Opinion: The Right Way to ‘Dry Up’ the Sources of Terror

The terrorist attacks that recently targeted Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, and before them, those targeting Istanbul-Ataturk Airport in Turkey, Paris and Brussels – without forgetting the tragedies shaking the Middle East states – are outrages that underline the world’s duty to confront criminal terror perpetrated under ‘Islamic’ banners. Verbal condemnations are no longer acceptable and solid actions are now the only answer.

In the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks in the USA, senior figures in the G.W. Bush administration called for ‘drying up’ the sources of terror. This is absolutely right. There is no alternative other than ‘drying up’ the sources of terror, in the sense that terror must be deprived of the social ‘incubators’ in which it grows and finds protection.

The Bush administration, however, committed two big mistakes during the early period after the September 11 attacks. The first was to silence the good-intentioned voices of ordinary Americans who innocently asked “Why do they hate us?!” The extreme Right’s ideologues and fixers worked overtime to discredit this question by claiming that no political stances would or should justify outrages of that scale.

The second was launching an ‘open-ended’ war against an undefined ‘enemy’, then creating new realities on the ground that only helped the very same ‘enemy’ find a social ‘incubator’, although the declared aim of the war was exactly the opposite!

As regards the first mistake, given the massive shock that overwhelmed American society in the autumn of 2001, it was understandable that the need for national solidarity against unprecedented terror outweighed any rational, serious and democratic debate. Furthermore, some beliefs and interests pushed for quick ‘practical solutions’ rather than proper and serious strategic approaches. The Bush administration, led by the ‘Neocons’, did not limit its war to attacking Al-Qaeda (which claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks) and Taliban (its Afghani ally and defender), but began implement an ‘old pre-planned strategy’ – totally unrelated to the attacks – aimed at bringing down ‘unfriendly’ Middle East regimes, beginning with Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime in Iraq.

In those pre-Obama and pre-JCPOA days, Washington regarded Iran a terror-sponsoring rogue state. Indeed, Iran had through its local operatives and puppets planned and executed the infamous hostage taking operations in Lebanon, including Americans – some of whom were later murdered – as well as the suicide attack against the US Marines base in Beirut on October 23rd 1983 where 241 Americans were killed. Those operatives and puppets, now known as Hezbollah, were organized, financed and guided by Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur, who was then Iran’s ambassador in Syria, and later became Iran’s Interior Minister.

In Iraq, almost immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the exiled Shi’ite leaders of ‘The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq’ (presently known as ‘The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq’) flocked to US-occupied Baghdad from Iran. Among these and their militiamen were ex-fighters on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) in the ranks of the ‘Badr Brigade’ militia. Incidentally, the ‘Council’ was founded by the exiled Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Mohammad Baqer Al-Sadr in November 1982 in Iran, and was granted its official sponsorship as being a part of Tehran’s strategy of ‘exporting the (Khomeini/Islamic) revolution’.

Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, indeed, ‘taking over the country’ – as the British military in southern Iraq soon discovered – was moving hand in hand with Hezbollah’s gradual hegemony in Lebanon, where it imposed its control not only on Lebanon’s political institutions, but also on its security institutions.

This became much clearer in the following years at decisive landmarks in the country’s modern history; namely since the autumn of 2004 when the presidential term of Pres Emile Lahhoud, an ally of Tehran and Damascus, was unconstitutionally extended. After that several leading opponents of the Tehran – Damascus axis were assassinated including Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (2005). Later, in 2006, Hezbollah fought a war against Israel that now appears to have been planned by Iran merely to achieve a permanent ceasefire in south Lebanon and create a de-militarized ‘buffer zone’ with Israel that allows Hezbollah to be employed in other regional wars.

Indeed, by 2008, Hezbollah became not only a fully-fledged ‘state within a state’, but also bigger and more powerful than the Lebanese state itself while remaining a partner in its political decision processes and its political and security institutions.

Then, in March 2011, after the Syrian popular uprising against the Assad dynastic dictatorship – Iran’s only Arab ally during the Iran-Iraq War – the full truth became clear and fake slogans uncovered, as Hezbollah turned its attentions away from the Israeli ‘Blue line’ in order to fight the Syrian people and abort their uprising.

By this time, Nouri Al-Maliki, Iraq’s ex-Prime Minister (2008-2014) and former pro-Tehran Al-Da’wa Party activist was fully engaged in an Iran-aided and abetted sectarian war against Sunni Arab Iraqis, antagonizing even their tribal ‘Sahwaat’ militias which since 2006 succeeded in preventing Al-Qaeda’s spread in Sunni western Iraq.

It is important to mention here that Al-Qaeda would have never existed in the that region in the first place had it not been for the ‘policies’ of hatred, revenge, spite and sectarian discrimination practiced by Al-Maliki against his Sunni compatriots. Thus, when ‘Iranian political Shi’ism’ controlled Iraq at the expense of the Sunnis, imposed its hegemony over Lebanon, and expanded its influence militarily in Syria – with Assad’s collusion – it was only natural that a counter-reaction would emerge. This counter-reaction soon took the shape of a social ‘incubator’ for desperate and suicidal Sunni extremism, materializing into ISIS; the same ISIS that has attacked and occupied the city of Mosul without a fight!

The conditions that ‘created’ ISIS are what we see and know. And the security and intelligence ‘apparatuses’ that have maintained, exploited and benefitted from ISIS and its crimes know exactly what they are doing, leaving nothing to chance.

This extremist terrorist organization is consciously, or unconsciously, drawing the maps of grand plan for a new Middle East, and forcing the Muslim world into endless religious wars with the west, sectarian wars between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and ethnic wars between Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians.

Eliminating this social ‘incubator’ of extremism would be impossible without Arab and international goodwill and deep political understanding of what is taking place in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Simply declaring war on Sunni Muslims, more precisely Arab Sunni Muslims, will do nothing but enlarge this ‘incubator’ and further stoke the fires of extremism.

Opinion: UK – A Suicidal Referendum and Failed Leaderships

One of Winston Churchill’s inspired quotes is: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. How true this is in the light of the UK’s European Union membership referendum.

The ‘Leave’ campaign won the day thanks to a melange of intentional misrepresentations, racist and xenophobic scaremongering, attractive false promises, and flawed statistics. All these were more than capable of attracting a wide spectrum of British voters, ranging from the ultra-conservative racist and xenophobic Right to the traditionalist extremist semi-educated Labour Left concentrated in old industrial and mining heartlands.

The ‘Leave’ campaign was able to present to each section of the electorate either what would woo it or frighten it with no insignificant ‘help’ from populist Right-wing tabloids; and actually, it succeeded in achieving remarkable successes in England’s traditional industries’ urban centres and rural areas with a high percentage of pensioners, in addition to the old Labour strongholds of South Wales’ mining valleys.

