MIDEAST MIRROR 05.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Dangers and delusions
2-France steps in
3-The possible and the probable
4-A dangerous end to power-sharing in Iraq
1-Dangers and delusions
These [Syrian opposition] gains are likely to expand amidst reports of the Syrian regular army’s exhaustion and growing regional support for the anti-Assad factions. These include the Nusra Front, of course, since it is the faction best able to secure results on the ground. This change on the battlefield should have offered an opportunity for a serious Arab/international push for a new Syrian regime that ends the rule of the Baath Party, which has suffocated the country for decades. Instead, however, it is liable to lay the grounds for a new tragedy that is no less harmful than one-party rule if the Nusra Front-type jihadi groups succeed in achieving further victories, thereby consolidating their role in determining Syria's future--Mona-Lisa Freiha in Lebanese an-Nahar
Where was [Syrian opposition leader] Khoja deluded and where did he commit a mistake? The head of the Turkish SNC's zeal – in fact, naivety – is no different from the zeal whipped up by those who preceded him but who have ended up forgotten and marginalized. He should realize that the American/Turkish training program for those described as his 'moderate opposition' which will begin in the country whose nationality he bears (Turkey) on May 9th is, in effect, an acknowledgment that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis and that the only solution is via negotiations that abandon all preconditions and leave delusions and cock-and-bull stories behind--Mohammad Kharroub in Jordanian al-Ra'i
The Nusra Front, which is the Syrian branch of al-Qa’ida, has spearheaded the Syrian opposition’s recent advances in the north of the country, notes a Lebanese commentator. This poses a challenge to the opposition’s supporters, making it more urgent for them to back the more moderate and pluralistic factions as a real alternative to the regime. The leader of the moderate Syrian opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) Khaled Khoja, is deluding himself if he believes that groups loyal to him achieved the latest advances, says a Jordanian commentator. This is evident from the fact that the SNC’s provisional government has not been allowed to pursue its activities from the new areas taken over from the regime.
CRUCIAL ROLE: "The Syrian regime's recent battlefield setbacks in the north and south of the country have once again highlighted the Nusra Front’s crucial role," writes Mona-Lisa Freiha in Tuesday's Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
The Syrian branch of al-Qa’ida, which has been playing a major role in the ongoing battles in Syria for over four years, has recently forcefully returned to the forefront after being in competition with ISIS’s savage practices since 2013.
The fall of the city of Idlib and subsequently Jisr ash-Shughour in April under blows from a coalition led by the Nusra Front and that included Jund ash-Sham, Jayshul Sunna, Liwa' al-Haq, Ajnad ash-Sham, and other Islamist groups, was not only a reflection of the Nusra's fighting strength. It also underlined that organization’s power of attraction for the small Islamist organizations and these factions' ability to achieve significant breakthroughs once they set aside their infighting, and focus on a single aim.
These gains are likely to expand amidst reports of the Syrian regular army’s exhaustion and growing regional support for the anti-Assad factions. These include the Nusra Front, of course, since it is the faction best able to secure results on the ground. This change on the battlefield should have offered an opportunity for a serious Arab/international push for a new Syrian regime that ends the rule of the Baath Party, which has suffocated the country for decades. Instead, however, it is liable to lay the grounds for a new tragedy that is no less harmful than one-party rule if the Nusra Front-type jihadi groups succeed in achieving further victories, thereby consolidating their role in determining Syria's future.
There are those who believe that the Nusra Front is not as ugly as ISIS. Despite the fact that the two groups have the same aim of establishing an Islamic emirate, there are those who believe that the Nusra has an advantage over its competitor in that it has more Syrian than foreign fighters, unlike ISIS, which has turned into a magnet attracting jihadis from all over the world. And there is no doubt that the Nusra Front's declared aim of toppling Assad has gained acceptance in the opposition community, contrary to ISIS with its suspect goals that extend beyond the Syrian borders.
The Nusra Front’s 'Syrian identity' has undoubtedly secured it poplar backing and support from the villages it enters. In light of the group’s recent gains, certain foreign research centers have begun to ask the West not to place Nusra in the same basket as ISIS, and to ignore its ideological affiliations and try to encourage its 'pragmatism' as a means of ending the Syrian conflict. But these calls are very risky, especially since the Nusra Front is nothing but al-Qa’ida under a different name, and since its record is no less bloody than that of ISIS.
