Friday, 30 January 2015

The Kurds - standard bearers for humanity

At present only one military force is effectively combatting Islamic State (IS) on the ground – the Kurdish guerrilla fighting force known generically as the Peshmerga (“Those Who Face Death”).  For weeks, IS has been losing ground in northern Iraq to Iraqi Kurdish fighters; now they are succumbing to Peshmerga troops in Syria. On January 27 it was announced that the Kurdish forces had “expelled all IS fighters from Kobane and have full control of the town”. After more than four months of intensive fighting, the Kurdish fighting force had chased IS out of the strategically important town situated on the Syrian-Turkish border.  

In fact almost all of the recent victories over IS have been achieved by Kurdish guerrillas, willing to fight where others have collapsed – like Iraq’s security forces, with some million men under arms, which fled in the face of IS’s lightning advance last summer.  More to the point, perhaps, the Peshmerga are the force with “boots on the ground”, unlike any of the 62-nation strong anti-IS coalition, established by President Obama.  All of them promised, and many are providing, financial, logistical, military and humanitarian assistance by the bucketful, but not one fighting soldier on the ground, at least officially.

It is true that the Peshmerga’s military successes might not have occurred so quickly, or so conclusively, without the aid of substantial American support by way of air cover, training by US special forces (and perhaps something more than training, albeit unacknowledged) and the plentiful provision of weapons.  For example, prior to the Kurds securing Kobane, US-led coalition aircraft pounded IS positions 17 times in just 24 hours.  Nevertheless, the Kurdish guerrillas are the ones actually undertaking the fighting, the victories are theirs to celebrate, and they deserve the congratulations of all nations opposed to the brutal and inhumane IS organization and its unacceptable ambitions for the future of the world.

How can the world repay these doughty soldiers, fighting on humanity’s behalf?

The Kurds yearn for the restoration of what might be called “Greater Kurdistan”.  The Kurds are an ethnic group some 30 million strong who inhabit a distinct geographical area flanked by mountain ranges.  It was once referred to as Kurdistan.  No such entity is depicted on current maps.  What was once Kurdistan, together with all its 30-plus million inhabitants, was carved up in the negotiations following the First World War, which dismembered the old Ottoman empire.  Following the treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the territory that had been Kurdistan was divided up and allocated to the sovereign states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  Kurds currently form the largest minority in Syria, while within Iraq, following the downfall of Sadam Hussein, they have developed a near-autonomous state across the north of the country which has taken the name Kurdistan. 

Most Kurds, however, live within Turkey’s borders. They comprise about 20% of Turkey's 77 million population and have long been a pressing political problem for Turkey.  In the 1980s an armed insurgency challenged the Turkish state, which responded with martial law.  In the subsequent, and on-going, conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish independence movement, the PKK, more than 40,000 people have been killed.  Which is the most obvious explanation for why Turkey’s president, Rece Tayyip Erdogan, apparently preferred to see IS retain control of Kobane rather than assist Kurdish fighters to recapture it, and sat on his hands for months while the battle raged just over the Turkish border.

But the recapture of the town by the Kurds is precisely what has happened, with the aid and support not only of the US, but of the 62 nations who oppose IS and are dedicated to its destruction.  In short, Erdogan has been backing the wrong horse – and not only Erdogan.  World opinion as a whole has not been noticeably supportive of the idea of Kurdish independence in the past.  Western policy in Iraq has been to attempt to retain the disparate areas Sunni, Shia and Kurd in one unified state, rather than permit the Kurds to transform their autonomous region into a sovereign entity.

One notable exception has been Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  In a speech delivered on June 29, 2014 at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, he declared that Israel supports the transformation of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan into an independent Kurdish state. "We need to support the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” he said. “They deserve it."