On the other side, the pro-Europe ‘Remain’ campaign did well in London (around 60%), the great global cosmopolitan city, as well as the enlightened university cities such as Cambridge (around 74%), Oxford (more than 70%), Bristol, Manchester, York, Liverpool, Bath, Brighton, Winchester and Norwich. It also won in Scotland (around 62%) – more so in its capital Edinburgh scoring more than 74% – and in Northern Ireland (more than 55%).

Among the most striking examples of intentional misrepresentations and flawed statistics related to the UK’s contributions to the EU and what it gained in return. The facts are – based on 2014 official figures – the UK’s bill was £18 billion pounds, but in reality it only paid £13 billion while getting £5 billion in rebates, meaning it didn’t really pay more than £8.5 billion (after adjustments). Furthermore, this sum makes up no more than 1.2% of the country’s budget, dwarfed by 22% for social services, 19.7% for health, and 12.4% for education.

Add to the above, that the UK occupies the last but one rank among Western European countries per capita contributions table; as only Portugal pays less. This table is headed by Luxemburg, followed respectively by Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Austria, Ireland, France, Italy and Spain!

Also on misrepresentations, the ‘Leave’ campaign leaders – including Boris Johnson, a grandson of a Muslim Turk – warned of the ‘threat’ of immigration, asylum seekers, cheap labour from Eastern Europe, and Muslim Turkey’s ‘impending’ EU membership. However, the UK is not a ‘Schengen state’ and thus is not committed to ‘freedom of movement’ of immigrants and asylum seekers.

However, as regards cheap labour from Eastern Europe, these workers come, work and pay taxes; moreover it was the UK which spearheaded and incessantly fought to admit the former Warsaw Pact countries after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Then, under Margaret Thatcher, London was keen to undermine any chance of creating a ‘United States of Europe’ through diluting the influence of the six founding members, i.e. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, and ensuring the union ties are loose and weak. It is ironic now that the country whose racists and xenophobes are the most vociferous against Eastern European workers was the most insistent on admitting their countries into the EU!

Another irony is that among the accusations the ‘Leave’ supporters levelled against the EU is that the UK was being ‘governed’ by Brussels’ ‘bureaucrats’, although the latter are appointed by democratically elected governments unlike giant business trusts, cartels and corporations. So, now that England has voted to leave while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, what logic could London use against the elected Edinburgh and Belfast ‘governments’ refusing to be governed by the ‘bureaucrats’ of London’?

On another level, the majority of younger voters voted to remain in the EU (around 73% in the 18-24 age group) while the majority of the ‘about 60 years old’ voted to leave. This is interesting since most of the tax payers who finance public services are from the productive younger voters, while most of the older ones do not pay into the system but still benefit from it. It is also worth mentioning that many of those are pensioners living in Europe, especially France, Spain and Portugal!
These are important details pertaining to the UK referendum; and although they may not mean much to readers in the Arab world, I believe one needs to look into the political dimensions, not only the living conditions, of the seismic change the referendum has caused.

The outcome has indeed discredited the Conservative and Labour leaderships that mishandled the referendum, and failed miserably to stem the tide of racism many of us thought was defeated by the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor of London. It may also mean that the UK is now paying a heavy price for underinvesting in its industrial base, relying instead on foreign investment thanks to its attractive financial services.

The fact of the matter is that this tide of racism is alive and well not only in the UK but also throughout Europe, as well as America and Australia. This why the six founder members of the EU reacted firmly to the referendum result; as they feel it would be impossible to allow racist parties – who, actually, hate each other – to build a single cross-borders mega ‘tactical’ alliance whose aim is to undermine co-existence, progress and moderation.

The six founder members find themselves responsible for rewriting the future vision and institutions of the EU, in order to protect it against blackmail and destruction. In turn, the UK faces a tricky period of self-appraisal after a suicidal referendum that has uncovered how inadequate its political leaderships are.

Opinion: Greater Kurdistan – the Dream and the Facts

Only candour was new in Mr Masrour Barzani’s call for partitioning Iraq after liberating Mosul. The President of the ‘Kurdistan Region’ Massoud Barzani’s son and chancellor of the Region’s ‘Security Council’ justified his declaration by citing the ‘failure of federalism’ in Iraq.

Many Kurdish ‘nationalist’ leaders, indeed, have diligently worked throughout Kurdish-inhabited areas, extending from western Iran to northwest Syria – including northeast Iraq and southeast Turkey – for a ‘Greater Kurdistan’, despite the fact such an entity never existed as one unified and integrated polity at any point in Kurdish or Middle Eastern history.

Even when some efforts succeeded from time to time in founding principalities and ‘mini-states’ – the most recent of which is ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ – such as the ‘Republic of Mahabad’ in Iran and the ‘Baban Principality’ in Iraq, several obstacles have prevented the creation of a ‘greater Kurdistan’.

Firstly, the wide spread of Kurdish communities within the boundaries of vast empires, and later, ‘nationalist’ modern states that had no interest in tolerating secessionist ethnic or sectarian entities within their boundaries.
Secondly, a high percentage of Kurds assimilated and fully integrated in the societies where they settled for centuries, especially in major cities like Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad.

Thirdly, Kurdish areas are predominantly land-locked, a fact that has minimised the chances of them enjoying active support from foreign powers. Even when such support was provided, as was the case of the Soviet backing of Mulla Mustafa Barzani – the father of Massoud and grandfather of Masrour –, it was conditional and temporary.

Fourthly, natural resources in Kurdish areas – oil in Iraq, Iran and Syria; and water in Turkey – have been too precious to let go for the countries where Kurds have lived.

Fifthly, the dream of ‘Greater Kurdistan’ is also inhabited by non-Kurdish minorities quite fearful of rampant Kurdish nationalism now hell-bent on partitioning the present states of the Middle East. The Kurds have had a bloody history with their Assyrian (Nestorian Christian) neighbours, past and present sensitivities and animosities with the Turks and Turkmen, friction and bad blood with Arab and Turkish nationalisms, and bad experiences with Iran which crushed its Kurdish secessionist movement and assassinated one of the Iranian Kurds’ foremost leaders Dr Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou (1989).

Today, all Kurdish reserve and caution regarding regional partition plans is out of the window. Kurdish ‘nationalists’ are candid and over-confident about what they desire and do so thanks to favourable regional and international circumstances.

First and foremost, is the existential animosity now for all to see between a frustrated and confused Arab world, whose frustration and confusion are engendering nihilist self-destructive extremist movements, and an aggressive expansionist Iranian regime engaged in sowing the seeds of conflicts, tending and exploiting them in the Arab world either under the slogan of “exporting the (Khomeinist) revolution” or the pretexts of guarding the Shi’ite ‘Holy Shrines’. Then, there is the current crisis between Sunni Arab states opposed to ‘political Islam’ and Sunni ‘Islamist’ Turkey ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Thus, between ‘Sunni’ Arab vs ‘Shi’i’ Iranian animosity, and ‘anti Islamist’ Arabs and ‘Erdoganist’ Turkey, and the ensuing devastation and chaos they have visited on Iraq and Syria, Kurdish ‘nationalists’ have decided to grab the moment, believing it may be a rare golden opportunity not only to fulfil a great dream, but also to avenge a bitter past.