The new Syrian scene that is taking shape poses a serious threat to the Friends of Syria (FOS) and the international community. It highlights the need for a coherent Syrian policy that focuses primarily on the rise of moderate political and military forces. This may include pushing the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) into the Syrian interior and implementing the promised programs to train the [moderate] opposition.
"In this manner the SNC can assume the role it was intended to play to begin with, and can prove itself as a pluralistic and democratic alternative to the regime," concludes Freiha.
EVERYTHING AND NOTHING: "One need not read the interview that SNC head, the Turkish national Khaled Khoja, so ‘graciously’ granted [the Saudi daily] Asharq al-Awsat two days ago," writes Mohammad Kharroub in Tuesday's Jordanian daily al-Ra'i.
In that interview, Khoja said everything and yet said nothing. Instead, he resorted to regurgitating the same old vacuous mobilization discourse that the leaders and heads of the various Syrian opposition groups have made it their wont to repeat on every occasion.
Most of these leaders have emerged from their 'voluntary' exiles in Europe, and especially the U.S. Most, if not all, are nationals of the states where they have 'voluntarily' resided for so long. Some have totally assimilated in these states' societies, as evident from the fact that they speak Arabic with European or American accents, and their Arabic language skills have failed to provide them with the terms they seek to deliver their political messages. As a result, they need 'translators' who make clear what they are really trying to say.
This has been the practice of the 'freedom-fighters' of the Istanbul coalition [SNC], whose most recent 'achievement' was to make a Syrian Turcoman who is also a Turkish national [Khoja] its president. In fact, some reports say that the man is also a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara.
Khaled Khoja, who 'rebelled' against everyone, who sought to strike out all other domestic or foreign Syrian opposition groups and who made his attendance at the meetings in Moscow or Cairo conditional on recognition of the SNC as a sole legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition (and the Syrian people, of course,) was astonished to see himself at an 'official' meeting with the 'very capable' head of U.S. diplomacy John Kerry (and with [French President] Francois Hollande before him).
He could hardly believe that he was standing side-by-side with Kerry to deliver statements to the press, and he believed that he had really become Syria's 'primary' man, who will enter Damascus as a conqueror at the head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades. These brigades, he believes, are fighting battles on all fronts to force the regime to take the obligatory path that will be determined for it by the rebels and the revolution's inspiring commander, Khaled Khoja. This obligatory path is to hand over power to the SNC without prior conditions. This is the demand that Khoja will refuse to sit at the negotiations table unless satisfied.
These are the very same delusions that once took hold of the minds of [former SNC heads] Burhan Ghalioun, George Sabra, 'Abdelbasset Sida, Ahmad al-Jarba, and before them all the rebel Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib. But Khoja would have done better to ask himself: Where are they all and others like them – headed by Syria's ‘De Gaulle’ [defected Syrian army officer] General Salim Idriss – as well as those such as Zahran 'Alloush and Nusra Front's leader Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani now?
The Nusra Front? Yes. For the freedom-fighter and leader Khaled Khoja has struck out this organization and is not including it in his calculations, because he believes that the latest military 'achievements' were the work of the FSA [Free Syrian Army-- SNC’s military wing], and that the Nusra Front is only a 'media phenomenon' that has benefited from its presence in the [Gulf/Turkish sponsored Islamist front] Jaysh al-Fateh formations, which stormed the city of Idlib and later Jisr ash-Shughour.
As a result, Khoja went on to sing the praise of his [FSA] 'army' even though many people including Syrian opposition groups, are unanimous in proclaiming that it no longer exist and that its existence is a mere media tool used by the Turkish SNC to secure a foothold in the future negotiations that are certain to take place.
These negotiations will take place regardless of whether their venue will be at the third Moscow Forum or Geneva-3, or even at the Geneva consultations (merely to listen to the various parties) led by UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura or in Cairo – even though the SNC refuses to head to Cairo for reasons stemming from the identity of those who control this Turkish coalition, namely the Muslim Brotherhood – or in Riyadh or Jeddah, according to unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia plans to call for such a conference that is confined to the Syrian opposition groups.
What we are dealing with here therefore is a delusion that Khaled Khoja wants to revive in an effort to benefit from the latest developments in the Syrian northwest. These developments were no more than a blatant Turkish invasion using Syrian or Chechen tools. In fact, not even the American, European or Turkish media themselves were able to disguise Turkey’s role in that invasion with large numbers of armed elements using advanced weapons, primarily [U.S. made] TOW anti-tank missiles.
