New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 November 2015
The Price France Had to Pay for Doing What’s Right!
By Faisal J. Abbas
The Trouble with Home-Grown Jihadists
By Agnes Poirier
British Jews Send a Wake-Up Call to Israel
By Sharif Nashashibi
Who Is The Winner Of Turkey's Elections?
By Richard Falk and Bulent Aras
The Vienna Plan for Syria: Fighting Terrorism with Politics
By Raghida Dergham
Unlike Any That Came Before
By Syed Mansur Hashim
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The Price France Had To Pay For Doing What’s Right!
By Faisal J. Abbas
Nov 17, 2015
Paris will never be the same after Friday night, and as the French mourn their dead — and we all mourn with them — the reality is that Friday, Nov. 13 will inevitably leave a permanent scar on the face of this beautiful city, just like 9/11 did to New York or 7/7 did to London.
However, just like New York, London, Madrid, Riyadh, Beirut and other cities, which have been and continue to be hit by terror, Paris will find a way to go on, despite this being the second attack in the French capital this year and the worst since WWII.
What France should also always remember is that this particular scar is a reminder that no good deed goes unpunished — and that the terrorists responsible stand against the historic, hard-fought French values of liberté, égalité and fraternité!
Not only does France seek to live by these honourable values, but unlike many other influential Western democracies, it also sought for others — who were far less privileged — to enjoy the same rights.
Indeed, the French must be applauded for being among the few who stood side-by-side by the Syrian people in their legitimate revolution against the tyrannical regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
France was always in the lead — through both actions and words — in trying to stop this regime slaughtering its own people who wanted nothing but to enjoy the same freedoms and equality as people do in Paris. Yet, Assad’s bloody retaliation and management of the situation left the world an atrocity, which has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians since 2011. Only France and a handful of countries cared enough to take action.
The French also stood their ground and refused to be played by Damascus and its allies in Tehran and Moscow in their attempt to paint Assad as the only viable alternative to Daesh (so-called IS whom Assad helped create by releasing a number of its leaders from his prisons in the early days of the Syrian revolution to reach this exact conclusion). Paris’s position has been solid and crystal clear: it refused to have to choose between two evils and paired its firm anti-Assad stance with joining the global coalition to degrade and destroy the military capabilities of Daesh.
This is why France commands much respect from Arab allies who share its vision and determination to rid the region from both terrorist groups and murderous regimes.
Inevitably, it also attracts the wrath of the likes of Daesh and Assad who wouldn’t refrain from using any means to force Paris off the righteous course it has set itself.
How else can anyone justify that while most of the world has been busy declaring solidarity with France, it was only Assad who sought to politicize this sad moment to lecture France that the attacks were a direct result of their “wrong” policies in the region.
Of course, a “wrong” policy — according to the likes of Assad — is probably anything they don’t agree with. However, what Assad failed to mention in his comments is that his Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Hassoun had passionately warned back in 2011 that Syria would send suicide bombers to attack Europe the moment a bomb is dropped (on Syria).
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.
The Trouble with Home-Grown Jihadists
By Agnes Poirier
16 Nov 2015
After a series of attacks were carried out in Paris and outside the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Friday night, Francois Hollande, the French president, declared to the nation: "We know who committed those crimes."
On Saturday morning, he gave names: "The terrorist army of Daesh [ISIL] is behind the attacks."
And an hour later, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant issued a statement: "Eight brothers carrying explosive belts and guns targeted areas in the heart of the French capital that were specifically chosen in advance: the Stade de France during a match against Germany; the Bataclan where hundreds of idolaters were together in a party of perversity as well as other targets in the 10th, 11th and 18th arrondissement. France and those who follow its path must know that they remain the principle targets of [ISIL]."
Hollande called it "an act of war" and promised France would show "no mercy" towards the perpetrators.
French president says Paris attacks an 'act of war'
Heightened Alert and Vigilance
Those were strong words to describe France's new reality. This is war. This sounds familiar. Many of us thought that some sort of war had already begun back in January when home-grown radicals assassinated 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, among them the country's most cherished cartoonists, before going on to target and kill four French Jews at a Kosher supermarket.
We had seen, as a result, French armed forces deployed on the streets of France to protect Jewish schools, newspaper offices, Paris landmarks, and personalities. We had somehow got used to it, and had learned to live in a state of heightened alert and vigilance.