In the meantime, internationally, the Kurds are now benefitting from the belief of some Western powers led by the USA, that realistic global political consideration has diminished the need to keep the present political borders in the Middle East. The taboo had already been broken in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and elsewhere after September 11th 2001 and the emergence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. One may also admit that many of the Middle Eastern entities have failed, after around 100 years of drawing their maps, to nurture genuine citizenship and build proper sold state establishments. Iraq and Syria are being torn apart, Lebanon is disabled, Yemen is in turmoil, and religion-clad extremist terrorism is threatening the very existence of Jordan, whether in the form of ‘Islamist’ ISIS, ‘Biblical’ Israeli settlers or ‘pro-Transfer’ groups.

Furthermore, decades after the preoccupation of USA-led Western democracies with promoting the slogans of ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ as opposed to Soviet principles of ‘right to self-determination’, ‘anti-colonialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’; all the above have been proven as empty slogans, nothing more, nothing less. As we see today, freedoms are non-existent, democracy has not been experienced and human rights unheard of; and on the other side, the region’s entities are subservient to others, colonialism has returned under new faces and techniques, and ugly and aggressive regional imperialisms are undermining the whole Middle East.

That the Kurds should enjoy the right of self-determination is a matter that must be beyond doubt or argument. However, they must not be allowed to deprive others of their rights too; otherwise they would be doing exactly what they have for so long claimed their oppressors have done to them.

Double standards, historical revisionism and forgery, tactical exploitation of external support to crush potential dissent, and severing ties of neighbourly relations and ditching co-existence, are not the right ingredients required to build a future ‘independent Kurdistan’.

One can easily sense the above whenever one listens to some Kurdish commentators on Arab satellite TVs talking with arrogance and over-confidence about the battles raging in northern Syria, giving Kurdish names to towns in mixed areas, promising that the Kurdish militias will keep hold of any territory they liberate from ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and refusing any discussion on the identity of Kirkuk or what would become of Mosul.

Actually, what has been taking place in the countryside of Hassakah, Raqqa and Aleppo Provinces, and attempts to connect the Kurdish Afrin ‘enclave’ (northwest corner of Syria) to the rest of Syrian-Turkish borders’ areas in order to create ‘Western Kurdistan’ – or ‘Rojava’ –, at the expense of Arab and Turkmen towns and villages in Azaz, El-Bab and Manbij districts, have nothing to do with the right of self-determination.

A future ‘Kurdistan’, if it is to exist, must provide a peaceful co-existential example to the whole Middle East, not an ‘alien creation’ imposed on the region by ephemeral international calculations.

Opinion: The Syrians Are Waiting For November

Last Saturday, Asharq Al-Awsat mentioned that it had been informed by ‘Western diplomatic sources’ that Staffan de Mistura, the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria, was coming under Russo-American pressures that aim at holding a new round of negotiations in Geneva.

Under normal circumstances there would have been no reasons for ‘pressures’, but what the Syrian crisis is going through has exceeded all limits. The mere fact that the UN has to plead with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and its ‘henchmen on the ground’ just to allow food and medicines into besieged areas – some that have been besieged since 2012 – is enough proof.

Here one may ask why ‘The International Crisis Group for Syria’ exists. Which ‘Syria’ is it dealing with? How cohesive is this ‘Group’? And, what is the significance about this group being ‘international’ when one of its pillars, i.e. Russia, is now an ‘intervention and occupation force’, enjoying an American ‘carte blanche’ to do what it likes, and interpret and execute UN resolutions as it pleased.

Indeed, as time passed by and ‘red lines’ disappeared, the ‘Friends of Syria Group’ was also proving to be a lie as it became obvious that there was only a handful of such ‘friends’. Today, as Washington and Moscow’s positions vis-à-vis Syria have become almost indistinguishable, Beijing has adopted Moscow’s policies without hesitation, and the clear frustration and inability of the European powers to do anything about Washington’s Syria policy, we are witnessing the collapse of ‘The International Crisis Group for Syria’ which is rapidly following the lip-service ‘friends’ to the scrapheap.

During the last couple of years a lot of blame was levelled at Mr de Mistura. However, it is obvious now that he was working under tight constraints that render his efforts fruitless. Moscow is clearly unwilling to surrender a political and military ‘advantage’ gained in a strategic region that was for it a ‘no go’ area.

As for Washington, it is surely unwilling to jeopardize its agreements with the Iranian leadership during what is left of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House, even at the expense of the Middle East’s stability and the territorial integrity of its countries.
Finally, Tehran, controlled by the hubris of the ‘Mullahs’ and blood lust of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and benefitting from its accords with both Washington and Moscow, is not going to miss a historical chance of avenging its old defeats against the Arabs and challenging the Turks for the leadership of the Muslim world…

Given all the above, could a murderous regime – like the Al-Assad regime – be blamed if it did not exploit such a regional and global climate to continue its carnage?!

In addition to what has been mentioned, there in the background, is the curiously ‘pragmatic’ Israeli position. It is actually based on the following smart considerations.

Firstly, Israel has always been ‘relaxed’ in its dealings with the Syrian regimes under the two Al-Assads, father and son; noting that the day before yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of the death of the father, Hafez Al-Assad, who invented the concept of ‘co-existence’ with Israel under the mask of ‘rejecting’ it since 1973. The Israeli leadership, in turn and out of experience, knows only too well how to differentiate between talks and actions, especially, when coming from loud out-bidders who are only happy to co-exist with it.

Secondly, Syria today is virtually a ‘condominium’. The Al-Assad regime would not survive without the direct support of Iran and Russia, of course, with Washington’s and even Tel Aviv’s blessings. The recurring visits by the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Moscow against the deafening silence of the Damascus ‘rejectionists’ and Beirut ‘resistors’ is a clear proof of the lines that are defining the ‘prohibited’ areas as well as the margins of manoeuvres.

Thirdly, Iran was never far from outbidding and bluffing as regard ‘resisting’ (USA and Israel); and since the 1979 Khomeini ‘Islamic Revolution’ and then the ‘Iran-Contra’ scandal, Iran has been much more interested in bringing drown Arab regimes through “exporting the revolution” than fighting Israel. This has been proven time and time again, from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen to the heart of Palestine itself, where Iran has sponsored the tearing apart of the Palestinian social fabric from within in order to undermine any possibility that a viable Palestinian entity could emerge.

Fourthly, a regional Muslim ‘civil war’ between Sunnis and Shi’is does not worry the Israeli Right; the reason being is that such a ‘war’ serves its interest in more than one way. It diverts attention away from its policies of annexation, settlements, and the eventual ‘transfer’ of Palestinians. It also weakens and fragments a likely ‘enemy’ that threatens these policies. Thus, the Israeli Right, led by Netanyahu and his Likud Party, see no benefits in the collapse of a regime it knows well and has never ever feared. In fact, what this Israeli Right desires now is nothing more than having a say in how regional influence is distributed through firmly deciding Iran’s share, or agreeing a ceiling for its ambitions, under the watchful eyes of Washington and Moscow.

