Category Archives: Jordan

A Peace Package for the Middle East

Three highly-dangerous Middle East problems — Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the bloody civil war in Syria, and the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict — pose a grave challenge to President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team of John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defence and John Brennan at the CIA, notes Patrick Seale.

Three highly-dangerous Middle East problems — Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the bloody civil war in Syria, and the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict — pose a grave challenge to President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team of John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defence and John Brennan at the CIA. America’s vital interests in the Middle East, its political reputation, its ability to project power and influence are intimately tied up with the way it deals — or fails to deal — with these problems. So what advice might one be bold enough to give to President Obama and his team?

Each of these three problems is profoundly destabilising for the region as a whole and risks triggering a war of unpredictable consequences. Taken separately, each of them has so far defied resolution. One suggestion is that tackling them as a package might prove more effective.

Consider, for a moment, how closely inter-connected they are. No one is more concerned than Israel about Iran’s nuclear programme, which it sees as a threat to its military supremacy and ultimately to its security. It fears that a nuclear capable Iran would restrict the freedom — which Israel has enjoyed for decades — to strike its neighbours at will, when they seem threatening.

Iran, however, does not stand alone. Its fate is closely linked to that of Syria, its principal regional ally. Syria has also been the most ardent champion of Palestinian rights and of Lebanon’s freedom from Israeli control. Indeed, the so-called ‘resistance axis’ of Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hizballah has sought to deter or contain Israeli attacks while challenging U.S.-Israeli hegemony in the Levant.

Needless to say, Syria’s calamitous civil war has gravely weakened the resistance axis. Israel’s dearest hope is to destroy what remains of it by urging the United States and its allies to bring down the Tehran and the Damascus regimes, thus freeing Israel from any constraint from these powers in its relentless drive for a ‘Greater Israel’.

It can thus be seen that Iran’s nuclear programme, Syria’s existential crisis and Israel’s land hunger are inextricably linked. Attempts to deal with these problems separately have so far failed. The obvious conclusion is that they may be better dealt with as a package. These are not marginal problems which can be left to fester. If the United States wishes to protect itself, its interests and its allies in a highly turbulent environment it must make a supreme effort to resolve them.

Moreover, this is a unique moment: President Obama has been re-elected for a second term. His political authority has been enhanced. The world is looking to him for leadership. Although many other foreign policy problems clamour for his attention — the rising colossus of China first among them — he knows that the Middle East, for all its maddening complexity, latent violence, and the current resurgence of Al-Qaeda, not least in Syria, cannot be ignored.

He should consider the possibility of a trade-off between Iran’s nuclear programme and a Palestinian state. The proposal is simple enough: If Iran were to agree — under strict international supervision — to give up, once and for all, its ambition to become a nuclear-capable state, Israel would, in exchange, agree to the establishment of an independent Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem. The exact terms of the trade-off would evidently need negotiation and refinement, but the main lines and necessary mutual concessions of an Israeli-Palestinian deal have been extensively debated and are widely known.

Such a bargain between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is not as far-fetched or as fictional as it may sound. Iran has boxed itself into a corner. It knows that the United States will not allow it to become a nuclear power. It wants a dignified exit from its present predicament and an end to crippling sanctions. Israel, in turn, faces international isolation — not to speak of the permanent threat of terrorism — if it insists on stealing what remains of the West Bank. It, too, needs a dignified exit from the insanity of its fanatical settlers and religious nationalists who, if unchecked, would condemn Israel to pariah status and permanent war. A trade-off would resolve two of the region’s most intractable problems to the great benefit of everyone concerned. Peace and normal relations with the entire Muslim world would be Israel’s very substantial reward.

What about Syria? It lies at the very heart of the regional power system. Its on-going civil war is threatening to destabilise its neighbours — Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Israel itself will not be immune. Islamist fighters, some linked to Al-Qaeda, are flowing into Syria, while refugees are fleeing out to neighbouring states in very large numbers. The toll of dead and wounded is heavy, material destruction great and human misery incalculable.

It is by now abundantly clear that there is no military solution to the conflict: Neither the regime nor its opponents can hope to win an outright victory. No outside power wants to intervene militarily. Yet the regime and its enemies are incapable of negotiating an end to the conflict without outside help.

What should the international community do? First, the United States and Russia (with active support from other powers) should join together in imposing a ceasefire on both sides of the conflict. This could involve deploying an international force around Syria’s borders to prevent the inflow of fighters, weapons, and other military equipment to both government and rebels.

Secondly, major external powers — Arab, Western, Chinese, Russian and others — should solemnly pledge to contribute to a Syria Reconstruction Fund of some $10bn-$15bn. The money would be entrusted to the World Bank and disbursed only when a permanent ceasefire is in place and when some clear progress is made towards a negotiated settlement. The existence of the Fund will provide a real incentive.

Thirdly, the United Nations Secretary General, with unanimous backing from the Security Council, should summon a conference of national reconciliation in Damascus attended by regime representatives as well as by all Syrian factions, groups, parties and prominent individuals prepared to renounce war.

The task will not be easy. The wounds of the conflict are very deep. But for the sake of Syria and its neighbours — for the sake of peace in the region — a supreme effort must be made to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and its possible fragmentation. The difficult task will be to reshape Syria’s political system on democratic lines. Political freedoms will have to be guaranteed, individual rights respected, police brutality ended, the rule of law observed, government services restored and minorities protected. An essential goal must be the preservation of the Syrian Arab army as the indispensable institution of the state. In Iraq, it was the disbanding of the army which led to the collapse of the state, triggering the catastrophic civil war from which the country has yet to recover.

