of Lebanon to the Syrian coastline along the mountains west of Damascus. That would roughly cover the portion of Syria that during their Mandate the French called "la Syrie utile" (useful Syria).

Russia, another state that has recently become involved in Syria, could secure the aeronaval facilities it seeks in the Mediterranean in the territory of that new state.

Needless to say, the Kurds, divided in communities present in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and (former Soviet) Azerbaijan, are already affected by the Syrian conflict. The idea of a united Kurdish state has never been more present in the imagination of Kurds across the region. However, its realization has never seemed as remote as it is today. Various Kurdish communities and parties are engaged in a bitter struggle over control of the Kurdish narrative and agenda, at times even coming close to armed conflict. Conscious of the dangers involved, the Iraqi Kurdish leader Masood Barzani has been forced to hastily shelve his declared plan for declaring Kurdish independence in the three Iraqi provinces he controls in coalition with a number of other parties.

United in their fight against ISIS in their own neck of the woods, Kurds are deeply divided about what to do next; the danger of them using their guns -- many supplied by the US -- against each other cannot be ruled out.

Conflict in Syria also affects other Arab and Muslim countries, partly because of the magnet for jihadism created by the Caliphate and other Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front). By the time of this writing, groups claiming some links with Syrian jihadists have carried out or attempted acts of terror in 21 Muslim-majority countries from Indonesia to Burkina Faso, passing by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Libya. Such groups were also responsible for attacks or attempted attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Britain and the United States.

The oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf have been active in support of various anti-Assad groups. But they, too, are in danger of repeating their disastrous experience in Afghanistan when they helped jihadis fight the local Communists and their Soviet sponsors only to end up with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In fact, for more than half a century, various jihadi leaders have dreamt of seizing control of at least one oil-rich Arab state capable of ensuring financial resources for their strategy of global conquest.

Later this month, a new international conference on Syria will open in Geneva. On the agenda is a plan for power-sharing, a new constitution and general elections under UN supervision within two years. Originally, the plan was developed by a New York-based think-tank in 2012 and conveyed to Assad through two prominent Lebanese political figures. Assad gave it a cautious welcome. The plan also enjoyed some support from the NSC in the Obama Administration. However, almost at the last minute, President Obama vetoed it, publicly stating that Assad must go.

If the plan had a slim chance in 2012, it has virtually none today. The reason is that no one is quite in charge of his own camp in Syria, assuming that one may discover easily recognizable camps capable of acting as distinct entities.

Syria had never been a distinct state entity until the French mandate, experimenting with at least five different versions of statehood, turned it into one after the First World War.

By 2011, when Deraa triggered the national uprising, Syria had become a proper nation-state with a sense of Syrianhood (in Arabic: Saryana) that had never before existed. This Saryana was evident in the nation's literature, cinema, television, journalism and, more importantly, the version of Arabic people spoke from one end of the country to another.

With the collapse of the Syrian state, now in tenuous control of some 40 per cent of the national territory, and the intensification of the conflict with all its inevitable sectarian undertones, that sense of "Saryana" has come under strong pressure, and, in areas under the control of the ISIS Caliphate, singled out as enemy number-one. Syria today is a patchwork of emirates, large and small, coexisting and/or fighting in the context of a war economy and emphasis on local, ethnic, and religious particularism. Many of these emirates have developed a system of coexistence that allows them to run the communities under their control and guide them in different directions. In most cases, the direction in question is towards what is marketed as "pure Muhammadan Islam" in many different forms. But in a few cases, much to the surprise of many, timid experiments with pluralism and democracy are also under way.

The challenge today is not to rescue, through diplomatic gimmicks, a Syria that has largely ceased to exist but to help create a new Syria. That, however, is a challenge that no one today appears willing, let alone able, to face.
Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran's premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe. These remarks on Syria were delivered at the Seminar on Regional Security organized by George C Marshall European Center for Security Studies, in Munich, Germany on January 25, 2016.

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Exclamation The Marrakesh Declaration And A Critique Of It

The Marrakesh Declaration And A Critique Of It
By: N. Szerman*

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Exclamation War and Madness

War and Madness
by Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Report
March 28, 2016
All photos by author.

