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Islam and the West ( 11 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

A 'Gun For Every Civilian': A Dangerous Call!: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 12 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

12 October 2015

A 'gun for every civilian': A dangerous call!

By HASSAN BARARI

Why Is Money Still Flowing to ISIS?

By New York Times Editorial

US To Give Arms, Air Support To Islamist Militias In Syria

By Bill Van Auken

Confronting Russia now is too late, too difficult

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Sheikh Mohammad’s ‘Marshal Plan’ maybe the region’s last chance

By Faisal J. Abbas

The time of the assassins in the Middle East

By Hisham Melhem

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A 'gun for every civilian': A dangerous call!

By HASSAN BARARI

 12 October 2015

The call on Israelis to carry weapons in the street cannot be riskier. Some would even argue that such a call is an open invitation for more unnecessary killing. A “gun for every civilian” call voiced by senior Israeli officials (the minister of Defense in particular) can send the wrong message to everyone involved in the unfolding conflict.

Israeli civilians in particular may resort to unwarranted killing, a scenario that could create a conducive environment for anarchy.

Let us imagine a situation where Israeli civilians wander everywhere with pistols and guns. They will have hard time in knowing whether or not a Palestinian is about to stab an Israeli. Besides, a civilian Israeli carrying guns will act out of anger and revenge. This emotional state may lead them to kill indiscriminately thus trigger another wave of violence. I understand that the situation in the occupied territories has recently deteriorated, but arming civilians will not make Israelis feel secure. To be sure, Palestinians will react if civilians Israelis target them.

Obviously, Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to reassert his image as “Mr. Security.” And yet, more weapons or violence and counter-violence will most likely to chip at Netanyahu’s self image of being Mr. Security.

Let me state the obvious, security can only come as a result of peace. Short of achieving peace for this long-standing conflict, security for all will be far from certain.

After almost five decades of the Israeli occupation, it is clear that subjugating the Palestinians is still a far-fetched goal. All along, Palestinians have been fighting for their lives and for independence.

The Israelis, according to a prominent Israeli columnist Amira Hass, are fighting for the occupation.

In her words, the “war did not start last Thursday, it does not start with the Jewish victims and does not end when no Jews are murdered.

The Palestinians are fighting for their life, in the full sense of the word. We Israeli Jews are fighting for our privilege as a nation of masters, in the full ugliness of the term.”

If anything, the Palestinians will not forfeit. This raises the question of what the Israelis are going to do?

Are they going to continue denying the Palestinians their basic right to self-determination? If yes, then the future is nothing but gloom and doom.

Not surprisingly, the international media outlets are turning a blind eye to the Israeli official call on Israeli civilians to carry guns. This is obvious especially in the United States where people’s opinion of what has been taking place is influenced by the lack of proper reporting on the conflict. The outcome is a kind of American complicit with Israel’s provocative approach.

It is high time for the international community to curb the radical inclinations that underpin the call for carrying guns. Equipped with guns, Israeli civilians may interpret their role differently. To them, any Palestinian can be a “legitimate” target. Israel who has the strongest army in the Middle East should not be oblivious to the implications of such a call. Turning the civilians into a sort of militias is dangerous to say the least.

I think that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should act like the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who has urged his people to stay calm. Abbas has made it perfectly clear that his people should not be dragged into violence.

Despite the feeling of injustice done to his people, Abbas is aware of the destructive ramification of violence. You can hardly find a Palestinian minister who incite for armed conflict. On the Israeli side, it is none other than the Minister of Defense who urge the Israelis to carry weapons! In brief, the call for more weapons is the perfect recipe for perpetuating the violence and counter-violence.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/819066

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Why Is Money Still Flowing to ISIS?

By New York Times Editorial

OCT. 10, 2015

Videos of Islamic State fighters driving brand-name S.U.V.s and pickup trucks in Syria, Iraq and Libya are graphic proof that efforts to squeeze the group financially have not done nearly enough. Now that the Obama administration’s program to train and equip anti-Islamic State fighters has ended in failure, there is even more reason to double down on efforts to choke off the group’s ability to raise funds and buy supplies.

For the Islamic State, which is seeking to establish a caliphate across Iraq and Syria, money is a potential Achilles’ heel. Unlike nations like Iran, which have been under international financial sanctions and controls, the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — is not a state. It lacks traditional economic relationships, it generates the vast majority of its revenue from within the territory it controls, and the sources of its revenues are not fully understood — all of which present a difficult challenge, American officials say.

