MIDEAST MIRROR 28.04.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-The allies’ rebellion
3-Jordan’s borders under threat
1-The allies’ rebellion
Washington's project based on training a ‘moderate [Syrian] opposition’ is no longer convincing to any of its major allies in the region. The latter have apparently taken it upon themselves to rely on their salafi, jihadi, and Muslim Brotherhood allies and supporters. They have had enough of the civilian opposition's fragmentation, and the limited influence of Syria's secular opposition. And they do not believe in civilian and secular forces to begin with anyway. Their preferred historical choice is restricted to an 'Islamist pluralism' that ranges between moderate salafism to jihadi salafism, and ends with the Muslim Brotherhood, and includes all shades of the religious spectrum. These forces are being prepared to settle score with Iran in Syria, as well as with Syria and its current regime -- 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Jordanian ad-Dustour
Washington realizes that its war on terrorism has now become more difficult than ever before in light of the rebellion of its regional allies that joined the coalition it formed to fight ISIS in September 2014. America’s faltering weakens its grip over Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf in general) when it comes to issues of this sort, especially in light of the Gulf’s rage stemming from the assumption that the U.S./Iranian rapprochement threatens to topple all of America’s 'favorites', who are slated to become 'former favorites' in the coming phase. But the Saudi/Turkish game today seems akin to an all-out gamble that risks all their credit -- 'Abdelmun’im Ali 'Issa in Syrian al-Watan
The Syrian opposition’s recent advances in northern and southern Syria are mostly by the Qa'ida-affiliated Nusra Front, which clearly enjoys the backing of certain Arab states and Turkey, maintains a leading Jordanian commentator. The question is whether the U.S. will allow this to proceed as a 'consolation prize' for its Arab allies so as to facilitate the passage of its nuclear agreement with Iran. It is beyond doubt that Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are playing the major role in the latest attacks in Syria and are behind the recent opposition advances there, maintains a commentator in a pro-regime Syrian daily. Riyadh and Ankara seem to have decided to wager everything they own on this battle; but the Syrians’ steely determination will ultimately defeat them.
OPPOSITION SATISFACTION: "The head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Mr. Khaled Khoja whose headquarters are in Istanbul made no secret of his great satisfaction at the victories achieved by 'Syria's rebels' against 'Assad's forces'," notes 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Tuesday's Jordanian daily ad-Dustour.
He described this week’s Jisr ash-Shughour battle as the gateway to liberating all of Syria’s occupied territories – ‘occupied’ by the regime of course, since he does not have the [Israeli] occupied Syrian Golan Heights in mind. And he urged the international community to upgrade the form and level of its support for the 'Syrian revolution' so as to speed up the toppling the regime, cut short the suffering, and reduce the sacrifices.
When Khoja and the SNC's Arab and Turkish backers speak of 'Syria's rebels,' they unabashedly have 'the Nusra Front's mujahidin' in mind. The forces that entered Idlib and followed that up by taking over Jisr ash-Shughour, then certain areas in Sahl al-Ghab, are Islamist elements and factions that have the Nusra Front as their backbone. Certain salafi and jihadi groups as well as military formations affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood have joined these forces as well. This is the sole form of 'pluralism' that is allowed in today’s Syrian opposition scene.
The media opposed to Assad's regime are deliberately obscuring the Nusra Front's role. They speak only of 'revolution' and 'rebels', so as to avoid the sensitivities of those in the West who still view the Nusra Front as a terrorist group and a branch of al-Qa'ida. The fact of the matter is that a regional coalition began to take shape a few months ago, bypassing its old sensitivities and secondary disagreements. This coalition currently seems busy producing a new Operation Decisive Storm, but in new forms and deploying new tools to be used against the Syrian regime this time and not the Houthis and Ali 'Abdullah Saleh's forces in Yemen.
Within a single month alone, the term 'a massacre of tanks' was used twice in the Decisive Storm [Arab Gulf] media directed at Syria. There was talk of such a ‘massacre’ in the Der'a's countryside, and another in the Jisr ash-Shughour countryside. As to how it was possible to carry out these two 'massacres,' it is certain that the Nusra Front has received qualitative anti-tank weapons from its regional backers.
It is also certain that a centralized decision has been taken to ignite the war fronts on the various axes in Syria under the supervision of a regional operations’ room and relying on the Nusra Front and Chechen elements affiliated to Turkish intelligence, as well as on the other factions and groups backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. This by itself is enough to explain the unexpected breakthroughs on numerous fronts from Syria's north to its south. Some believe that these attacks are meant to precede the Geneva-III meetings that [UN Syria Envoy] de Mistura has called for, and that may last for eight weeks during which the UN envoy will meet separately with delegations from the political and armed opposition and the regime.