The cold numbers are the first thing that hit you. Figures telling of a human catastrophe on a scale hard to compute. Suffering on a level to which any rational response seems inadequate – 470,000 people killed, according to the latest estimates; 11.5 percent of the population injured; 45 percent of a country of 22 million made homeless; 4 million refugees and 6.36 million internally displaced persons. Life expectancy is down from 70.5 years in 2010 to an estimated 55.4 years in 2015. Welcome to the Syrian civil war.

For those of us who have covered the war closely, these are not just numbers in black and white. They have behind them searing images and memories impossible to erase.

I remember the throngs of refugees in the olive groves close to the border fence north of Aleppo in the summer of 2012. The battle for the city was raging at its full murderous strength a few kilometers to the south. The refugees, mostly Sunni Arabs, were trying to find a place safe from the destructive intentions of Bashar Assad's air force. They had no way to get into Turkey. Their forlorn hope was to take their families as close as possible to the border fence. They believed that the Syrian Air Force would not dare to bomb so close to the powerful northern neighbor.

Whole families with small children ‒ some people terribly wounded by the bombings ‒ living in the olive groves with neither shelter nor provisions. But I had been in Aleppo city, too, and I knew that their calculation made sense. Inside the city, the barrel bombs were falling without discrimination. Houses, buildings, lives turned into nothing.

The Syrian civil war is the greatest catastrophe to hit the Levant since World War II.

This is what the figures are made of. For five years, this is what the lives of Syrians have looked like. It is the greatest catastrophe to have hit the Levant since World War II.

Few people saw the war coming. For a moment, it looked as though the wave of regional change would pass Syria by. The prison-house state constructed by the Ba'ath Party had strong walls, after all. Its residents seemed too cowed, too intimidated to challenge their dictator.

Assad himself, in a strange interview given to the Wall Street Journal, published January 31, 2011, explained why, in his view, Syria had not and would not experience instability. "We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable," the dictator said. "Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people's beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance."

Here was the language of the Arab nationalist police state in all its self-assurance and blindness. The prisons full of political prisoners. The citizenry cowed by an all-embracing structure of surveillance and repression. And on top of it all, the "president" blithely insisting to his compliant Western interviewer that the stability was the result of a kind of tacit contract of consent between the regime and the people.

It couldn't hold. And, of course, it didn't. As nemesis follows hubris, so in March 2011, demonstrations by schoolchildren in Dera'a province were brutally repressed by the local security forces. A boy called Hamza al-Khatib who was murdered in custody became the symbol for the protests. The unrest spread to other Sunni Arab parts of the country – Homs, Hama, Banias. Assad, whose rule, he had claimed, rested on the unspoken consent of his people, rapidly and predictably abandoned any such nonsense and sought simply to drown the spreading protests in the blood of the protesters.

By summer, the stage was set for the civil war to come. The death toll was rapidly mounting. Western leaders called for Assad's resignation in August. But Assad was going nowhere. These were the days of the Arab Spring. People power and demonstrations were supposed to be enough to bring down the dictators. This happy narrative neglected to note a fact of salient importance. Deposed dictators – Zine El Abidine Bin-Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ali Abdullah Salah in Yemen – had fallen not only or mainly because of popular unrest against them. They were deposed because their patron, the United States of America, chose to abandon them in their hour of need. Assad had chosen different friends. He wasn't aligned with the West, but with Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the response of these two powers, from the very outset, was to provide the dictator with whatever level of support he required to stay in his seat.

The form this took varied. Russia used its Security Council veto at the UN to prevent any concerted action against the regime. Moscow also kept the weapons coming. The Iranians used their expertise in crowd control to help Assad control the demonstrations. By the end of 2011, it was clear that the bright lie of the "Arab Spring," according to which beautiful young people marching in the streets was all it took to topple dictators, wasn't going to work in Syria.

At this point, the opposition made the fateful decision to try a different way. Already, groups of recently deserted soldiers were arming themselves to defend the demonstrations against the attentions of Assad's soldiers. In early 2012, these began to crystallize into the first rebel battalions, organizing not only to defend protests, but also to attack the army and make areas in revolt impassable for the government's forces. The stage was set for war.

Lieutenant Bilal Khabir of the Free Syrian Army, with comrades, Sarmin, Idlib Province, Syria, February 2012.

