Tuesday, 20 September 2016

CANZUK and Israel

          It did not take long for “Brexit”, a portmanteau term invented in 2012, to become common usage the world over. Now a new expression is bidding for its place in the sun – “CANZUK” – and its emergence on the political scene is not unconnected with Brexit itself.

          CANZUK, grammatically speaking, is an acronym – a word made up of initial letters, rather like NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). It is formed from the initial letters of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom – and it has emerged following a bout of vigorous activity by a body founded in Canada in 2014 called the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation (CFMO).

          CFMO was formed to expand the existing historical connections between the citizens of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, by creating a sort of travel-free alliance between them. The big CFMO idea is to use mutual travel agreements and visa-free initiatives as a way of encouraging the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand governments to strengthen and expand economic, political, trade, investment, military and diplomatic relationships.

          The unexpected result of the UK’s EU referendum, and the certainty that the UK will eventually leave the European Union, has thrust the CFMO initiative into prominence, As a result it has gained a more substantive identity in the shape of an off-shoot – CANZUK. In fact, as the UK builds its post-Brexit place in the world, CANZUK provides it with one of several credible paths to follow.

          Eminent British historian, Professor Andrew Roberts, believes that the CANZUK countries should form "a new federation based upon free trade, free movement of peoples, mutual defence, and a limited but effective confederal political structure.” He points out that were CANZUK to become a union, “it would immediately become one of the global great powers alongside America, the EU and China. It would be easily the largest country on the planet, have a combined population of 129 million, the third biggest economy and the third biggest defence budget.”

          In favour of the argument, he points out that the CANZUK countries already have a common head of state in the British monarch, a majority language, legal systems based on Magna Cara and the common law, Westminster parliamentary tradition, and a long history of working together. All they lack is geographical proximity, which is becoming less and less important in the modern world.

          “CANZUK,” concludes Roberts, “is an idea whose time has, thanks to Brexit, finally come again.”

          Momentum towards creating such an entity is mounting. Within a few months of posting a petition on its website, CFMO attracted tens of thousands of signatures, and support continues to grow by the day. The petition, in line with CFMO’s limited objectives, is a modest request to the parliaments of the CANZUK countries to introduce legislation promoting the free movement of citizens between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, each of the governments concerned is sympathetic to the general concept of strengthening existing ties. CANZUK is far from pie in the sky.

         Suppose such a third major political force were indeed to emerge on the world stage, what might its attitude be towards Israel? Judging by Israel’s current relationship with the countries involved, the connection would surely be considerably warmer than the wary and arms-length – though admittedly strong – association that has developed between Israel and the EU. It would be boosted by thriving Jewish communities in three of the four CANZUK nations – New Zealand being the exception. The Jewish community in New Zealand, which itself has a total population of less than 5 million, represents just 0.2 percent of the whole – that is about a thousand souls. It so happens that one of the thousand is the current Prime Minister, John Key.

          Israel’s relationship with Canada is particularly strong. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper often reiterated that “Israel has no greater friend than Canada.” It was during his visit to Israel in January 2014, that the Canada-Israel Strategic Partnership was signed, reaffirming the close and special friendship that underpins the Canada-Israel relationship. The Partnership lays out a strategic direction for stronger future relations between the two countries, paving the way for even greater collaboration in such areas as defence, energy, development, innovation and education.

          Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has changed some of the rhetoric, but not the reality, of the close relationship. On Israel’s Independence Day in May 2016 he said:

          “Canada and Israel unite in their people-to-people ties, shared values, respect for democracy, and growing trade relationship. I look forward to continuing to strengthen our strong friendship. Although today is a joyous day, let us also reflect on the threat that Israel and its people continue to face throughout the world in the form of terrorist attacks, acts of anti-Semitism, and religious intolerance. Canada stands with Israel and will continue to promote peace and stability in the region.”

          With Australia Israel has enjoyed close ties from the founding of the state, and in fact Australia has the distinction of being the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution. Totally consistent, Australia has been, and remains, a long-standing supporter of a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian issue, as indeed is New Zealand and the UK.

          Meanwhile Australia is deepening bilateral cooperation with Israel. Since replacing Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull has continued Abbott's efforts to achieve even closer relations with Israel - choosing Tel Aviv as the site of one of just five designated global Australian "Landing Pads" for innovation entrepreneurship. Support for closer Australia-Israel ties is shared by the ALP Opposition.

          Israel’s relations with the UK were particularly close during David Cameron’s premiership, and there is every expectation that the strong commercial and industrial bonds he forged will be strengthened under the post-Brexit government of Theresa May as it seeks to boost its trade agreements world-wide.

          As a formal union or federation, the four CANZUK countries could be a new, strong entity on the world scene, very favourably disposed towards Israel. Professor Roberts goes so far as to believe that its emergence could bring about the fulfilment of Winston Churchill’s great dream of a Western alliance based on three separate blocs. “The first and second blocs – the USA and a United State of Europe – are already in place,” says Roberts. “Now it is time for the last – CANZUK – to retake her place as the third pillar of western civilization.”

          All in all, Israel would seem to be in a position to benefit substantially from its realization. Bring it on!

Can Syria avoid disintegration?


           On September 10, 2016, after mammoth negotiating sessions held in Geneva, the USA and Russia announced that agreement had been reached on a cease-fire in the Syrian civil war, to take effect at sundown on Monday the 12th. 

          The agreement specified that should the cease-fire, timed to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, hold for seven days, the US and Russia would collaborate operationally in airstrikes against jihadist militants in Syria, while the Syrian air force would cease flying over rebel-held areas.

          The sun did eventually sink below the horizon on Monday the 12th. After less than an hour residents in war-torn Aleppo reported that a government helicopter had dropped explosive cylinders on a rebel-held district, while a rebel faction in the southern province of Dara’a announced that it had killed four government soldiers. Violations on both sides have continued.

          Whether or not the US and Russia turn a blind eye to these and further possible infringements, the fragile nature of the agreement is obvious. The US and Russia are united only in their opposition to Islamic State (IS) and to the groups of jihadist militants including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front). Where President Bashar al-Assad and his future is concerned, the US and Russia are on opposite sides of the fence: Russia supports him; the US backs the rebels who want him deposed.

          In fact Syria is currently divided into four main zones: one controlled by the Assad régime, one by Islamic State (ISIS), a third by the Kurdish PYD party, and a fourth by various jihadist groups. Bashar al-Assad, however, remains defiant. Just before the start of the cease-fire, in a symbolic propaganda gesture, he visited the Damascus suburb of Daraya, wrested from rebel control in August. “The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” he announced (“terrorists” is the term he employs to describe all those opposed to his régime, regardless).

          Backed by both Russia and Iran, and indifferent to the humanitarian catastrophe he inflicts on the civilian population in his existential battle against his opponents, Assad has certainly chalked up some significant gains for the régime. But the US, as well as the 10 countries it leads in its anti-IS coalition in Syria, are determined that Assad can have no part in a reconstituted Syria. This is an issue swept under the carpet in the current cease-fire agreement, but will eventually have to be resolved.