Now, considering the scale and deadly ambition shown by Friday's coordinated attacks, we have reached "another dimension" as ordinary Parisians put it on Saturday when interviewed by foreign media - or an "unprecedented" level of threat, in the words of Hollande. We are faced with the actions of a "terrorist army" whose soldiers come both from abroad and from within our country.
Abroad, this enemy, under the banner of a caliphate, has established its territory with a burgeoning administration spreading from Syria to Iraq. It also operates in many different places around the world thanks to its affiliates, such as in Africa, with Boko Haram. The war is a reality there and France hasn't waited until this week's events to start fighting against ISIL.
France cannot fight ISIL alone and the Paris attacks raise serious questions for its partners in the coalition ... about what democracies are ready to risk in order to defeat ISIL.
In Mali, the French army has led a UN-mandated coalition against radicals since January 2013. France is also the most active European partner of the coalition against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. It has just sent the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the region.
However, France cannot fight ISIL alone and the Paris attacks raise serious questions for its partners in the coalition, spearheaded by the United States, about what democracies are ready to risk to defeat ISIL.
Aerial bombings have only managed so far to modestly contain ISIL and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are, in effect, fighting this war on our behalf on the ground. Are Paris and other Western capitals ready to send troops? ISIL is convinced that they never will; and this certainty feeds into their plans to strike the West at home whenever possible.
But if this is war, as Hollande asserted on Friday night, we must be coherent. The enemy is also present on domestic soil in the shape of home-grown jihadists, born, educated, and radicalised in France. If we are at war, this makes them traitors.
In 1945, French traitors who had collaborated with the Nazis were deported, exiled, sentenced to imprisonment and some were executed at dawn by a firing squad. Many were unfortunately also victims of their compatriots' rage; they were humiliated publicly or even lynched.
Also read: Kneejerk finger-pointing after Paris attacks
Will France now treat Frenchmen who are ready to blow themselves up against their own people as traitors, or will it choose to continue seeing them as lost children who need to be welcomed back into society?
As we can see, the reality of war, and its semantics, raises the stakes significantly. The question for France, and for democracies, is whether they are ready to embrace the consequences? Nothing is less sure.
The fight against ISIL is going to be a long, contrarian and bloody one with no certainty of success. Everything else is pure conjecture.
Agnes Poirier is the UK editor for the French political weekly MARIANNE, and a political commentator.
British Jews Send a Wake-Up Call To Israel
By Sharif Nashashibi
16 November 2015
In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told British-Jewish leaders in London that “settlements are not the issue” with regard to the conflict with the Palestinians. However, according to a poll published last week, British Jews would beg to differ.
Three-quarters of them agree that “the expansion of settlements on the West Bank is a major obstacle to peace,” and 68 percent have a “sense of despair” whenever new expansion is approved.
As such, they are unlikely to be as angry over new EU guidelines for labelling products from Israeli settlements - which are illegal under international law because they are built on occupied land - as Netanyahu, who hysterically likened the decision to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses (never mind that, unfortunately, the EU is not boycotting settlement products, merely labelling them).
The poll - the first to ascertain the attitudes of British Jews toward Israel since 2010 - reveals other major divergences between the former and the latter, and should make for sobering reading for Israeli leaders and society.
Almost three-quarters of British Jews believe Israel’s approach to peace is damaging its world standing. Just under half see Israel’s government as “constantly creating obstacles to avoid engaging in the peace process” - less than a third disagreed with that statement. The number of British Jews identifying themselves as Zionists has fallen to 59 percent from 72 percent in 2010.
As well as continuing to lose its standing on the international stage, Israel’s image is also slipping among world Jewry
Furthermore, 71 percent see the two-state solution as the only way Israel can achieve peace, 72 percent reject the statement that “the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to a land of their own,” 62 percent support ceding territory to achieve peace, and 58 percent believe Israel will be seen as an apartheid state if the occupation continues. Half believe in territorial withdrawal even if it poses a risk to Israel’s security.
These statistics jar with the hawkish attitudes of Israel’s public - as shown in various opinion polls - as well as its government, which contains numerous senior figures (Netanyahu included) who have categorically rejected the notion of a Palestinian state - not to mention the implementation of policies by every Israeli government that deny the possibility of its establishment.
