Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Turkey-Israel normalization - why ever not?

          “Normalization” is a dirty word among Palestinian leaders, of both Fatah and Hamas persuasions. It implies acceptance of Israel’s right to exist and, by some perverse logic, a downgrading of Palestinian rights.

          It must have come as something of a shock, therefore, to read the remarks of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 13 about Turkey’s future relations with Israel: "I have already said that once the compensation and the embargo problems were resolved, the normalization process may start. This normalization process would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region.”

          To be honest, there really is no fundamental reason for relations between Turkey and Israel to be anything but cordial. Indeed for fifty years following the founding of the state of Israel, cordiality was the keynote. In March 1949 Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the new state. Subsequently, despite occasional differences of opinion following the Six-Day War and its consequences, cooperation between the two countries on a variety of fronts was not only close, but deep. By the end of the 1990s a succession of Turkey’s prime ministers had visited Israel, and then-Israeli president, Ezer Weizman had visited Turkey on three occasions to sign agreements aimed at fostering cooperation in the fields of art, culture, education, science, and sports. This was followed by a series of security agreements designed to ensure the closest cooperation between the two countries on intelligence and military matters. Meanwhile 200,000 Israelis flocked to Turkish beaches and casinos each year, and under a Turkish-Israeli free trade agreement trade between the two countries boomed.

          This happy state of affairs received its set-back with Erdogan’s rise to prominence in Turkey’s political arena. Erdogan came from an Islamist background and, whatever lip-service he may have paid to the Turkey’s secularist tradition introduced by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, he was inherently opposed to it. Early in his career he joined the Islamist Welfare Party (IWP), and rose to become a member of parliament. Barred from taking his seat on a technicality, in 1994 he was elected mayor of Istanbul, where he antagonised secularists by banning alcohol in the city's cafés.

           Erdogan then helped form the Justice and Development Party (the AKP) which proved wildly popular and won the parliamentary election in 2002. He took office as prime minister in May, 2003.

          Despite a state visit to Israel in 2005, Erdogan’s accession soon marked a sharp deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations. Rooted in hard-line Islamism, Erdogan’s priority was soon revealed as courting favour with the Muslim world. Support for the extremist terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah began to dominate Turkey’s approach to foreign affairs. Vehement in his condemnation of Israel’s incursion into Gaza in 2008-9 to counter Hamas’s rocket attacks, he had a memorable public spat with Israel’s then-President Shimon Peres at the Davos conference in 2009, and stormed out of the meeting. Then came the notorious Mavi Marmara affair, when an AKP-inspired plan to provoke an incident with Israel on the high seas succeeded only too well, leading to the death of nine Turkish citizens.

          Despite all this, a community of interests between Turkey and Israel persisted and, in the way of foreign relations, imposed its own imperatives. Between 2009 and 2014 two-way trade between Turkey and Israel positively mushroomed. From some $2.6 billion in 2009, by 2014 it had exceeded $5.6 billion – which perhaps explains why negotiating teams charged with restoring ties between Turkey and Israel had begun meeting as early as April 2013. Quite separately, discussions had also begun on the extent of the financial compensation to be paid by Israel to the families of the Turkish citizens killed on board the Mavi Marmara.

          Russia’s incursion into Syria brought a sudden shake-up of the political pattern. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, side by side with Shi’ite Iran, entered the conflict in support of his long-time ally, President Bashar Assad; Erdogan, profoundly Sunni, was directing some of his fire at Assad’s troops – although he was equally interested in pounding Kurdish forces.

          Then on November 24 came Turkey’s downing of a Russian SU-24 fighter jet along the Syrian border. The result was a crisis in Turco-Russian relations. Turkey imports most of its natural gas from Russia, and for some time the two sides had been discussing a possible natural gas pipeline beneath the Black Sea to channel gas from Russia to Turkey and beyond. Two days after the Russian aircraft was shot down, Russia cancelled the project. Suddenly Turkey’s future energy supplies seemed in jeopardy, and Turkish politicians, energy companies, and others began calling for talks with Israel about future natural gas imports.

          On November 30 Erdogan remarked to reporters in Paris that he believed he was “able to fix ties” with Israel. On December 13 he said: "This normalization process would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region,,, We need to consider the interests of the people of the region and introduce peace." By December 15 it had become clear that talks between Turkey and Israel to heal the diplomatic rift were gaining momentum. Reports indicated that a key element in establishing “normalized relations” would be Turkey’s ability to import natural gas from the vast reserves that have been discovered in Israel’s sovereign waters much of which is still waiting to be exploited.