I visited rebel-controlled Syria for the first time during that period. Idlib Province – one of the heartlands of the emergent insurgency. I remember the fevered atmosphere of the time and the hopes of swift victory. I interviewed a recent defector from Assad's airborne troops in a village called Sarmin close to Idlib City. Lieutenant Bilal Khabir was typical of the type of fighters who were capturing the world's attention at that time. Young, idealistic and brave, Khabir had deserted his unit after a brother officer was executed for refusing to fire on civilian demonstrators in Dera'a.

"I am with the law, not against the law," Khabir had told me, as we sat in a half-built structure that formed the rebels' headquarters in Sarmin. "The regime is fascist and criminal. We expect what happened in Homs to happen here. But even with our simple weapons, we are ready to fight. Either Bashar stays, or we stay. And freedom is the promise of God on earth."

They fought. Khabir himself rose to senior command in the rebellion in Idlib, before being terribly wounded in action in 2013. The rebels of Idlib and Aleppo and Dera'a, Quneitra and Raqqa, Homs and Hama and Deir al-Zor and Damascus made much of those areas no-go zones for Assad's army in the year that followed.

But even then, in those first days, it was possible to discern the sectarian hand inside the velvet glove of the rebellion's fine words. In Sarmin and Binnish, in February of 2012, Salafi fighting groups separate from the ragtag recent army deserters were already operating openly, apart from the enthusiastic, often younger rebels of the non-Islamist units. As the bloodletting continued in 2012 and 2013, it was these organizations that began to make headway. The secular rebels had no real vision or idea to put in their place. They just wanted to destroy Assad. The ideas came from the Islamists. The money, meanwhile, was coming mainly from Qatar and Turkey. Both these countries favored the emergent Islamist groups, whose inclinations mirrored their own.

And, of course, there was a discernible sectarian logic to the rebellion from the start. The Assad family hailed from the country's 12 percent Alawi minority. By no means were all those who had benefited from Assad's rule Alawis. There were Sunni Arabs and others in senior positions. Similarly, it was possible to find non-Sunnis and non-Arabs among the rebels. But the core dynamic was one in which the dictator relied, ultimately, on the support of his sect. The Shabiha, Alawi thugs and criminals, who would later be organized by the Iranians into a well-drilled militia, were crucial to the regime's survival from the start. Alawi-dominated military units – the special forces, the Republican Guard, the 4th Armored Division – were also relied upon from the outset when the large formations of Sunni conscripts were of doubtful loyalty.

The rebellion, similarly, emerged from the 60 percent Sunni-Arab majority of the country. In the course of 2012 and 2013, the sectarian logic of the war became increasingly inescapable. It was marked by the emergence of new and powerful formations that would play a crucial role. In the summer of 2012, Assad carried out a strategic withdrawal from a large swathe of Syria's northern border with Turkey. The withdrawal was itself dictated by sectarian logic. Assad was short of manpower. Because of his regime's narrow base, it had become clear that he did not have sufficient men to hold the entirety of a country largely in revolt against him. This fateful decision, made out of urgent necessity, began the process of fragmentation that is now very advanced in Syria. In the course of 2012 and 2013, the country effectively separated into a number of enclaves that survive to this day.

YPG fighters at a front line position in Ras al Ain (Sere Kaniyeh), Hasakeh Province, Syria, March 2013.

The regime held on to Damascus and the western coastal areas, and the road links between them. The Sunni rebels and Islamists had the east and south. The local franchise of the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), known as the PYD (Democratic Union Party), established itself as the de facto ruler of three non-contiguous Kurdish enclaves stretching along the Syrian-Turkish border. Their formidable Kurdish YPG militia emerged as one of the most powerful of the military organizations, which now divided control of the territory of Syria between them. The emergence of the Kurdish enclaves was further testimony to the sectarian dynamic now underlying the war.

The rise of extreme Salafi Islamist groups from the womb of the rebellion confirmed the trend. On January 23, 2012, the foundation of the Jabhat an-Nusra li-Ahl ash-Shām (Support Front for the People of the Levant) was announced. Usually shortened to Jabhat al-Nusra, this was the official franchise of the al-Qaida network in Syria. Led by Sheikh Muhammad al-Julani it quickly gained a reputation for military effectiveness and particular ruthlessness. Then, in May 2013, in the course of a dispute between the Nusra leadership and the leadership of the Iraqi franchise of al-Qaida, a faction began operating in Syria under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, or ISIL). Little noticed at the time, this jihadi group was set to transform the Syrian conflict, and then the region.