Back to De Mistura, the ‘Western diplomatic sources’ quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat sound pessimistic about any effective international move in the light of what they regard as ‘toothless’ Washington policy while Moscow handles most of the cards in Syria. They go as far as saying that the Secretary of State John Kerry has ‘handed over’ the Syrian portfolio to the Russians and that Kerry, along with President Barack Obama and the CIA, are of the view that ISIS is the only threat there. Subsequently, they believe that all efforts must serve this objective alone even if it meant cooperating with Moscow, and further still, even if it meant keeping Al-Assad regime if it was the price of Moscow’s cooperation. On the other hand, as the ‘diplomatic sources’ add, the Pentagon represents the opposite argument, as it distrusts both the White House’s approach and the Kremlin’s intentions. Indeed, the Pentagon firmly believes that the ‘Moscow – Tehran – Damascus’ axis is hell-bent on a military solution in Syria and is striving to achieve it.

Thus, the Syrians’ suffering is expected to increase, since any change in Obama’s position seems unlikely during the countdown of his presidency, and the virtual partition of Syria and the intentional rundown of moderation within the ‘Opposition’ are underway.

So, thanks to American negativity and international disability, the only hope left for the Syrians now is to wait for early November.

Opinion: It is a War Against Sunni Arabs

The other day the US State Department published its annual report about global terrorism for 2015; and again Iran came on top among states supporting terrorism. However, within a few hours “Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandes”, the deputy commander of the ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ – geographically Iraqi, but politically Iranian – spoke of his preparations for “liberating” the town of Fallujah. As he was speaking, banners, pictures and symbols in the background gave away his and his organization’s true pro-Iran identity and allegiance. Incidentally, Al-Muhandes is still regarded by Washington as a ‘terrorist’!

Furthermore, General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of Al-Quds Brigade of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), – also labelled and sought by Washington as a ‘terrorist’ – is regularly and freely moving about in Iraq, Syria and perhaps Lebanon too, conducting a sectarian  cleansing campaign, as well as visiting Russia from time to time!

This is what is taking place with regards to Iran’s aiding, abetting and sponsoring terrorism, but is still not proving an obstacle to it becoming Washington’s regional de facto ally in the war against a dubious organization called ISIS! On the other hand, heading the list of Washington’s new operatives in the ‘war against ISIS’ in Syria are armed Kurdish organizations long regarded as “terrorist” by Turkey, America’s old ally, and other armed Kurdish gangs many Syrians accuse of being ‘agents’ of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The above and what we have been reading and hearing about US official and media positions, point to the notion that by using the ‘war against ISIS’ as a pretext, Washington is going ahead with a strategic gamble on the Kurds despite the possible negative regional repercussions on the Middle East’s entities; as well as intentionally turning a blind eye to Iranian expansionist policies reaching as far as Yemen.

I think Washington’s Middle Eastern policies have been frequently misread during the last five years. We were told that it “was no more interested in the Middle East” but is rather seeking to concentrate its efforts on “more important and sensitive areas” in the world.

Then we heard there was some sort of “confusion and hesitation” in the White House whose master has little belief in the benefits of foreign interventions, especially after the Iraq War experience. We also read a lot that Barack Obama’s top priority was the economy and internal affairs, NOT foreign relations. Later on, some suggested that Washington “realised it was wrong to give its rash blessings to the ‘Arab Spring’ …” when Islamists became the early winners in Egypt and Tunisia, and extreme terrorist organizations appeared on the scene in Libya, Syria and Yemen, thus exacerbating armed conflicts that made foreign intervention necessary.

There may have been some truth in all the above, however, the overall picture is much more sinister and dangerous; and it has been what was uncovered by President Obama’s recent series of interviews, and translated step by step on the ground since the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran.

The fact of the matter is that Washington has not abandoned the Middle East, is neither “confused nor hesitant”, has not discarded foreign relations, and is not “correcting” its previous misreading and actions, specifically those related to the invasion of Iran that led to handing it on a platter to Iran.

I believe this administration knows exactly what it is doing, and if a proof is ever needed, look no further than how it is hiding the full facts of its Iran deal from the American public.

Indeed, it is engaged in a direct political campaign and a proxy military campaign against its old Middle Eastern allies, namely, the Arabs and the Turks.

It is also laying the foundations for a new map for the region which will replace the post-First World War map. Almost 100 years ago, the Middle East witnessed two major developments that led to the current shaky map: Britain and France inherited the vanquished Ottoman Empire becoming the two ‘mandatory’ powers, and a ‘Jewish homeland’ was promised and later established. What we are about to witness, with Washington’s blessings and actions, is a new Iranian ‘mandate’ and a new ‘Kurdish homeland’ extending from As-Suleimaniyah to the eastern Mediterranean.

In the meantime, American media, more specifically its liberal wing, is now at the forefront of a crusade against ‘Islamic extremism’; meaning Sunni extremism exclusively!

American liberal media seems to forget – or prefers to forget – that Washington exploited armed extremist Islamist, such as the Afghan ‘Mujaheddins’, for decades; using them in its global confrontations with Soviet Communism. I am sure the archives of the New York Times – currently a bit too selective in blaming ‘the others’ – contain loads of documents proving the close co-operation between American and Pakistani intelligence agencies during the Afghan War against Moscow’s Red Army; specifically, the strong links between the CIA and General Hamid Gul, the then Director-General of the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan. I also believe the NYT know quite enough not only about those who financed the extremist Islamists – who later metamorphosed into Al-Qaeda – but more importantly, those who trained and armed them.

As for ISIS, I reckon the NYT, the Washington Post and others have enough information about the long standing and sinister relations between the Syrian and Iranian intelligence agencies with self-claimed ‘Islamist’ terror groups, beginning with Al-Qaeda and finishing with ISIS.

On the media front, too, a prominent Washington Post analyst and senior editor, recently appeared on an Arab TV news channel to say that given the “current combat map in Syria”, the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) militia is in Washington’s calculations the only reliable armed group capable of fighting ISIS. The senior editor was realistic enough to point at “the current map” but found no need to explain why we reached such a situation. He did not feel the need to say why for five years Washington behaved the way it did; why it refused time and time again to give the ‘Free Syrian Army’ the required weapons capable of confronting the regime as well as the mushrooming extremist terror groups which appeared with the passing of time with valuable help from several intelligence agencies. In fact, today, thanks to international collusion with the Al-Assad regime, well-orchestrated conspiracy against the Syrian popular uprising, and its tacit support of the Russo-Iranian armed intervention in Syria, Washington is working overtime to bluff the whole world about linking a ‘future Syria’ with the SDF which is a secessionist Kurdish militia that has nothing to with ‘democracy’ and does not believe in ‘one’ Syria.