If Barack Obama were to adopt the programme outlined above and throw his full weight behind it, his place in history as a great peacemaker would be assured.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).

The Syrian Spillover.

Is anyone prepared for the unintended consequences of the war for Syria? |

The Syrian civil war has gone from bad to worse, with casualties mounting and horrors multiplying. Civil wars like Syria’s are obviously tragedies for the countries they consume, but they can also be catastrophes for their neighbors. Long-lasting and bloody civil wars often overflow their borders, spreading war and misery.

In 2006, as Iraq spiraled downward into the depths of intercommunal carnage, we conducted a study of spillover from recent civil wars in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere in order to identify patterns in how conflicts spread across borders. Since then, Iraq itself, along with Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, have furnished additional examples of how dangerous spillover can be. For instance, weapons from Libya have empowered fighters in Mali who have seized large swathes of that country, while al Qaeda-linked terrorists exploiting the chaos in Yemen launched nearly successful terrorist attacks on the United States.

Spillover is once again in the news as the conflict in Syria evinces the same dangerous patterns. Thousands of refugees are streaming across the border into Turkey as Ankara looks warily at Kurdish groups using Northern Syria for safe haven. Growing refugee communities are causing strain in Jordan and Lebanon. Meanwhile, the capture of 48 Iranians, who may be paramilitary specialists, could pull Tehran further into the conflict. Israel eyes developments in Syria warily, remembering repeated wars and concern over the country’s massive chemical weapons arsenal. For the United States, these developments are particularly important because spillover from the civil war could threaten America’s vital interests far more than a war contained within Syria’s borders.

Of course, much will depend on how exactly this spillover plays out — and certainly no one yet knows what will happen in the wildly unpredictable war for control of Syria. But if past informs present, the intensity of the war effect typically correlates strongly to the intensity of the spillover, often with devastating consequences. At their worst, civil wars in one country can cause civil wars in neighboring states or can metastasize into regional war. And it’s the severity of the spillover that should dictate the appropriate response.

There are five archetypal patterns of spillover from civil wars.

Refugees: Spillover often starts with refugees. Whenever there is conflict, civilians flee to safety. The sad truth about civil wars is that often civilians are targets: Without clear front lines and when “enemy combatants” can be any young male who can pick up a gun, the danger is clear. So the goal of the warring armies is often to kill as many of the other side’s civilians as possible or at least drive them from their homes. To avoid the rapine and economic devastation that accompany these kinds of conflicts, whole communities often flee to a foreign country or become displaced within their borders, as more than a million Syrians have.

In addition to their own misery, refugees can create serious — even devastating — problems for the nations hosting them. The plight of Palestinian refugees and their impact on Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria since 1948 is a case in point, contributing to instability in their host countries, international terrorism, and wars between Israel and its neighbors.

Beyond this, refugees can often become carriers of conflict. Angry and demoralized refugee populations represent ideal recruitment pools for the warring armies; the Taliban have drawn from angry young Afghan refugees raised in Pakistan, offering them a chance for vengeance and power. Indeed, refugee camps frequently become bases to rest, plan, and stage combat operations back into the country from which the refugees fled. For instance, the camps set up in the Democratic Republic of Congo after Rwanda’s genocide quickly became a base of operations for fleeing Hutu rebels to regroup.

Terrorism: Many civil wars have become breeding grounds for particularly noxious terrorist groups, while others have created hospitable sanctuaries for existing groups to train, recruit, and mount operations — at times against foes entirely unconnected to the war itself. The Palestine Liberation Organization, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers, and al Qaeda, to name only a few, all trace their origins to intercommunal wars.

Today, after years of punishing U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, al Qaeda’a core is weak, but its offshoots remain strong in countries wracked by internal conflict such as Yemen and Somalia. The most recent flare-up is in Mali, where fighters fleeing Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya fled with arms looted from his arsenals, and have seized parts of Mali, in some areas even imposing a draconian form of Islamic law. While there had been intermittent rebellions in Northern Mali for years, the civil war in Libya vastly increased the capability of the rebels and created a worse terrorism problem for the region, andpotentially for the world.

These terrorist groups rarely remain confined by the country’s borders. Some will nest among refugee populations, launching attacks back into the country in civil war, and inviting attack against the refugee populations hosting them. In other cases, terrorists may decide that neighboring regimes or a segment of a neighboring society are aiding their adversaries and attack them to try to scare them into stopping their assistance.

Terrorists often start by flowing toward civil wars, but later begin flowing away from them. Jihadists first went to Afghanistan to fight in that civil war in the 1980s but by the 1990s began using it as a base to launch attacks against other countries — including, of course, the United States on 9/11.

Secessionism: As the Balkan countries demonstrated in the 1990s, seemingly triumphant secessionist bids can set off a domino effect. Slovenia’s declaration of independence inspired Croatia, which prompted Bosnia to do the same, which encouraged Macedonia, and then Kosovo. Strife and conflict followed all of these declarations.