The Treasury Department is leading an international effort to disrupt trade routes, cut access to the international financial system, and impose sanctions on Islamic State leaders and anyone who assists them. Last week, the State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for information that leads to a significant disruption of sales of oil or antiquities benefiting the group.

Administration officials say they are making progress in starving the Islamic State of revenue and the ability to spend that money in world markets for military equipment and other supplies like oil production gear. But the sight of brand-name vehicles in the group’s convoys is a sure sign that something is awry, especially when Toyota, the manufacturer, says it has a policy of not selling to purchasers who might modify vehicles for terrorist activities.

Nearly a year ago, David Cohen, then the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Congress the Islamic state “does not have the money to meet its costs.” Yet the terrorists now control a huge swath of territory in Syria and Iraq with millions of people and have drawn thousands of recruits from Europe and elsewhere. They are waging war against an American-led coalition and other forces. That takes hundreds of millions of dollars. They also must provide services to mollify civilians under their control, pay fighters’ salaries estimated at $500 a month or more and equip an army.

American officials say the Islamic State generates most of its revenue within the territory it rules, beyond the reach of the usual counterterrorism tools. Extorting civilians and businesses has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, they say. Despite American efforts to cut off the group’s oil revenues, the most recent estimate is that ISIS earns about $40 million a month selling oil from fields in Syria and Iraq, with refined products going to local buyers, while crude oil is sold to middlemen and smugglers with customers in Iraq and Syria, including the Syrian regime, and beyond.

The Islamic State is also looting banks; demanding ransom from kidnap victims; engaging in human trafficking; selling off plundered antiquities; and leaning on private donors, mainly in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

When it began bombing the Islamic State last year, the United States had some success disrupting the group’s oil revenues by targeting pipelines and refineries. Since then, producers have moved from using mobile refineries to using homegrown operations that are harder to target, officials told The Times. Concerns about leaving local citizens without crucial refining facilities and with the daunting job of rebuilding them later may be tempering the American approach, some experts say.

Last November Mr. Cohen stressed the importance of working with Turkey and Kurdish leaders to clamp down on cross-border smuggling, but that hasn’t been effective enough. Some American officials now say they are less confident that tightening Turkey’s border will disrupt the Islamic State’s profits from black-market oil sales.

The top priority now seems to be the blocking of the Islamic State’s use of banks and financial exchanges in Iraq, so the group won’t be able to buy weapons and other supplies. Treasury officials say they have succeeded in cutting off dozens of banks in Islamic State territory from the Iraqi and international financial systems. As the Islamic State moves to establish affiliates in other countries it may become easier to uncover those networks, because they will have to communicate over long distances and possibly assist one another financially, officials say.

If the group’s brutal rampage is to be halted, more effective efforts to undermine its finances are essential. Military force can be only one element of a multipronged strategy.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/opinion/sunday/why-is-money-still-flowing-to-isis.html

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US To Give Arms, Air Support To Islamist Militias In Syria

By Bill Van Auken

10 October, 2015

The Obama administration Friday announced an “operational pause” of the disastrously failed Pentagon program for arming and training “vetted rebels” in Turkey and sending them back across the border into Syria.

Instead, Pentagon and White House officials indicated, the focus will now shift to cementing ties with leaders of existing “rebel” militias, consisting overwhelmingly of Sunni Islamist forces with connections to Al Qaeda. US backing to these groups will apparently include both arms and ammunition as well as close air support from warplanes deployed by the US and its so-called coalition.

The policy shift follows the revelation last month by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of US Central Command, that only “four or five” individual US-trained fighters were then on the ground in Syria, and barely 100 more were undergoing training. This, after the allocation of $500 million for the Pentagon to train over 5,000 such fighters within the first year.

Austin’s revelation was followed within weeks by the Pentagon being forced to retract its initial denial of verified reports that a group of US-trained fighters sent into Syria had immediately turned over its vehicles and weaponry to the al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

The change in strategy also follows a first week of Russian airstrikes against Islamist forces in Syria, including some that had previously received arms shipments organized by the CIA. Beginning in 2011, the US spy agency set up a clandestine station in Turkey and organized the funneling into Syria of weaponry from Libyan stockpiles after the US-NATO war for regime change had succeeded in toppling and murdering Muammar Gaddafi.