Following that lead, in August 2014 Senator Conrad Burns urged the US government to support the Kurds in their aspiration. “The people of Kurdistan have been striving for independence and the right of self-government for generations,” he wrote. “They have been close several times only to be struck down by outside world powers. They have endured atrocities and have paid the price for freedom. It is therefore time that the United States took heed of these sacrifices and fulfilled its moral obligation to support the people of Kurdistan and their ambitions for freedom and national sovereignty.”

Britain’s traditional stance has been to back Kurdish autonomy, but to oppose statehood. In a recent editorial, the London Daily Telegraph asked whether that would remain the UK’s position after IS was beaten.  “Britain should be thinking not just about how to defeat IS” it wrote, “but what might lie beyond.”

Meanwhile gallant Kurdish fighters are still putting their lives on the line, combatting the dark forces that glory in violating accepted standards of humane and decent behaviour in pursuit of their political and religious aims. The Kurds deserve the grateful thanks of each one of the 62 nations that have signed up to the anti-IS alliance.  When the final battle has been fought and won  or even in advance of that happy event – supporting the Kurds’ desire for an independent sovereign state would be a suitable gesture of appreciation.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 2 February 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/The-Kurds-standard-bearers-for-humanity-389751

Published in the Eurasia Review, 30 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/31012015-kurds-standard-bearers-humanity-oped/

Friday, 23 January 2015

Iran and Hezbollah - an explosive combination

There is no disputing the fact that Hezbollah is entirely a creature of post-revolutionary Iran its stooge, if you will.  Over its thirty-year life Hezbollah has not only acted in concert with its sponsor in initiating and carrying out multiple acts of terror across the world, but it has also infiltrated itself into the political life of Lebanon.  It is the unstable nature of Lebanon’s constitution that has allowed this foreign-dominated organization to acquire a commanding position in the government of the country, and exercise so much influence on its affairs.

Hezbollah, aka “The Party of God", was born about halfway through Lebanon's fifteen-year civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. Founded by religious clerics of the Shi’ite persuasion, its ideology and doctrines deliberately mirrored those of the Iranian ayatollahs. Towards the end of 1982 the nascent movement obtained critical financial support and training from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.  That connection has been maintained ever since.

In its founding manifesto, issued in 1985, Hezbollah pledged loyalty to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, urged the establishment of a Shi’ite Islamic regime in Lebanon, demanded the expulsion of Western peace-keeping forces from Lebanese territory, and called for the destruction of Israel. Its struggle against Israel, it declares, “will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated."

From its foundation Hezbollah, following the Iranian pattern, endorsed the use of terror as a means of achieving its political goals. In October 1983 suicide attacks on the US embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut resulted in the deaths of 258 Americans.  Over the 1980s and 1990s the group conducted kidnappings and airplane hijackings, two bombings in Buenos Aires, several in Paris and an attempted bombing in Bangkok. In 1996 it assisted in the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 Americans an operation that resulted in Hezbollah being added to the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Syria’s civil war has both strengthened and complicated the Iranian-Hezbollah connection. 

That the Iranian regime is wholly in support of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and wholly opposed to the Sunni Islamic State (IS) that is seeking to overthrow him, is not in doubt.  Syria is a vital link in Iran’s so-called “Shia Crescent” the chain of allied interests that supports its influence in the region, and is the counterweight to IS’s ambition to establish a Sunni caliphate across the Middle East and beyond. 

Iran, however, is engaged in protracted talks with world powers about its nuclear ambitions, during which it hopes for a lifting of the sanctions that have been crippling its economy. The US has ruled out any possibility of an easier deal on the nuclear issue in exchange for Iran’s direct aid in combatting IS.  Accordingly Iran  will not allow itself to be seen to collaborate with the “Great Satan” and join President Obama’s anti-IS alliance.  Back in December, it vehemently denied that it had carried out airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, despite Pentagon reports to the contrary. 