Sometimes it is the desire of one subgroup within a state to break away that triggers the civil war in the first place. In other cases, different groups vie for control of the state, but as the fighting drags on, one or more groups may decide that their only recourse is to secede. At times, a minority comfortable under the old regime may fear discrimination from a new government. The South Ossetians, for example, accepted Russian rule but rebelled when Georgia broke off from the Soviet Union, as they feared they would face discrimination in the new Georgian state. After Russia helped South Ossetia defeat the Georgian forces that tried to re-conquer the area in 1991-1992, the next domino fell when ethnic Abkhaz also rebelled and created their own independent area in 1991-1992. The frozen conflict that resulted from this civil war finally burst into an international shooting war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008.

Radicalization: One of the most ineffable but also one of the most potent manifestations of spillover is the tendency for a civil war in one country to galvanize and radicalize neighboring populations. They regularly radicalize neighboring populations when a group in a neighboring state identifies with a related group caught up in the civil war across the border. These tribal, ethnic, and sectarian feelings always predate the conflict, but the outbreak of war among the same groups just across the border makes them tangible and immediate — giving them a reason to hate neighbors and resent their own government.

They may demand that their government or community leaders act to support one side or another. Alternatively, they may agitate for harsh actions in their own countries against groups they see as sympathizing with the enemy side over the border. Thus, the Iraqi civil war of 2005-2007 galvanized Sunnis in Egypt, Jordan, the Maghreb, and the Persian Gulf states both to demand that their own governments do more to support the Iraqi Sunni groups and (at least in the Gulf) to demand harsher treatment of their own Shiite populations.

At its most dangerous, this aspect of spillover can contribute to civil wars next door. The Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 prompted the Syrian Sunnis to launch their own civil war against Bashar al-Assad’s father in 1976, a conflict that only ended with the horrific massacre of 20,000-40,000 people at Hama in 1982.

Intervention: But perhaps the most dangerous form of spillover is when neighboring states intervene in a civil war, transforming a local conflict into a regional one. Perversely, the goal is often to diminish the risks of spillover such as terrorism and radicalization. But it can take many forms: intervening in a limited fashion either to shut down the civil war, to help one side win, or just to eliminate the source of the spillover. Occasionally, a neighboring state will see a civil war as an opportunity to grab some long coveted resource or territory.

Typically, even limited intervention by a regional power only makes the problem worse. Countries get tied to “clients” within the civil war and end up doubling down on their support for them. They assume that “just a little more” will turn the tide in their favor. Worse still, they can see neighborhood rivals intervening in the civil war and feel compelled to do the same to prevent their enemy from making gains. So when Rwanda and Uganda intervened in Congo in the mid-1990s to drive the genocidaires out of the refugee camps and topple the hostile regime in Kinshasa that supported them, so too did Angola, which sought to block them. As the conflict wore on, several powers tried to carve out buffer zones where their preferred proxies would rule — and where they could grab some of Congo’s abundant natural resources. Seven of Congo’s neighbors ended up intervening, turning the Congolese civil war into what became known as “Africa’s World War.”

At its worst, this pattern can produce direct conflict between the intervening states over the carcass of the country in civil war. Syria first intervened in Lebanon in 1975 to end the radicalization of its own Sunni population. But the Syrians soon found that diplomacy, covert action, and support to various proxy groups were inadequate and reluctantly launched a full-scale invasion the following year. For its part, Israel suffered from terrorism emanating from the Lebanese civil war and covertly supported its own proxies, launched targeted counterterrorism operations, and even limited military incursions, before deciding in 1982 to invade to try to impose a single (friendly) government in Beirut. The result was a conventional war between Israel and Syria fought in Lebanon. But even winning did little for Israel. Thirty years later — 18 in painful occupation of southern Lebanon — Israel still faces a terrorism problem from Lebanon, and the Jewish state’s nemesis, Hezbollah, born of the Israeli invasion, dominates Lebanese politics.

Bad Signs in Syria

Our 2006 study also examined the factors that lead to the worst forms of spillover. They include ethnic, religious, and other “identity” groups that are in both the country caught in civil war and its neighbors; neighboring states that share the same ethno-religious divides being fought over by the country in civil war; fragile regimes in the neighboring states; porous borders; and a history of violence between the neighbors.

Unfortunately, Syria and its neighbors exhibit precisely these traits, explaining why we are already seeing the typical patterns of spillover from the Syrian civil war, and why spillover from the conflict could get much worse.

The Syrian conflict has produced more than 120,000 officially registered refugees, but the real figure is closer to 300,000. Turkey has 43,000 registered refugees from Syria and probably more than 25,000 that have not registered. The Turks believe that the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a separatist Kurdish terrorist group, is using this population to infiltrate Turkey to launch a new violent bid for independence. Ankara is convinced that PKK fighters allied with the Alawite regime have taken control of parts of Syria, particularly in ethnically Kurdish areas of the country. In response, Turkey is aggressively enforcing the sanctity of its border even as it assists Syrian refugees who are taking the fight back home. Public opinion in Turkey is strongly anti-Assad, and popular frustration grows as Ankara seems unable to stem the violence.