But a close scrutiny of the battlefield situation and the political and diplomatic moves accompanying it would lead to the conclusion that the aims of this escalation go much further than mere 'chatter on the shores of Lake Léman' [Geneva]. They have to do with Syria's entire future, and the open regional conflict and proxy wars between Iran and its supporters’ camp, and that of Saudi Arabia and its allies. In fact, monitoring the latest Turkish statements, which are once again raising the issue of establishing no-fly and buffer zones, as well as some voices calling for a ground intervention in Syria, provides us with a clearer idea of the aims of this comprehensive escalation.
It seems that Washington's project based on training a ‘moderate opposition’ is no longer convincing to any of its major allies in the region. The latter have apparently taken it upon themselves to rely on their salafi, jihadi, and Muslim Brotherhood allies and supporters. They have had enough of the civilian opposition's fragmentation, and the limited influence of Syria's secular opposition. And they do not believe in civilian and secular forces to begin with anyway. Their preferred historical choice is restricted to an 'Islamist pluralism' that ranges between moderate salafism to jihadi salafism, and ends with the Muslim Brotherhood, and includes all shades of the religious spectrum.
These forces are being prepared to settle score with Iran in Syria, as well as with Syria and its current regime. On the surface, the supporters of this alliance claim that 'ISIS's steel' can only be broken by that of an-Nusra Front, since both are made of the same material. But the course, aims, and priorities of the latest battles were all directed at the Syrian regime [not at ISIS]. We no longer remember when the last time the Nusra Front clashed with ISIS. The exact same situation is occurring in Yemen. For while some two thousand aerial sorties were carried out against the Houthis and the Yemeni army, not one Al-Qa'ida for Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) target received any sort of blow.
The fact that these attacks were launched from areas very close to the borders with Turkey with such large numbers of fighters armed with advanced weapons, undoubtedly exposes the extent of Turkish/Arab involvement in this war on the one hand, and the fact that this coalition has dropped all its former reservations towards the Nusra Front, on the other.
Battlefield developments and the [Arab Gulf] political and media coverage that accompanies them now tend towards 'merging' the Nusra Front with the list of 'Syria's rebels,' even after its ‘Emir al-Fateh Abu-Mohammad al-Jawlani’ has time and again rejected various pressures and mediations that have sought to dismantle his official link to al-Qa'ida and to 'liberate' him from his 'pledge of allegiance and obedience' to Ayman az-Zawahiri.
There is no doubt that these and similar facts are known to Washington, which still classifies the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization and gives priority to the war on terrorism, contrary to its allies who are focused on confronting Iranian expansion. The question is this: How will Washington behave in the coming days? Will it exert pressure on its allies to control the pace of the war on terrorism that it is leading?
"Or will it offer then a second 'consolation prize', after the first such prize that took the form of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, in order to facilitate the passage of the nuclear agreement with Iran?" asks Rintawi in conclusion.
‘NEW IDEAS’:"For months now views and opinions have been circulating in the Saudi and Qatari hallways as to the war on Syria," writes 'Abdelmun’im Ali 'Issa in Tuesday's pro-regime Syrian daily al-Watan.
These have been published by Saudi journalists here or there, based on instructions issued from the concerned political decision-making circles. They were based on new ideas that what is more than urgent today is to turn a new leaf with the terrorist organizations operating on Syrian territories. (The same goes for Yemen, where al-Qa'ida has become the Saudi coalition forces’ sole remaining ally after Operation Decisive Storm was launched on 25/3/2015.)
This new sense of urgency stemmed from a conviction that has taken deep root in the minds of the regional powers supporting the armed Syrian opposition, namely, that it is no longer possible to wager on any force outside the framework of the salafi, jihadi, takfiri organizations, if the goal is to topple the Syrian regime. And this conviction may have stemmed from what Barack Obama said on 20/6/2014 when he sounded the death knell for the previous illusion that the 'moderate' Syrian opposition could defeat the Syrian regime. That was in fact understood as an invitation to opt for alternatives outside the former framework.
On 25/3/2015, the formation of the Jayshul Fateh [The Army of Islamic Conquest] was announced. The backbone of this new body consists of the Nusra Front and the Ahrar ash-Sham Movement, with open Saudi backing and Qatar and Turkey’s support whose geographical location allows it to offer wide-ranging logistical backing which can be extended further if need be.