Both Washington and Moscow claim to be waging their respective military campaigns in Syria for the purpose of destroying the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Al Qaeda offshoot that is the direct product of the unleashing of death and destruction against Iraq, Libya and Syria itself by the US military and CIA.

In reality, however, the US and Russian governments are fighting for opposite aims: Washington, to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad and install an American puppet regime; and Moscow to prop up the Assad government, its sole Middle Eastern ally.

The administration has come under increasing criticism from Republican opponents and sections of the US military and intelligence complex for its supposed “inaction” in the face of the Russian offensive in Syria. This found expression Friday in a column published under the joint byline of Obama’s former defense secretary, Robert Gates, and former Bush administration national security adviser Condoleezza Rice entitled “Countering Putin.”

It calls for actions to “create a better military balance of power on the ground,” including the creation of “no-fly zones” as well as “robust support” for various anti-regime forces and an effort to “solidify our relationship with Turkey,” a principal sponsor of the Islamist militias inside Syria.

The Obama administration’s announcement was also preceded by a letter sent to the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA by a bipartisan group of Senate critics of the administration’s Syria policy calling for an end to the “rebel” training program.

“The Syria Train and Equip Program goes beyond simply being an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. As many of us initially warned, it is now aiding the very forces we aim to defeat,” stated the letter, which was signed by Democratic senators Tom Udall (New Mexico), Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Chris Murphy (Connecticut) along with Republican Mike Lee (Utah).

The shift in policy announced Friday will not alter this aspect of the program, but only remove the fig leaf of “moderate” Syrian forces, with the handing over of weapons directly to the Islamists who constitute the dominant force among the anti-Assad “rebels.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged that among the principal obstacles to its training program was the vetting process that was supposed to have excluded those whose views were close to Al Qaeda’s, and the requirement that they engage ISIS as the main enemy, rather than the Assad government. It was unable to find such recruits in anywhere near the numbers projected.

President Barack Obama acknowledged in a press conference last week that the Pentagon’s train-and-equip program “has not worked the way it was supposed to.” He added, “And part of the reason, frankly, is because when we tried to get them to just focus on ISIL,” i.e., ISIS.

It appears that the administration’s answer to this failure is to drop these previous restrictions, providing direct US military aid to forces fighting for the overthrow of the Syrian government, including Islamists who would have been excluded from the Pentagon training program.

In the first announcement of the new program, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking in London following a meeting with his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, said that it would be modeled on “the work we’ve done with the Kurds in northern Syria ... That’s exactly the kind of example that we would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward. That is going to be the core of the President’s concept.”

The US coordination with the Kurds, particularly during the ISIS siege of the Syrian city of Kobani, on the Turkish border, involved Kurds providing ground forces, while identifying targets and calling in airstrikes by US warplanes.

As part of the new program, Pentagon officials said that the US military would train “enablers,” leading members of various militias, who would be instructed in how to coordinate with American warplanes in targeting and striking forces on the ground.

The Kurdish “example” has been rendered problematic by Washington’s alliance with Turkey, which has allowed US airstrikes to be launched from Incirlik Air Base and other bases inside Turkey in return for Washington’s tacit approval of Turkish bombing of the Kurds.

The identity of the “other groups” with whom Washington wants to replicate this strategy is far from clear. Some media reports named the “Syrian Arab Coalition” as a likely recipient of US weapons and close air support. Prior to Friday’s announcement, however, no one had ever heard of this coalition, which appears to be something that the Pentagon hopes to cobble together from existing “rebel” groups.

The dominant forces fighting the Assad government consist of ISIS, which Washington claims to be committed to destroying, the al-Nusra Front, which is on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group whose founders came out of Al Qaeda. Other smaller factions are largely fighting in alliance with these forces.

To the extent that the US military provides air support to these militias, it may well come into direct conflict with Russian warplanes that are bombing them.

Far from a tactical retreat, it appears that the suspension of the Pentagon’s train-and-equip program is only setting the stage for a far bloodier war inside Syria, while heightening the real danger of a military clash between the world’s two largest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia.

http://www.countercurrents.org/auken101015.htm

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Confronting Russia now is too late, too difficult

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

11 October 2015

Recent American press reports are full of opinions stating that the current American administration's way of dealing with the Syrian crisis has been wrong since the beginning. Most of these opinions believe that America’s absence brought ISIS, Hezbollah and the Iranians and Russians to Syria.