But there is ample evidence that Iran, both directly and under cover of its puppet, Hezbollah, has been providing massive support for the Assad regime in terms of men, material and money. Starting in 2012 Hezbollah fighters, backed by Tehran and probably augmented by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, have been directly engaged in combat.  By December 2013 Iran was thought to have approximately 10,000 operatives in Syria. In 2014 Iran stepped up support for Assad and, according to Syria’s Minister of Finance and Economy, "the Iranian regime has given more than 15 billion dollars" to Syria. The fact that Assad is still in power in Syria, and has made some important strategic advances against IS, is undoubtedly due to the Iranian-Hezbollah input.

Meanwhile Hezbollah, by responding so enthusiastically to Iran’s demands, has been facing difficulties at home in Lebanon.  Although its appeal within the Shi’te community remains strong, many have questioned the rationality of involving thousands of fighters in a conflict which seems to run counter to its declared purposes.  Fighting as Iran’s proxy in Syria has no connection to Lebanon’s internal problems, or to the eternal struggle against Israel.  Moreover more than 600 young Lebanese have lost their lives in the conflict, and despite Hezbollah’s generous financial grants to the families who suffer bereavement, these deaths  require some sort of justification. Accordingly, Hezbollah Secretary-General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issues somewhat unconvincing statements from time to time reiterating that the movement’s involvement in Syria represents a fight against  the US, Israel, and Takfirism the fundamentalist Sunni movement which is anathema to Muslims who espouse the Shi’ite tradition.

        Now Nasrallah has been relieved of the necessity to make excuses to his own constituency. According to foreign media sources, Israel is responsible for a helicopter attack on January 18 in the Syrian province of Quneitra. The target was a military vehicle containing an explosive combination of Iranian and Hezbollah officials.  Eleven were killed including Jihad Mughniyeh,
described by Western intelligence sources as a “relentless terrorist” plotting a series of cross-border terrorist attacks against Israel from Syria.  Other fatal casualties included Muhammad Issa, the head of Hezbollah’s operation in Syria and Iraq, and Iranian Colonel Ali Reza al-Tabatabai, commander of the Radwan force, a special operations unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon responsible for planning attacks against Israel.

        But also killed was Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Muhammad Allahdadi.  Now, killing an Iranian general is no small matter.  According to Debkafile, an independent internet website specialising in strategic analysis, Israel subsequently used Western and Arab media outlets to “clarify” the purpose of its air strike over the Golan, asserting that General Allahdadi and his staff of five were not known to be traveling in the Hezbollah convoy, and were not the target.

 “We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence,” a senior security official in Tel Aviv informed the media. “We went on the alert, we spotted the vehicle, identified it as an enemy vehicle and took the shot.”

This semi-apology, according to Debkafile, was intended to mollify Tehran, and was almost certainly made at the instigation of Washington with one eye on the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. The Obama administration doubtless feared that the airstrike might snowball into a full-scale military confrontation, leading to the breakdown of the negotiations.

Will Iran accept Israel’s excuse for the death of a senior general? Retaliation is inevitable, emanating either directly from Iran, or more likely via its Hezbollah satrap, but the degree and consequences of any reprisal hang in the balance.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 26 January 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/Iran-and-Hezbollah-an-explosive-combination-389000 

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/23012015-iran-hezbollah-explosive-combination-oped/

Friday, 16 January 2015

Anti-Semitism and the battle against Jihad

          Talking of cartoons, shortly after the huge and impressive Charlie Hebdo rallies had taken place in Paris and across the Western world, a telling cartoon appeared in the Jerusalem Post.  A boy sits across the table from his father. 
“Why were cartoonists killed?” he asks.
“Over freedom of speech,” says his Dad.
“So, why were Jews killed too?”
“Over freedom of existence.”

And indeed, one has to ask what connection could there be between the murderous attack on the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and the customers in a kosher supermarket?  The same question might have been asked following the Mumbai massacre of 2008, in which a series of twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks were carried out by Pakistani jihadists. Why was the Nariman House Jewish community centre included among the hotel, hospital and cinema targets?  