          For the present, the priority is to defeat IS and the other jihadist militant groups that are ravaging large areas of what was sovereign Syria. Virtually the entire civilized world has recognized that IS must be overcome, defeated and removed. This is why no less than 62 countries agreed in September 2014 on a many-sided strategy against IS, including cutting of its sources of finance.

          Assuming the cease-fire holds sufficiently to allow the next phase of the agreement to be implemented, US and Russian forces will shortly begin collaborating in determined anti-IS operations. If successful, they will alleviate the humanitarian crisis for large swathes of the population, significantly weaken IS, and chalk up a loss of prestige and power for the malign organization world-wide.

          They will also, of course, have removed some of Assad’s fiercest opponents from the Syrian scene, thus further strengthening his position. Moreover Putin will have secured Russia’s naval base in Tartus, its military base at Latakia, and its new air base at Khmeimim converted, by way of a formal agreement between the Syrian government and Russia in August, into a permanent Russian air base. In other words, providing Assad remains in power and Syrian sovereignty is restored, Russia will emerge with an immeasurably strengthened military presence in the Middle East – a strong contributory factor, no doubt, in ensuring Russia’s involvement in the cease-fire agreement.

          For the rest of the multi-nation anti-IS coalition, the political and administrative structure of a future Syria, even if currently on the back burner, remains of prime concern.

          A policy document published on September 6, 2016 by the European Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA) argues strongly in favor of recognizing the realities of present-day Syria. One such reality, the paper asserts, is that although the country is fragmenting into competing centres of power, most Syrians remain attached to the idea of national unity. Despite the chaos, economic links and interdependency persist between the various parts of the country. Its proposal for Syria’s future is some form of political decentralization, including a special status for areas of high Kurdish concentration.

          In what remains of Assad’s regime, state institutions continue to function and maintain law and order. But the rest of what was Syria has had to adapt to the almost complete withdrawal of the state, and local communities have created alternative systems to impose law and order, supply water and electricity, provide social services, educate children, and manage the economy. Opposition areas now have Sharia courts, while Kurdish areas have attempted to impose a cooperative system to run the economy.

          These variegated systems of governance, says the ECFA paper, “are becoming increasingly entrenched.” Accordingly Syria’s National Coalition (NC), which includes most non-armed opposition groups, is also proposing delegating central powers to the regions – in other words, administrative decentralisation. Some groups within the coalition suggest that this could include granting special political rights to the Kurds – some form of Kurdish autonomy, perhaps, although not independence. The NC, however, relies on Turkey’s goodwill, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is totally opposed to the creation of a separatist Kurdish entity on Turkey’s southern border, fearing the effect this might have on the aspirations of his domestic Kurdish population. His rejection of Kurdish separatism, however, does not extend to the idea of administrative decentralisation in a reconstituted Syria.

          Oddly enough, in May 2016 Russia prepared a draft text for a new Syrian constitution that acknowledged the need for decentralisation. According to a report published by Al-Araby, (or the New Arab), a fast-growing news and current affairs website, the text called for removing the word “Arab” from the official name of the country, allowing the use of Kurdish language in Kurdish areas, and establishing a regional council with legislative powers that would represent the interests of the local administrations. 

          Within days, according to Al-Akhbar, a pro-Assad Lebanese journal. the regime rejected almost all the Russian suggestions, but the fact that political decentralization has entered Russian thinking does, despite Assad’s rooted objections, point the way to a possible future.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 21 September 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/Can-Syria-avoid-disintegration-468040

Published in the Eurasia Review, 21 September 2016:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/20092016-can-syria-avoid-disintegration-oped/

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Could Israel join NATO?


        The answer is “no,” if NATO’s official website is to be taken at its word. Setting out its position on future membership, it declares “NATO’s door remains open to any European country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

        “European country”. It would take a stretch of the imagination to designate Israel a European country. Nor could Turkey be called in evidence as a precedent. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1951, and the organization’s policy on expanding its membership relates to the future, not the past. Although Turkey can at best be described as a transcontinental state, since it lies partly in Europe, but mainly on the Anatolian peninsula in Western Asia – the Middle East, as the area is generally known – its acceptance into the alliance is past history.

        The decision back in the early 1950s to allow Turkey (and indeed Greece) to join NATO stemmed largely from Cold War strategies directed against the Soviet Union. Both states were viewed by the West as bulwarks against Moscow and the spread of communism in Europe. Accepting non-North Atlantic nations into NATO lay at the heart of the US’s Truman Doctrine -- extending military and economic aid to states vulnerable to the threat of Soviet expansion.

        Could current geopolitical considerations lead to a flexible reinterpretation of NATO’s policy on new members?

        On May 4, 2016 the North Atlantic Council agreed to allow five non-NATO members to open diplomatic missions to its headquarters in Brussels. One of the states so favoured is Israel. The concession provides the ambassadors and attachés of the approved states – Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel – upgraded access to exercises, events and alliance-related procurement programmes. Invitations were first issued back in 2011, but in Israel’s case had been blocked for the past five years by Turkey, whose agreement was required under NATO’s rules of unanimous consent.

        Zaki Shalom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the NATO initiative was more symbolic than strategically substantive. “It’s not as if Israel is becoming a NATO member …What’s really important is that it demonstrates the warming of relations with Turkey.”

        Since its founding in 1949, NATO has added new members on seven occasions and now comprises 28 nations. The organization has also broadened its operations to encompass both a “Partnership for Peace” programme with states of the former USSR, and a number of “Dialogue Programs”. Among these is the Mediterranean Dialogue, set up in 1994 and intended to link Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia in security discussions.

        Of course, this group of countries lacks any culture of cooperation in security matters, so the programme as such is pretty much a dead letter – except that out of it, Israel alone has forged extremely close links with NATO. For example in October 2006, after prolonged negotiations lasting some 18 months, Israel and NATO concluded an Individual Cooperation Program (ICP). Israel was the first country outside of Europe – and the first among NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue countries – to reach such an agreement.

        The NATO-Israel ICP, renewed and modestly expanded in December 2008, is a wide-ranging framework intended to extend the scope of cooperation across a wide range of fields including response to terrorism, intelligence sharing, armament cooperation and management, nuclear, biological, and chemical defence, military doctrine and exercises, civilian emergency plans, and disaster preparedness.

        NATO-Israeli relations had warmed to such an extent that in March 2013 NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Israel’s then-president, Shimon Peres, to NATO headquarters to discuss how to deepen the relationship. The main purpose was to enhance military cooperation, focusing on counter-terrorism. The agreement they reached extended the NATO-Israeli association beyond the “Mediterranean Dialogue”. The joint statement issued after the meeting referred to a NATO-Israel partnership, suggesting Israel’s participation in active theatre warfare alongside NATO as a de facto member of the North Atlantic Alliance.