In short, what we are witnessing is a real war against Sunni Arabs that will end with a new ‘Middle East’ which will sow the wind only to reap the whirlwind.

Opinion: Two Ways to Achieve Federalism in the Near East

These have been difficult hours in the process of “liberating” the Iraqi city of Fallujah after its long suffering under the occupation of ISIS. The Syrian city of Raqqa, which ISIS has declared as its “capital” is expecting a similar fate within hours or days if we are to believe what we hear.

Indeed, there is no problem with liberating the two cities and saving their long suffering populations from the abuse of an extremist group that has incessantly distorted Islam and harmed it by pitting it in bloody and destructive confrontation against the whole world.

There is no problem with normal life returning to the two long enduring cities along with their environs, and beyond them, the whole of Iraq and Syria; two Arab countries that boast being cradles of world civilization for thousands of years and bastions of Arabism and Islam for more than 1300 years.

However, it is well known that what is being promoted by the international community as regards the military operations – as necessary as they really are – is not the overall picture of what is taking place. If one looks deeper into the political details and backgrounds of the current military campaign the least one can say is that the situation is worrying. While it may be excessive to compare the weak Iraqi regime to its murderous Syrian counterpart, neither is worth entrusting with safeguarding a healthy civil society, whereby the weak are protected and the ambitions of the strong majority and foreign meddling are kept in check.

Frankly, the Haider Al-Abadi government in Iraq is too weak to defend the Iraqi Sunni Arabs against the projects of Iran and its regional ‘military commissar’ Qasem Soleimani. Neither this government nor the fragile ‘compromise’ formula that maintains are capable of curbing Iran’s voracious appetite or persuade the Kurds of northern Iraq to respect Iraq’s national unity and territorial integrity under a proper federal system. Iran is really working for absolute hegemony over Iraqi territories up to the Kurdish ‘borders’ recognized and protected by the USA and the West. As for the Kurdish leaderships, despite their polite and skilful diplomacy, they aspire for full secession en route to establishing ‘Greater Kurdistan’ extending from the Mediterranean to the lands beyond the Zagros and Taurus mountain ranges in Iran and Turkey, respectively.

The Al-Assad regime, on the other hand, despite its pan-Arabist slogans, has uncovered throughout the past five years its ugly reality. It is now seen for what it is; a fascist, sectarian, clannish and clientelist regime that has nothing to do pan-Arabism, Socialism, ‘rejectionism’ (of American policies) and ‘confrontationism’ (against Israeli occupation). After killing hundreds of thousands and turning millions of Syrians into refugees, this regime has been kept in power by a ‘quadrilateral safety net’ provided by Iran, Russia, the USA and Israel.

As regards to its fake expansive pan-Arabist ‘unionism’, it has now shrunk to merely bolstering ‘Useful Syria’ and bargaining with secessionist Kurds on an ever expanding entity under dubious international sponsorship which gives credence to talks of ‘partition maps’ being drawn. Thus, if these maps in their Kurdish dimension adversely affect Turkey, they surely draw a big question mark on as what may be in store for other entities, presumably less immune than Iraq and Syria, such as Lebanon, Jordan and – of course – what remains of Palestine.

At the moment, futile debate continues about election reform in Lebanon, occupied by the forces of the ‘status quo’ and subjugated by the de facto authority of Hezbollah. Hezbollah – and subsequently Iran – insists on ‘proportional representation’ while keeping its weapons and security network and institution outside state jurisdictions. However, the Aounist ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ which is Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘Christian cover’ prefers a stark sectarian system whereby each religious sect elects its own members of parliament. Between this huge and strange gap separating the positions of the two erstwhile ‘allies’, different Lebanese parties and blocs have different preferences, such as ‘single constituency’ (one man, one vote) and ‘mixed system’ that combines PR and direct votes.

Worth discussing here is that before the ‘partition’ wars in Iraq and Syria broke out, the ‘Taif Agreement’ which helped end the Lebanese War (1975-1990) included two important points: the adoption of wide-powered administrative decentralization, and the founding of a senate elected along sectarian lines. Had the Lebanese implemented these two points, or were allowed to do so by the then Syrian ‘occupation authority’, Lebanon might have moved halfway toward a fair, viable, truly institutional and consensual electoral system.

Furthermore, such a system could have been prescribed to both Iraq and Syria where non-sectarian and non-racial ‘Arabist Ba’thism’ evolved to create two clan-based sectarian regimes; the first brought down by global interests in 2003 only to be replaced by foreign occupation, bloodbaths and a more sectarian alternative; while the second is being kept by these interests on the remains of nationhood and dreams of citizenship.

The Lebanese, stubbornly overlooking genuine ‘federalism’ that recognizes the rights of the majority and reassures the minorities, can clearly see the ‘other’ version of ‘federalism’; bloodshed and uprooting in Iraq and Syria, yet they still refuse to learn their lesson.

They can see what crimes ‘The People’s Mobilization’ (Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi) militia is committing in Fallujah after what it had perpetrated in Tikrit and Al-Muqdadyiah. They are also following what the Kurdish militias are ‘promising’ Raqqa, Tell Abyad and the Aleppo countryside after the atrocities of the Assad ‘shabbiha’ militias, their ‘allies’, as well as what their ‘masters’ have committed and continue to commit in Al-Qussayr, Al-Huleh, Darayya and Eastern Ghouta, but still they do not seem to be brave enough to take the right decision.

Today the Lebanese, unlike their Iraqi and Syrian brethren, have a unique chance to agree on a civilized federal system that could spare them a revisit to the devastating sectarian conflict and the ensuing suicidal calls for outside help which resulted in more than 150,000 people being killed during 15 years of war.

The whole Middle East is facing an unclear future, ‘carving out’ is underway, religious and racial extremism is ripe in Iran and Israel is threatening to destroy the present Arab entities with international collusion.

When are we going to wake up?

Opinion: Lebanon – Electoral Escapism From Politics

The Lebanese are surely entitled to celebrate exercising one form of “democracy” provided to them by the municipal and mayoral elections. Of course they are, given that foreign dictates have for almost two years prevented the election of a new president; and that they have almost forgotten that their parliament was elected in 2009 for a four-year term, but unilaterally renewed its term in 2013 citing “exceptional security concerns”.

The common denominator between blocking both presidential and parliamentary elections – as the Lebanese are quite aware – is the existence of a foreign-aligned and armed ‘mini-state’ which is stronger than the Lebanese state. Although this ‘mini-state’ is functioning within Lebanese state institutions and benefits from their services, it keeps to itself what it refuses to share with the country’s constituents within those state institutions which are supposed to represent, govern and defend the sovereignty of the whole country.

Hence, in the light of absent sovereignty, prohibited democracy, collapsing services, deteriorating media and the terrorised judiciary, the municipal and mayoral elections came as a breather, whereby frustrated and disenfranchised citizens are reminded, at least, of their ability to protest and vent their anger.