The world is beginning to understand that within the warped Islamist ideology, bitter resentment at Western intervention into the affairs of Muslim states, fury at less than respectful references to the Prophet, and hatred of Jews, Judaism and Israel are all intermingled.  In their philosophy, terrorist action directed against any is equally justifiable .  So to Amedy Coulibaly, acting to support the terrorists who attacked and killed the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket seemed an entirely appropriate target to select.  Just as, in the mindset of Pakistani terrorists engaged in what was essentially an Islamist war against India, murdering Jews was a basic component in the strategy.

From phone conversations between those in Pakistan directing the Mumbai operation and the terrorists – recorded by Indian authorities on November 27, 2008, and later published in The Hindu newspaper – it is clear that the lives of those taken hostage in the attack on the Jewish community centre were of no consequence.
Pakistan caller:  If you are still threatened, then don’t saddle yourself with the burden of the hostages. Immediately kill them."
Mumbai terrorist at Nariman House: Yes, we shall do accordingly, God willing.
Pakistan caller:  Another thing: Israel has made a request through diplomatic channels to save the hostages. If the hostages are killed, it will spoil relations between India and Israel."
Mumbai terrorist: "So be it, God willing."
In the event six Jewish lives were added to the 158 victims mowed down during those four days of terror in November 2008.

Coulibaly, too, having murdered four of his hostages, spoke on the phone and gave a TV interview during the course of his siege of the kosher supermarket.  Claiming he was sent by al-Qaeda in Yemen as a defender of the Prophet, and that his attack had been synchronized with that by the Kouachi brothers on the Charlie Hebdo offices, he offered no justification for attacking a Jewish supermarket. Clearly he assumed that none was called for.

“Sir – In all the comment about last week’s atrocities in Paris, there has been much said about the rights and wrongs of insulting Muslim beliefs… Extraordinarily, I have not heard or seen a single comment that questions the motive of a killer who enters a Jewish supermarket and kills random shoppers. It seems there is no need to explain. They were killed not because they said or did things that were blasphemous or provocative, but because they were probably Jews. Is the world so inured to this that the question “Why?” is not even deemed necessary?

But the reason is not difficult to discern.  Islamists seek to destroy Western freedoms throughout the world and substitute their own version of a Muslim caliphate, and integral to their worldview is not only a total intolerance for Jews, but a positive injunction to kill them whenever possible. This hatred for Jews and Israel has been brought to Europe as part of the baggage of radical Islamist preachers. So far Western governments and organisations have failed to recognize – or at least to acknowledge – two basic truths about all jihadists, whatever their hue: first, that they are in earnest in their desire to pull down the institutions of democracy and obliterate the Western way of life; and secondly that a hatred of Jews, Judaism and Israel is locked into their ideology. 

Joining the dots, it becomes abundantly clear that for decades Israel – an island of Western democracy in a turbulent Muslim ocean – has been in the vanguard of the anti-jihadist fight.  The extremist Islamist entities of Hamas to the east, Hezbollah to the north, and Iran to the west – all vehemently anti-Semitic and dedicated to Israel’s destruction – have been joined by jihadist factions in Syria and Iraq, led by Islamic State (or “Daesh”, as Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, proposes dubbing it, a term it is said to loathe). 

Now, in the light of the assault on the French cartoonists and innocent supermarket shoppers, the Western world seems to have committed itself to a determined effort to combat Islamist terror. Many seem to have understood that this must also mean addressing the way Jew-hatred has become acceptable in European society.  To repeat the mantra “Jews are the canary in civilization’s coalmine,” is almost jejune, yet the aphorism remains as valid as the day it was coined.  If Jews cannot live freely without fear of attack in a democratic society, then everyone is at risk. The rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe is a danger signal for Western democracy as a whole.