        “The two agreed during their discussions,” ran the statement, “that Israel and NATO are partners in the fight against terror.” In other words, Israel would be directly involved is US-NATO military operations in the Middle East.

        Israel was already a partner in NATO’s naval control system in the Mediterranean. By supporting NATO forces in patrolling the Mediterranean. Israel has contributed on a regular basis to Operation Active Endeavor, which was established after 9/11 and designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.

        So rather like the UK’s desired position post-Brexit in its relations with the EU, Israel appears to be an active participant in NATO’s activities while not being a member of the organization. Would it in fact be in Israel’s interests to be admitted to full membership, assuming NATO relaxed its current requirements on new members?

       Opinion within Israel is, inevitably, divided. In practical terms NATO’s “all for one, one for all” doctrine – the principle of collective defence enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which regards an attack against one ally as an attack against all – probably militates against Israel’s acceptance into the alliance. How many of NATO’s 28 members would willingly sign up to fighting for Israel if it were attacked by any of its many potential enemies?

        In any case Israel’s defence and security policies have always been based on self-reliance and freedom of manoeuvre, an approach likely to be constrained within a formal relationship with NATO. Israel’s unwritten alliance with the United States provides an alternative backup, should the need arise. 

        As it currently stands, the NATO-Israel relationship allows both parties to benefit from a uniquely close association, with neither being embarrassed by the requirements of Article 5. On balance, that seems a win-win situation.  

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 16 September 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/Could-Israel-join-NATO-467598

Published in the Eurasia Review, 13 September 2016:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/13092016-could-israel-join-nato-oped/

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

What if Islamic State becomes stateless?

        
          The grandiose dreams of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder of Islamic State (IS) who envisioned a jihadist caliphate encompassing the entire globe under his leadership, appear to be crumbling. In parallel with Adolf Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” which in fact lasted barely twelve, IS’s initial period of amazing success and swift territorial gain has been followed by a slow but steady attrition of those early victories. It is estimated that since its heyday in mid-2014, IS has lost about half its territory in Iraq and some 20 percent in Syria. On 4 September 2016, IS was chased from the last of its holdings on the Syrian-Turkish border, depriving it of a key transit point for recruits and supplies.

          Its leaders, moreover, are being eliminated, one by one. The latest, and perhaps most significant, loss was that of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani on  30  August 2016. Adnani, the leading IS strategist, was the mastermind behind many of its spectacular terror attacks against Western interests. In September 2014 he called on Muslims in the West to kill Europeans wherever and however they could, warning foreign governments: “We will strike you in your homeland, especially the spiteful and filthy French.” And he urged them to do it in any manner they could: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car.”

          Adnani was the most recent in the catalogue of leading IS figures tracked down and killed by the US-led coalition. Last year saw the elimination of Baghdadi’s right-hand man, Haji al-Mutazz, aka Ned Price; Abu Sayyaf; logistics expert Tariq al-Harzi; Junaid Husssein; extortion expert Abu Maryam; chief accountant Abu Salah; Abu Nabil; and chief chemical weapons expert, Sleiman Daoud al-Afari – nor is this an exhaustive list.

          In 2016 those removed include Mustafa al-Qaduli, IS’s chief financier, and Omar al-Shishani, generally considered IS’s minister of war. “The stench of decay hangs over IS” in the words of Middle East commentator David Blair. In March 2016, in a stark illustration of a movement in the process of disintegration, Abu Ali al-Tunisi, commander of IS military operations in northern Raqqa, was killed at the hands of fellow IS militants.

          “Al-Tunisi was attacked by a group of IS militants who used to fight under his command in the northern countryside of Raqqa,” reported local media activist Ammar al-Hassan. The militants apparently opened fire at their commander’s car on 6 March 2016, killing him and two of his escorts.

          This assassination occurred amid escalating rifts within IS. Local disaffection among members has centered on a decrease in salaries resulting from the group’s loss of key resources, and on the promotion of a number of foreign jihadis to senior positions.

          The caliphate that al-Baghdadi professed to be recreating harked back to the idea of an Islamic republic owing allegiance to one leader, regardless of national boundaries. The caliphate concept was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, but Muslim extremists have long dreamed of recreating the Islamic state that, at various times during the course of Islam's 1,400-year history, ruled over the Middle East, much of North Africa and large parts of Europe.

          As regards IS’s intention to do just that, in December 2015 the UK’s Guardian newspaper revealed the contents of a leaked internal IS manual showing how the terrorist group had been setting about building a state in Iraq and Syria complete with government departments, a treasury and an economic programme for self-sufficiency.

          The 24-page document, entitled “Principles in the administration of the Islamic State”, set out a blueprint for establishing foreign relations, a fully-fledged propaganda operation, and centralised control over oil, gas and the other vital parts of the economy. It built up a picture of a group, according to the Guardian that, “although sworn to a founding principle of brutal violence, is equally set on more mundane matters such as health, education, commerce, communications and jobs. In short, it is building a state.”

          Charlie Winter, a senior researcher for Georgia State University, believes that IS had “an extremely complex, well-planned infrastructure behind it.”

          IS’s subsequent loss of territory puts paid to these extravagant plans, much to the relief of substantial sections of the population which had languished under IS rule. When Manbij was recaptured by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 13 August 2016, mass jubilation engulfed the city. Women were seen ripping off their burqas and burning them; men were pictured cutting off their beards. Those subjected to IS governance will not forget the dread of living under an extremist version of sharia, the horrendous mass slaughter of “non-believers”, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and the glorification of inhumane beheadings, amputations and crucifixions.

          Having suffered a steady loss of territory and continuous depletion of its leading figures, IS is down, but not out. It will doubtless put up an energetic rearguard action against the battalions arrayed against it – the UN-led coalition, the Russian-Iranian alliance, the legions of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and the Syrian Democratic Forces which encompass the doughty Kurdish peshmerga troops, the fighters who have proved the most effective against IS on the ground. But it will have lost status and prestige, especially among the vulnerable and impressionable Muslim youth worldwide, whom it has targeted in its recruiting drives. Loss of territory carries with it the stigma of loss of power.

          Putting a brave face on IS’s succession of disasters, in May 2016 Adnani declared: “Do you think, America, that defeat is by the loss of towns or territory? No, true defeat is losing the will and desire to fight.”

          He may have had a point, but there is all the difference in the world from the position IS had acquired in its heyday, and a stateless group simply concerned with promulgating terrorism across the globe – a sort of latter day al-Qaeda following the assassination of its leader Osama bin Laden, a movement rendered not toothless, but far less of a universal menace. That is very possibly the fate awaiting Islamic State.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 9 September 2016
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/What-if-Islamic-State-becomes-stateless-466994

Published in the Eurasia Review, 7 September 2016:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/07092016-what-if-islamic-state-becomes-stateless-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 14 September 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/09/14/what-if-islamic-state-becomes-stateless/

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The lure of power in Yemen

          
Ali Abdullah Saleh, ex-President of Yemen

                   In Yemen – as in much of the Middle East – Islam is at war with itself. As Saudi Arabia’s Sunni fundamentalist ruling family and Iran’s equally uncompromising Shia-based Islamic Revolution play out their deadly rivalry, the fault-line between the Shia and the Sunni traditions of Islam defines the conflict, as on so many of the region’s battlefields.