Dennis Ross, who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011, commented on Obama's motives regarding Syria in a recently published article in the Washington Post and said that "Obama has been consistent on Syria," adding: "Even when I was in the administration, the president made clear that he did not want to get dragged into the conflict there."

The fear of war was also a motive for Gulf countries. However, after the Arab Spring revolutions erupted, Gulf countries realized that not intervening expands any threats against them and increases chances of chaos in the region; chaos meaning the spread of terrorism which leads to an increased influx of refugees.

Ross thinks it's possible to benefit from the game rules by going to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris to create a safe haven for refugees along the ¬Turkish-Syrian border - a haven which the Europeans protect by air force, the Turks protect on ground and the Gulf countries finance.

However, isn't it too late for such a suggestion? Isn't there lots of doubt now in the American administration? And what's the next step after five million Syrian refugees flee to this safe haven?

A comfortable policy

It's been clear that the Obama administration does not want to get involved in the region ever since it insisted to exit Iraq and not to intervene in the Syrian and Libyan crises. Theoretically speaking, it is a comfortable policy to simply stay away; however, this policy proved to be a costly option for a superpower with major interests across the world.

The war is expanding and is almost spinning out of control.

If we go back four years ago, who would've thought that the most advanced Russian SU34 warplanes and American F-16 fighter jets will compete in Syrian skies in a worrying scene, which the world has seen nothing like since the end of the Cold War?

Turn back time

What if we can go back in time and ask: What could've been done to avoid the current threats? I think that even the worst of options back then, in 2011 and 2012, would've been a lot better than the current situation. The worst of options would've been intervening in Syria before the Iranians, Hezbollah and, most recently, the Russians arrived in Syria. What encouraged these parties to militarily enter Syria and Iraq is their realization that Washington never intends to fight or support the opposition and that it even adopted a policy that prevents supplying fighters with arms - a policy that was never implemented on the Assad regime that has used all sorts of weapons - from barrel bombs to chemical weapons!

I am not saying Washington should've opted for direct military intervention but it would've been enough if it had sponsored the plans of its allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, by supporting a political and military solution via the moderate opposition to achieve partial change in Damascus. These countries were willing to finance this plan when the oil price was higher than $100. However, Syria has today become the biggest battlefield for militias and political parties. Meanwhile, U.S. allies have no additional financial resources due to the decline in oil prices and these countries have also lost trust in the U.S. due to the latter's truce with Iran in exchange of sealing the nuclear deal.

Carrot and the stick

In the meantime, Iran has invested in President Obama's aversion to wars in order to serve its own hostile policy. It increased its military involvement in Syria and tightened its grip on governance in Iraq. It resorted to the carrot and the stick approach in which the carrot is the nuclear agreement, and it seems that this approach increased the White House's policy to avoid confrontation in Iraq and Syria and thus leave the arena for the battling parties while getting preoccupied with negotiating a reconciliation with Iran.

The region's other countries believe that not intervening is actually a policy on its own - a policy that has repercussions which may be dangerous. With no deterrents, Iran went ahead and widened its military intervention. This forced countries friendly to Washington to confront Iranian intervention in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen on their own in order to maintain their security and the balance of the region. The struggle thus expanded and the Russians have now entered the military arena.

If Washington had interfered from the beginning, would it have been possible to avoid all this bloodshed, chaos and international confrontation?

I don't know, but there were good chances of controlling the situation in Syria in the past when the majority of the opposition was patriotic and not religious and when Iran hadn't begun sending its agents as hired militias to fight alongside the Syrian regime.

We can say the same for Yemen. If Saudi Arabia hadn't intervened in Yemen, the Saudi-Iranian confrontation would've been inevitable and on a larger scale.

For now, to confront the Russians and the Iranians in Iraq and Syria, a safe haven for refugees is not enough unless it's accompanied with a military plan. In order for Washington to make the Iranian and Russian invaders pay a high price and force them to retreat, it will have to form some sort of front consisting of multiple forces. The problem is that this "price" will first be costly on Washington and its allies.