Perhaps some are beginning to appreciate the connection between anti-Semitism and the distorted form of Islam promulgated by jihadists of all hues.  A hopeful development is the news that on January 22 the United Nations General Assembly is to hold its first-ever special meeting on “the global outbreak of anti-Semitism.”  The session was arranged following a petition to the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, signed by 36 countries and mounted on the initiative of the Israeli mission to the UN.  Appropriately enough, the signatories include all 28 members of the European Union – indicating that all acknowledge the recent worrying rise in anti-Semitic activity within the countries of Europe.

Jihadist terrorism is by no means exclusively anti-Semitic, but all anti-Semitic activity panders to the brutal, inhumane and unacceptable world-view philosophy peddled by jihadists.  The time has come for all people of goodwill, whatever their religion or none, to take a determined stand against those who believe that killing innocent people is an acceptable way to achieve their objectives.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 19 January 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/Anti-Semitism-and-the-battle-against-Jihad-388228

Published in the Eurasia Review, 16 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/16012015-anti-semitism-battle-jihad-oped/

Friday, 9 January 2015

Lebanon reaches the limit

          There must be a limit to the number of immigrants, whatever their status, that any sovereign state can accommodate before its social cohesion and infrastructure begin to collapse under the strain.  Acknowledgement of this political reality has been slow to develop within Western governments, largely because it runs counter to the generally liberal approach that most adopt towards legal immigration. There has also been some reluctance to take action because of the grey area that exists between immigrants and genuine refugees, to whom governments have humanitarian obligations under international law.

There is another reason why most governments have been reluctant to recognize the political hazards of unrestricted immigration – the fact that it is an issue taken up with enthusiasm by parties of the right, often of the extreme right.  Such parties have enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in the past decade.  Many frame their appeal by emphasizing illegal immigration, which has soared to unprecedented levels.  Sometimes they use other arguments.  Just before Christmas a German group calling itself Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) drew a crowd of 17,500 people to a demonstration in Dresden.  Claiming to be neither racist nor xenophobic, Pegida says it is simply calling for the preservation of the country’s Judeo-Christian culture. It advocates a tightening of the immigration laws, not only within Germany but in the EU generally.

In the US, the Tea Party regards illegal immigrants, vast numbers of whom continue infiltrate into the country from Mexico, as “a direct to threat to ... the rule of law, free markets, private property, individual freedom, and fiscal responsibility.”  Estimates vary, but some 15 to 20 million illegal immigrants are thought to be living in the States, while the annual influx is about a million.  In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has sprung to prominence in recent years. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has said that the party is likely to go into the upcoming general election promising a five-year ban on people coming to settle in Britain while immigration policy is sorted out.

In France the National Front’s policy is to reduce annual immigration from 200,000 to 10,000, to ban all illegal immigration and to end the current right of illegal immigrants to remain in France if they have been in the country for a certain time. No doubt the National Front will ensure that the Islamist attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015 feeds into the forthcoming elections.  In Norway there is the Progress Party; in Switzerland, the Swiss People’s Party. In Austria the Austrian Freedom Party has had representatives in parliament since 1999. Similar examples can be found in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, all of which have extreme right parties that hold parliamentary representation.

In Australia it was the right-wing government that took the initiative early in December to deal with a backlog of 30,000 illegal “boat people”.  For them it tightened the immigration laws, while for genuine refugees it introduced temporary visas which grant protection for up to three years but do not give them the right to settle in Australia for good.  New Zealand follows Australia’s tough approach to illegal immigration.  But none of the countries combatting uncontrolled or illegal immigration had so far declared that saturation point had been reached – until the announcement early in January from Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Nohad Machnouk: “There’s no capacity any more.”