The findings also suggest that the attitudes of British Jewry more closely reflect those of their liberal organizations - such as Yachad, which commissioned the poll - than their hawkish counterparts - such as BICOM, the Zionist Federation, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews - which have long regarded themselves as representatives of the community (Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies - the UK’s largest Jewish organization - told me in February that there was no Gaza blockade!).
Almost a quarter of British Jews would “support some sanctions against Israel” if this would “encourage the Israeli government to engage in the peace process.” The proportion willing to back sanctions under these conditions rises to 41 percent among those under 30.
Though not a majority, this will still be shocking to an Israeli political establishment that increasingly views the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as the country’s biggest threat.
Less than a fifth of British Jews have considered moving to Israel because of concerns over anti-Semitism. This despite Netanyahu’s strenuous efforts to encourage European Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Earlier this year he called for “massive immigration,” adding: “We say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, Israel is your home.” Most do not feel the same way, and many have reacted angrily, saying such comments are exploitative and endanger their status in Europe.
“Netanyahu is... wrong... if he thinks all Jews define themselves in relation to his nation; and... wrong to disregard the enormous pride integrated, assimilated, successful Jewish diasporas have in their country of birth,” Richard Ferrer, editor of the British newspaper Jewish News, wrote in February. All in all, the poll’s findings undermine Israeli governments’ claim to speak and act on behalf of world Jewry.
Commenting on the survey, Yachad director Hannah Weisfeld said: “Members of Anglo-Jewry, who have previously been afraid to give voice to their concerns over Israeli government policy, should realize that they are in fact part of the majority.”
There are important reasons why Israeli leaders should heed the opinions of British Jews. Firstly, they are a long-established part of a country whose governments are closely allied to Israel, and which was pivotal in its creation. Secondly, Israelis themselves recognize the importance of their country’s relationship to the UK. According to a poll published last month, Britain was ranked among the top six most important countries to Israel.
However, the Yachad-commissioned poll reveals a particular contradiction that is cause for concern: 70 percent back Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state. This is exactly the kind of obstacle created by Israel “to avoid genuinely engaging in the peace process,” which more British Jews acknowledged was the case than those who did not.
This demand has been made only recently of the Palestinians, and was not part of Israel’s peace deals with Jordan and Egypt. Backing by British-Jewish organizations of such a demand, which is a non-starter for Palestinians and their supporters, will hinder outreach efforts.
Overall, however, the poll suggests that as well as continuing to lose its standing on the international stage, Israel’s image is also slipping among world Jewry. The question is whether Israel, in its ultra-nationalistic fervor, is oblivious to this, or whether it is dismissive of the extent or impact of Jewish disillusionment with the very country that claims to represent them.
Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East."
Who Is The Winner Of Turkey's Elections?
By Richard Falk And Bulent Aras
16 Nov 2015
The surprising outcome of Turkey's November 1 elections ensured that the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, would be in power for the next four years, as it has done for the past 13. What it did not resolve was how the leadership of the country would unfold.
The victory has been interpreted as a vindication of the approach taken by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, upholding his belief that what the Turkish people most wanted was stability and governance, and that this could be provided only by the AKP. But what of the unresolved de facto and constitutional connection between the presidency and prime minister and titular head of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoglu?
How Will Turkey’s President Consolidate His Power?
The previous election on June 4 was also, symbolically, a referendum for a strong presidential mandate for Erdogan. The AKP put to voters the choice between a hegemonic party-led parliamentary system or a presidential system. Voters responded by limiting the AKP to 40 percent of the vote, which was not even enough to form a single-party government, and thus a resounding defeat for Erdogan.
Although this issue was not at the centre of the recent AKP campaign, the November 1 elections did not grant a clear mandate for the institutionalisation of an "executive presidency" either. The AKP has a sufficient majority in the parliament to have the right to form a government, but fails by 14 votes to have the super-majority needed for introducing a new constitution.
The Right Governance
To manage a smooth transition from uncertainty to governance, the real challenge is to shape the leadership of the country so as to best serve the interests of Turkey, and the region.
Erdogan could play an extraordinarily important role as the regional and global voice of Turkey, giving expression to the new push to achieve a deeper democracy in the country while playing a more prominent role again in promoting trade and investment throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as the Middle East.
There is an increasing consensus in Turkey and abroad that relying on the authority of a single, dominant leader will not get the kind of stability to stimulate economic growth, ensure diplomatic influence, and achieve political progress.