Iraq is already struggling to avoid sliding back into its own civil war. It doesn’t need any pushing from Syria, but that is just what it is getting. Iraqi Sunnis identify wholeheartedly with their Syrian brethren whom they see as fighting against a Shiite-dominated government backed by Iran — which they see as an exact parallel with their own circumstances. External support to the Syrian opposition from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni Arab governments is reportedly flowing through the Sunni tribes of Western Iraq, many of which span the Syrian border. This support appears to be an important cause of the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq and the worsening sectarian violence there. The Iraqi regime (rightly) claims that it is fighting the same terrorists that the Alawite Syrian regime is struggling with on the other side of the border. As the Alawites are a splinter of Shiism, the growing cooperation between Damascus and Shiite-dominated Baghdad is feeding Sunni fears of a grand Shiite alliance led by Iran. All of this conjures a self-fulfilling prophecy about sectarian war.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds are now contemplating a bid for independence in a way that they haven’t for many years. Key Kurdish leaders, including Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, have concluded that they cannot work with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — whom they routinely brand as a “Shiite Saddam.” And they increasingly believe that Turkey might eventually be persuaded to support such a bid. This makes whatever happens with Syria’s Kurds of particular importance. Indeed, Barzani and the Turks are wrestling against the PKK and the Syrian regime for the loyalty of Syria’s Kurds, who might well attempt to declare independence, putting pressure on Iraq’s Kurds to do the same.

Lebanon may be suffering the worst so far. It is inundated with Syrian refugees — 30,000 have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but the latest spike in violence probably added at least another 10,000 — a number the tiny country simply cannot handle. The Syrian conflict is tearing at the seams of Lebanon’s already fragmented politics. Its Sunnis champion the Syrian opposition while Shiite Hezbollah backs the Syrian regime, provoking gunfights in the streets of Beirut and Tripoli. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is reportedly funneling arms to the Syrian opposition through Sunni groups in Lebanon and opposition groups are building bases in Lebanon, triggering reprisal attacks by Syrian regime forces and their Hezbollah allies.

So far, Jordan has escaped relatively unscathed, but that may not last. Amman already faces huge challenges from its Palestinian and Iraqi refugee populations, and now refugees from Syria have begun to flow in (almost 40,000 officially at last count, but other sources put the number closer to 140,000). Syrian army and Jordanian border patrol forces have clashed as the Jordanians have tried to help Syrian refugees. Moreover, many Jordanians, including not only those of Palestinian descent but also the monarchy’s more traditional supporters, have lost patience with King Abdullah II’s endless unfulfilled promises of reform triggering rioting and terrorism there unrelated to Syria’s troubles. More refugees, terrorism, and a further radicalized population could be more than the Hashemite Kingdom can take.

Remarkably, Israel has gotten off scot-free, so far. While we can all hope that will last, it would be foolish to insist blindly that it will.

The longer the civil war in Syria lasts, the more likely it is that the spillover will get worse. And it’s possible this war could drag on for months, even years. The United States and other powerful countries have shown no inclination to intervene to snuff out the conflict. Within Syria, both the regime and the opposition have shown themselves too powerful to be defeated but too weak to triumph. The war has also left the country awash in arms, so any new government will face a daunting task unifying and rebuilding the country. Most ominously, the opposition is badly divided, so victory against Assad might simply mean a shift to new rounds of combat among the various opposition groups, just as Afghanistan’s mujahideen fell to slaughtering one another even before they finished off the Soviet-backed regime there in 1992.

In the best case, the current problems will deepen but not explode. Refugee flows will increase and impose an ever greater burden on their host countries, but the stress won’t cause any to collapse. Terrorism will continue and more innocent people will die, but it won’t tear apart any of the neighboring states. And, from the narrow perspective of U.S. interests, the violence would remain focused within Syria rather than becoming regional, let alone global. Various groups — starting with the Iraqi Kurds — will continue to flirt with secession and other tensions will simmer, but none of these factors will boil over. The neighbors will provide some forms of support to various groups within Syria without crossing any Rubicons. Overall, the Middle East will get worse but won’t immolate.

This best case is not very good, and unfortunately it’s also not the most likely. Worse scenarios seem more plausible. The fragility of Lebanon and Iraq in particular leaves them vulnerable to new civil wars of their own. It might be hard, but it is not impossible to envision a regional war growing from the Syrian morass. Turkey seems like the primary candidate to up its involvement in Syria. Fears that Kurdish secessionism may spread, mounting criticism that the regime is ignoring atrocities next door, or a risky belief that Ankara could tip the balance in favor of one faction over another might eventually lead the Turks to intervene militarily — grudgingly and in a limited fashion at first, of course. If the plight of the Assad regime worsens, and if the Turks are heavily engaged, Iran might press Baghdad to increase its direct support of the Alawites and step up its own aid. Baghdad will be reluctant, but it might feel more inclined to do so if the Turks continue to support the Iraqi Kurds in their fight with the central government and if worsening internal divisions in Iraq — doubtless exacerbated by spillover from Syria — leave the Maliki government even more dependent on Iranian support.

An embattled Alawite regime — especially one facing ever greater Turkish intervention — might opt to employ its chemical warfare arsenal or, alternatively, amp up terrorist attacks on Israel to try to turn its civil war into an Arab-Israeli conflict, a development that could turn public and regional opinion in favor of the regime and discredit Assad’s opponents. Under those circumstances, Israel might mount limited military operations into Syria to take out its chemical weapons caches or terrorist bases, which no doubt would have repercussions among Syria’s neighbors and Arab states in general.

So far, the humanitarian nightmares of Syria have evinced little more than pity from the American people and only modest aid from their government. After a decade-plus of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is justifiably deep ambivalence about new military commitments in the Middle East. Stories of the humanitarian nightmares of Syria have evinced little more than pity from the American people. This creates a dilemma for the Obama administration and concerned Americans as they watch Syria burn: They have no interest in getting involved, but standing idly by is risky. If spillover from Syria worsens, squaring this circle could prove a major challenge.