Lebanon is hosting what is now the highest per capita number of refugees anywhere in the world. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict more than 1.5 million refugees have taken shelter in a country with a population of 4.5 million. On January 5 Lebanon imposed new restrictions to stem the flood of refugees pouring in from war-torn Syria. Travellers from Damascus will now need to make a formal application to enter the country, and will have to apply for one of six types of entry permit -- tourist, business, student, transit, medical or short stay. Each permit requires specific documentation, such as hotel bookings, and for tourists possession of $1,000, or for business people an invitation from a Lebanese company. There is no provision for those seeking asylum, but according to Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon: "The government says that it will allow those extreme humanitarian cases access."

          The unprecedented influx of homeless, desperate people has overwhelmed Lebanon's water and electricity supplies, pushed up rents and depressed the economy. Host communities across the country have been stretched to breaking point.  Villagers say they have been forced out of their jobs by Syrians willing to work for lower wages. An increasing number of attacks on the informal refugee settlements have been recorded. More than 45 Lebanese towns and villages have imposed curfews, enforced by local, often violent vigilantes, banning Syrian refugees from moving after dark.

       In addition to the disruption of ordinary life caused by accommodating hundreds of thousands of incomers, Lebanon faces a social problem all its own. The Lebanese social order has traditionally been a careful balance between the Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim and Christian elements in its society. Seats in the parliament are allocated 50-50 as between Muslims and Christians, while the President is always a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker a Shia Muslim. The Syrians fleeing into Lebanon are almost all Sunni Muslims, and there are fears – not least among Hezbollah and its supporters, who are of the Shi’te tradition – that if they were settled permanently, they would destabilise the country's delicate sectarian balance.

          Lebanon has been pushed to the very limit of viability in absorbing incomers. It will no doubt be used as an object lesson by governments, political parties and organizations across the world with their own agendas for limiting immigration and indeed there are lessons to be learned from Lebanon’s experience. Although it has been the victim of events largely beyond its control, its ordeal does demonstrate just how disruptive to a society an uncontrolled and unplanned influx of newcomers can be. The answer surely lies in government policies that encourage controlled and planned immigration likely to benefit a society, offer humanitarian shelter to refugees fleeing from their home countries in fear of their lives, and have zero tolerance for those seeking to enter a state illegally, and for those profiting from this form of human trafficking.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 12 January 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/Lebanon-reaches-the-limit-387490

Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/09012015-lebanon-reaches-limit-oped/

Friday, 2 January 2015

Libya and the anti-Islamist struggle

          Back in 1969 Muammar al-Gaddafi, universally known as Colonel Gaddafi, led a coup d'état in Libya and subsequently ruled the country for forty-two years.  He was overthrown in October 2012, a victim of the so-called “Arab Spring” the upsurge of the Arab masses, protesting against the corrupt dictatorships under which most had lived for decades and ever since Libya has been unable to achieve stability.

Today it is on the brink of a civil conflict no less unrestrained and bloody than that in strife-ridden Syria. Like Syria, Libya is currently a battlefield over which diverse armed groups, each intent on achieving its own ends, run amok.  It, too, is plagued by Islamist extremists on the rampage, intent on destroying every vestige of democratic rule and substituting their own inhumane and soul-destroying version of Sharia law.

Having endured more than four decades of authoritarian rule, even the moderates in Libya have little understanding of democracy, while those aligned to Islamist interests positively reject it. As a result, Libya has had five governments since its revolution.  In June 2014 it held its second democratic election since Gaddafi's overthrow.  Islamist political groups participated, but won only about 30 of the 188 parliamentary seatsConsequently the poll was not only unsuccessful in achieving a stable administration, but resulted in quite the reverse.  For having failed to gain popular support, an umbrella group of Islamist militias known as Libya Dawn took to the streets in August, and virtually captured the capital, Tripoli.

        What followed was a breakdown of law, order and established government.  The democratically elected and internationally recognized prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, and most of his ministers and government officials fled the city with their families, and Libya Dawn set up a rival Islamist administration led by Omar al-Hassi, a hardline former al-Qaeda affiliate As a result, Thinni has been forced to run a rump state from a grey concrete hotel in the eastern city of Tobruk, some 900 miles from the capital.