What happened in Jisr ash-Shughour on 25/4/2015 could not have occurred had it not been for the broad backing that confronted the Syrian army with NATO-type technologies coupled with the most advanced achievements of Wahhabism in brainwashing, which has yielded 'immersion' fighters. These are 'super-fighters' who fight with their individual weapons until they run out of ammunition, after which they become suicide bombers.
After the military operations began in Idlib, it was not difficult for an observer to come to the conclusion that a joint operations room located in Turkish territories near the Syrian borders was managing military operations. These began with the entry of thousands of fighters (whom opposition sources report number some ten thousand) from deep inside Turkey; the operations then included providing live satellite images that showed the changes on the battlefield and that could locate the points of vulnerability and the gaps that could be exploited; and it reached advanced American jamming means aimed at paralyzing the communications between the Syrian high command and its fighters on the ground.
All this was coupled with Saudi backing that recently rushed to saturate these fighters with advanced weapons, as evident from many signs. For example, an advanced American missile whose price is over thirty thousand dollars was fired at a checkpoint manned by nothing more than a heavy machine gun whose price is no more than two thousand dollars. Another same sort of missile was fired at an unmanned motorcycle that was parked on the side.
What happened in Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour is part of an old but renewed scheme that aims to take control of a geographical area that is free of any presence for the Syrian army. This scheme extends to the furthest point of southern Syria in al-Qunaitra and Der'a, via Hama, Idlib, Deir az-Zour, and ar-Raqqa in the furthest northeast of the country. And this can later be transformed into a no-fly zone based on the pretext of protecting the 'moderate' Syrian opposition if conditions were to mature sufficiently for implementing this idea despite the fact that this notion has been totally excluded from American political calculations for considerations stemming from the regional balance of power, including the realization that it would give the upper hand to a Turkish role that may allow Ankara to impose its specific terms on any future negotiations.
The most imminent round of negotiations is apparently Geneva-III that is meant to be held late this summer. This may have a better international prospect than Geneva-I (in June 2012) and Geneva-II (in January 2014). American arrogance foiled the first of these conferences, while the Ukrainian crisis toppled the second.
Turkey today is playing a hidden role based on operating al-Qa'ida's branches via its intelligence services together with its regional counterparts that are known by all. It is also prepared to be directly involved (under the guise of the Syrian opposition) if need be – and that need does often arise. The leaders of the military operations in Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour have been announced and they include 'Abdullah al-Moheisini (Saudi) 'Abdelmun’im Zeineddin (Syrian) and Amir Muslim (Chechen). These provide conclusive proof of direct Turkish involvement; since the same three figures played a role in the attack on Kasab in March 2014, with direct Turkish backing as well.
Turkey’s role is expected to escalate soon against the background of many recent signs that have added up to show that the Decisive Storm that Riyadh was trying to implement in Syria was not possible. Riyadh's call for establishing a joint Arab force was the first step in that direction. But statements from Cairo in the past few days that there would be no Syrian Decisive Storm and that President Assad is an important part of a political settlement represent a disappointment to Saudi Arabia. In light of this, a Turkish/Saudi 'understanding' was reached to launch a Decisive Storm using Syrian hands backed by strategic Western technologies in the coming phase.
Meanwhile, the U.S. stands puzzled or, more accurately, in a grey zone from which it has been unable to emerge up till now. This is evident from its faltering effort to establish a regional balance that seems very difficult to achieve at a rare moment in the region. Washington realizes that its war on terrorism has now become more difficult than ever before in light of the rebellion of its regional allies that joined the coalition it formed to fight ISIS in September 2014. America’s faltering weakens its grip over Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf in general) when it comes to issues of this sort, especially in light of the Gulf’s rage stemming from the assumption that the U.S./Iranian rapprochement threatens to topple all of America’s 'favorites', who are slated to become 'former favorites' in the coming phase.
But the Saudi/Turkish game today seems akin to an all-out gamble that risks all their credit. Meanwhile, wariness seems to be the distinguishing mark of the Jordanian, Emirati, and Kuwaiti positions, reaching the point of genuine panic in Egypt because of Riyadh and Ankara’s backing for takfiri forces. For in addition to being included on the international and American lists of terrorist organizations, these forces pose a direct threat to Egypt itself before anyone else. And in light of the fact that Sinai remains an open wound that may get worse, this threat can multiply many times over if Cairo once again makes errors in its calculations – even if it does not seem to be doing so at the moment.
Pakistan’s position was unique and strong. Islamabad gave priority to the voice of reason and wisdom over all other oil-related and banknote-related or confessional voices. At the same time, it seemed aware of the dangers of being dragged into what Riyadh was seeking. It therefore decided to step aside, which has created a deep rift in Pakistani/Saudi relations that will be difficult to mend. There are numerous signs of this, the most important of which may have been Riyadh's growing reliance on India (especially its naval capabilities), whereas the latter is Pakistan's traditional and primary enemy. And despite the realism of Pakistani policies, [Saudi] relations with India may be seen as provocation that may never be forgiven.