At the very least, Washington should place a premium on keeping the Syrian civil war from dragging on indefinitely. Stepping up our efforts to arm, train, and unify the Syrian opposition factions that matter most — those fighting the regime within Syria rather than those squabbling outside it — would be a good place to start. Progress is likely to be limited, but Washington carries a bigger stick than the regional allies already backing Assad’s opponents and U.S. leadership can help prevent them from working at cross purposes. Supporting the efforts of our regional allies to feed, shelter, and police their refugee communities would be another option. Some neighbors could also use help dealing with their own political and economic problems, which could help them better weather the spillover from Syria. And some medicine might be needed along with the sugar: Pressing our regional friends to begin overdue reforms will help mitigate the discrimination and misery among their own populations that can act as kindling when sparks from Syria come flying their way.

The Syrian civil war is undoubtedly a tragedy for the people of that country. The longer it burns, though, the more likely it will ignite something much worse. However difficult it is to end the fighting today, it will be even harder as the violence snowballs and spillover grows. Less can be more when it is soon.

Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack are, respectively, the director of research and a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Daniel Byman is also a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. They are the co-authors of the 2007 study Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War.

Which country will be next?

Sunday, July 22 2012 –

Conflicting reports from and about Syria indicate that perhaps the Syria chapter of the so-called Arab Spring – or should I say “the Greater Middle East and North Africa Project”? – is approaching a close as well. Whatever opened in Libya, Egypt or Tunisia with the closure of the “spring” may soon open in Syria as well.

Barack Obama, the American president who has proved to be a “Black Bush,” and may indeed be worse than the original white one, the other day voiced his praise for the Muslim fighters for democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. His words reminded me, and perhaps many others, of the Rambo series: fighting hand-in-hand with the Muslim Taliban and other Muslim guerillas against the Soviet infidel occupiers in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union is long gone, and Americans are now fighting the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Muslim guerilla groups in Afghanistan in a war that has begun to turn into a second Vietnam.

Yesterday was the time of the “Green Belt Policy” devised by the great strategist Zbigniev Brzezinski, the aim of which was to shield and contain the advancing communists. Today, many people have fathered a bastard called the Greater Middle East and North Africa Project. It is still ambiguous. Some say its goal is to change the political map and produce a more secure living area for the Jewish state; some claim is it a project to domesticate the rough Muslims into a milder version of Islam, allowing some sort of democratic governance, thanks to a friendly Muslim cleric now living in Pennsylvania. Those goals might be valid, but it is obvious that the real aim of the project is to convert these large regions into an open market and capitalize on their vast natural riches. That’s what must be seen after the mask is removed: the mask that says the aim is to bring democracy to those countries, grieving under dictatorial, oppressive regimes.

Guess who is the co-chair of the project, which has been under implementation for quite a long time through exploitation of governmental woes, poverty, oppression and gross violation of human rights? Turkey, where critics of the Islamist government are either physically imprisoned or imprisoned in their brains, scared to speak or write. Who is financing it? The Saudis and the Qataris. Are they more democratic than, let’s say, Syria?

In some parts of the region, disorganized, unarmed and civilian opposition groups were armed to the teeth and organized as much as possible; “advisors” helped them to develop strategies, and they began “rebelling” against oppressive regimes. In some other parts of the same region, neighbors and regional organizations helped with international approval to silence people demanding rights, at gunpoint or under the turrets of tanks.

The operation is continuing: On a December day in 2010, Mohammed Buazizi converted his body into a torch to herald the “coming of spring.” Tunisia plunged into unprecedented chaos; 23-year-old Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime collapsed within days. Since then, Iraq has become further destabilized, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi has become history, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been toppled, and now Bashar al-Assad of Syria appears to be on the way out.

Which country will be next? Saudi Arabia? Turkey? Which country, indeed?

President al-Assad accuses Turkey for of helping Syrian “Terrorists”

DAMASCUS- 04/07/2012 President Bashar al-Assad stressed in part 2 of the interview he made with the Cumhurieyt Turkish daily that the Government of Erdogan has gone beyond the fraternal relations with Syria to direct interference and to get involved later in the bloody events through providing logistical support to terrorists.

Following is part 2 of his interview with Turkish daily the Cumhurieyt:
Journalist: Mr. President, Syrian-Turkish relations were excellent in recent years on the political level as well as the personal and family levels between you and Prime Minister Erdogan. Could you please tell us what happened to these relations so that things reached the current situation?

President Assad: First of all, we have to identify who changed. Look at Syria’s relations with other countries and you’ll find that our relations with Iraq, Iran, Jordan and other countries have not changed and remain the same. On the other hand, you can see that Turkey’s relations with most countries of the region, not only with Syria, have changed.

As far as we are concerned, what changed on the Turkish side is that in the first stage of the crisis, Turkey transgressed against the brotherly relations with Syria and started to interfere directly in Syrian affairs, which is absolutely unacceptable for us in Syria. We are an independent country which respects itself and respects its sovereignty. That was in the first stage.

Later on, the Turkish government started to get involved in the bloody events in Syria by providing logistic support to the terrorists who have been killing innocent people. The Turkish government started adopting policies which are dangerous both to the Turkish people and the Syrian people. That is as far as the political aspects of the relations are concerned. I will not talk here about the personal characteristics of this man who, in his statements, has transgressed against the moral and ethical values that should characterize any politician in the world or even any human being.