I entered Syria for reporting purposes on numerous occasions during that period. Amid the chaos and suffering, it was possible to discern that something extraordinary was taking place. The state structures that had existed since the early 20th century in this area – "Syria" and later "Iraq" were effectively ceasing to exist.

The author and a YPG fighter, at a position west of Kobani, March, 2014.

The old borders did not deter the military groups. Journalists crossed "illegally" with rebel assistance. Sometimes the crossings were lengthy and perilous affairs. But, more often, the border was hardly noticed, fictionalized. What had appeared at the beginning to be a war of a populace against a brutal dictatorship turned out to be something else entirely. The walls of the prison-house states of Syria and Iraq had been breached. New and unfamiliar entities were making war among the ruins.

In the Turkish border town of Kielis, in the early summer of 2014, I interviewed two ISIS members. I had just crossed back from Syria, after visiting the besieged Kurdish Kobani enclave.

At a place called Haj Ismail, a few days previously, comrades of the two men I met in Kielis had been shooting at me while I was interviewing a YPG commander at a forward position. The ISIS positions were about 200 meters away, across a flat, blank landscape. The firing began and I ran after the fighters as they raced for a machine-gun position behind some sandbags to return fire. It was a routine incident along a tense section of frontline. But it was passingly strange to be sitting in a room chatting and drinking tea with the men on the other side of the lines, just two days later.

The two men called themselves Abu Muhammad and Abu Nur. They were both Syrians. "If ISIS falls, you can forget about Sunni people in Syria," Abu Muhammad told me, after relating the story of his own long journey to the jihadi organization. The men were animated by a strange combination of local sectarianism and vast, millennial hostility to the West. The two fitted seamlessly together and the power of their combination was evident in the rapid growth of ISIS and the bloodthirsty fanaticism of its fighters.

As for the movement's goal, Abu Nur spoke about it with reverence. 'We want the caliphate, something old and new, from the time of Muhammad. The Europeans came here and created false borders. We want to break these borders." ISIS, in other words, was emerging directly from the reality of the Levant in 2014.

The situation, indeed, was becoming increasingly clear. As my friend Mahmoud, a onetime teacher turned political analyst and a supporter of the rebels bluntly expressed it, "In Syria, today, there are three groups worth mentioning. ISIS, the regime and the Kurds. Nothing else."

The reality of fragmentation and sectarian war burst across the borders a few months after that interview with the astonishing advance of ISIS into Iraq. By August, the jihadis had reached the gates of Baghdad and Erbil. They were stopped only after the entry of US air power into the fray.

The advance of ISIS into Iraq brought the logic of the Syrian war into the larger neighboring country. In the dramatic and terrifying events around Sinjar Mountain that summer ‒ the harrowing attempt at the genocide of the Yazidi people ‒the sheer savagery of the Sunni jihadis was laid bare. Here was a horror that defied description. But, while the singling out of the Yazidis carried with it a special evil, the Assad regime remained responsible for, by far, the largest number of the deaths in Syria.

The situation today retains the essential contours that emerged in mid-2014. The Syrian war has metastasized across borders. As a result, neither Syria, nor Iraq, nor indeed Lebanon any longer constitute states in the usually understood sense of that word. Rather, the entire vast landscape between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea is, today, divided up between various political-military organizations and arrangements, almost exclusively organized along religious sectarian or ethnic lines.

They vary in orientation from the radical secularism and socialist outlook of the Syrian Kurds in autonomous "Rojava" to the murderous and apocalyptic Sunni jihadism of the Islamic State.

Along the way, one may find the Iran-oriented Shi'ite Islamism of Hezbollah and the Shi'ite militias of Iraq, the pro-Western, tribal conservatism of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, and various types of Sunni Islamism in the poorly governed wastelands of the Syrian-Sunni rebels.

The war has, of course, also impacted far beyond the Middle East itself. The US and the West have staunchly sought to keep their involvement to a minimum. But, today, Western air power and special forces are playing a key role in the effort to reduce and destroy the Islamic State.

Further west, the Russian intervention after September 2015 almost certainly saved the Assad regime from destruction and reversed the course of the war. Currently, there are peace negotiations in Geneva and a fitfully observed cease-fire.