At the same time, Khoja brings us the glad tidings that anti-aircraft weapons are on their way to his 'rebels' as the Obama administration is reconsidering its former decision not to arm the Syrian opposition, because it does not want such weapons to fall into the terrorists' hands – as the American claims soaked in hypocrisy and lies keep repeating.
Where was Khoja deluded and where did he commit a mistake? The head of the Turkish SNC's zeal – in fact, naivety – is no different from the zeal whipped up by those who preceded him but who have ended up forgotten and marginalized. He should realize that the American/Turkish training program for those described as his 'moderate opposition' which will begin in the country whose nationality he bears (Turkey) on May 9th is, in effect, an acknowledgment that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis and that the only solution is via negotiations that abandon all preconditions and leave delusions and cock-and-bull stories behind.
Moreover, how can Khoja explain why the 'rebels,' the majority of whom he claims are members of his FSA, have refused to allow the SNC's provisional government to move into Idlib to pursue its activities from there?
"Or does he still believe that the Americans can or want to establish a no-fly zone in the Syrian north?" asks Kharroub in conclusion.
2-France steps in
Paris and the major Arab Gulf capitals have found common ground in seeking to provide an alternative to the traditional U.S. role in the region, says Mohammad Barhouma in today's pan-Arab al-Hayat
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is forming new partnerships with countries other than the U.S. in an attempt to escape their exclusive reliance on Washington in determining their policies, notes a Jordanian commentator. This is evident by the recent arms deals with France, which has adopted positions closer to those of the GCC in recent years, and by the growing trade links with France in various fields.
WORTH NOTING: "French President Francois Hollande's attendance at the Riyadh consultative GCC summit in preparation for the Gulf leaders’ meeting with President Obama in mid-May at Camp David is worth noting," writes Mohammad Barhouma in Tuesday's Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.
Observers had previously said that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month was an important political and diplomatic signal that led analysts to comment on a current turning point in French regional diplomacy. The French daily Le Monde asked whether France had now become the Gulf's Sunni countries’ most valuable ally in the context of their competition with Tehran to the tempo of the many conflicts in the region.
The growing French/Gulf rapprochement stems from Paris's desire to pursue the notion that 'politics is nothing but intensified economics.' To this should be added the Gulf's desire to get rid of the consequences, perhaps burdens, of its exclusive relations with Washington, and diversify its economic, political, and military partnerships as a result. This is a policy that has provided Abu-Dhabi and Riyadh, in particular, with practical expertise in this field for some years now. Anyone who fails to realize this factor will fail to correctly interpret these two capitals' moves in the regional arena.
Here is it important to note that [former French president] Nicolas Sarkozy's France preferred Doha as its Gulf partner. Today, however, Riyadh and Abu-Dhabi seem to be at the forefront of France's interest, in addition to Doha which recently bought twenty-four French Rafale fighters in a deal worth some seven billion dollars.
The growing importance of the military approach in exerting pressure on Bashar al-Assad to accept a political solution that would speed up an end to the Syrian crisis represents a point of intersection between Paris, Riyadh, and Doha (as well as Ankara.) The Gulf states will not forget Paris's hard-line stance (so far) towards the Iranian nuclear program. Moreover, France has deemed Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen to be a preemptive strike by means of which Riyadh and its Gulf and Arab allies are defending their borders and legitimacy in Yemen.
Paris does not have the capabilities that would enable it to compete with Washington in influencing the Gulf states or to form partnerships with them. But Paris is naturally trying to benefit from its political stance by securing commercial and economic gains in return. Laurent Fabius provided a frank example of this when he said that he was optimistic that the Rafale deal would be followed up by other commercial achievements to be added to France's achievements in the Egyptian and Indian markets.
For their part, the Gulf states are trying to emerge from the circle of their exclusive alliance with the U.S. This is evident from the growing calls for self-reliance in forming security and regional partnerships, as well as investments in French -and other sorts of- partnerships.
"And an indication that Russia has not been forgotten in all this was provided by its abstention in the UN Security Council vote regarding on Yemen (2216); a significant signal that the door has been left open and that the sort of extremism and sharp positions that could block Russia’s 'way back' [to the region] will be avoided," concludes Barhouma.
3-The possible and the probable
The most important obstacle preventing an Israeli war on Hizbollah is Washington’s opposition to any such Israeli move in the current circumstances, says Yihya Dabouq in today's Lebanese al-Akhbar
Israel and Hizbollah may appear to be on the brink of a large-scale confrontation, but maintaining calm between them is equally possible, argues a Lebanese commentator. The crucial factor is the attitude of the U.S. administration, which is most likely to view any move by Israel to initiate a war as a direct challenge to American regional policies at this juncture.