Journalist: Mr. President, you said that you do not allow any foreign intervention in internal Syrian affairs. But Erdogan, in almost every speech he made, used to say that he told you, asked you, advised you; and that you promised him, or told him that you would do this and that. What did he say to you? And what did you promise him?

President Assad: First, what you are saying about these statements is evidence of what I said: that he was interfering in our internal affairs. Based on the principle that he has nothing to do with internal Syrian affairs, how could I promise him? Isn’t that evidence that he was lying?

He used to ask me and provide advice; and I have my vision of things which I have announced in my speeches. He used to advise concerning reforms; and we announced a package of reforms six days after the beginning of the events in Syria in March 2011. We have implemented everything we promised, even changing the constitution completely. If you ask him now, he might talk about reform. But let me raise the question now: if he were genuine in calling for reform, why didn’t he talk about it years ago, since the beginning of our relations with him in 2004?

Has he suddenly felt love, affection and concern for the Syrian people? Is it logical that he should feel more concerned for the Syrian people than I do?

What would you say about me if I told you that I am more concerned about the Turkish people than you are as a Turkish citizen? You would no doubt say that this is hypocrisy. Let Erdogan concern himself with his internal affairs and not with others’ in order to preserve what remains of the zero-problem policy that can be implemented.

Journalist: If you want to sum up, Mr. President, what did Erdogan want?

President Assad: In brief, he had an agenda wider than the Syrian issue. It concerns his personal position and the position of his team. He wanted the terrorists to have a free hand in Syria, that they shouldn’t be arrested or imprisoned, and that we do not defend ourselves. Then, things will be alright for him.

Journalist: What do you mean by the terrorists? Do you mean the Muslim Brothers?

President Assad: Years before the crisis, Erdogan was always concerned for the Syrian Muslim Brothers. He was concerned about them more than he was concerned about Syrian-Turkish relations. There is no doubt now that they are one of his main concerns in the Syrian events, namely defending and helping them. Of course, we do not allow this, neither for Erdogan’s sake nor for the sake of anyone else in the world.

Journalist: It seems that bridges between you and Erdogan have been destroyed.

President Assad: I think so, because he lost his credibility. Rebuilding these bridges depends on his ability to restore credibility on the Arab arena in general, not only in Syria, because this is not a personal issue. When he has the courage to stop and acknowledge his numerous mistakes at this stage, I don’t think the people of our region, and the Arab and Syrian people in particular, will have a problem in forgiving him. And I believe that the Turkish people will forgive him too.

Journalist: Mr. President, concerning Syrian-Turkish relations, there has been a number of incidents. An aircraft was downed; Prime Minister Erdogan threatened you, deployed forces on the borders and made all the noise you’re aware of. What is, in your opinion, the way out of the Syrian-Turkish crisis?

President Assad: The way out is that the Turkish government corrects the mistakes it made in dealing with the Syrian situation, not manipulating or exploiting any event in order to create big problems, and putting the interests of the Syrian and Turkish people before the narrow personal interests of their officials. So, the way out is there and the process is quite simple and not difficult at all. I am sure that the Turkish people, and the Syrian people, will support this, and at the forefront at these people will be the families of the two Turkish pilots. It is enough for Erdogan to listen to the statement made by the father of one of the pilots to find the way out.

Journalist: You said that Erdogan has changed. Why, in your opinion, has he changed? And what are the things which changed in him?

President Assad: The circumstances have changed, and these circumstances showed Erdogan’s reality. I’ll give you some evidence. For example, we heard a lot of shouting in defense of the Palestinians in 2008 when Israel attacked Gaza. But two and a half years before that, we did not hear that kind of shouting when Israel attacked Lebanon. The resistance was there in both cases, and Israel killed in both cases, and in both countries the number of martyrs was approximately 1500.

Journalist: Why, in your opinion?

President Assad: Because he showed his sectarian mentality. Because the difference between the two cases is only the sectarian aspect. Today, Erdogan is shedding the tears of hypocrites for the Syrian people. Why hasn’t he cried for those killed in some Gulf countries, although they are innocent, peaceful and unarmed? Why isn’t he speaking about democracy in some Gulf countries?

Journalist: Which country?

President Assad: Qatar, for instance. Why didn’t he do anything after the Marmara ship incident except shouting? Why did he challenge Israel, and then suddenly agreed to deploy the missile shield in Turkey? Did he deploy it in order to protect Turkey from the attack of a hostile country?

Did America build these bases in order to protect itself against this region? Which country in the region has the capability to threaten America?

No country. So, the answer is that he deployed it to protect Israel. These circumstances revealed Erdogan’s reality, no more, no less. Erdogan hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way the people of the region look at him. He has failed on the Arab arena. He no longer exists, neither him nor his credibility.

Towards a new Arab cultural revolution

By Alastair Crooke-
Jun 13, 2012 –

The “Awakening” is taking a turn, very different to the excitement and promise with which it was hailed at the outset. Sired from an initial, broad popular impulse, it is becoming increasingly understood, and feared, as a nascent counter-revolutionary “cultural revolution” – a re-culturation of the region in the direction of a prescriptive canon that is emptying out those early high expectations, and which makes a mockery of the West’s continuing characterization of it as somehow a project of reform and democracy.

Instead of yielding hope, its subsequent metamorphosis now gives rise to a mood of uncertainty and desperation – particularly among what are increasingly termed “‘the minorities” – the non-Sunnis, in other words. This chill of apprehension takes its grip from certain Gulf States’ fervor for the restitution of a Sunni

regional primacy – even, perhaps, of hegemony – to be attained through fanning rising Sunni militancy [1] and Salafist acculturation.