True to Islamist form, since taking control in Tripoli the self-appointed Libya Dawn government has torched the homes of dozens of rival politicians, cracked down on critical media and, according to human rights groups and the UN. hounded civil activists out of the country. Libya Dawn has also forced the central bank to stop the flow of funds to the internationally recognized parliament, alarming other governments who fear that Libya’s vast oil wealth could bolster the resources of Islamist organisations. 

The oil dimension to the civil unrest in Libya surfaced again last week, following a determined attempt by Libya Dawn – mirroring IS strategy in Iraq to grab control of the country’s sizeable oil reserves. On Christmas Day Libya Dawn attacked the country’s largest oil terminal at Es Sider, setting five giant oil storage bunkers ablaze.  In apparent revenge, jets of the Libyan Air Force, under the control of General Khalifa Heftar, launched a missile attack on the international airport at Misrata, a Libya Dawn stronghold.  At Es Sider, one of Libya’s main export hubs, Libyan officials said that 850,000 barrels of crude oil had been lost in the fire. 

Once the largest oil producer in Africa, Libya’s output 1.59 million barrels per day at the end of 2010 is thought to have dropped to as low as 352,000 barrels per day since the current outbreak of violence. Curiously, this particular cloud has a silver lining at least as far as the oil producers are concerned. Fear over the reliability of oil supplies from Libya could have the positive effect of putting a floor under the tumbling world price of crude, which has lost about 45 percent of its value since the middle of 2014.  Whether energy consumers, filling their cars or paying their gas bills, will benefit is less certain.

More to the point is evidence of a growing association between Libya’s Islamist extremists and the Islamic State (IS), currently wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq. In the dying days of 2014 the commander of US armed forces in Africa, General David Rodriguez, revealed that several hundred IS militants were in training camps in eastern Libya, now under the control of Libya Dawn.  IS loyalists have also been noted in the coastal city of Derna and the adjacent Green Mountain range.  In November the UN Security Council, learning that the Derna branch of the Libyan Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia had pledged allegiance to IS, declared it a terrorist organisation.

“Training camps are seen and heard by everybody,” said Adel al-Faydi, a tribal leader from a town near Derna. “They include large numbers from many nationalities who reached Libya by sea. Now they are not hiding, they are out and about in the city.”  He said that IS fighters and their jihadi allies recently gave Libyan tribal leaders a three-day ultimatum to withdraw their support to the government’s operations, “otherwise they'll assassinate them. That’s why we expect the violence to escalate in the coming days.”

Just like the IS in Iraq and Syria, Libya Dawn and its affiliates are intent on establishing their own regime across the country.  The parallels are chilling.  So far Libya’s three main cities – Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi have fallen into their hands.  Libya Dawn “want their own version of what an Islamic state should look like,” said Mohamed Eljarh, a Libyan commentator, quoting the words of Sadegh al-Gheriani, Libya’s grand mufti, an outspoken supporter of the Islamist militias, who has issued edicts demanding gender segregation and barring women from marrying foreigners.

In a classic political manoeuvre, Mohamed Zarroq, a Benghazi-based Islamist and co-founder of the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, claims: “People support Libya Dawn because they believe in what they are doing, They are cleansing the security forces of Gaddafi loyalists.”

Who, except for the crippled government holed up in Tobruk, is opposing these destructive Islamists?  Only a loose alliance going under the generic title of the Dignity Movement. composed of liberal political factions, militias from the western city of Zintan and armed forces loyal to General Haftar. They are fighting what might be described as a rearguard action.  Just like the democratic forces opposing IS in Syria and Iraq, they need all the help they can muster, both political and military.  Let us hope it will be forthcoming.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 5 January 2015:
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/Libya-and-the-anti-Islamist-struggle-386701

Published in the Eurasia Review, 3 January 2015:
http://www.eurasiareview.com/03012015-libya-anti-islamist-struggle-oped/