In 1943, the German forces occupied 90% of the city of Stalingrad, while the defenders fortified themselves in the remaining 10%. But their will did not break or soften. They continued to send couriers from one site to another to deliver reports, until the map of military control was overturned. The invading forces left the Soviet borders at the end of the battle.
"The fighters later documented and recounted that experience in which their will proved harder than steel," concludes 'Issa.
For the first time in decades, Israel is facing the first indigenous resistance movement on the Golan Heights, says Ibrahim al-Amin in today's Lebanese al-Akhbar
Israel’s attack on the Golan Heights on Sunday in which four Syrian resistance fighters were killed is of great significance since it shows that Hizbollah has already managed to create resistance cells whose members are from the Golan area, maintains the editor-in-chief of a left-leaning Lebanese daily. The fact that the operation failed is not as important as the fact that Israel now faces the prospect of an indigenous Syrian resistance on the Golan.
THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM: “'The problem does not stem from the fact that an [armed] attempt was made; the problem stems from the reality that we are confronting a wide-ranging project. And if we succeeded in foiling it this time, we may not succeed the next'. Such phrases have often been used by the enemy’s army and intelligence officers when commenting on the resistance forces in Lebanon and Palestine,” writes Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Amin in Tuesday's left-leaning Beirut daily al-Akhbar.
Now, it is Syria's turn. The [Israeli] comments on the Golan Heights operation published yesterday hark back to the same phrases and the same square. When the enemy attacked vehicles carrying resistance fighters from Hizbollah near the occupied areas in Syria [in January 2015], Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon declared that this had foiled a Hizbollah scheme in the area. He knew, of course, that the martyrs who fell that day were not on their way to carry out a military or security operation. But what Ya’alon and those concerned also know is that the very idea that Hizbollah fighters are close to the occupied Golan Heights is of great significance.
No matter how loudly the enemy's lackeys among the armed elements or other Syrian opposition factions who do not view fighting the [Israeli] enemy as a priority may raise their voice, Hizbollah's main interest in southern Syria has to do with the front with Israel. This is not to deny the fact that Hizbollah is publicly engaged in the battle to defend the Syrian state and the regime there.
But the source of Israel's problem, as well as that of its supporters among the Syrian armed elements, is that Hizbollah knows what may yield the best results. Regardless of its exact relationship to the group of heroes who were martyred two days ago, what concerns the enemy and satisfies the resistance is that those involved in direct military operations against Israel are the people of the land – that is to say, the Syrians who live in that area, both that occupied by Israel and that it occupies via its armed Syrian proxies.
Certain conclusions will soon be reached by investigations that are intended to find out what led Israel to uncover the [resistance] cell, and whether the source of that failure was a leak or an operational mis-move or some special Israeli monitoring mechanism or the eyes of Israel's spies. For those in charge of this action, these conclusions will offer a lesson that will be used to address future challenges, requiring the martyrs' comrades to uphold a greater degree of professionalism and accuracy.
Furthermore, even if there were those who believe that this was an individual act, the result of excessive zeal or whatever, what has occurred sends the strongest signal as to what interests the resistance and terrifies the enemy; namely, that young men living in this area have manifested an operational readiness to carry out the most dangerous of missions against the Israeli occupation forces. In doing so, they have not only defied the lethargy that has dominated this front for many decades; they are also sending a signal that all the [armed Syrian opposition’s] repression and normalization [with Israel] in and around the Golan Heights have not extinguished the spark of resistance in people's hearts.
They are also sending a signal that the fact that Syrian proxies are protecting the occupation forces will not prevent resistance fighters from reaching where they need to reach. They are providing evidence that all the latest security and military measures introduced by the enemy in that area have proven to be useless in preventing resistance fighters from reaching the points closest to where the occupation forces operate. This alone explains the enemy's concern and its declaration: The next attack is on its way!
Moreover, the enemy has additional cause for concern. This has to do with the fact that those facing it not only measure their steps in relation to the confrontations with the Syrian armed elements on the ground. That, alone, is sufficient to say that the enemy first and foremost realizes that the resistance has not been distracted by its engagement with the conflict inside Syria – despite the fact that these battles require men and equipment. It is still focused on hurting the [Israeli] enemy, a mission that has its own men in charge and that is not linked to what is happening on the other fronts. And these men have sufficient time to survey, prepare groups, train, choose targets, and fulfil missions. That in itself is the most important and powerful response to whoever deludes himself that the resistance has lost its way.