But the cease-fire relates only to the original war in Syria (regime vs. rebels). It doesn't impact on the other conflicts that emerged from its womb (YPG/SDF against ISIS, rebels against Kurds, KRG and Iraq against ISIS, Turks against PKK, regime against ISIS.

The bombings in Brussels on March 22 are the latest demonstration of the far reach of the war. What began with demonstrations by schoolchildren in Dera'a has now turned into a process of flux and convulsion of historic proportion.

A Yazidi refugee girl rescued from Sinjar Mountain, Newroz refugee camp, northern Syria, August 2014.

I think of the Syrian war, and my mind is filled once more with memories of astonishing vividness: The deep blue of the sky during a barrel bombing of the Sha'ar neighborhood in Aleppo, in the scorching summer of 2012. YPG fighters crossing the Tigris River in dinghies by night, in dead silence. The swishing of the water, the stars reflected in it and the blank expanse ahead. A hospital for Kurdish fighters in Derik, in summer 2014, filled with men wounded in the fight to open the corridor to Sinjar Mountain and the trapped Yazidis. Very dark-skinned Ktaeb Hezbollah militiamen at a frontline position just east of Ramadi city in Iraq in July 2015. The ghost-like figures of ISIS men, in black, running quickly past a gap in their defensive position. The first rebels, in Idlib Province, with hope, long since lost. The Yazidi refugees, just down from Sinjar, at the Newroz refugee camp in summer 2014, their exhausted, haunted eyes and the black horror of the things they described.

We are left with the bare facts behind all this – facts with which the policymaking echelon in the West has only just begun to grapple. The prison-house states are broken to pieces. The forces released from their ruins are swirling and clashing across the region and heading beyond it. Syria has become one of the hinges upon which regional and global events turn. The reputations of great powers, global and regional, are being made and broken among its ruins. It is war, and madness. And it is far from over.

Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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Exclamation Saudi Arabia Uncovered (World Premier)

Saudi Arabia Uncovered (World Premier)

Old 05-05-2016, 02:57 PM
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Exclamation Our Hatred of Jews Has Poisoned Us

Egyptian-German Scholar Hamed Abdel-Samad:
Our Hatred of Jews Has Poisoned Us

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Old 05-10-2016, 06:24 PM
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Arrow Bin Laden's Son Urges Faithful to Slaughter Jews

Bin Laden's Son Urges Faithful to Slaughter Jews

One of Usama bin Laden’s sons urged Muslims to attack Jewish and Western interests and suggested creating a mega-army to attack Jerusalem, in a video released Monday.

In the video, which was created between January and February 2016 and distributed by Al Qaeda supporters, Hamza bin Laden praises the escalating violence by Palestinians against Israelis and calls on Muslims to continue “killing the Jews and attacking their interests everywhere," according to the Middle East Media Research Institute's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor.

Bin Laden adds that those who support Jews, such as the U.S. and Europe, "must pay the bill in their blood.” He also suggests launching a massive Syrian-based army in order to "defend" Jerusalem from the Jewish people, as he put it.

"We must remember that the road to liberating Palestine today is much closer than the one that existed before the blessed Syrian revolution,” Bin Laden says. “Thus, the Muslim Ummah must focus its attention on the jihad in Syria.”

Bin Laden ordered Muslim men to defend their female counterparts from Jews, who he claims were murdering women in cold blood. He also said Muslims should wage jihad for control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a contested holy site in Jerusalem that was historically used by Jews and Muslims.
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Exclamation How Terrorists and Dictators Silence Arab Journalists

How Terrorists and Dictators Silence Arab Journalists
by Khaled Abu Toameh
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Exclamation Israel, Gaza and "Proportionality"

Israel, Gaza and "Proportionality"
by Louis René Beres
May 19, 2016
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Exclamation The Sykes-Picot Agreement Has Failed; It Is Time To Establish A Kurdish State

May 23, 2016
Special Dispatch No.6444

Kurdish President Barzani:
The Sykes-Picot Agreement Has Failed; It Is Time To Establish A Kurdish State

In a statement on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, called on the international community to acknowledge that the Sykes-Picot agreement has failed. Barzani said that this agreement, which disregarded the makeup of the region and the will of its peoples, was a great injustice perpetrated against these peoples, especially against the Kurds. For the Kurds of Iraq, he said, it resulted in 100 years of discrimination and atrocities perpetrated against them by the various Iraqi regimes. Barzani stressed that, despite this, for 100 years these Kurds did their best to protect the integrity of the Iraqi state. But today, the countries of the region and the world at large must not allow the tragedy to continue, but must allow the peoples of Iraq to determine their political future. Barzani called for a serious dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil to reach a new solution. "If partnership cannot be achieved, let us be brothers and good neighbors," he said.