However, there is far less objection to a hegemonic party operating in a parliamentary system. There is trust that the second model could diminish toxic polarisation, counter the allegations of authoritarianism, and address the most pressing problems at home and in the region.
To avoid a disappointing sequel to this extraordinary vindication of the AKP at the polls depends upon the party leadership realising that this is the moment to establish an unprecedented succession story in Turkish history. The alternative would be to walk the path of personal ambition, overriding the best interests of the country as well as democratic values.
Davutoglu is a brilliant statesman and dedicated national figure who has worked closely with Erdogan since 2002. It is to Erdogan's credit that he elevated Davutoglu to his present position of political eminence.
Davutoglu is not a typical politician, however, and such reflective individuals - without a political base of their own - rarely rise to lofty eminence in governing structures. As foreign minister - and lately as prime minister - Davutoglu has displayed astonishing energy and command of the issues facing Turkey.
As with others dealing in this period with the Middle East, Davutoglu has made his share of mistakes, but they were principled mistakes - made in circumstances in which the policy chosen was a reasonable decision. There is still room to manoeuvre in foreign policy and, with the right moves, put the country on the right track.
We believe that a real division of authority between these two dominant figures, coupled with a forthcoming effort to end the violence involving the Kurdish people, would set Turkey on a course that would moderate polarisation and make it much more likely that the country can solve the problems at home and contribute to a more peaceful and economically viable Middle East.
Such a political development would be greeted with suspicion at first, as some sort of trick that Erdogan had up his sleeve. It could be asked why at this moment of triumph Erdogan would suddenly don a coat of humility so contrary to his recent political profile.
The Listening Post - Turkey's 'Free' Press
After all, while elevating Davutoglu, he kept him in the shadows, managing to transform what had been a largely ceremonial presidency into the dominant political position. And aside from Davutoglu, Erdogan effectively sidelined former President Abdullah Gul, the only other possible rival in the AKP ranks.
True, these considerations make this preferred arrangement of leadership implausible, yet we argue that it is the only scenario likely to get the country moving again with forward momentum. It offers Erdogan an unprecedented opportunity to transcend his past for the benefit of the country - a move that even his many critics would have to acknowledge once it was implemented.
Finally, we need to ask what such a dual pattern of leadership would look like. This is uncharted territory and there are many possibilities.
The most readily imaginable would involve Erdogan's recognition that Davutoglu has the authority and responsibility to run the country on a day-to-day basis. Davutoglu must also rise to the occasion, step out from the shadows, and claim for himself the needed governing space.
In such a context, Erdogan could play an extraordinarily important role as the regional and global voice of Turkey, giving expression to the new push to achieve a deeper democracy in the country while playing a more prominent role again in promoting trade and investment throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as the Middle East.
Such a shift in the way Erdogan leads would also depend on constructive behaviour by the mainstream opposition in the media and the Republican People's Party, and reciprocal encouragement from the government, perhaps offering ministerial posts to opposition parties.
Whatever the future holds for Turkey, resolving the leadership question in a positive way will greatly improve national prospects and help to establish the kind of political atmosphere conducive to solving problems and resolving conflicts.
Such recommendations may seem like an indulgent form of unrealistic fantasy, but if more carefully considered, what is proposed has many practical virtues, and deserves support.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Centre of Global Studies. He is also former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
Bulent Aras is a Global Fellow at Wilson Center, Washington DC and professor of International Relations at Sabanci University, Istanbul.
The Vienna Plan for Syria: Fighting Terrorism With Politics
By Raghida Dergham
16 November 2015
Momentum is the theme chosen for the second Vienna meeting to address the Syrian crisis. With the participation of the five U.N. Security Council permanent member states, major regional powers, and with Russian-American leadership that the two countries’ top diplomats, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry, expect would lead them to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize within 18 months. This timetable was proposed by Moscow to accompany a timetable of military achievements where ISIS and the Nusra Front, and other groups to be designated as terrorist groups, would be crushed; and another political timetable for reforms, constitutional amendments, and reconfiguration of the regime in Syria culminating with presidential elections.
One of the creative ideas for getting President Bashar al-Assad to step down is convincing or forcing him not to run in the presidential election, which would solve the Assad Knot. However, the “knots” are not confined to the man at this juncture, and include two important obstacles that the Vienna process will address: One, deciding who is a terrorist and who is an oppositionist in Syria. Two, the fate of foreign forces fighting in Syria at present, and the timetable for their withdrawal from Syrian territories.