          But in Yemen the picture is particularly complicated. Here it is far from a clear case of two opposing forces slogging it out between themselves. No less than six main combatants are engaged in the conflict, and the separate motives of each create a tangle of competing ambitions and a criss-crossing of the Sunni-Shia boundaries.

          To list the six antagonists: first, the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels; then the lawful president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi; next, AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular); followed by IS (Islamic State); then, Saudi Arabia; and finally – most surprising of all, perhaps –Yemen’s previous long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh who, forced from office in 2012 as a casualty of the so-called Arab Spring, still aspires to play a leading role in his country’s affairs.

          Adding even more complication to a desperately complex situation is the astonishing alliance between Saleh, backed by the Yemeni security forces that have remained loyal to him, and the Houthis, whose chronic grievances led to their uprising and the splitting of the nation. This Saleh-Houthi liaison is certainly a mariage de convenance, for it was against the Saleh régime that the Houthis, consistently complaining of discrimination, fought no less than six wars between 2004 and the uprisings in 2011 that led to Saleh’s loss of power. Yet here we have a working alliance between them which, as far as Saleh is concerned, could reasonably be interpreted as a renewed bid for supreme power.

          Saleh’s sights are clearly set on ousting his one-time deputy, President Hadi, and the government he has led from February 2012. During the Arab Spring President Saleh faced widespread armed protests. Finally, unable to restore stability, he was induced with great reluctance to leave office and transfer the powers of the presidency to his deputy, Hadi. The new president took over a country in a state of chaos. When in September 2014 the Houthis captured the country’s capital, Sana’a, and installed an interim government, Hadi fled to Aden, and from there, on March 26, 2015 to Saudi Arabia.

          He arrived just about the time of the first Saudi air-strike against the Houthis. The Saudis, exasperated by Iran's continued support for the Houthi rebels and fearful of a Shia takeover on their southern border, had decided to come to the aid of Yemen’s beleaguered president. A subsequent Arab League summit endorsed the Saudi intervention, and no less than ten Middle East states agreed to unite behind Saudi Arabia to form a fighting force dedicated to defeating the Houthis and restoring President Hadi to office.

          What of the other combatants?

          AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular), led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a Yemeni former aide to Osama Bin Laden, was formed in January 2009. Although a totally Sunni organization, its long-term objective is to topple both the Saudi monarchy and the Yemeni government, and to establish an Islamic caliphate on jihadist lines in the Arabian peninsula. So AQAP opposes both the Shi’ite Houthis and Sunni President Hadi.

          The recently established Yemenite affiliate of Islamic State is just as Sunni-adherent and fundamentalist as AQAP, but it seeks to eclipse the al-Qaeda presence. Intent on extending the reach of its parent organization into the Arabian peninsula, it therefore opposes not only the Shi’ite Houthis, but also the anti-Houthi Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the Sunni AQAP, and Sunni President Hadi,

          And the Houthis, to whose struggle for control of the country Saleh has now allied himself, what of them? They are a fundamentalist Shia group which takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a revolutionary leader who launched an uprising against the government in 2004 and was killed by the Yemeni army later that year. The organization’s philosophy is summarised with blinding clarity by their flag, which consists of five statements in Arabic, the first and the last in green, the middle three in red. They read:

                                           "God is Great,
                                             Death to America,
                                             Death to Israel,
                                             Curse on the Jews,
                                             Victory to Islam".


          The Houthis have been supported for years with weapons and other military hardware by the élite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This has enabled them to overrun large areas of the country, including the capital, Sana’a, which remains in their hands despite nearly two years of military effort by the Saudi-backed coalition to oust them.

          The ferocity of the Saudi-led campaign, which has seen more than 9,000 people killed and 2.8 million driven from their homes, has alienated large sections of the population. It has incidentally provided Saleh with a political advantage which he is busily exploiting.

          On August 21, 2016, during an interview on the state-run Russia24 TV channel, Saleh announced that “the new government” was ready to allow Russia access to all of Yemen’s military bases. His “new government”, the result of a formal liaison between the Houthis' Revolutionary Committee and Saleh's General People’s Congress party, was a reference to a joint 10-member Supreme Political Council, launched on August 6.

          “We are ready to provide all facilities to the Russian Federation,” he said. “We extend our hand to Russia to cooperate in the field of combating terrorism.”

          This was a bold play at power politics. He was cocking a snook at the US-supported Saudi coalition, and providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with the opportunity of strengthening Russia’s dominant position in the Middle East following its active involvement in the Syrian civil war.

          Saleh has also gone on TV to rile against the Saudi-led military effort. In doing so he has caught the public mood. Recent indiscriminate, or poorly targeted, bombing operations have struck hospitals, schools and markets. As a result the US military is distancing itself from the war, and the French charity Médecins Sans Frontières has withdrawn from six hospitals after one was bombed resulting in the death of 19 people.

          Thoroughly disillusioned with the Saudi-led coalition, in mid-August the public joined in mass demonstrations in support of the new Houthi-Saleh governing council
Meanwhile the latest US-led peace initiative envisages a national unity government including Houthi representation. Saleh may yet pull off his bid for a return to power.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 31 August 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/The-lure-of-power-in-Yemen-466401

Published in the Eurasia Review, 31 August 2016:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/31082016-the-lure-of-power-in-yemen-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 13 September 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/09/12/the-lure-of-power-in-yemen/

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The making of a united Kurdistan

         

The yellow area combines latest gains by Kurdish troops in Syria with the territory administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.         

          Slowly, and much to the distaste of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the possibility of a united autonomous Kurdistan stretching across the northern reaches of Syria and Iraq is emerging.

          The capture of the township of Manbij from Islamic State (IS) on 12 August 2016 produces along Turkey’s southern border an uninterrupted swathe of territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Arab and Kurdish militias. This area joins seamlessly with Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Kurdish populated area granted autonomy in Iraq’s 2005 constitution.

          Just as the artificial boundaries and borders imposed on the Middle East by the victorious allies after the First World War are laughed to scorn by Islamic State (IS) in declaring its caliphate, so any united autonomous Kurdistan – if such an entity were ever to come into existence – would have to sit fairly and squarely across what now constitute the internationally recognized borders of Turkey, Syria. Iraq and Iran.

          Iraq’s Kurdistan contains about 5 million of the world’s approximately 30 million ethnic Kurds; the liberated region in Syria about 2 million. Most of the rest reside in the areas immediately adjacent to Kurdistan’s northern and eastern borders, in Turkey and Iran respectively - both of which are deeply opposed to any suggestion of granting Kurds independence, or even autonomy on the Iraqi model.