          Erdogan is insisting on his three preconditions for re-establishing normal relations with Israel – an apology for the deaths of the Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara; agreed compensation for the victims’ families, and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The apology has already been given by Netanyahu; compensation terms appear to have been agreed; and the so-called blockade of Gaza has been attenuated to such a degree that only the most obviously military materiel is now prohibited.

          But Turkey is not getting things all its own way. As part of the deal Turkey has agreed to expel Saleh al-Aruri, a senior member of Hamas's military wing. Aruri has been directing terrorist operatives in the West Bank from his base in Istanbul. Moreover, shortly after the Turkey deal was concluded, Israel announced a three-way summit to take place in January between prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades. Joint exploitation of the huge Mediterranean gas reserves will doubtless feature largely on the agenda. Israel is in effect telling Cyprus and Greece that any normalization of ties with Turkey will not come at their expense. It is also sending a message to Turkey that Israel has other options in the region.

          Perhaps, also, the sight of Israel and an erstwhile enemy normalizing their relations will send a message to the implacable opponents of normalization in the Palestinian camp. Deals to the advantage of both parties can be hammered out, even where Israel is involved. It can be done.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 29 December 2015:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 31 December 2015:

Published in the MPC Journal, 10 January 2016:

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

How fares Islamic State?

          “Now let's make two things clear,” said US President Barack Obama, in an address to the nation on September 10, 2014, “ISIL is not ‘Islamic’ …and ISIL is certainly not a state.”

          Depending on how one defines “Islamic” and “state” he may be right, but what is certain is that Islamic State (IS) – or “Daesh” as many now prefer to dub it – aspires to be both.

          As for the Islamic element, the organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to be "the caliph and leader for Muslims everywhere". The caliph is historically supposed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe in Arabia. Since becoming leader, Baghdadi has been claiming precisely that lineage – a claim widely disputed. His definition of “Muslim” is also open to question – he defines any person who does not subscribe to his own extreme version of Sunni Islam as an infidel, and as such worthy of an ignominious death – but all the beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, mass killings and terror attacks that have characterised the rise of IS, unjustified though they undoubtedly are, have been carried out in the name of Islam.

          The caliphate that he professes to be recreating harks back to the idea of an Islamic republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries. The caliphate concept persisted within the Ottoman empire until 1924, when Kemal Ataturk abolished it, 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, it was as recent as December 7 that 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”, sets 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 builds 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 is a deeply calculating political organisation with an extremely complex, well-planned infrastructure behind it.”

          How have IS’s fortunes fluctuated in the past year or so?

          There have been four major areas of territorial change: IS losses near Baghdad, in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, and along the Turkish border with Syria, and IS gains in and around Palmyra.

          According to John Ford of the US Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, a clear pattern explains these changes. IS has been able to thrive in areas with a majority Arab Sunni population, but has failed to take hold in areas where Sunni Arabs are the minority or where effective rival ground forces oppose them.

          In northern Iraq and Syria, IS was pushed back by Kurdish militias who had the advantage of fighting on their home turf. IS was not able to take Baghdad, home to the largest Shi’ite population of any Iraqi city. Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias came to the government’s rescue in its defense.

          By contrast, in the area around Palmyra, IS expanded – central Syria is predominately Sunni and lacks militant groups that can rival IS. Now, though, IS positions around Palmyra are coming under heavy fire from Russian airstrikes, and it is far from certain that IS will be able to maintain its stranglehold on that ancient city and continue its wanton destruction of some of the world’s most valued antiquities.

         At its peak in 2014, IS had seized about a third of Iraqi territory. It has subsequently lost a good proportion of that. After more than a year of hard fighting, October 2015 saw pro-government forces wrest control of the oil refinery of Baiji. In Ramadi, Iraqi security forces have steadily progressed in recent months and, according to Iraqi commanders, have encircled the city.

          Across the border, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are preparing for an attack on the town of al-Hawl, while a US-led coalition air operation, dubbed Tidal Wave II, has targeted the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure, disrupting the group’s ability to fund its operations.

          General Ismail, commander of Special Forces in Al Anbar province, believes that IS mounted its terrorist attack in Paris on November 13 “in order to keep up the morale of their fighters and distract from their losses in Syria and Iraq.” If so, it may well be that, on this occasion, IS miscalculated badly and actually shot itself in the foot. It is unlikely that IS’s strategic planners could have foreseen the extent to which Paris acted as a wake-up call to the global community, nor the consequent degree of co-ordinated determination, matched by action, to see an end to IS.