This includes not only Russian troops, but also Iranian troops and Iranian-backed proxies and militias.
The most important “knot” lies in the top priorities on the ground for both Russia and the United States: Crushing ISIS, al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates. To be sure, Moscow does not care who it will forge an alliance with to fight these terrorist groups, while Washington rejects an alliance with groups it designates as terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias supporting Assad in Syria.
The problem, then, is Iranian somewhat. But given the détente between Washington and Tehran, it is possible to resolve this problem, and both Lavrov and Kerry would like to see it happen. However, the Iranian knot is the subject of deep contention with the Arab leaders, which Moscow and Washington need to ensure the success of the Vienna process and victory against terrorism in Syria.
The downing of the Russian plane over Sinai allegedly by ISIS-affiliated groups will be present as an issue in Vienna II and subsequent rounds. Russia has placed itself at the forefront of this war, and the downing of the plane has woken Russia up to the danger this entails. The Russian public may decide that President Putin has no right to decide to lead the war on terror, inviting retaliation against Russian interests possibly even on Russian soil, and decide to oppose his policies.
Putin Echoing Bush?
The Russian public may decide instead that Putin’s logic echoes the logic of former U.S. President George W. Bush during his war on Iraq, stating: We fight them there so we do not have to fight them here, in Russian cities. Now, However, there is no choice but to admit that revenge against Russian policy in Syria came swiftly, and that Moscow has decided to move ahead with the necessary political concession to consolidate its gains on the ground in the war on terror.
There is momentum in Vienna that deserves encouragement and cautious optimism
Logically, this means that the Free Syrian Army and similar Syrian opposition factions, which represent the boots on the ground, are an indispensable Russian need that Moscow cannot do without. For one thing, the regime army cannot by itself fulfill the required role. But while there are no differences – as it is clear – over arrangements related to preserving the foundations of the regime, Moscow could soon understand that it must resolve the “Assad Knot” sooner than it expects in order to reach a solution.
If it elects not to do so, this could undermine its current push.
Moscow will not declare or admit to any arrangements, understandings, or creative ideas related to Assad’s fate, neither in Vienna nor in Sochi. While there might be some “creative understandings” taking place, it will be important for public statements to continue to suggest there are differences to keep the agreements secret.
High-level Gulf visits to Sochi and Moscow indicate trust between the two sides has not been destroyed, and that there are efforts to mend if not strengthen Gulf-Russian relations at all levels. It is seems the Russian intervention in Syria was not a good enough cause for the Gulf states to postpone or cancel visits to Russia, most recently a visit by Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and the planned visit by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, before the end of the year.
The strategy of the Gulf states to engage with Russia is not random. It is the result of the relative erosion in traditional Gulf-American relations resulting from the demarche led by the Obama administration towards Tehran in parallel with his snubs to the Gulf allies. The alliance between Moscow and Tehran, especially in Syria, has not hindered Gulf leaders from engaging with Russia, despite the history of Gulf resentment over Russian-Iranian support for the Assad regime over the past five years.
In part, the Gulf engagement with Russia could be motivated by a Gulf hope this would cause some distance between Moscow and Tehran. Perhaps Washington even encourages Gulf-Russian rapprochement, because it is crucial for its own rapprochement with Russia and Iran. The Gulf countries may have also perhaps realized that their options boil down to boycotting to protest the new relationship between Washington, Moscow, and Tehran, or work with the new reality and its requirements, and chose the second option.
What is happening now in Vienna practically is that an international-regional group has been formed to discuss the Syrian issue and formulate solutions.
When former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan took over as U.N. envoy to Syria, he sought to find common ground between the five permanent members of the Security Council. He was succeeded by the U.N.-Arab Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who sought American-Russian common ground as the essential foundation for any solution in Syria. They both encouraged repeatedly for Iran to be included in the negotiations on Syria’s future, but Saudi Arabia was opposed to this as it believed it would legitimize Iran’s role Syria.
Current Envoy Staffan de Mistura sees his mission today as facilitative rather than one of leadership. De Mistura says his job is to ensure Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Iran sit at the table to produce a political process, and to then implement the points, not to impose a particular solution. This is the momentum produced by the first Vienna meeting in his view, and upon which the international community must build with support from the U.N. Security Council.