          It was in August 1920, shortly after the end of the First World War, that the dissolution and partition of the Ottoman Empire were incorporated into the Treaty of Sèvres. That Treaty, made between the victorious Allied powers and representatives of the government of Ottoman Turkey, abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. Moreover, it required a referendum to be conducted to decide the issue of the Kurdistan homeland.

          Sèvres was very quickly rendered null and void by the establishment in 1922 of the Turkish Republic under Kemal Ataturk. The result was a new treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, which gave control of the entire Anatolian Peninsula, including the Kurdistan homeland in Turkey, to the new republic.

          Kurdish nationalism emerged largely as a reaction to the secular nationalism that revolutionized Turkey under Ataturk. The first of many violent uprisings occurred in 1923 and, after 20 more years of struggle, Mullah Mustafa Barzani emerged as the figurehead for Kurdish separatism. Years of rebellion in Iraq ended with a peace deal between the government and the Kurdish rebels in 1970, granting recognition of their language and self-rule, though clashes over control of the oil-rich area around Kirkuk continued.

          When Barzani died in 1979, the leadership of the KDP passed to his son, Masoud. But a new – and, as it turned out, rival – force had emerged in Kurdish politics with the founding by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). During the Iran-Iraq War, which began in 1980, the KDP sided with the Iranians against Saddam Hussein and Kurdish Peshmerga troops helped launch an offensive from the north. In retribution Saddam ordered the notorious poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, during which some 5,000 civilians were massacred.

          The journey towards a unified Kurdish movement in Iraq, bedevilled by internal politicking, was long and bitter. In 1994 a power-sharing arrangement between the KDP and the PUK fell apart, leading to two separate administrations in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah and a no-holds-barred civil war for control of the Kurdish-dominated parts of northern Iraq. Finally, in 1998, Barzani of the KDP and Talabani of the PUK agreed a peace treaty and signed a joint leadership deal. Eventually the PUK and the KDP set up a unified regional government, and Masoud Barzani became a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

          When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurdish Peshmerga troops joined in the fight to overthrow Saddam Hussein. After he was driven from office the Iraqi people, in a national referendum, approved a new constitution which recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government as an integral element in Iraq’s administration. Barzani was elected President of Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2005.

          In Syria the civil war, which began in earnest in 2011 in an attempt to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his administration, brought the Kurds to the forefront of the region’s politics. In early fighting Syrian government forces abandoned many Kurdish occupied areas in the north and north-east of the country, leaving the Kurds to administer them themselves. As early as October 2011, sponsored by President Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, the Syrian Kurds established a Kurdish National Council (KNC) to press for eventual Kurdish autonomy. As in Iraq, political differences within the Kurdish community have resulted in a breakaway party, the PYD, challenging the national council.

          The KNC is wholeheartedly in favour of establishing a Kurdish Regional Government in Syria, to mirror that in Iraq. The PYD favours establishing a multi-ethnic administration in the areas of northern Syria captured from government forces. An uneasy truce between the two groups, brokered by Barzani in 2012, seems to be holding, despite a succession of incidents between them.

          Is some sort of amalgamation of the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish areas a practical proposition?

          “We will never allow a state to be formed in northern Syria, south of our border,” declared Erdogan in Istanbul on June 26, 2015. “We will maintain our struggle whatever the cost. They are trying to…change the demographics of the region. We will not condone it."

          If anything like Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan were to be established in Syria, and worse if it were to amalgamate with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, it would feed demands by Turkey’s Kurds to be linked to it in some way. This would be anathema to Erdogan, who has consistently opposed his domestic Kurdish separatist movement - which explains why, on joining the US-led anti-IS coalition in Syria in July 2015, he began air-strikes against IS and the Kurds indiscriminately, tarring both with the terrorist brush.

          Nevertheless Erdogan may have to bow to the politically inevitable, even if it causes him continuing domestic headaches with his substantial Turkish-Kurdish population. Everything turns on what sort of Syrian entity emerges from the current conflict.

          It seems highly unlikely that Syrian President Bashar Assad, even with combined Russian and Iranian support, will ever regain the whole of his former state. Even the eventual elimination of IS in Syria, if that were ever to be achieved with the help of the US-led coalition, would scarcely be to Assad’s advantage, since the coalition is pretty well unanimous in wishing to see him deposed. The anti-IS coalition, moreover, is highly indebted to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who have proved themselves outstandingly effective fighters on the ground.

          When the conflict is eventually resolved, and the spoils of victory come to be disbursed, gratitude and common decency seem to demand that Syria’s Kurds are at last awarded their autonomy. In that eventuality, a unified Kurdistan would be one step nearer to fulfilment.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 23 August 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/The-making-of-a-united-Kurdistan-464806

Published in the Eurasia Review, 22 August 2016
http://www.eurasiareview.com/22082016-the-making-of-a-united-kurdistan-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 28 August 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/08/28/the-making-of-a-united-kurdistan/

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Qatar phenomenon

         
          It is not easy to pigeon-hole Qatar, a stand-alone Middle Eastern state in more ways than one, geographically, politically, economically, influentially. That Qatar aspires to become a major player in the region and beyond may seem obvious enough, but in pursuit of this objective Qatar’s tactics sometimes puzzle, sometimes infuriate, its neighbours. But then, as the world’s wealthiest nation by a long chalk, Qatar can afford the luxury of proceeding along its own preferred path, without too much concern for what others think.

          Qatar’s strategy of backing Islamists — from Hamas in Gaza, to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to hard-line Syrian opposition fighters — while also offering itself as a key US ally, is rooted in pragmatism: Qatar wants to protect itself and to extend its influence in the region by being friends with everybody.

          “We don’t do enemies,” said Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah. “We talk to everyone.”

          And talk they certainly do, through the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeerah world-wide media network – a network whose independence has been questioned, but is certainly curtailed by a requirement to avoid adverse criticism of Qatar’s Emir.

          So when the Emir announces – as he did on July 29, 2016 – that he intends to pay one month’s wages for thousands of public sector employees in Gaza to help “alleviate the suffering of brethren in the Strip,” world opinion is left wondering whether his stated motive is his sole one, or whether other considerations lie behind the gesture. He will be spending $31.6 million from his nation’s purse to cover the salaries of some 50,000 Hamas-hired civil servants, many of whom have not seen regular pay packages since 2013.

        But why have they not? One might legitimately ask what happens to the literally billions of official development assistance dollars poured into Hamas’s coffers every year.

          Qatar is politically close to Hamas. In January 2016 Qatar handed over some 1,060 housing units to Gazan families who had lost their homes during recent wars. These homes marked the completion of the first of three phases of a multi-million dollar redevelopment effort Qatar pledged to fund in 2012. In addition to infrastructure facilities, roads and green spaces, it includes two schools, a health centre, a commercial center, a mosque and a six-floor hospital.

        “There’s much more than money involved with Qatar’s offer,” said Patrick Clawson, director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It draws in many of the region’s disputes and rivalries under one roof.”