The following are excerpts from the English version of his statement, as published on the official website of the Kurdistan Region Presidency.[1]

Masoud Barazani (image:

"Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement. This agreement led to the carving up of the region following the First World War, disregarding the opinion of the peoples of the region and of the geographical reality in the region. It was a great injustice on the peoples of the region, especially the Kurds.

"The consequences of this agreement were first and foremost detrimental to the people of Kurdistan in the state of Iraq. An Iraqi state that was originally established to be based on partnership between Kurds and Arabs, in fact decided to marginalize the Kurds. Successive Iraqi regimes have since denied Kurds their rights and have committed great tragedies against the Kurdish people. The share of the Kurdish people in this partnership has been the murder and deportation of 12,000 young Faili Kurds, the murder of 8,000 Barzanis, the murder and disappearance of 182,000 Kurds in Garmiyan area and elsewhere, the chemical bombardment of Halabja, the destruction of 4,500 Kurdish villages, the Arabization of Kurdish areas, and countless other injustices.

"After the uprising of 1991, the people of Kurdistan opted to open a new chapter with the state of Iraq, and refrained from retaliation against their perpetrators. But this too was futile as the then Iraqi government continued its oppressive policies against the Kurdish people.

"After the fall of the Ba’ath regime in 2003, the people of Kurdistan decided to return to Baghdad and to help build a new Iraq by the drafting of new constitution that guaranteed the principles of genuine partnership, democracy, and federalism. Instead, Iraqi governments have since disregarded the constitution, reneged on their commitments, ignored partnership, and decided to cut the Kurdistan Region’s budget share...

"For all intents and purposes, today Iraq is a divided country along sectarian lines. In Iraq, in Syria, and many other countries, Daesh has rendered borders meaningless, and new borders have been created. The people of Kurdistan are not responsible for this in Iraq. The responsibility lies with those who carved up the region one hundred years ago, and with the flawed policies of the rulers of the region who have wanted to maintain stability by the use of force, violence, and oppression. In this, they have failed.

"In the last one hundred years, the people of Kurdistan have tried their best to protect the territorial integrity of a genuine state of Iraq, but to no avail. I would be thankful to anyone to come forward and tell us what more the Kurdish people could have done to protect the unity of Iraq. To prevent war, instability, and more tragedy, the Sykes-Picot agreement must be revised. The people of Iraq cannot any longer tolerate war, disagreement and extremism. We cannot continue with more tragedy and insist on a one-hundred-year-old arrangement that has demonstrably failed. The international community and regional countries must understand that in order to end the tragedies of Iraq, we must take into account the makeup of the country, and leave it to the peoples of Iraq to determine their political future. On the future of the Kurds in other parts, they must each seek their solutions through peace and dialogue, and based on their special circumstances.

"We must acknowledge the new realities; citizenship has not been developed; borders and sovereignty have become meaningless, the Sykes-Picot agreement is over. The international community must shoulder this historical responsibility and instead of insisting on the continuation of the suffering of the people of Iraq, they must seek a real solution for Iraq and the region. Otherwise, we are destined for continued war, extremism, and tragedy, and international peace and security will be under threat...

"On this hundredth anniversary of Sykes-Picot agreement, I call for a serious dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to reach a new solution. If partnership cannot be achieved, let us be brothers and good neighbors.

"If political parties in the Kurdistan Region, for whatever reasons, decide not to shoulder this historic responsibility to act, the people will make their decision, and the people’s decision will be stronger and more legitimate. I am confident that the people of Kurdistan will make the right decision."

[1], May 16, 2016.