What about the repercussions of what has happened? This is all part of a long track. One station along that track was when the enemy assassinated the martyrs of al-Qunaitra, and the resistance's operation in response in the occupied Sheba'a Farms, as well as Hizbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah’s political response. A new front has been opened, not only against Israel, but for the resistance which can now do more to protect itself, consolidate its power, extend its margin of operations, and direct more painful blows at the enemy's body.
While the enemy is concerned with finding ways to adapt to this new situation, it is more concerned about trying to impose rules for the game in that area. What is new is that it is not unsure as to what the resistance’s next steps may be. The failure to produce a comprehensive assessment may drive the enemy into committing mistakes and acts of folly. And this not only allows the resistance to lure the enemy into a trap here and an ambush there, but to ensure that the initiative does not remain in the enemy's hands alone on this front.
"And this is the essential point," concludes Amin.
3-Jordan’s borders under threat
With the Nusra Front in Syria and ISIS in Iraq drawing closer to Jordan's borders, Amman has a lot to worry about says Tareq Masarwah in Jordanian al-Ra'i
The Syrian and Iraqi states have lost control of most of their borders with the outside world, including Jordan, with a resulting impact on the trade and psychology of both conflicts, notes a Jordanian commentator. While Amman prefers to have stable states on the other side of its borders, it is not its job to ensure their stability, and it must attend to taking care of its side of the border alone if necessary.
DANGEROUS AIMS: "The suicide attack on Turaibil crossing point with Iraq and the previous attack on Nuweiseeb crossing with Syria; the armed groups' control of the Syrian part of the occupied Golan Heights which is in effect Syria's borders with Israel; and the armed opposition's moves along the borders with Lebanon’s 'Akkar and the Lebanese/Syrian Qalamoun – all point to the Syrian and Iraqi oppositions’ dangerous aim," writes Tareq Masarwah in the Jordanian daily al-Ra'i.
Its most important dimension is the psychological impact created by the fact that [Syrian] national sovereignty has now been severed from its points of contact with the outside world. And then there is the physical effect of cutting off outside trade, in what resembles an economic blockade imposed from inside Syria on the Syrian state; one that should be added to the sanctions imposed by the international powers via the UN or because of their hostility towards the Syrian regime.
We have focused above on Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. But the erosion of state sovereignty extends to all of Iraq's northern and eastern borders, and all of Syria's borders with Turkey and Iraq and with Lebanon's eastern borders.
This is an issue that Damascus and Baghdad may not be too concerned about, and that Lebanon is trying to circumvent but to no avail. But it is clear that it is eating away at these countries’ political regimes, and undermining their economies and the living conditions of their exhausted peoples who are seeking salvation – sometimes by seeking refuge in neighboring countries, and sometimes taking the sea route to Europe. And Europe's leaders are now surveying the means of blocking the sea before this human deluge, half of which makes it to European shores in a miserable state, and the other half drowns in the Mediterranean.
Over the past years, we were trying to contain the difficult situation along our northern and eastern borders. We provided humanitarian aid and exported our agricultural products to markets that were in direst need of them. Meanwhile, all we heard from Assad's regime were allegations that we were training and aiding the armed opposition and allowing it to enter via our borders. But Syria’s citizens before anyone else lent no credence to these risible charges, since they knew that their collapsing regime was seeking excuses for its impotence and its ferocity in destroying Syria's cities and villages and killing its own people.
Our policy in dealing with our unsettled borders was to maintain the border points with the state in Syria and the state in Iraq, because dealing with states, even if they are collapsing, is better, easier, and more likely to uphold mutual interests. With the Iraqis, we did everything in our power to ensure that ISIS remains far from our borders. Amman received Sunni and Shiite leaders, and is now receiving Kurdish leaders. Our foreign minister carries messages to [Iranian President] Rowhani, while our young ambassador to Tehran has been very active.
This is because a stable Iraq that controls its capital and borders is our interest, as is a stable Syria. From our side, we have established free-fire zones that the terrorist gangs are unable to cross; but we are not in the business of defending regimes that are unable to deal with their own people via flexible political means that are meant to convince them.
Why should we protect the Assad regime or the confessional [Shiite-led] power-distributing regime in Baghdad? We are concerned only with our own country, and we can help within the limits of our traditional policies that have not changed ever since the martyr [King] 'Abdullah bin al-Hussein laid down the first brick in the construction of the Jordanian state.
"As for the others, they must pull out their thorns with their own hands," concludes Masarwah.
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