          Take the oft-proposed joint Palestinian municipal elections, now scheduled for October 2016 with Hamas finally agreeing to participate. Qatar’s substantial investment into Gaza at this time will undoubtedly boost Hamas’s popularity with the Palestinian man-in-the-street. It will also add to the concerns of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas about the likely result of the vote.

          And yet Israel has apparently raised no public objection to Qatar pouring millions of dollars into Gaza. Back in June 2015 Mohammad al-Emadi, a Qatari official, travelled between Israel and Gaza to discuss reconstruction projects in Gaza despite the fact that Qatar does not recognize Israel, and the two countries have no diplomatic relations.

          "Life is full of contradictions and strange things,” was how Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for Israel's military intelligence, described Israel's agreement to Qatar channelling its aid through Hamas.


          Perhaps Israel believes that permitting aid from Qatar could help undercut Iran’s influence in Gaza. For Qatar’s neighbours in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, have come to realize how much their strategic interests overlap with those of Israel when it comes to the security of the region. The increasing power and influence of Iran dismays them all. Iran has been a main source of funding to Hamas for decades.

          Qatar is currently considered anti-Israel root and branch. It was not always so. In fact Qatar was the first Gulf sheikhdom to have had official relations with Israel – the two countries opened trade links in 1996 – and, as a matter of interest, when Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup it declared that, although it does not recognize Israel, it would not object to Israel competing in the tournament if it qualifies.

          But now the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) component has entered the picture. On August 4, a meeting in Tunis hosted by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, a body funded by Qatar, was devoted to reviewing how BDS’s attempts to organize a global boycott against Israel could be made even more effective. This, it might be supposed, would be entirely to the delight of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, for after all the BDS movement was founded by a Palestinian – Omar Baghouti – and he still leads it.

          But no. On June 10, 2016 the following statement was sprung on a startled world:

          “The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which includes the widest spectrum of Palestinians worldwide, will not participate in this conference – and does not recommend any participation.”

          In other words, they advocated boycotting the boycott meeting.

          Even more surprising, perhaps, is the first of the reasons given, namely that the Arab Centre and the conference, are sponsored by the Qatari government. “which always stood against BDS, and has normal relations with Israel.”

          No justification was offered for either breath-taking pronouncement. A schism seems to have opened up within BDS.

          As regards the charge often levelled against Qatar of supporting terrorist organisations, there is ample evidence that those strongholds of Wahhabist Islam, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, did sustain, both financially and logistically, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in its early days, as well as its extremist precursors. In August 2015 US Vice-President Joe Biden spelled out what motivated Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

          “They were so determined to take down Assad …they poured … thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world."

          But when IS vowed to topple both the Qatari and the Saudi regimes, the penny dropped and both states allied themselves to the US-led coalition aimed at defeating IS.


          The Emir of Qatar has insisted that his country does not fund terrorism, adding the troubling caveat that Qatar and the West might disagree over what precisely constitutes a terrorist movement. On current evidence he would include IS, but exclude Hamas – a fine distinction most of the world would not acknowledge. But then, Qatar is a stand-alone state.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 16 August 2016
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/The-Qatar-phenomenon-464218

Published in the MPC Journal, 18 August 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/08/17/the-qatar-phenomenon/

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The controversial Mohammed Dahlan


          For years rumours of plots and counterplots have eddied around the controversial figure of Mohammed Dahlan, the charismatic Palestinian politician whom PA President Mahmoud Abbas regards as his greatest enemy, and who might very well eventually succeed him.

          If anything the situation has grown worse in the past few weeks. For example, Dahlan’s name is being associated with the recent attempted coup in Turkey against the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – an assumption, incidentally, that runs counter to the theory that the coup was actually orchestrated by Erdogan himself, as a devious method to justify purging his political opponents and acquiring the autocratic powers he seeks for the presidency.

          The evidence that links Dahlan to this plot is circumstantial, but back in January 2016 the Turkish paper Gercek Hayat actually reported that Dahlan was supervising a multinational plan to conduct a coup against Erdogan, led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), backed by Russia and Iran.

          And then, on the Turkish side, media reports on July 27 indicated that Turkey is looking into the role, if any, played by Dahlan in the coup attempt. A leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Ahmet Varol, claimed that Dahlan had close links with followers of Erdogan's arch-foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused by the Turkish authorities of master-minding the coup. The AKP leader admitted there was no hard evidence of Dahlan’s involvement, but asserted that the investigation was on-going and “we will not hesitate to punish and hold accountable those who were involved in harming our country".

          Whether or not Dahlan’s fingers were in this particular pie, there is no doubt that his international influence extends far and wide. Dahlan has lived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for many years, and is an adviser to Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. He has been described as a "friend" of both the Montenegrin and Serbian prime ministers, Milo Djukanovic and Aleksandar Vucic. In 2010 Dahlan and his wife obtained Montenegrin citizenship, Djukanovic describing him in parliament as a friend responsible for building bridges with Abu Dhabi’s royal family resulting in significant investment in the country. Then, in 2013, Dahlan obtained Serbian citizenship, having reportedly promised Serbia millions of dollars in investments from the UAE.

          A view widely held in Palestinian political circles is that Dahlan’s involvement in foreign affairs is part of a strategy designed to strengthen his status as the obvious successor to PA President Abbas. According to Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, “Dahlan may have better chances at accessing high Palestinian positions than others. This is considering Israel’s [relative] satisfaction with him and his special ties with the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Syrian opposition. The international relations that a Palestinian official has may allow him to climb to rungs of the leadership ladder.”

          The editor of Jordan’s Al-Mustaqabal, Shaker al-Jawhari, believes Dahlan has the support of a wide range of regional actors. “His influence has even reached Lebanon and Europe, thanks to the funds he is distributing to his supporters there. This makes him a strong and real competitor to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].”

          The Middle East Eye website gives credence to the rumour of yet another plot centered on Dahlan. It asserts that Egypt, Jordan and the UAE have been liaising in a plan for Dahlan to be next head of the Palestinian Authority, and maintains that Hamas is prepared to put aside its long history of hostility to Dahlan (when he was head of security in Gaza in 1995-2000, he had hundreds of Hamas members arrested for undertaking armed operations against Israel). The planned post-Mahmoud Abbas era would leave Dahlan, his arch-rival, in control of the Palestinian presidency, the PLO and the PA. It was reported that the UAE had held talks with Israel about the strategy to install Dahlan, and that the three principals would inform Saudi Arabia once they reached an agreement on its final shape.

          On June 24 Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, held a press conference in his hotel in Doha. "There is a regional plot,” he announced, “to parachute someone from the outside to rule Gaza and Ramallah.” The journalists present understood that he was referring to Mohammed Dahlan. Ever since Avigdor Liberman was appointed Israel's new defense minister on May 30, rumours had been spreading about the plan – or is it conspiracy? – to have Dahlan anointed as Palestine's next leader.