The Lebanese, indeed, flocked to the polls in cities, towns and villages, first in Beirut and the provinces of Beqaa’ and Baalbeck – Hermel (both in eastern Lebanon), followed by Mount Lebanon. Today it is the turn of South Lebanon and Nabatiyeh (both in southern Lebanon), and the whole exercise should be completed with the provinces of North Lebanon and Akkar (both in northern Lebanon).

As usual, there has been a strong inclination on behalf of ordinary voters, political parties and the media, to deduce some political trends reflected by this electoral landmark; and sure enough any kind of elections – even at the level of university student councils and trade unions – gives an idea about the general ‘mood’ of the people.

However, this is never a clear and comprehensive picture like that usually provided by parliamentary elections, the reason being the context of transient ‘coalitions’ and personal preferences. In Lebanon’s municipal and mayoral elections, it would have been wrong to read too much into the voting pattern, especially in villages and small towns where clan and tribal affinities play the major part in voters’ preferences. Then, there is the size of a clan or a tribe that might have outweighed party loyalties, which has limited the political dimension to the situations below.

Firstly, the elections may have carried some test for ‘political sizes’ of various parties but only in the Christian areas; and here the results were really interesting.

Secondly, they may have given an idea about how significant the Shi’ite protest movement is against the hegemony of the Hezbollah-Amal in the Shi’i heartlands, particularly in the aftermath of Hezbollah’s military involvement in the Syrian War and its consequences.

Thirdly, they may have provided an opportunity to monitor the Sunni pulse following the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Lebanon, as well as the growth of ‘Islamist’ groups mainly in the Sunni countryside.

Fourthly, they assessed the vitality of Lebanon’s civil society, which may or may not reflect its disappointment with the country’s political elite, and its ability of pushing forward secular issues and demand across sectarian and party barriers.

In the Christian camp the ‘test’ deserved its name after the Aounist ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ and its former bitter foe ‘The Lebanese Forces’ entered an ‘alliance’ that encouraged its partisans and supporters to claim it commands the support of more than 85% of Christians.

What happened, however, was that the ‘alliance’ stood firm in some areas and disappeared in others because clan and local loyalties proved stronger than political ‘deals’ cut over the local village and town fabrics. Furthermore, even when this Christian ‘grand alliance’ materialised – as was the case in the city of Zahle (eastern Lebanon) and some towns in Mount Lebanon like Deir Al-Qamar – the difference in votes cast was either quite small or allowed opposing candidates to manage to break through the ‘alliance’ list and win seats.

Moreover, the Lebanese Kataeb Party (i.e. the Phalanges), which the Aounist – Lebanese Forces ‘alliance’ had thought to be all but moribund, scored a few impressive results and reclaimed its stature in several areas, and many local ‘traditional leaderships’ managed to maintain solid influence in its strongholds. Thus, the elections proved beyond doubt that there was no Christian political ‘monopoly’, a fact that undermines any attempt to treat such a test as if it was a ‘referendum’ on national political programmes or personal hallows.

As for the Shi’i scene, at least in northeast Lebanon, the protest movement proved strong in the city of Baalbeck, the largest Shi’ite city, which gave the list of independents and clan representatives running against the Hezbollah-Amal coalition list more than 40% of the votes despite the coalition’s monopoly of arms in defence of its ‘patriotism’, ‘resistance’ and ‘development’!

On the other hand, while some may say that the Shi’ite ‘social’ realities in ‘tribal’ northeast Lebanon differ from those of ‘rural-urban’ south Lebanon – implying that the coalitions’ sway would be stronger – neither Hezbollah nor Amal would benefit from interfering in village rivalries, which may antagonize their influence in their home ground.

Meanwhile, in the Sunni ‘test’, the Future Movement has thus far emerged victorious in populous mixed battlegrounds led by the capital Beirut, despite relatively good showing for ‘Islamist’ and party groups; however, a more important test would come in the southern city of Sidon, in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city, and the neighbouring rural ‘Sunni reservoir’ of northern Lebanon.

Last but not least, as the Druze leaderships left these elections in their proper local and clan-based context far from high-level – noting that Druze population density is in the rural districts –, it was obvious that these elections opened the door wide for the protest votes of Lebanon’s civil society, which although was loud and clear, proved unable to make the breakthrough.

To conclude, I believe this electoral experiment has to be seen as a dynamic and healthy phenomenon, if analyzed properly. Lebanon’s status quo is far from normal; with its political decision hijacked, and its sovereignty diminished – if not made absent – by the power of sectarian arms controlled and directed from abroad, and almost half of its elites and enlightened intelligentsia are either emigrant or in self-exile, and whereby political parties may master sectarian and popular agitation and mobilisation nationally but have proven unable still to turn the Lebanese voter into a Lebanese citizen.

Opinion: A Strong Message from London against the ‘Clash of Civilizations’

Last Thursday morning I voted early in the London suburb where I live, before taking the train to my office in Central London.

To be frank, a few weeks before election day I was not very keen to vote, given how many times I have been disappointed with politics during the last 15 years. During this period I almost lost all trust in politicians, especially, when they claim ‘the high moral ground’ and start lecturing ethical values and human rights.

Incidentally, I never bothered to join a political party – neither in Lebanon nor in the UK despite my strong political convictions – until 1996, when I joined the British Labour Party. However, I suspended my party membership in 2003 as the Iraq War was looming when I realised that the party establishment was unwilling to listen to any voice critical of its policies and decisions.

Those days, like many, I was not a great fan of Saddam Hussein, but was insistently seeking one convincing answer to my question(s): “What about the day after? … How will the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq look like?”

At that time it became obvious that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair had chosen to sheepishly follow President George W Bush and his ‘neocon’ backroom operators. He later let down and relieved his cabinet of two of its best and most principled members: Foreign Secretary Robin Cook due to disagreements on Iraq, and Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam who was never given credit for her courage and efforts in securing peace in that troubled region.

Anyway, after my disappointment with Blair and his party, I decided to take it easy, observe, follow, and vote ‘tactically’. Then, after Blair left I thought for a while of returning to the fold, but later chose to wait and see how Labour would re-invent itself. By then I had met Jeremy Corbyn, the firebrand Leftist, ‘champion’ of the causes of suppressed and dispossessed – including, of course, the Palestinian Cause –, and the unflinching enemy of ‘imperialism’ and ‘racism’.

Corbyn was and continues to be an honest man; magnanimous, modest, honourable and idealistic… maybe a bit too idealistic! Furthermore, he was never seriously regarded a ‘leadership project’, let alone prime minister material. Even when the Labour leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn encountered difficulties in gathering enough nominating votes. Later on when some MPs chose to put their names as nominators, many of them declared that they won’t be voting for him, but rather intended to have an open debate that included all views within the party.