          Evidence of this was forthcoming on December 15, when Saudi Arabia unexpectedly announced the formation of a 34-state Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism, with a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations. The countries involved include not only Arab states such as Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, but other Islamic countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan.

         The announcement cited "a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organizations whatever their sect and name which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorize the innocent."

          Significantly Sunni Saudi Arabia's arch rival for influence in the Arab world, Shi'ite Iran, is not included in the alliance, and by implication is lumped together with Islamic State as among the “terrorist groups and organizations.”

          Saudi’s deputy crown prince and defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman, said that the campaign would coordinate efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan. "There will be international coordination with major powers,” he said.

          On December 2 the UK’s House of Commons voted decisively to extend its anti-IS air strikes from Iraq to Syria. When it emerged that Muslim MP, Nusrat Ghani, had voted in favor of doing so, she received a torrent of abuse and threats. In response, she declared that military success was a key factor in enabling IS to recruit more people to their evil cause,

          “Daesh are an embryonic state,” she said, “and their power comes from taking territory. Their ideology is based on them having territory. To be able to challenge and remove Daesh we have to take back territory.”

          She spoke for the consensus of the civilized world’s opinion.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 22 December 2015:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 December 2015:

Published in the MPC Journal, 12 December 2015:

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Can the anti-Assad coalition produce the goods in Syria?

          The US-led coalition in Syria hopes to reach its long-term goal by way of twin-track tactics.

          The goal? To impose a crushing military defeat on Islamic State (IS), to liberate the territory it has occupied in Iraq and Syria, and to re-establish a sovereign state of Syria within its previous borders.

          The twin-track tactics? To degrade Islamic State’s infrastructure and fighting capacity as far as possible, while at the same time to deploy every possible diplomatic and political means to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, thus releasing the forces currently engaged in fighting President Bashar Assad and each other, and turning them on IS.

          A great deal depends on those boots on the ground in Syria. One lesson the West has learned is that fighting on Arab soil is usually a recipe for disaster, generating more opposition than it quells. So the coalition, exercising a self-denying ordinance, is restricting its mainstream activities to providing sophisticated air support for indigenous fighting units. 

          Military experts appear to believe that at least 70,000 such troops would be needed to mount an effective co-ordinated campaign that could defeat IS in Syria – and that this number of non-extremist fighters actually exists within Syrian territory. At the moment, though, they are dispersed, lack a unified command structure, and many are engaged in fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army in the long-lasting civil war.

          That is why it is necessary to take a cold, hard look at the alternative – Assad, and his army.

          Syria’s military is a hardened and disciplined fighting force of some 200,000 regular troops and a further 100,000 irregulars. Recently, under the cover of Russian air support, the regime has been making progress. It is currently taking back large parts of Homs and is only a few miles from Palmyra – the fabled pink-stoned city of monuments, where IS decapitated the 82-year-old curator, Khaled Al‑Assad, before beginning an orgy of cultural destruction.

          To support the Assad regime and the Russians in their effort to recapture that amazing site is not to endorse the idea of keeping Assad in power indefinitely. But bringing an end to Syria’s civil conflict is an urgent priority – and is being treated as such by an impressive collection of 17 world powers plus the EU and the UN, now known as the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

          When they met in Vienna on November 14, the ISSG agreed that by January 1, 2016 political negotiations should take place between representatives of Assad’s government and the forces opposed to him, to be followed by an immediate UN-monitored cease-fire. The group allotted six months for Syria to form an interim unity government, and wanted free and fair elections to be held in Syria within 18 months.

          To facilitate the cease-fire, the powers agreed that once negotiations were under way, they would stop all support and supplies to “various belligerents” on both sides of the Syrian civil war.

          However in the room where the ISSG spent six hours in close consultation behind locked doors, an elephant, which all parties did their best to ignore, wandered about. Pinned to its forehead was the question: “What part is Bashar al-Assad to play in the battle against IS?”

          In short, should Assad remain in power, if only on sufferance, and deploy his army, still loyal to him, against IS, or would his best contribution to the restoration of order to Syria be to leave the scene? The international community remains deeply divided over Assad’s fate. Believing the Syrian leader to be largely responsible for the conflict, the US, many European countries, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, call for his departure. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the conflict will never end until Assad leaves.

          Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, flatly disagrees. “We have reiterated that Syria’s future will be decided by the Syrian people alone,” he has said, including “the future of Assad.” Russia and Iran believe that as the legitimate head of government, Assad must be involved in the anti-IS effort and the future of the country.