          According to Palestinian and Israeli sources, in January 2015, Liberman, who was then serving as the foreign minister, secretly met with Dahlan in Paris to discuss "Palestinian Authority affairs." The mere suggestion of a Liberman-Dahlan accord — whether true or not — is enough to stigmatize Dahlan and provide his rivals with much ammunition, which they have not hesitated to use.

          In Gaza Dahlan's relations with Hamas have improved remarkably, thanks to the close ties he has fostered with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The leaders of the Gaza-based movement had hoped that Dahlan would help them mend fences with Sisi. They also welcomed the infusion of money from the Dahlan Foundation in the Gaza Strip aimed at promoting projects and helping the needy. Hamas leaders in Gaza cannot afford to reject generous financial aid, even if Dahlan is the sponsor. It is obvious that these national projects bolster and cement his chances of achieving the leadership of the Palestinian political machine.

          Dahlan’s toughest obstacle is the Fatah establishment. In June 2011 Dahlan was expelled from Fatah’s ruling body following allegations of financial corruption and murder – Abbas accused him of murdering the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Dahlan was tried by the PA in absentia on corruption charges.

          But Dahlan now has support from a new Fatah leadership commission, which appears to be diverging radically from established Fatah antagonism to him. On July 25 senior Fatah leaders in Gaza were reported to have accused the new commission of taking decisions in favour of Dahlan that reinforces his grip on the movement against Mahmoud Abbas. In a letter sent to Abbas, they dubbed this a kind of insurgency, and warned of the “full collapse” of the organisational frame of Fatah that started when the current leadership commission took office. The Fatah leaders who wrote the letter accused the commission of connection with outside powers and serving external agendas.


          Do Dahlan’s strengths overcome his weaknesses in this bid to succeed Abbas – if indeed it is, as rumour has it, a serious bid backed by formidable outside interests? The forthcoming regional elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza may provide a valuable indication of Dahlan's political future.

Published in the Jerussalem Post on-line, 9 August 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/The-controversial-Mohammed-Dahlan-463624

Published in the MPC Journal, 18 August 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/08/18/the-controversial-mohammed-dahlan/

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The con-tricks at the core of BDS

        
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement proclaims as its basic purpose exerting pressure on Israel to agree to the two-state solution. The facts and the evidence point in a different direction. Were the true purposes, connections and tactics of BDS made universally transparent, it is morally certain that many protagonists would not offer the movement the enthusiastic and committed support that they do.

        The term “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” first made its appearance in a declaration issued in July 2005 under the auspices of a body calling itself Palestinian Civil Society. Representing an impressively large amalgam of Palestinian parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations, it condemned Israel in a succession of emotive trigger-terms (colonialist, ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination, occupation and oppression), drew a direct parallel between the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and apartheid South Africa, and called for a similar world-wide response from all “people of conscience.”

        Neither that original BDS document, nor the movement that developed from it, have time for the nuances of a highly complex situation. The declaration defines the outcome of the 1967 Six Day War as “Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank”– a description implying that Israel acquired the West Bank in the course of an aggressive war. There is no indication that Israel overran the West Bank, and a great deal more territory (none of which, incidentally, was formally or informally designated “Palestinian” at the time) only by defeating the Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian armies that had banded together to annihilate it.

        The BDS document’s view of the founding of Israel is equally dubious. It asserts that “the state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners”. This implication of malevolent intent, and indeed action, by Israel omits any reference to the fact that Israel’s boundaries were actually set in the 1949 armistice agreement, following the unsuccessful attack by Arab armies on the nascent state. 

        Based on foundations as shaky as these, what precisely does the BDS movement claim that it wants to achieve? 

        According to a recent interview with the BDS founder, Omar Barghouti, BDS has three objectives:
                                    · ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories since 1967 including dismantling all settlements (“colonies” in BDS-speak); 
                                  · ending what BDS terms “Israel’s system of racial discrimination against its Palestinian citizens”; and 
                                   · respecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – “refugees” as defined by UNWRA, the United Nations organization dealing specifically with the Palestinian issue. 

          The UNWRA definition of “refugee” uniquely includes not only the original 850,000 Palestinian Arabs displaced during the Arab-Israel war of 1948, but all their descendants generation after generation. The number of so-called Palestinian “refugees” has consequently mushroomed to some 5 million people – all of them, apparently, entitled to return to their original family dwellings. How 5 million people could be accommodated in the living space once occupied by 850,000 is left unexplained, and for a very good reason. For the call, clearly, is to swamp Israel with eponymous “refugees” to the point where the Jewish state ceases to exist as such.

          It is not only through the refugee issue that BDS seeks Israel’s elimination. It seeks the same objective by way of the action implicit in its name: boycott, divestment and sanctions.

          Boycott means breaking off relationships with Israel in a variety of fields – trade, economic, academic, cultural and sporting; Divestment is the withdrawal of investments by banks and pension funds, or from companies operating in Israel; Sanctions are punitive actions taken by governments and international organizations, including trade penalties or bans, arms embargoes, and cutting off diplomatic relations.

          If the BDS movement ever succeeded in gaining widespread acceptance of its programme, Israel could cease to function as a viable sovereign state. That is indeed the ultimate aim not only of BDS, but of the Palestinian bodies supporting it. Hamas, the rejectionist rulers of Gaza, and Fatah, the controlling body of the Palestinian Authority, share the ultimate objective of an Israel-free Middle East. 

          So the apparently balanced, reasonable and liberal demands of BDS mask the movement’s real objective. While the elimination of the state of Israel may indeed be to the liking of certain sections of the global community, it is not the desire of most. Nor is it what a goodly number of the balanced, reasonable and liberal individuals in the worlds of academe, the arts, politics, the media, commerce and elsewhere believe they are supporting.

          Over and above this, BDS has recently latched itself to a social theory that has been achieving an inordinate amount of attention among the politically correct – intersectionality. 

          The theory of Intersectionality was originally developed within the radical feminist movement. It was postulated that gender discrimination against women can be directly shaped by someone’s race or ethnicity, and that the two are influenced by each another. This basic concept of one form of oppression influencing another appealed to sociologists, and soon mushroomed to encompass the idea that discrimination within a society against all disenfranchised groups or minorities, such as racism, ageism, sexism and homophobia, are interlinked. 

          Now BDS advocates have taken intersectionality to a whole new level by successfully injecting the anti-Israel cause into these intersecting forms of oppression. As a result, groups that consider themselves oppressed are increasingly perceiving Israel as part of the dominant and oppressive global power structure, and Palestinians as fellow victims. 

          For example, at Columbia University, “Students for Justice in Palestine” recently allied themselves with “No Red Tape”, a student group fighting sexual violence. Is opposing sexual violence in the USA actually related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue? The current, politically correct rationale comes from a Red Tape member: “Sexual violence is a deeper political issue, and it cannot be divorced or separated from other oppressed identities.”