In the past, Washington's allies were willing to take part in its wars. They supported Washington in Afghanistan and helped in some of the former's battles in Iraq. They also pursued al-Qaeda and supported Washington in besieging Iran on the economic and financial levels. Today however, the most difficult mission which the White House will face is not convincing Russia to exit Syria but to convince its own allies in the Middle East to take part in any plan. Trust is now broken between Washington and its allies in the Middle East, and restoring it will require great effort.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/10/11/Confronting-Russia-now-is-too-late-too-difficult.html

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Sheikh Mohammad’s ‘Marshal Plan’ maybe the region’s last chance

By Faisal J. Abbas

Sunday, 11 October 2015

I hate to sound pessimistic, but the Arab world’s increasingly disastrous status leaves very little room for positivity. After all, what else could be said of the devastating wars tearing apart Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, a humiliating occupation in Palestine, severe divisions and intense corruption and unrest in Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan?

Obviously, such a situation doesn’t come without its own aftermath; the catastrophe in Syria alone has produced 12 million refugees who – let’s admit it – are unlikely to ever stand a chance to go back home in the near future. (According to former U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, a displaced person will remain displaced for 17 years on average.)

On top of this, the sharp decline in oil prices has resulted in the introduction of austerity measures and subsidies being cut in the wealthier, more stable Gulf countries. While most GCC states are still in a relatively good situation, thanks to numerous foreign investments, economic diversification and massive reserves put aside when oil prices were at their peak, many are – for the first time – having to deal with new realities, such as unsubsidized petrol and meat prices.

Furthermore, the region is also plagued with high illiteracy and unemployment rates mainly due to decades of corruption and bad governance.

Then you have the issue of terrorism and violent extremism (which naturally flourishes in turbulent environments, such as the ones described above). Albeit a global phenomenon, our region is suffering the most and in recent years, we have been faced by a new reality on the ground: a “wannabe” state on our borders founded by a terrorist group known as ISIS.

Established on occupied lands in Syria and Iraq, ISIS almost has all the vital signs of a real country; its own army, currency, laws and propaganda machine and is somehow able to sell oil (from fields it took by force) and buy weapons.

Obviously, whatever perks ISIS enjoys today is a natural outcome of a global failure in dealing with its threats and causes (mainly the tyranny of the Assad regime). At the core of this international failure is a reclusive and non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy seen since the Obama administration took office in 2009.

Needless to say, the vacuum left by America was quickly filled by Iran (which now boasts the occupation of four Arab capitals) and more recently, by Russia which is now enjoying its biggest ever presence in the Arab World since President Sadat of Egypt expelled the Soviet military advisors in 1972.

A beacon of hope

So is it a hopeless case for the Arab World? Not really, modern history has seen many successful resurgences; Japan, South Korea and the BRICS are good examples of what can be achieved in just a matter of decades.

However, in all of the above cases, there were several similarities which identified the road to success, mainly: 1) A clear definition of the problems that needed to be addressed and 2) Leaders who were determined to do whatever it takes to overcome these problems.

As such, our region could arguably surpass most of its issues if these two conditions for success were met and last week, Dubai witnessed a major announcement which may very well be the first step on a long road to recovery for the whole region.

Aiming to help nearly 130 million people by 2025, the Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives was unveiled by HH Sheikh Mohammad in an attempt to bring together the work of 28 organizations under one umbrella, as well as coordinate the efforts of 1400 human development programs in more than 116 countries.

What is definitely note-worthy is the four areas the new foundation chose to focus on: Fighting poverty dissemination of knowledge, community empowerment and innovation for the future.

Once the combined targets are met, the four pillars which comprise Sheikh Mohammad’s plan can form a long-term regional remedy and a road-map to pan-Arab prosperity, and not just serve as a pacifier to help overcome current woes.

Also note-worthy is the emphasis on the Arab World, a matter which was further confirmed in a statement by UAE Minister of Cabinet Mohammad al-Gergawi.

"The circumstances which the (Arab) region is going through calls for immediate action, albeit our direction will always be that we will always aim to help people of all races and all religions without any discrimination," Gergawi said.

Already stalling behind in many key areas, the bulk of the Arab world is in desperate need for development and a “Marshal Plan” to bring it back to its feet.

Again, while hoping not to sound pessimistic, one must emphasize that Sheikh Mohammad’s initiative may very well be region’s last chance to catch up with the rest of the world and safeguard a better future for the generations to come.

However, for Sheikh Mohammad’s “Marshal Plan” to work, benefiting nations and people must acknowledge their problems and commit to doing what it takes to help resolve them. As such, shameful malpractices - such as stealing from foreign aid intended to help refugees - must stop.