However, the moment Corbyn’s nomination became official, Labour MPs lost control of the election process to the party’s grassroots activists, constituency parties and trade unions. This assured the Leftist maverick of a stunning victory to the shock and dismay of the party’s moderates who believe that with Corbyn at the helm Labour will surely be in political limbo for years to come.

The last time Jeremy Corbyn and I met was a couple of years ago (before his election as party leader) when he invited me to lunch at the House of Commons. Our talk over lunch ended when my host blocked any path of meaningful discussion, by implicitly repeating the claims of some Arab ‘Leftists’ that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was a bastion of steadfastness against (American) imperialism, and a platform for the struggle of a free Palestine!

Thus, from the refusal of the Blairite ‘cabal’ to listen on Iraq, to reaching a dead-end with Corbyn on Syria, I simply relinquished any lingering hopes of re-joining Labour.

My decision was soon proven right when the truth began emerging from across the Atlantic about the real ‘principles’ and ‘ethical values’ of the Barack Obama administration. In November 2004 I wholeheartedly celebrated the election victory of Obama, a self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ liberal, after becoming worried about the destructive internal and external policies of the Republican’s conservative Right.

However, the unfolding tragedy of Syria proved to me beyond doubt that there was not much difference between Blair and Obama; and he who was willing to throw Iraq into the ‘unknown’ does not differ from he who conspires against the Syrian people. The fake and duplicitous ‘ethical foreign policy’ which Blair trumpeted for years before it was undone by his subservience to Bush Jr and his ‘neocons’ is now being replayed in Washington with the non-existent ‘humanity’ of Obama’s ‘junta’ including Ben Rhodes, Denis McDonough, Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett.

Given the above I stopped believing claims of ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ British and American imposters, and ceased to go forward attacking windmills ‘Don Quixote-style’.

This was the reason why I thought there was no need to vote in the local elections. But the same reason that pushed me to join a political party 20 years ago pushed me to vote a few days ago. It is the negative propaganda the Conservative Party has mastered and perfected after decades of experience, and that is always ready to stoop low pandering to racists and xenophobic bigots through ruthless and efficient media onslaughts.

In 1996, after winning four consecutive general elections the Conservatives embarked on scaring the voters, warning them against voting Labour because Labour – as they claimed – ‘should not be trusted with the economy’ and that they will destroy the economy due to their ‘lack of experience in government’ after being in opposition since 1979. The Conservatives were also assured of the ‘last resort’ scare tactic which was the alleged ‘invasion of immigrants and foreigners’, especially, from the Indian subcontinent.

This time around too, when the campaign managers of the Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith noticed that he was trailing his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, they began insinuating that Khan “appeared” with extremist Muslims. This tactic infuriated even Goldsmith’s sister Jemima, the divorcee of the world famous Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan.

This picture hit my memory augmented by the ‘isolationist’ feelings the anti-Europe and anti-immigrants UK Independent Party succeeded in entangling the Conservatives with; in addition to the poisonous racist climate created throughout Europe by the heinous Paris and Brussels attacks, and the memories of the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 perpetrated by four assailants, three of whom were Muslims who hailed from the Indian subcontinent.

These facts led me to believe that voting has become a duty, and Sadiq Khan’s victory has become a civilised message sent by London to the world.

Thankfully, as things turned out, London, the tolerant and venerable great city, did well.

Its message has been loud and clear against “the Clash of Civilizations”.

Opinion: Welcome Realism and Goodbye Comfort Zones!

Few Americans and Europeans, I reckon, have heard of Wa’el Al-Halqi; and not many Arabs have either. For those interested, Dr Al-Halqi is the Syrian regime’s Prime Minister, who announced to the media a couple of weeks ago that ‘the countdown for the liberation of Aleppo’ had started.

In a cult, family-based and security agencies-run regime the prime minister’s political and military influence is all but non-existent. Thus, what Al-Halqi ‘uncovered’ with regards to occupying Aleppo comes according to the popular Middle Eastern maxim ‘know their secrets from their little ones’. However, why was the ‘revelation’ left to Al-Halqi rather than those who truly run Syria is a serious matter!

Be it as it may, what is happening in Aleppo – Syria’s second largest and the world’s second oldest city – is looking increasingly like a significant part of the strategic conspiracy targeting Syria and the Arab world as a whole; otherwise, why was Aleppo intentionally excluded from the Russo-American agreement on a ceasefire that would only accelerate the implementation of the political part of the said conspiracy. Noteworthy here is that the ceasefire agreed by Moscow and Washington included greater Damascus and Latakia province, which are two areas whose guaranteed ‘security’ is crucial to the Assad regime’s survival.

In international calculations Aleppo’s fate is totally different, for various considerations relative to all major players in the Syrian arena, the two most important being:

1- It is Syria’s closest metropolis to Turkey, where more than 4 million people inhabited the city and its environs. Sunni Arab, Turkmen and Kurds make up the vast majority of that region. Thus, in order to ‘create’ the much-trumpeted ‘Useful Syria’ and separate Turkey from the Sunni Arab geographic depth – as Iran and Russia desire – a high percentage of Sunni Arabs and Turkmen needs to uprooted and driven away.

2- Complementing, the above, geographically and demographically, a Kurdish strip that geographically separates Turkey from northern Syria, would insure in the future a Mediterranean seaport for the so far landlocked ‘Greater Kurdistan’ if and when Washington decides to continue Barack Obama’s policy of investing in the Kurds, hand in hand, with making Iran America’s strategic ‘partner’ in the Middle East.

These two considerations, i.e. changing Aleppo’s identity and redrawing the map of northern Syria, seem to be the reason why the regime has launched its onslaught on the city and its inhabitants aided and abetted by Russia and Iran, with an American political cover. Such a situation is fraught with huge challenges that are neither expected to weaken nor disappear, not only to the Syrian people but also to all Arabs from the Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf.

Indeed, these challenges today spread from Morocco, where figures close to the White House have re-visited the issue of the country’s Western Sahara, intentionally embarrassing, provoking and blackmailing one of America’s oldest African allies; to the Gulf Region and Yemen where Iran is interfering and fomenting sectarian tensions, while virtually ‘occupying’ most of the ‘Fertile Crescent’ (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) with international blessings. Hence, more than ever, realistic approaches are needed towards the global political, economic and security realities.

One early landmark along this route has been the ‘2030 Vision’ announced in Saudi Arabia. It, perhaps, constitutes the most important and comprehensive futuristic plans that prepare for all possible positive and negative eventualities, underpinned on realism away from the costly ‘comfort zone’ mentality that plagued many Arab countries during the last half century.

Logically countries do not choose their natural resources or their neighbors, but can and must decide the economic, developmental, political and security priorities in the light of their perceptions of what they have and what they owe, who is the friend and who is the enemy, and which neighbor can be neutralized, befriended or warned against.