          Nor can American policing methods, apparently. The website Mondoweiss recently declared that “since Mike Brown was shot by police in Ferguson … solidarity between the “Black Lives Matter” and Palestine movements has become an increasingly central tenet of both struggles.” “Black Lives Matter” activists routinely carry signs “Justice From Ferguson to Palestine,” seeking to link claims of American racism and police violence with claims of Israeli brutality against Palestinians.

          BDS is successfully convincing some activists that one cannot fight for women's rights, academic freedom or against racism without acknowledging that Israel is purposefully intent on oppressing Palestinians. In short, intersectionality offers BDS a fashionable and acceptable way of wielding the ultimate anti-Semitic weapon – linking every perceived evil in the world to the Jews, or in this case the Jewish state. This is classic and blatant anti-Semitism, and Western liberal opinion in general would surely not endorse it.

          It is high time that the con-tricks at the heart of the BDS movement were exposed.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 4 August 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/The-con-tricks-at-the-core-of-BDS-463013

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Can Lebanon ever rid itself of Hezbollah?

       
          In about 1980 – the exact date is disputed – Hezbollah descended like an incubus­ on Lebanon’s body politic, fastening itself onto a sleeping victim. Subsequently, while it has been taking its pleasure from its unhappy prey, all attempts to shake it off have failed.


          Hezbollah is a creature of the Iranian Islamic revolution. It drew its inspiration from the extremist Shia-based philosophy expounded by Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei. Its aims were to resist Western influences in general and Israel’s existence in particular. Responsible for a string of notorious terrorist actions, such as the suicide car bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in 1983 killing 63 people, and the blowing up of the United States Marine barracks six months later, Hezbollah was born in blood, fire and explosion.

          It managed to infiltrate itself into Lebanon’s governance because of the very particular nature of the country’s constitution.

          In theory Lebanon should be a template for a future peaceful Middle East. It is the one and only Middle East country which, by its very constitution, shares power equally between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and Christians. Theory, however, has had to bow to practical reality. Lebanon has been highly unstable for much of its existence, and its unique constitution has tended to exacerbate, rather than eliminate, sectarian conflict

          Modern Lebanon, founded in 1944, was established on the basis of an agreed "National Pact". Political power is allocated on a religious or "confessional" system, with seats in the parliament allocated 50-50 as between Muslims and Christians. Posts in the civil service and in public office are distributed in the same way. The top three positions in the state are allocated so that the President is always a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim.

          Theoretically no system could seem more just, more designed to satisfy all parties in a multi-sectarian society and prevent one group from lording it over the others. But in practice, having a weak central government and sharing power has proved a constant irritant. Efforts to alter or abolish the confessional method of allocating power have been at the centre of Lebanese politics for decades. Moreover a small country, divided in beliefs and weak by design, was easy prey for its totalitarian neighbour, Syria.

          During Lebanon’s civil war, which began in 1975 sparked by clashes between Palestinian and Christian militias, the Syrian army invaded. The end of the war in 1990 did not end Syria’s military occupation. It was only the Cedar Revolution in 2005 that forced it to withdraw. The Taif Agreement at the conclusion of hostilities required the disarmament of every militia in Lebanon, but President Bashar al-Assad’s army, which oversaw the disarmament, left Hezbollah in place, partly because it was a useful ally in Syria’s war against Israel.

          Hezbollah duly fulfilled this function for Assad, and for Iran, standing at his back. In the words of award-winning American journalist Michael J Totten, Hezbollah “started a 2006 war with Israel that cost more than 1,000 Lebanese citizens their lives, created more than a million refugees (almost 25 percent of the country), and shattered infrastructure from the north to the south. And, thanks to a slow-motion takeover that began with their invasion and brief occupation of West Beirut in 2008, Hezbollah and its local allies are virtually in charge of the government.”

          Hezbollah had already achieved a certain acceptability within Lebanon. In the elections which followed Israel's withdrawal in May 2000 from the buffer zone it had established along the border, Hezbollah took all 23 South Lebanon seats, out of a total 128 parliamentary seats. Since then Hezbollah has consistently participated in Lebanon's parliamentary process, has been able to claim a proportion of cabinet posts in each government, and has slowly achieved dominant power within Lebanon’s body politic – far too much, according to the “March 14 Alliance”.

         Lebanon’s March 14 Alliance is a coalition of politicians opposed to the Syrian régime and to Hezbollah. March 14, 2005 was the launch date of the Cedar Revolution, a protest movement triggered by the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri earlier that year. The demonstrations were directed against Assad, suspected from the first of being behind the murder, and his Iranian-supported allies Hezbollah, who were widely believed to have carried out the deed. The March 14 Alliance is led by Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s younger son.

          The echoes of Rafik Hariri’s cold-blooded slaughter have continued to reverberate through Lebanese politics. Hariri had been demanding that Hezbollah disband its militia and direct its thousands of fighters to join Lebanon's conventional armed forces, a demand that leading opinion-formers in Lebanon continue to make. With Hezbollah fighting to support Assad, while a large segment of Lebanese opinion is in favour of toppling him, the conflict has inflamed sectarian tensions.


          Many Lebanese, even those of Shi'ite persuasion, resent the fact that Hezbollah is, at the behest of Iran, fighting Muslims in a neighbouring country – activities far from the purpose for which the organization was founded. They resent the mounting death toll of Lebanese fighters (Hezbollah has reportedly been paying the families of its fighters killed in Syria to keep quiet about their relatives' deaths). Many, aware that Lebanese Sunnis and Lebanese Shi’ites are killing each other in Syria. fear that it may be only a matter of time before they stop bothering to cross the border and start killing each other at home.

          Joumana Haddad is a Lebanese journalist and women’s rights activist, nominated as one of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women for three years in a row by Arabian Business Magazine. Writing in Lebanon’s Al-Nahar journal on June 21, 2016, she declared:

       “What Lebanon is witnessing today is a hijacking of our national ideas and values. We have allowed Hezbollah to exploit our political system and our people…we cannot let factions within us take over the country. We cannot fight the wars of others. We have had enough of being Assad’s soldiers.”

          The big hope for Lebanon is for Assad to be ousted from the Syrian presidency. If Syria becomes a parliamentary democracy, or if it disintegrates, it will cease to be a permanent threat to Lebanon, while Hezbollah’s puppet-master, Islamist Iran, will have lost a key element from the extremist Shia empire it is attempting to construct. The departure of Assad might provide Lebanon’s élites with the will to break through the inertia that has allowed national politics to stagnate over the past few years (no president, no parliamentary elections), absorb the “state within a state” that is Hezbollah, and muster the energy to put their political house in order.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line. 19 July 2016:
http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/Can-Lebanon-ever-rid-itself-of-Hezbollah-460796

Published in the Eurasia Review, 24 July 2016:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/24072016-can-lebanon-ever-rid-itself-of-hezbollah-

Published in the MPC Journal, 26 July 2016:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2016/07/26/can-lebanon-ever-rid-itself-of-hezbollah/