For his part, Sheikh Mohammad acknowledges this is not going to be an easy task, nevertheless he seems ready and excited to accept the challenge.

“The mission is big… but the determination is bigger” he said at the conclusion of last week’s announcement.

Interestingly, it seems to me that I was destined to be the first beneficiary of this new initiative… I say this because a quote by Mohammad bin Rashid is one of the scarce ways one could end a column about the Arab world on a positive note!

Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/10/11/Sheikh-Mohammad-s-Marshal-Plan-maybe-the-region-s-last-chance.html

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The time of the assassins in the Middle East

By Hisham Melhem

10 October 2015

This is the time of the assassins in the Middle East. This is the time of the great disruption and the epic unwinding of Syria and Iraq; and for some this is the time that precedes the apocalypse. This is the time of the sectarian avengers who sprouted from a land soaked in the blood of generations of true and fake Sunni and Shiite believers. This is the time of reluctant warriors from the West, and new Crusaders coming this time, from the East, and their potential violent encounter could doom the region and beyond. This is the time of ultraviolence and swift death meted out by the barrel bombs and field artillery of the usurpers of power in the once glorious cities of Damascus and Baghdad, and by the swords of the ‘Islamic State’, ISIS, and by the bombs and missiles fired by the warplanes of foreign powers in the crowded skies of Syria and Iraq.

The unraveling of the state system in some parts of the Middle East, the rise of violent non-state actors beholden to no legitimate authority, the deepening of sectarian schisms, the absence of legitimate accountable institutions, and the desertification of cultural life are made worse by autocratic and despotic local and regional rulers, and a dearth of leadership in nearby Europe.

In recent years, American leadership in the Middle East and beyond had oscillated between hubris, overreach and the naïve optimism of George W. Bush and the pretend realism, ineptitude and haplessness of the Barack Obama years. On Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq, Obama’s leadership and pronouncements have been characterized by contradictory approaches, moral vacuity, weakness and downright mendacity. Russia’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime brought to the fore the leadership style of President Vladimir Putin; intelligent, bold and deceitful. Niccoló Machiavelli would be proud. A great prince or ruler, Machiavelli tells us, is cold and unsentimental, who understands the limits of power and its effective and often ruthless application. President Obama’s habit of harping on about America’s limits of power – even when there is no reason for such confessions – gives the clear impression that his America is no longer capable of achieving great successes on its own, or is no longer willing to be bold, and yes, occasionally pay the price of strong leadership if the objectives warrant it.

Doomed to perdition?

Russia’s brazen military expedition in Syria, and the stunning passivity of the Obama administration could only lead to prolonging the agony of the Syrian people and widening the circle of violence. More Syrians will perish in the conflict.

Regional powers like Iran are providing arms, advisors and members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps to support the Assad regime on the battlefield, along with auxiliary Shiite militias from Lebanon and Iraq. Other regional powers, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are actively supporting myriad Syrian opposition groups. The marauders of ISIS continue their killings and destruction. The genocide is consuming the people of Syria and their cultural heritage. The terrorists of ISIS pillage villages and towns raping young girls and destroying exquisite pre-Islamic temples and the first Christian churches and monasteries. Syria is dying slowly, and it seems as if the whole world is participating in its ritualistic killing.

No sooner was the first Russian bombardment over, the world realized what many skeptics have feared: Putin’s real objectives in Syria include attacking the Islamist and nationalist groups in the Idlib region, which had forced Assad’s military to withdraw. The majority of Russia’s attacks were carried out against forces fighting the Assad regime, and not against ISIS. In fact one could see an unwritten collusion between the Russians and ISIS. While the Russian air force was bombing anti-Assad units in the north, ISIS intensified its attacks against the anti-Assad opposition groups in the environs of Aleppo. This was surely one of Putin’s tactical intended consequences.

Machiavelli for beginners

Watching the president and his advisors reacting lackadaisically to Putin’s calculated moves, one is tempted to sending them free copies of Machiavelli’s books, particularly The Prince, in the hope that they would learn something about power, cunning and leadership. From the moment the Russian military buildup started in early September, the Obama administration began to engage in wishful thinking and delusions – and the guessing game commenced. The Obama administration wanted to learn about Russia’s “real intentions” from the Russian themselves, as if Putin did not deceive them throughout last summer when he “assured” Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia was “tired of Assad” and was willing to revive the peace negotiations. It was during those days that the Russian and Iranian high commands were coordinating their military moves in Syria.