          The thought of collaborating with Russia’s gung-ho president, Vladimir Putin, in fighting IS probably sticks in the craw of many world leaders. Putin’s efforts to re-establish Russia as a global super-power have seen him seize and annex Crimea, while his proxy army has been trying to carve out a Russian-dominated enclave in eastern Ukraine. His incursion into the Middle East, and his massive military and air build-up in Syria, was clearly an effort both to enhance his influence on the international stage and, by supporting Assad, to sustain Russia’s long-standing military and commercial interests in Syria.

          The US has charged Putin with concentrating his fire on Assad’s opponents rather than on IS. However true this may have been at the start of Putin’s air-strike campaign, the downing in mid-air of the Russian passenger jet on October 31, with the loss of all 224 people on board – a terrorist outrage claimed by IS – changed his priorities. Russia is now as committed as the rest of the world to defeating IS and liberating the 10 million people currently subjected to its brutalised and bloodthirsty rule.

          France, currently leading the free world in its determined opposition to IS and all its works, seems under no illusion. “I was in Paris at the end of last week,” wrote MP Boris Johnson. London’s mayor, on December 7, “and the Russian leader’s face glowered sulkily from every billboard. “Poutin”, said the headline, “notre nouvel ami”. Many French people think the time has come to do a deal with their new friends the Russians – and I think that they are broadly right.”

          It is all a question of priorities. What is the prime concrete objective? To remove IS and the threat it poses to the whole world. Everything else should be secondary. We need to end their hideous Islamist rule, with its beheadings, amputations and crucifixions. We need them out of Palmyra and put a stop to their philistine destruction of some of the world’s greatest antiquities.

          The best hope for the future of Syria, and indeed of Iraq, lies in the recent agreement by ISSG to defeat and destroy IS, together with a plan for a new Syrian government. This really should embody the end of the Assad regime and his departure in one way or another, sooner or later. If it has to be done in such a way – perhaps through the ballot box – that neither Putin nor Assad lose face, so be it.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 15 December 2015:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 15 December 2015:

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Lebanon in limbo

          Something is rotten in the state of Lebanon. Back in August a group of young activists took to the streets of Beirut to launch the “You Stink” campaign. Precipitated by the huge mounds of uncollected garbage polluting streets around the country, “You Stink” refers not only to the foul smell that pervades urban areas in Lebanon, but also to the rampant corruption of the Lebanese political system. The movement’s demands range from indicting the minister of environment for failing to manage the rubbish crisis, to conducting new parliamentary elections.

          That was in August. A move to remedy matters in September broke down, and by early November the situation had deteriorated. Lebanon's Daily Star described swarms of flies covering trash on the street "like sesame seeds." Abou Saleh, a resident of Karantina, a lower-income section of Beirut, said: “And it's not just flies. The rats enter our homes. My daughter was bitten by a rat on her chin a month ago."

          Unfortunately. corruption is ripe in Lebanon, compounded by the fact that the presidency has been vacant for more than eighteen months, and the parliament has been self-perpetuating itself for as long. Effectively, the rubbish crisis lies at the heart of the way that the state was redesigned in 1990 in post-civil war Lebanon. Ever since, the country's leading figures have insisted that the state institutions charged with providing public utility services are weak and incapable. Using this as an excuse, some of them began supporting and promoting private utility services, turning them into personal patronage networks. Services like garbage collection, household electricity, water, waste management and reconstruction became fronts for funnelling money to leaders' friends and political allies.

          Over time, asserts Jamil Mouawad, a research associate at the Institut Français du Proche Orient, these practices hollowed out state public institutions, and lined the pockets of private suppliers. "Private utility service providers directly associated with the ruling elite have taken advantage of the shortage of public services."

          The garbage crisis erupted when the government did not renew the contract of Sukleen, the private company responsible for waste collection and street sweeping in greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon. The reality of piles of foul-smelling garbage on the streets brought the Lebanese face to face with the failure of their government. They could feel it and smell it.

          The paralysis in effective government is exemplified by the fact that Lebanon has held no parliamentary elections since 2009 even though, according to the constitution, elections are supposed to be held every 4 years. The trouble is that the constitution requires parliament to elect a president every 6 years for a single term in office, but when President Michel Suleiman’s term ended in April 2014, parliament was unable to agree on a new candidate – and has been unable to do so for the past eighteen months. While the wheeling and dealing process wound its tortuous course, parliament has been renewing its own mandate, and MPs have not had to face re-election.