China, which has traditionally taken the back seat on anything related to Syria in the Security Council, letting Russia lead and refraining from taking any position, has suddenly decided through its U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi to come to the forefront after de Mistura’s closed briefing to Security Council members. Liu Jieyi made an unprecedented appearance to speak to the press, stressing the need for synergizing international efforts in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and welcoming the Vienna meeting. Jieyi stressed China will continue to support the bilateral ministerial meeting to push for a negotiated settlement.
In the closed session, the Chinese envoy was keen to highlight China’s four-point position: Pushing for a ceasefire to improve humanitarian conditions; committing to a political solution through a Syrian-led process; supporting the U.N. role as a dialogue channel and in elections; and strengthening international cooperation to fight ISIS.
The members of the U.N. Security Council and countries like Japan are clamoring to join the Vienna meeting. Vienna has become a substitute to the Security Council in New York and to the Geneva process launched thanks to Kofi Annan. There is now an impression that Vienna is a capital of action and achievement, rather than rhetoric and empty statements.
De Mistura told U.N. Security Council members in the closed session that the Vienna process is starting from an essential common point agreed upon, namely, fighting terrorism as an urgent priority, while stressing that this would only be effective if accompanied by a parallel political process with a political horizon.
De Mistura said the main function of the U.N. according to the Vienna vision is helping to draft the constitution, assisting in elections, and developing the conditions for ceasefire. He said that the international support group will seek to address differences regarding the classification of who is terrorist and who counts as opposition.
During his meeting with the press, de Mistura refused to declare his position on the criteria for identifying foreign terrorists, especially since Iran and Hezbollah have deployed fighters in Syria. Instead, he said his mission is to facilitate and not lead negotiations. "[We are] not the ones imposing a certain formula. We have tried for four years and it didn't work. Now it's time for the countries to actually pick up those challenges,” he said.
Iran is sitting at the table of challenges in Vienna alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and the United States.
These are the main powers that are working to shape Syria’s future, in the absence of both the Syrian government and opposition. The Saudi-Iranian relationship is a main knot, however, because it does not only affect Syria, but also Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.
There are two opinions when it comes to Iran’s participation in the negotiations on Syria’s future: One that says Iran will be more responsible and more accountable. This view argues Iran will be a clear player and will be required to prove that it is using its contacts and militias constructively in the context of the international consensus on crushing ISIS and on political transition in Syria.
The other view holds that bringing Iran to the table is a de facto endorsement of Russian proposals based on giving absolute priority to crushing terrorism by any means, including by rehabilitating pro-Iranian militias as legitimate partners in the war and refraining from designating them as terrorist groups. The proponents of this view want explanations about what the Islamic Republic of Iran hopes to achieve in Syria in the future, and the extent of American-Russian bilateral acceptance of Iranian ambitions in Syria.
At this juncture, Iran appears committed to Bashar al-Assad as part of its realignment in the negotiations over Syria’s future. Perhaps Assad will provide the space for the coming concessions, but the price for Tehran will depend on the sharing of influence and securing interests in Syria.
There is no sign of a deal in Vienna over partitioning Syria, and there is a public insistence on the unity of its territory. There is nothing to suggest Saudi-Iranian relations will witness an explosion; otherwise, their two foreign ministers would not be returning to the negotiating table in Vienna.
The flavour of trade-offs indicates the United States and Russia are insisting that Yemen curb its appetite in Yemen. However, there is indication any side is willing to put pressure on Tehran, for example by challenging the legitimacy of its military presence in Syria which is violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions issued under Chapter VII of the Charter.
There is momentum in Vienna that deserves encouragement and cautious optimism. However, the challenges remain great despite progress resulting from the discussion of timetables, figures, and names. The caution is due because the word process per se has the ability to anesthetize using large promises, similar to what happened with the Middle East peace process. That process too had momentum, but today is it buried under the rubble of practical impossibility. So the hope remains in Vienna that it will be overcome what happened in Madrid and Oslo before them with the Palestinian peace process.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy.