BORDER TENSIONS: "The tension along Israel's borders, whether with Syria or with Lebanon, could yet develop into a large-scale confrontation, or not; both are possible, even if they are not equally probable," writes Yihya Dabouq in Tuesday's left-leaning Beirut daily al-Akhbar.
For its part, Israel, insists that it will not allow any qualitative weapons, which could alter the balance of power with Hizbollah, to be brought from Syria into Lebanon. While it admits that some qualitative and accurate capabilities have already entered Lebanon and are currently in the party's possession, this does not mean – as evident from Israeli statements and attacks in Syria – that it has abandoned the red line it has determined to prevent 'balance-breaking' weapons from being deployed in Lebanon.
As for Hizbollah, it has kept silent. It has made no comments, and issued no denials or admissions. Its strategy has been based on surrounding its position and assessments of its operational activities with a cloud of uncertainty as it confronts Israel’s efforts to set red lines.
Despite this, things are more complex and more serious than may seem at a first glance. Previous Israeli attacks and the responses to them offer no sign that similar attacks and responses will assume the same pattern in the future; they may be either more or less intense. But what is certain is that both sides are acting based on very dangerous rules of engagement that may drag them into a large-scale confrontation that neither may want.
Is it possible that conflagration might break out? Yes, it certainly is. But this is almost as likely as the maintenance of calm, and neither side ultimately being dragged towards a large-scale confrontation. Israel is apparently serious about defending the red lines it has set to prevent the arrival of balance-breaking weapons to Hizbollah, or to block additional quantities to those that have been already been received. And it is playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship, risking the outbreak of a large-scale military confrontation it continues to insist that it does not want.
There is no doubt that Israel's main interest lies in ending Hizbollah’s threat, or at the very least, weakening the party to such an extent that ends its status as the primary strategic threat to it – as it has been described by more than one Israeli official recently. On the other hand, however, and despite having many motives for action, the tools at Israel's disposal and its readiness to use them are subject to great doubt, especially if judged by its actual ability to achieve its aims.
Moreover, the international situation is unlikely to permit Israel to make use of its capabilities against Hizbollah at this particular point in time – assuming that Israel itself believes that it can achieve the results it hopes for from such a war. In fact, there is no doubt that it has learnt from the 2006 war [with Hizbollah] that going to war in haste without careful prior consideration of whether it can achieve its aims and whether its costs are bearable, is a very dangerous matter indeed.
The situation between Israel and Hizbollah is truly on the brink of war. The distance separating them from a confrontation is very small, and both sides are walking on a very thin tightrope. This may lead to a war, or a violent round of confrontation at the very least, which has been described by one Israeli commentator as 'a very long day of fighting.' But who can guarantee either side that this one-day will not develop into many long days of conflict?
Despite all the above, no assessment or analysis of the situation would be complete unless it takes the U.S. attitude into consideration. Does the administration have any interest in the outbreak of a large-scale confrontation or even a limited confrontation that could escalate into a large-scale one? This question has preoccupied the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the semi-official voice of the Zionist lobby in the U.S. According to the Institute's analysis, should Israel decide to go to a war of this sort, it would face enormous U.S. pressure, and the U.S. president would view it as an Israeli attempt to undermine the nuclear agreement with Iran.
"But whatever happens, Hizbollah has enough abilities to assess the possibilities of a future war in advance. For the outbreak of any 'third Lebanon war' will be caused by Israel, since it is Israel that is initiating the attacks, and the party is only responding to them," concludes Dabouq.
4-A dangerous end to power-sharing in Iraq
The U.S. decision to bypass Baghdad in arming Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds constitutes a body blow to the country’s post-Saddam political system, with far-reaching consequences, says Wafiq as-Samerrai in Saudi Asharq al-Awsat
Iraq’s Sunni political groupings committed a catastrophic strategic mistake by walking out of Iraqi government vote rejecting the U.S. congress's decision to arm the Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis directly without passing through the central government, maintains a former Iraqi chief of intelligence who defected from Saddam’s regime. This spells the end of the phase of accord between Iraq's constituents that has existed since the fall of the former regime in 2003, and exposes the Sunni Arabs to severe threats.