At least seven Middle Eastern states are now beset by bitter, and increasingly violent, power struggles; states such as Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen are dismantling. Western states no longer trouble to conceal their aim of regime change in Syria, following Libya and the “non-regime-change” change in Yemen.

The region already exists in a state of low intensity war: Saudi Arabia and Qatar, bolstered by Turkey and the West, seem ready to stop at nothing to violently overthrow a fellow Arab head of state, President Bashar al-Assad – and to do whatever they can to hurt Iran.

Iranians increasingly interpret Saudi Arabia’s mood as a hungering for war; and Gulf statements do often have that edge of hysteria and aggression: a recent editorial in the Saudi-owned al-Hayat stated: “The climate in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] indicates that matters are heading towards a GCC-Iranian-Russian confrontation on Syrian soil, similar to what took place in Afghanistan during the Cold War. To be sure, the decision has been taken to overthrow the Syrian regime, seeing as it is vital to the regional influence and hegemony of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” [2]

What genuine popular impulse there was at the outset of the “Awakening” has now been subsumed and absorbed into three major political projects associated with this push to reassert primacy: a Muslim Brotherhood project, a Saudi-Qatari-Salafist project, and a militant Salafist project. No one really knows the nature of the Brotherhood project, whether it is that of a sect, or if it is truly mainstream [3]; and this opacity is giving rise to real fears.

At times, the Brotherhood presents a pragmatic, even an uncomfortably accomodationist, face to the world, but other voices from the movement, more discretely evoke the air of something akin to the rhetoric of literal, intolerant and hegemonic Salafism. What is clear however is that the Brotherhood tone everywhere is increasingly one of militant sectarian grievance. And the shrill of this is heard plainly from Syria.

The joint Saudi-Salafist project was conceived as a direct counter to the Brotherhood project: the Saudi aim in liberally funding and supporting Saudi-orientated Salafists throughout the region has been precisely to contain and counter the influence of the Brotherhood [4] (eg in Egypt) and to undermine this strand of reformist Islamism, which is seen to constitute an existential threat to Gulf state autocracy: a reformism that precisely threatens the authority of those absolute monarchs.

Qatar pursues a somewhat different line to Saudi Arabia. Whilst it too is firing-up, arming and funding militant Sunni movements [5], it is not so much attempting to contain and circumscribe the Brotherhood, Saudi-style, but rather to co-opt it with money; and to align it into the Saudi-Qatari aspiration for a Sunni power block that can contain Iran.

Plainly the Brotherhood needs Gulf funding to pursue its aim of acquiring the prime seat at the region’s table of power; and therefore the more explicitly sectarian, aggrieved discourse from the Brotherhood perhaps is a case of “he who pays the piper” … Qatar and Saudi Arabia are both Wahhabi Salafist states.

The third “project”, also highly funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – uncompromising Sunni radicalism – forms the vanguard of this new “Cultural Revolution”: It aims however not to contain, but simply to displace traditional Sunnism with the culture of Salafism. Unlike the Brotherhood, this element, whose influence is growing exponentially – thanks to a flood of Gulf dollars – has no political ambitions within the nation-state, per se.

It abhors conventional politics, but it is nonetheless radically political: Its aim, no less, is to displace traditional Sunnism, with the narrow, black and white, right and wrong, certitude embedded in Wahhabi Salafism – including its particular emphasis on fealty to established authority and Sharia. More radical elements go further, and envision a subsequent stage of seizing and holding of territory for the establishment of true Islamic Emirates [6] and ultimately a Kalifa.

A huge cultural and political shift is underway: the “Salafisation” of traditional Sunni Islam: the sheering-away of traditional Islam from heterogeneity, and its old established co-habitation with other sects and ethnicities. It is a narrowing-down, an introversion into a more rigid clutching to the certainties of right and wrong, and to the imposition of these “truths” on society: it is no coincidence that those movements which do seek political office, at this time, are demanding the culture and education portfolios, rather than those of justice or security. [7]

These Gulf States’ motives are plain: Qatari and Saudi dollars, coupled with the Saudi claim to be the legitimate successors to the Quraiysh (the Prophet’s tribe), is intended to steer the Sunni “stirrings” in such a way that the absolute monarchies of the Gulf acquire their “re-legitimisation”‘ and can reassert a leadership through the spread of Salafist culture – with its obeisance towards established authority: specifically the Saudi king.

Historically some of the radical Sunni recipients of Saudi financial largesse however have also proved to be some of the most violent, literalist, intolerant and dangerous groups – both to other Muslims, as well as to all those who do not hold to their particular ‘truth’. The last such substantive firing-up of such auxiliaries occurred at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan – the consequences of which are still with us decades later today.

But all these projects, whilst they may overlap in some parts, are in a fundamental way, competitors with each other. And they are all essentially “power” projects – projects intended to take power. Ultimately they will clash: Sunni on Sunni. This has already begun in the Levant – violently.

Continued 1 2

Fears of extremism taking hold in Syria as violence continues

By , Published: April 22-

BEIRUT — As Syria’s revolution drags into its second year amid few signs that a U.N.-mandated cease-fire plan will end the violence, evidence is mounting that Islamist extremists are seeking to commandeer what began as a non-ideological uprising aimed at securing greater political freedom.

Activists and rebel soldiers based inside Syria say a small but growing number of Islamist radicals affiliated with global jihadi movements have been arriving in opposition strongholds in recent weeks and attempting to rally support among disaffected residents.