Faced with Putin’s new facts on the ground and his humiliating dismissiveness of the ‘deep concerns’ of the Obama administration, the President’s advisors sharpened their pleas with the Russians not to willfully violate Turkey’s airspace, and urging Moscow to seriously discuss with the U.S. technical means to avoid military incidents in the Syrian skies. The President and his men were in denial when they tried to minimize the buildup by saying Russia has had a long military relationship with Syria, that the naval base at Tartus was built during the Soviet era, and that Putin’s move reflected the military weakness of his ally Assad. Then we were told that the Russian intervention will backfire, that it will amount to a “tragic mistake” that will galvanize domestic and international resentment, or that very soon Russia “will begin to suffer from casualties.” All along the U.S. administration kept assuring the Russians that they have a place in the anti-ISIS international coalition.

Embarrassing failure

Once again the Obama administration found itself forced to review and amend its policies and programs regarding the Syrian opposition. The embarrassing failure of the train-and-equip program, which produced a handful of fighters in almost a year and a budget of $500 million, was on Friday put on “operational pause”. A new, less ambitious plan will focus on training leaders of opposition units, arming them and providing them with communications gear so that they can identify ISIS targets that the U.S. Air Force will destroy. This is the third such adjustment, and there is no serious indication that the new program will fare better than the previous ones.

The new program will likely fail, because there is no genuine commitment on the part of President Obama to see the Syrian opposition develop into a serious threat to the Assad regime. Clearly the U.S. administration is flailing in its attempts to respond to Putin’s challenge, and over the collapse of its train-and-equip program. It was reported that the President’s men are reviving the idea of local ceasefires as a way to de-escalate the violence and suffering, in the absence of a political process. These ceasefires have been tried with very limited success, and their adoption means a resignation to Assad remaining in power indefinitely.

Every combatant has a strategy – with the exception of the United States. A lot has been written about Russia’s real goals in Syria. Putin is reasserting Russia’s influence in the Middle East in collaboration with Syria, Iran and Iraq – and doing so at the expense of Washington. He is already a political and military player in Syria and will be crucial for any outcome to the conflict. Iraq is thinking of inviting the Russian Air Force to help in the war against ISIS. Egypt, another erstwhile ally of the United States, has supported Russia’s military intervention in Syria wholeheartedly. Iran has a clear strategy: It wants to protect its extensive interests in Syria and by extension Lebanon. Iran will continue to invest in the Shiite communities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and is willing to participate directly and through its proxies to defend these interests. Even a weak Assad has a strategy: to remain in power regardless of his status as a vassal. Russia’s higher profile could help Assad tactically, since it could lessen his total dependence on the Iranians. And of course, the pretend Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a strategy: To wallow in so much nihilistic violence, to draw more foreign fighters and usher in the apocalyptic battle of end times in the town of Dabiq, northern Syria.

Last week President Obama was dismissive of all those former senior officials who worked with him in his first term, and of the Syrian scholars and opposition leaders who over the years proposed options that differ from his own policy, as “half-baked ideas” and “mumbo-jumbo”. The tragic reality is that everything President Obama pursued in Syria was “half-baked” and sounded like “mumbo-jumbo”. Denigrating his critics, who proposed realistic plans for safe zones or no-fly zones, and working with opposition groups already battling ISIS, will not alter the fact that the price of his dithering and inaction will be borne by the peoples of the region.

The immovable object

During the presidency of Barack Obama, the Middle East has undergone a great unraveling of epic proportions. The leaders of countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen led their societies to mass slaughter, and the once-great powers either fanned the flames, or were unwilling or unable to stop the conflagration. In the case of President Obama, it shall be written that he failed to honor his promises to the Syrians, or to act on his threats. President Obama endured setbacks in Syria, was subjected to fierce criticism because of his inaction which contributed to that country’s torment, and he is still suffering from Putin’s humiliations. But Obama has developed an impenetrable immune system against any moral appeal to his higher angels. On Syria Obama is like an immovable object. His willful blindness is there to see in all of its scarred nakedness. Syria will continue to bleed and die slowly, in a region bereft of hope and salvation, while hurtling itself with breakneck speed towards the abyss. This is indeed the time of the assassins.

Hisham Melhem is a columnist and analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/world/2015/10/10/The-time-of-the-assassins-in-the-Middle-East.html

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