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Old 07-10-2016, 09:11 PM
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Exclamation The Arabs' Historic Mistakes in Their Interactions with Israel

The Arabs' Historic Mistakes in Their Interactions with Israel
by Fred Maroun
July 10, 2016

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Old 07-31-2016, 04:48 PM
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Exclamation Memo To Obama:

Memo To Obama:
ISIS Is A Symptom, Not The Problem
By: Mitchel G. Bard

A lot has been made of the president’s irrational refusal to say that radical Muslims are responsible for the terrorist attacks they commit. He has rationalized that the semantics don’t matter, and argues that he does not want to create the perception that we are in a war with Islam, even as Muslim states openly engage in a war against these extremists.

Obama is wrong, misleading the American people and sewing confusion as to the threat we are confronting.

Obama talks about terrorists like they’re misguided youths who need more time with community organizers such as the young Barack Obama. The journalist Jeffrey Goldberg noted that instead of being engaged in a clash of civilizations, “Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.”

This view is not just mistaken, it is dangerously inaccurate, and reflects his complete misunderstanding of the objectives of radical Muslims and their reading of the Koran. They believe the Koran requires them to engage in a holy war against the infidels (which includes Muslims they consider apostates), until their brand of Islam becomes universally recognized as the one true religion.

Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are fighting a war against religious zealots, tens of thousands, if not millions of them, and, those we kill will be replaced by others equally willing to die for what they believe Allah expects.

This is why the current obsession with ISIS is dangerous. If we wiped them off the earth tomorrow, our problem with radical Islam would not disappear. Obama tried to convince us that killing Osama bin Laden “decimated” al Qaeda, even though offshoots of the group continue to be a threat today. He was even more dismissive of ISIS, which he dismissed as a “JV team” just after the group captured Fallujah.

Obama’s naiveté, to give him the benefit of the doubt, was on display even earlier when he supported the takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, the inspiration for many of today’s Muslim extremist groups.

Then, of course, there is the radical Muslim regime in Iran with whom Obama signed the disastrous nuclear agreement that failed to contain any safeguards against Iran’s sponsorship of terror. Obama even tried to sell the snake oil notion that Iran’s behavior would change thanks to his diplomacy that was so brilliant he abandoned many of his most important demands. Obama could believe his own fantasy because of his refusal to recognize that Iran’s leaders are radical Muslims whose goal is world domination by the word and the sword of Allah.

Consequently, following the fanfare over concluding the nuclear deal, Iran’s leaders continued their public denunciations of the United States, escalated their ballistic missile program, increased support for terrorists, challenged the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, tested new, more powerful centrifuges, and tried to secretly buy nuclear technology from Germany.

If only Obama and other Western leaders had a scintilla of knowledge about Muslim history, perhaps they would understand what we are up against. In 1909, for example, the British Vice Consul in Mosul, wrote: “The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.”

This is what radical Muslims have in mind for the infidels. They want to return to the days of the Islamic Empire when much of the world was dominated by Muslim rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is caricatured as a paranoid hysteric, but he knows that Jews are among the first targets of the extremists. Islamists have repeatedly made clear their animosity toward Jews and Judaism ( Back in 1937, Saudi Arabia’s King Ibn Saud ( declared: “Our hatred for the Jews dates from God’s condemnation of them for their persecution and rejection of Isa [Jesus] and their subsequent rejection of His chosen Prophet [Muhammad].”

He added “that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew ensures him an immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of God Almighty.”

There are hundreds more recent quotes along these lines, such as the statement by Saudi cleric Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid, who said in May, “The Jews are among the enemies of [Islam]. In fact, they are at the top of the list…. the Prophet Muhammad clarified that our war with them will continue until the end of time.”

Obama is wrong in his belief that we are not in a war with radical Islam, but he is correct in the view that we cannot defeat the religious extremists on our own. Ultimately, it is up to Muslims to rise up against them. As Muslim author Irshad Manji put it:

“If Muslims claim that we are against violence, why aren’t we demonstrating in the streets against suicide bombings? Why is it so much easier to draw us into protest against a French ban on the hijab, but next to impossible to exorcise ourselves about slavery, stonings and suicide killings? Where’s our collective conscience?”

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Old 08-17-2016, 11:18 PM
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Exclamation Why Israel Can't Withdraw To Its Pre '67 Borders Line

Why Israel Can't Withdraw To Its Pre '67 Borders Line

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Old 09-18-2016, 10:13 PM
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Exclamation Lebanon's Hatred of Israel

Lebanon's Hatred of Israel
A Symptom of Dysfunction
by Fred Maroun

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