UNPRECEDENTED STANCE: "In an unprecedented stance since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, the Iraqi parliament took a resolute decision to reject an American congressional move to arm the Kurds and the Sunnis directly rather than via the Iraqi government, unless that government abides by specific preconditions for national reconciliation," notes Wafiq as-Samerrai in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
Congress’s decision was seen as an attempt, not only to implement U.S. VP 'Biden's project to divide Iraq into provinces,' but to partition the country into three states – Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish.
The Iraqi decision was taken by the Shiite National Coalition Bloc, which enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament. But the Kurdish and Sunni blocs refused to vote and left the meeting. And with this begins the journey of disregarding the policy of accord that Iraqi politicians have grown accustomed to over the past 12 years since the fall of Saddam's regime.
While the Kurds’ rejection and boycott of the Iraqi decision may be natural – since the Kurds’ aim has been and remains that of working towards independence, using all circumstances and conditions to prepare for secession – the Sunni bloc has committed a major strategic mistake it should have avoided.
There are many reasons for saying this, most important is the fact that the points of fateful intersection between the Sunnis and Kurdish interests are very weak, especially in light of the schemes that the Kurdistan Province presidency [Mas’ud Barzani] has manifested to take over the lands liberated from ISIS, its refusal to withdraw from Arab villages, as well as preventing their inhabitants from returning to their homes, with reports that thousands of these homes are being demolished.
Congress’s decision cannot be relied upon. Its impact on the Sunni Arabs will be destructive, because the Americans are not ready to fight any ground wars in Iraq. The bitter and difficult taste of the previous battles they fought there are still in their mouths. Moreover, nothing threatens their strategic interests in the medium-term. Nor is it likely that American forces will supply the Sunni clans with heavy weapons that are superior to the advanced weapons in ISIS fighters’ possession. Finally, it is not easy to encourage the Sunni clans to resort to large-scale mobilization after the terrible losses they have suffered, and after [ISIS] terrorists have infiltrated some of their ranks.
Since the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) are being blocked from participating in the military operations by some Sunni politicians, the brunt of these operations will have to be borne by members of the Sunni clans. And the price they will pay is many times beyond the capacity of Anbar Province's ability to withstand, especially since the other Sunni regions are unwilling to fight outside their borders. For localism has struck deep roots in people's minds, and the advocates of a Sunni [federal] province have failed to develop any form of cooperation between the people of these regions.
These new factors will shock the Americans before anyone else. And since the Shiite voice has forcefully begun to unite, talk of accord and a national guard and allocating government posts on the basis of sectarian power-sharing will head in a direction that is far from accord, giving priority to the rules of the [Shiite] political majority in light of the results of the elections.
In that case, the central government will be able to take strong decisions that will not be influenced by the need to comply by the rules of power sharing. And this means that the Sunnis’ political voice will retreat as a result of the mistake committed by leaving the recent parliament meeting. That was a catastrophic strategic decision that was taken under pressure from failed politicians who failed to properly estimate the very dire consequences that will ensue.
The bitter truth is that the policy of accord and power sharing has been enormously destructive for Iraq. The Sunni Arabs have not benefited from it at all, except for certain politicians, corrupt people, and 'thieves.' The Sunni constituent at large did not benefit from the appointment of Sunni officials in certain posts, with some officials authorizing their relatives and offices to determine government posts in the various Sunni cities in return for bribes, in one form or another. As a result, they became extremely rich, so much so that it would not be wrong to describe the political system as that of distributing shares between the corrupt, and as one that enriches them at the expense of the poor and deprived who have been deceived by sectarian slogans and are today paying a price that will destroy them as a result.
The American decision to arm the Sunnis and the Kurds has broken the back of the system of share-distribution and accord, and there is no doubt that the Sunni Arabs will be harmed most by it. The Kurds will also suffer from the reactions from the center, and from rising voices demanding separation from them in conditions that are not suitable for the establishment of a Kurdish state. American weapons will arrive at Kurdish airports, especially Irbil Airport that is controlled by Mas'ud Barzani's security agencies, and deep and serious disagreements will emerge with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and with the Kurdish Movement for Change. This is because Barzani's party will deny them their share of weapons. In these circumstances, Baghdad will have broad margins of maneuver. And in addition, Kirkuk Province, which is controlled by the PUK, will be in a difficult position vis-à-vis the Kurdistan Province presidency.
"So we should forget the existence of accord over strategic issues, and realize that we are now faced with a phase of legitimate [Baghdad-based Shiite-led] centralism," concludes Samerrai.
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