Unlike Any That Came Before
By Syed Mansur Hashim
17 Nov. 2015
Evidence emerged in 2014 that the IS' success in the battlefield had a lot to do with the disenfranchised Ba'ath party members of Iraq. We were confronted by a “marriage of convenience” between hard-line Islamists and former members of deposed Saddam Hussein's army of Iraq. Indeed, two top deputies of IS' self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, are former Iraqi Ba'athists. Abu Muslim al Afari al Turkmani, suspected to be a former senior Special Forces officer and a member of military intelligence in Saddam Hussein's army, was subsequently killed in May, 2015 in a bombing. Abu Ali al Anbari, another former Ba'athist, plays a more political role overseeing the local councils and political envoy of IS.
The IS has benefited greatly from its association with Iraqi Ba'athists who brought with them military and political expertise. In fact, without their direct participation, it is highly suspect whether the militant group could have pulled off operations like the capture of Nineveh Province and its capital, Mosul in 2014. They say, war makes strange bedfellows; for former henchmen of Saddam Hussein, the continued existence of IS provides an opportunity to return Sunni rule to Iraq sometime in the future; for IS, the continued association means more territorial gains or the opportunity to hold on to territory already gained and selling the dream of a living, breathing “Caliphate”, a citadel of hope for disillusioned Muslims globally, to congregate and fight for their version of holy war.
What has emerged of IS' top leadership from investigative journalism is that almost all are of Iraqi origin, who, at one time or other, served in the military and security apparatus of Saddam's Iraq. Yet, there have been rifts between Ba'athists and the core IS leadership. To what extent these will manifest themselves in the near term is, of course, open to interpretation. While Ba'athists largely believe in a secular state, IS believes in the “caliphate”, an Islamic Order based on an extreme version of Salafist thought that essentially states that anyone or any group opposed to its rule is either an apostate (murtad) or an infidel (kafir). Whether that rift will create deep divisions in the order is perhaps an argument best left for the future.
IS has transformed itself from a mere terrorist organisation to one that can broadly be classified as an insurgent movement. It holds large parts of Syria and Iraq. Militarily, it has undergone metamorphosis from secret cell-based hit teams to military divisions that have changed the hit-and-run tactics to campaigns conducted to conquer and hold territory. IS continues to attract thousands of new followers. Iran's ever-expanding sphere of influence and the establishment of Shiite rule in Iraq, the ousting of minority-Sunni led government after the US-led invasion, disenfranchisement of the Iraqi Sunni minority from positions of influence are all contributing factors to IS's success.
Today we are confronted with attacks made either by IS (or in its name) from Beirut to Paris. We are faced with a group that has successfully recruited fighters from Belgium to Chechnya. It has managed to strike at the heart of Europe, where the backlash against Syrian refugees will do little to stem the tide of violence which shows no signs of abating even as the IS core is increasingly under threat from a US-led coalition on the one hand, and a Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian army acting in collusion with Shiite militias on the other. The group is a multinational outfit, drawing an estimated half of the 15,000 foreign fighters from five countries, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey; the rest have come from all over the place including Europe.
Looking beyond military capabilities, the IS has invested heavily in trying to gain legitimacy through endorsement of religious scholars which give it mileage as a serious alternative religious base. As per a report published by the New York-based intelligence firm in November, 2014, The Soufan Group, Islamic State “is reported to have recruited a Saudi officer… to enlist respected preachers on its behalf. This effort led to the Islamic State appointing three principal Sharia leaders, Omar al Qahtani, a Saudi national who changed his name from Abu Hafs to Abu Bakr in homage to his leader; Turki al-Bin'ali, also known as Turki bin Mubarak bin Abdullah, Abu Dergham, and Abul Humam Bakr Bin Abdul Aziz al Athari, who is based in Bahrain having been expelled from his United Arab Emirates for his Salafist/Takfiri preaching; and thirdly Osman al Nazeh al Asiri, a Saudi national who went to fight in Syria in early 2013 and was prominent in arguing the case for The Islamic State in its dispute with Jabhat al Nsura. Bandar bin Sha'alan has also recruited donors and coordinated the recruitment of fighters. He now plays an important role in the media efforts.”
IS has successfully demonstrated that it is capable of organising attacks far from its “shores”, it has added large swathes of territory that it has held for years and is in the process of gaining the competence of “governing” these territories. The fight against this outfit is not only a military one; it is also an ideological one. Until we take that into cognizance, the “caliphate” will continue to exist in one form and another and radicalisation of disillusioned youth cannot truly be checked.
Syed Mansur Hashim is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.