          In point of fact the parliamentary Speaker, Nabih Berri, has called at least 30 sessions for the purpose of electing a new president, but on each occasion parliament has been unable to reach a quorum because MPs from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, and its ally Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, have boycotted the sessions.

          Effective governance in Lebanon is bedevilled by two contradictory factors – on the one hand, the constitutional sectarian power-sharing system; on the other the fact that the Iranian-inspired and backed terrorist organization, Hezbollah, has managed to infiltrate itself into the body politic so effectively that it has become a state within a state.

          In August Lebanon was favoured with a visit from Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran has been blamed for the impasse by many Middle East observers. They believe that Iran does not want a president in Lebanon for the time being, and is working behind the scenes to abolish the 1989 Taif accord, adopted after the Lebanese civil war. Taif adjusted the traditional balance of power in Lebanon, but still required the president to be from the Maronite Christian community, the prime minister to be Sunni Muslim, the parliamentary speaker Shia, and the deputy speaker and deputy prime minister to be Greek Orthodox. Such an arrangement hardly accords with the underlying religious aims of the Iranian Islamic Republic or its Supreme Leader.

          Nevertheless, the latest indications are that a compromise candidate may indeed be emerging. Suleiman Franjieh, who heads the Christian Marada party, is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and therefore has the backing of Iran and Hezbollah. But Franjieh is also expected to win the endorsement of Saad al-Hariri, whose Future Movement is backed by Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia. The two men are reported to have met in Paris recently. The delicacy of such arrangements is exemplified by the fact that Hariri’s father, Rafik, was assassinated on the streets of Beirut in 2005, and although the investigation into his death is still on-going, it is widely believed that Hezbollah terrorists, backed by Syrian President Assad, were responsible.

          Meanwhile on November 20, journalist Nayla Tueni, one of the few female members of parliament in Lebanon, bemoaned the fact that Lebanon was still suffering from a presidential vacuum as it marked its 72nd Independence Day on November 22.

          “The country is like an old man,” she wrote, “no longer capable of keeping up with ordinary life. State institutions’ work is almost at a standstill.”

          Like Saad Hariri, Nayla Tueni endured the assassination of her father, Gebran. A fierce critic of the Syrian government and its policies in Lebanon, he too was killed by a car bomb in Beirut, just ten months after Rafik Hariri. It took seven years for two Syrian officers to be indicted, in October 2012, accused of Tueni’s murder.

          ”Electing a president will not protect us from terrorism,” writes Nayla Tueni, a week after a double suicide bombing in south Beirut left 43 people dead and 239 wounded in the Shia-majority district of Burj al-Barajneh. But she believes that electing a president would restore regularity to the work of institutions that have lost citizens’ trust.

          “The cabinet has failed to resolve the trash crisis due to sectarian divisions,” she writes. “One party names a candidate, another vetoes him. It is all a waste of time, and a violation of the constitution as long as someone obstructs electing a president and boycotts parliamentary sessions on the matter. The collapse of the country will hurt everyone.”

         And indeed Lebanon stands on the brink of collapse.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 8 December 2015:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 9 December 2015:

Published in the MPC Journal, 12 December 2015
in English:

Published in the MPC Journal, 1 January 2016
in Arabic:

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

France: the new leader of the free world?

        “Nature abhors a vacuum” observed the Greek philosopher Aristotle – a remark that, demonstrably valid, has entered into common parlance. Given US President Barack Obama’s self-evident abdication of America’s role as defender of Western values in the turbulent Middle East, a new leader is indeed emerging.

        “This administration,” said US Senator John McCain, on October 1, “has confused our friends, encouraged our enemies, mistaken an excess of caution for prudence, and replaced the risks of action with the perils of inaction.”

        He was reacting to Russia’s surprising entry into the Syrian civil conflict, a campaign in strength which seemed destined to put America’s so-far ineffective intervention in the shade. At that point it appeared as though Russian President Vladimir Putin might become the global symbol – so needed, but so lacking – of determined opposition to jihadist terrorism. It soon became obvious that Putin’s real agenda was to sustain Bashar al-Assad in power as Syria’s president, support Iran in their struggle against Assad’s enemies, and enhance his own bid for super-power leadership.

        Putin’s priorities suffered a severe shock on October 31, when a Russian Airbus A321, on a flight from Egypt to St Petersburg, was blown out of the sky, killing all 224 people on board, including 17 children. Islamic State (IS) immediately claimed responsibility, and it was soon established that a bomb had been smuggled aboard the aircraft and detonated at 30,000 feet. Putin responded by shifting the focus of the Russian attack in Syria and Iraq to IS.