A lot has been said during the last few years in attempting to interpret the Obama administration’s policies towards the Arabs and the middle East, notably, Washington’s opening up to Iran. Then came its positions towards the Syrian Uprising, the Sunni-Shi’i friction fuelled and exploited by Iran since 1979, and ‘co-existence’ with Russia’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean. Among the interpretations provided the dwindling importance of the Middle Eastern oil as a result of the discoveries of alternative sources of energy, the increasing economic and security importance of East Asia led by China, and the changing mood of the American public which has grown skeptical of military adventurism abroad.

All these interpretations are true, so the question must be how to deal with them wisely? For a start, a wise approach should include; a- openness and frankness, and b- self reliance. This is exactly what took place recently when President Obama attended the GCC summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which has been playing pivotal roles in tackling the two hot issues of Yemen and Syria.

Obviously the positive ‘tone’ of the official statement about Obama’s meeting with the GCC leader was expected, however, both the GCC and American sides realize fully that any kind of ‘friendship; or ‘alliance’ requires ‘maintenance’ from time to time. What has emerged from Washington during the last two years, culminating in what we know today as the ‘Obama Doctrine’, was neither accidental nor ephemeral, but rather a reflection of President Obama’s deep intellectual convictions that has contributed to a comprehensive ‘value system’ transcending polite diplomatic talk.

On the other hand, it would be naïve for Washington to imagine that the Arabs, including those in the GCC and their leaders, are unable to read and comprehend the changing realities. In fact, the Arabs, especially the Gulf Arabs living just across the Gulf waters from Iran, possess very strong political memories and instincts, bettered only by decorum and patience.

Thus, until next November when a new American president is elected, there is no alternative to realism and self-reliance; and as far as ‘comfort zones’ are concerned, they now do more harm than good.

Opinion: Syria – What is Russia up to Now?

Those following the ‘Syrian Uprising’ and its repercussions during the last five years have been torn between two positions: the first, giving international stances – especially, Russia’s – the benefit of the doubt based on the assumption that regardless of the strength of its alliance with a certain regime, no government would ever keep quiet about genocide. The second, and much more realistic, expected that at least Russia would stick with the Assad regime come what may.

In the beginning, Russia’s and China’s use of the ‘Veto’ at the UN Security Council in order to prevent any decisive action against the Assad regime – after it decided to deal with its people by mass murder and uprooting – alerted many to the notion that Moscow’s interests in Syria were plentiful and complex. However, the overall picture remained ‘hazy’ for those who preferred to view Moscow’s position merely as a ‘We Are Here’ message to the USA and Europe; aiming to warn them against disregarding its interests as they did in Libya.

This was how some read the situation after the first ‘double Russo-Chinese Vetoes’; but an increasing number of those began to change their minds after the third ‘double Vetoes’, and began to notice a seriousness and stubbornness in the Kremlin expressed in the ugliest way by Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov and the media ‘security – linked’ mouthpieces commentating on the crisis in the Arab and world media. By then it became crystal clear to many that reality was much more that ‘reminding’ and warning, and was becoming much more sinister; more so as Washington’s true position was unfolding parallel with its political and nuclear ‘normalization’ with Tehran, and the collapse of its false Syrian ‘red lines’.

In fact, it did not take long for the USA to prove it was not a ‘friend of the Syrian people’ – if it ever was – but rather became a neutral actor at best. Subsequently, meetings between the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s counterpart Lavrov, became more like cordial social occasions than serious discussions aimed at solving serious problems against the background of massacres and suppression throughout Syria, not forgetting those perishing in the sea and suffering in refugee camps.

During the last few years, as President Barack Obama abandoned the plight of the Syrian people, by claiming that his top priority was fighting ISIS, Moscow did not stop at supporting the Assad regime militarily and diplomatically, but started working diligently to destroy the genuine Syrian opposition, and ‘fabricate’ a fake opposition composed mostly of the regime’s intelligence ‘puppets’.

Unfortunately, as Moscow embarked on this plan, it succeeded in exploiting certain political sensitivities of some Arab governments, which has helped the Kremlin in creating this ‘puppet’ fake opposition and forcing it on the negotiating table. This would mean that any serious political dialogue becomes a ‘chat’ between the regimes and its creations, reproducing the same gang that would continue what it has been doing, but using new ‘fresh’ faces.

Still, on its own such Russian endeavours would not have been enough, given the failure of Iran’s ‘multi-national’ militias to win its battles on the ground, and the ability of the opposition forces to maintain their momentum and sense of purpose despite all attempts to undermine them, politically through ‘fake’ opposition, and militarily through ISIS which has been fighting the opposition with full collusion from the regime. Furthermore, there have been fears within Syria’s religious and sectarian minorities of the outcome of Iran’s hegemony, whether through its IRGC or its expropriation of lands through forced uprooting, evictions and dubious ‘purchases’ from absentee landowners (i.e. refugees).

The above-mentioned factors, namely the ‘steadfastness of the popular Uprising’ and the ‘fears of minorities’ – especially, the Christian communities – seem to have convinced Moscow of the necessity of direct military intervention. This, evidently, was made easier in September 2015 thanks to the ‘Obama Doctrine’ based on siding with ‘Political Shi’ism’ throughout the Middle East against the extremist face of ‘Political Sunnism’ as represented by ISIS and ‘Jabhat An-Nusra’ (Al-Qa’eda’s branch in Syria).

Today, while Russia and Iran are fighting alongside the regime, Washington has been severing all its past commitments to the Syrian Opposition, cementing its links with the Iraqi premier Haider Abadi – a prominent face of regional ‘moderate Political Shi’ism’ –, and launching a ‘strategic movement’ with the Kurds of Iraq and Syria that threatens to speedily break up the two countries, and perhaps Turkey too. At the moment, Washington is dealing politically, militarily and financially with the leadership of the ‘Kurdistan Autonomous Region’ in Iraq as a fully-fledged independent state. With regards to Syria, Washington has turned a blind eye to Iran’s direct military involvement, fully adopted Moscow’s ‘interpretations’ of almost all agreements reached in Geneva, and kept quiet towards Moscow’s attempts to create a ‘puppet’ opposition through which it plans to undermine any genuine negotiations leading to a political settlement.

This American position, as previously mentioned, could be explained by the ‘Obama Doctrine’, but no less important is the need to comprehend the Russian ‘scenario’ given that Washington is fully behind it.

The serious nature of how Russia is acting in the Near East is underlined not only by the visit of Qassin Suleiman, the commander of ‘Al-Quds Brigade’ in Iran’s IRCG to Moscow against Washington’s ‘deafening silence’, or Moscow’s insistence that a separate pro-Moscow Kurdish delegation takes part in any future Syria talks, but also underlined by the continuous Russian dialogue with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Israel is definitely a crucial player in every game played in the Near East, and any thought that it may ‘distance itself’ from its politics, problems and future maps is absolute nonsense.

Yes, Israel is a major and effective player whose interests are taken seriously in Washington, Moscow and even Tehran; and thus, no future maps are going to be drawn in the region without its knowledge, approval and regard to its interests and desire