Western diplomats say they have tracked a steady trickle of jihadists flowing into Syria from Iraq, and Jordan’s government last week detained at least four alleged Jordanian militants accused of trying to sneak into Syria to join the revolutionaries.

A previously unknown group calling itself the al-Nusra Front has asserted responsibility for bombings in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo using language and imagery reminiscent of the statements and videos put out by al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Iraq, although no evidence of the group’s existence has surfaced other than the videos and statements it has posted on the Internet.

Syrian activists and Western officials say the militants appear to be making little headway in recruiting supporters within the ranks of the still largely secular protest movement, whose unifying goal is the ouster of the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad.

But if the United Nations’ peace plan fails to end the government’s bloody crackdown and promises of Western and Arab help for the rebel Free Syrian Army do not materialize, activists and analysts say, there is a real risk that frustrated members of the opposition will be driven toward extremism, adding a dangerous dimension to a revolt that is threatening to destabilize a wide arc of territory across the Middle East.

“The world doing nothing opens the door for jihadis,” said Lt. Abdullah al-Awdi, a Free Syrian Army commander who defected from the regular army in the summer and was interviewed during a visit he made to Turkey. He says that he has rebuffed several offers of help from militant groups in the form of arms and money and that he fears the extremists’ influence will grow.

“This is not a reason for the international community to be silent about Syria. It should be a reason for them to do something,” Awdi said.

Flow of jihadis reported

U.S. officials and Western diplomats in the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, say they have seen several indications that al-Qaeda-like groups are trying to inject themselves into the Syrian revolution, although they stress that the Islamist radicals’ impact has been limited. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on “mujaheddin” to head to Syria in support of the rebels earlier this year, and Western diplomats are convinced that operatives affiliated with al-Qaeda carried out a string of bombings in Damascus and Aleppo between December and March.

The diplomats say dozens of jihadis have been detected crossing the border from Iraq into Syria, some of them Syrians who had previously volunteered to fight in Iraq and others Iraqi. There may also be other foreign nationals among them, reversing the journey they took into Iraq years ago when jihadis flowed across the border to fight the now-departed Americans.

The Syrian government facilitated the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq for many years, and there are widespread suspicions that it may be covertly reactivating some of those networks to discredit the revolutionaries, deter international support for the opposition and create conditions under which the harsh crackdown by authorities will appear justified.

The regime portrayed the uprising as the work of radical Islamists in its earliest days, and the reports that extremists are surfacing in Syria only play into the official narrative, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“This drip, drip, drip of extremists across the border . . . there are signs the regime is aiding and abetting it,” Shaikh said. “And it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

It is also plausible that these groups, adherents of a radicalized form of Sunni Islam, have turned against their former benefactors and are making their way back to Syria motivated by religious and sectarian zeal. Although many Syrian opposition activists insist that their revolution is not sectarian, a majority of Syrians are Sunnis, while Assad, along with most leading figures in the regime and in the security forces, belongs to the Shiite-affiliated Alawite minority, lending a sectarian dimension to the populist revolt.

Syrian activists and rebels insist that the extremists are not welcome in communities that have long prided themselves on their tolerance of the religious minorities in their midst, including Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds and Ismaili Shiites.

A rebel leader in northern Syria who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mustafa, described how he and his men drove out a group of about 15 radicals, all of them Syrian but none of them local, who arrived in a northern village in January. Led by a commander who identified himself as Abu Sulaiman, the group tried to recruit supporters for an assault on the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour.

Abu Sulaiman “had money, he had weapons, and he sent a guy to negotiate with me, but I refused,” Abu Mustafa recalled in an interview in Turkey. “We asked him to leave, but he didn’t, so we attacked him. We killed two of them, and one of our men was injured. Then he left, but I don’t know where he went.”

“The good thing is that Syrians are against giving our country to radicals,” Abu Mustafa added. “But these groups have supporters who are very rich, and if our revolution continues like this, without hope and without result, they will gain influence on the ground.”

A largely secular revolt

There is a distinction between the naturally conservative religiosity of Syrians who come from traditional communities and the radicalism of those associated with the global jihadi movement, said Joseph Holliday, who is researching the Free Syrian Army at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington and believes extremists are a small minority.

“While there are elements [in the opposition] that are very conservative, they are not the driving force,” he said. “There is definitely an argument to be made that this will increase over time, because insurgencies often become more extremist over time, but for now the driving force behind this revolution is secular.”

Adherents of the strict Salafi school of Islam have emerged in many Syrian communities and are playing a role in the opposition, but they, too, are to be distinguished from the jihadis, said ­Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

“People who are local and pious and moving in an Islamist direction and are taking up guns don’t have the same organization and are not necessarily the same thing as jihadists, who are not necessarily al-Qaeda,” he said. “There’s a range of different directions and trends.”

Many activists fear, however, that the influence of the extremists is growing as Syrian rebels who have for months appealed in vain for Western military intervention look for help elsewhere.

“Of course it is growing, because no one is doing anything to stop it,” said a Syrian activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from some of the radicals he has encountered while attempting to organize the opposition in many northern communities.

“They have rules,” he said. “They say: If we give you money, you have to obey our orders and accept our leadership. Some of my friends drink alcohol, and they aren’t like this. But when they find no other way to cover their expenses, they join these groups and then they follow them.”

Special correspondent Ranya Kadri in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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