         No sooner had the world absorbed the fact that over 200 innocent air passengers had been subjected to mass murder, than the global media were filled with another horrendous demonstration of bloodlust – the co-ordinated massacre in Paris of 130 people on the night of November 13. Again IS claimed that it was responsible. Just one week later, 170 people were held hostage, and 27 slaughtered, in a hotel in Mali. It is no coincidence that the Malian capital, Bamako, had been a logistics hub for French forces ever since they intervened in 2013 to help Mali’s government defeat an Islamist attempt to take over the country. At the time France’s unilateral intervention – disapproved of by Germany and a swathe of Arab states – seemed to confirm the willingness of recently-elected President François Hollande to be a force opposing terrorism on the world stage.

        Following the November 13 outrage, as the French capital and the world reeled at the enormity of the brutal onslaught on innocent civilians, his dignified presence in Paris, and his calm and appropriate reaction aroused admiration for him, sympathy for the people of France, and solidarity with them in their shock and grief.

        At the time of the Paris slaughter President Obama happened to be in Turkey, and he gave what could only be described as a lacklustre news conference. He expressed solidarity with France, listed some modest successes in pushing back IS forces in Iraq and Syria, pledged to maintain humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees, “and we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology.” Scarcely a rousing call to arms.

        President Hollande, on the other hand, responded vigorously to the assault on his country. He immediately instituted an intensified anti-IS air campaign in Iraq and Syria, authorised hundreds of raids on suspected domestic terrorists, declared a 3-month state of emergency, and proposed changes in the constitution to make France less hospitable to jihad. He then sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2249, drafted by French officials and approved by all 15 members, calling on member states to take “all necessary measures” against IS, a group it described as “a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”. Countries were urged to step up sanctions and improve efforts to cut off the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria.

        In commenting on the Resolution, France's UN ambassador, Francois Delattre, told the Council that France intended to "scale up its efforts so as to galvanize the international community as a whole, to vanquish our shared enemy." And that is clearly France’s post-Paris strategy – to rally the irresolute, the uncertain, the doubtful, the indecisive, among which, regretfully, must be numbered not only the US, but also the UK, a goodly proportion of EU members, Turkey and, most obviously, many of the stable and moderate Arab states who stand on the side-lines and, for their own complex reasons, refrain from entering the fray.

        Hollande is determined to follow up this series of initiatives by personal persuasion. Two months ago France became the only European country to join US-led strikes in Syria, and the UK government is hovering on the brink of seeking a parliamentary mandate to do the same. However prime minister David Cameron is determined not to repeat the mistake of losing the vote in the House of Commons, a humiliation experienced back in August 2013 when he sought agreement to bomb Assad for employing chemical weapons against his own people.

       So on November 23 Hollande hosted a meeting with Cameron in Paris, in part, no doubt, to strengthen the British prime minister’s case by enabling him to claim he has France’s backing. Hollande then flew to Washington where he met Obama to discuss beefing up the US-led “Operation Inherent Resolve” strikes against IS targets in Iraq and Syria. From there he flew on to Moscow to discuss with Putin how their countries' militaries might work together in an effective anti-IS campaign.

        Clearly it is the French president who is taking the proactive lead in rallying a global campaign against the brutal, bloodthirsty and philistine IS organization. Only when IS has been utterly crushed and defeated, and chased out of Iraq and Syria, can its malign appeal to vulnerable Muslim youth the world over be finally snuffed out. To achieve this objective, an increasing number of voices in the US, the UK and elsewhere are arguing that the strategy of “no boots on the ground” will have to be reversed.

        Peter R Mansoor is a retired US Army colonel who was executive officer to General David Petraeus in Iraq, and who played a key role in the US counter-insurgency strategy in that war. He is now an Ohio State University military history professor.

        “The president says the goal is to degrade and ultimately destroy IS” he said on 17 November, “and yet the amount of resources that he’s applied, and the strategy that he’s fashioned, is not sufficient to get the job done…We need to get serious about actually destroying IS in its homeland in Syria and Iraq, and to put US and European troops on the ground if it’s necessary to accomplish that goal…This administration just isn’t serious about the war in the Middle East.”

        It seems pretty clear that France’s President François Hollande leads an administration that is.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 2 December 2015:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 2 December 2015:

Published in the MPC Journal, 7 December 2015: