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Who Will Save Pakistan's Kids From Abuse? By Waqar Mustafa: New Age Islam's Selection, 17 January 2018





New Age Islam Edit Bureau

17 January 2018

Who Will Save Pakistan's Kids From Abuse?

By Waqar Mustafa

Only Palestinian Unity Can Thwart US-Israeli Onslaught

By Osama Al Sharif

Honesty Is the Best Policy

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Has Latin America Abandoned Palestine?

By Massimo Di Ricco

US Should Use Foreign Aid Leverage Wisely

By Kerry Boyd Anderson

Dirty Money and the Coming Wave in Lebanon

By Hussein Shobokshi

American Entry in the Syrian Crisis

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

The Gulf Region’s Evolving Military Balance Since 1991

By Shehab Al-Makahleh

Arabs Need Greater Access to Books

By Nidhal Guessoum

Pragmatic Macron Wants to Reform Not Lead the EU

By Nabila Ramdani

The United States: Addicted To Special Forces

By Belen Fernandez

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Who Will Save Pakistan's Kids From Abuse?

By Waqar Mustafa

January 16, 2018

As many as 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported from across Pakistan every day.

Pakistani children, 31 per cent of the country's population, will see no hope for themselves if the wave of anger generated by the rape-murder of eight-year-old Zainab Ansari a few days ago fails to get them a concrete mechanism that protects them.

As many as 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported from across Pakistan every day, according to data collected by a non-governmental organisation Sahil. As many as, 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported from across the country in the first six months of 2017 and 4,139 in 2016, or, let's say, 11 a day. The numbers can increase if the families who do not register a complaint are taken into account.

About 720 cases of child assault were reported in the last three years from Kasur alone, the city where Ansari lived. The area received attention in 2015 when a gang of about 25 men was held for blackmailing scores of children into making sex videos. This was between 2009 and 2014. The scandal led to an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code in 2016. While child sex abuse was already a crime, the amendment included child pornography and sexual assault (other than rape) in the code making it punishable by seven years in prison. But implementation of the law has not been effective in the absence of tools to investigate and successfully prosecute these crimes, thus creating a culture of impunity.

A national policy is in the works against child abuse. A law has been enacted to set up a National Commission on the Rights of the Child for monitoring the enforcing rights. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have enacted child protection laws criminalising child sexual abuse. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has also established a child protection and welfare commission and child protection units at district levels.

In Pakistan's largest province, Punjab, the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau provides rescue and rehabilitation services to abuse survivors. A child court, the first of its kind in the country was established in Lahore, Punjab's provincial capital, in December 2017. The Punjab government has also announced that a curriculum for child protection will be introduced in schools. "We have no choice other than to include it (child abuse) in the syllabus. We have to remove taboos on the issue. We will also hold dialogue with the people who oppose this move," said government spokesperson Malik Ahmad Khan to a television channel.

A committee formed last week on safeguarding children, in its first session, has proposed formation of a Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) database and amendments to the child protection laws to curb child abuse in the province. The Sindh government has also formed a committee for the effective implementation of child protection rights. This happened after the ruling Pakistan People's Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto's announcement to introduce an awareness programme on child sexual abuse as part of the school curriculum.

However, these measures have not helped protect children from the hands of such pervert minds. Lack of follow-up and failure to strictly implement the laws have made the system flawed. Words, too, have often failed to match actions. A 2009 Unesco guide explained that without proper knowledge, particularly a curriculum at school, young people were "potentially vulnerable to coercion, abuse and exploitation". Yet there has been no recognition in the society or within government institutions of the need to provide sex abuse prevention education to children, teachers and health care professionals.

In fact, in 2011, the Punjab government cancelled a memorandum of understanding for the inclusion of Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) in curricula of public schools, bowing to right-wing pressure. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent human rights watchdog, has suggested effective awareness-raising and reporting processes as the way forward in curbing increased in child abuse cases.

After each gruesome incident, anger and fear fill the people, the society and the government. The focus then is on police negligence and how the perpetrators have to be punished.

The sentiments Zainab Ansari's rape and murder have stirred need to be channelised into a strong push for implementing the existing child safeguarding mechanisms. Unless this is done, more Zainab Ansaris will leave families and countries in tears.



Only Palestinian Unity Can Thwart US-Israeli Onslaught

By Osama Al Sharif

16 January 2018

There was an ironic sense of déjà vu surrounding Sunday’s meeting of the Palestinian Central Committee in Ramallah; a feeling that we have been here before. And that is true in many ways. Almost two years ago, the PCC met and adopted what was described then as tough decisions against Israel, including the suspension of security coordination and a review of Palestinian commitment to the Oslo agreement. These resolutions, which were non-binding to the Palestinian leadership, were never implemented.

Today, President Mahmoud Abbas is attempting to find a way out of one of the most challenging and intricate tests he has faced since coming to power. The US’ unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December has brought the entire house of cards — Oslo and the deadlocked peace process — tumbling down on everyone’s heads. The outcome is especially harsh for the Palestinians. Jerusalem was now off the table, as President Donald Trump later tweeted, and the classical two-state solution is to become a mere footnote in the annals of the decades-old Palestinian struggle for independence and liberation.

Trump’s proclamation has effectively uprooted the goalposts, rather than moved them. The game has changed and those who were always suspicious of Israeli intentions while pointing to a US tilt in favour of Israel are now relieved. Under previous US administrations, a fictitious peace process had kept the Palestinians engaged in a futile exercise while Israel bulldozed its way in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, expropriating Palestinian lands and building thousands of illegal settlements. Furthermore, it had turned the Palestinian Authority into a client administrator in the Occupied Territories, thus maintaining a cost-free occupation. In Abbas’s own words “we have become an authority without any authority.”

The PCC is a forum for all factions working under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Palestinians have the democratic setups to discuss and adopt tough and meaningful decisions, but the reality is that, since the birth of the PA, the PLO and its institutions have become marginalized and in many ways irrelevant. Moreover, the Palestinians themselves are divided and, in the absence of a genuine national reconciliation platform, the PCC’s recommendations will lack the necessary tools — and the political will — to be carried out.

Even then, and as was evident in Abbas’s long-winded, reminiscing and moralizing speech, Palestinian choices are difficult and divisive. The PCC will reject the US as a sole mediator in future peace talks, will turn down Trump’s peace plan, will seek a new international framework for the resumption of peace negotiations and will consider ways to recognize Palestine as a state under occupation. It will call — again — for the suspension of security coordination with Israel and will declare that Israel had abandoned the Oslo agreement. It may even withdraw recognition of Israel: But then what?

With waning Arab support and considering that the US and Israel will seek to weaken the PA financially, Abbas is really on his own. Yes he can go to the UN Security Council to seek full membership, only to fail, and will probably file legal suits against Israeli figures at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing them of carrying out atrocities against the Palestinians. The law is on his side but the geopolitical realities are working against him.

But dissolving the PA and declaring the West Bank as occupied territory — thus shutting Oslo down — will be the hardest thing for him to do. He will have the support of the international community, albeit symbolic, but at the end of the day he must face the repercussions of his own actions; he talked about not repeating the mistakes of the past.

No one really knows what the Trump administration is about to dole out in the form of an “ultimate deal.” Abbas mentioned that he was offered Abu Dis in place of East Jerusalem as capital. The threat to defund UNRWA can only be seen as a move to close the chapter on the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees. Israel made it clear that it will not withdraw from the Jordan Valley. Whatever is being planned by the White House, it will surely be the worst deal ever presented to the Palestinians. Can such a deal be forced on them? What can Abbas do to avoid a fait accompli ending the Palestinian struggle?

There are no easy answers and the PCC will hardly provide a clear roadmap for the future. But there are things that Abbas can now do and should: He must end Palestinian rifts and achieve reconciliation. He should prepare the way to hold fresh presidential and legislative elections and he must revive and restructure the PLO as the only institution that represents the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and beyond. 

Palestinian unity stands as the only remaining barrier against further Israeli incursions and US diktats. The message should be one of defiance; that it is not up to Abbas or a possible successor to sign on a final and unjust settlement. The Palestinian struggle for liberation — making the cost of occupation unbearable — will resume once the leadership unshackles itself.



Honesty Is the Best Policy

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

January 16, 2018

In the past few weeks one topic has dominated the conversation at many social gatherings and that is the arrest and detention of princes, businessmen and government officials who have been rounded up and sequestered, facing charges of corruption, money laundering, kickbacks and bilking the government of billions of dollars.

Most if not all people I have come across have expressed their appreciation to the government for taking a stand against the corruption that has plagued much of Saudi society since the beginning of the 1980s. So much so that projects paid for handsomely by the government in the last century have yet to materialize today. With the arrests, the residents of this country expect increased accountability and financial transparency and are clamoring for further arrests of fat cats in and outside the country who have padded their bank accounts illegally at the expense of the state and its people.

However, while corruption may swirl around the suddenly rich, such is not always the case among the working class. Take the case of Syed Quadri, an Indian national from Hyderabad who has been working in the Kingdom for several years. Recently, friends from his home country came to perform pilgrimage and were staying at his home.

One evening, with supplies running low at home, Quadri decided to do some late-night shopping at the supermarket close to his home before they closed. Rushing to beat the clock, Quadri and one of his visitors scrambled up the aisles filling their shopping cart with essentials. Breathing a sigh of relief, they realized they were the last customers to reach the checkout counter. Once their purchases were rung up, Quadri handed the clerk a SR 500 note and received his change, and along with his friend they left the store.

As he got into his car, Quadri checked the change given by the clerk and realized that he had been given an extra SR100. Double-checking the change, he confirmed that the clerk had returned to him the extra amount. He quickly made his way back to the store as the lights were dimming and went straight to the cashier, asking him to accept the SR 100. The clerk told him that there was nothing he could do as he had closed his accounts for the night and it was best that Quadri leave.

Not satisfied, Quadri made his way to the night manager and explained his dilemma. He wanted to return the money that did not belong to him but could not do so. The manager went into the clerk’s transaction history on his computer and determined that indeed a mistake had been made and that the clerk had a negative take balance of SR 100. Taking the SR 100 back, the manager thanked Quadri profusely for his honesty.

A few days later, with the same friend along, Quadri went to the automobile auction market (haraaj) to see what he could get for his car. He wanted to buy a new one and figured the money he would receive from the sale of his present vehicle would serve as a down payment for the new car he had in mind.

When a buyer was found and the price of SR 25,000 was agreed upon, money and car ownership exchanged hands. With the money in his pocket, he made his way out of the haraaj. He hadn’t gone far when he heard someone calling him. Turning around, he noticed the buyer fervently beckoning to him.

When Quadri got back, he couldn’t help noticing that one of the man’s hands was closed around something. The buyer asked Quadri to count the money he had received for the vehicle. Fearing the worst, Quadri took the money out of his pocket and slowly began a recount, the second time that day. When he finished, he realized that the amount was SR 500 short. The man smiled, opened his hand and handed him the SR 500 that was his. It was an inadvertent error that he wanted to correct.

His friend who had witnessed both events involving the wrong change was amazed. Quadri gently reminded him that the rewards of being honest are plenty. He said, “I was brought up to believe that the path of honesty opens the roadway to Heaven.”

Perhaps this is what should be implanted in the minds of all the crooks who amass ill-gotten gains. Honesty is indeed the best policy.



Has Latin America Abandoned Palestine?

By Massimo Di Ricco

"God bless Guatemala." Last Christmas eve, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales with these words for his decision to move his country's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Morales' decision came as a surprise to many around the world. But Guatemala, the first country that showed interest in relocating its embassy following Donald Trump's Jerusalem move, was not the only country in Latin America that tried to please the US president at Palestine's expense.

Only a few days before Guatemala's embassy announcement, several other Latin American and Caribbean countries had abstained in a UN General Assembly vote against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Those abstaining included Mexico, Argentina and Colombia - the countries Netanyahu visited last September, during the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to the region since Israel's foundation.

The shift in Latin America's attitude towards Palestine is symbolic of a stronger Israeli influence in a region historically neglected by Tel Aviv. But it is also concomitant to the consolidation of right-wing governments in Latin America, and the US' resurgence as the dominant power in a region it has always defined as its "backyard".

Vying For US Backing

Traditionally, the Palestinian struggle has enjoyed a lot of support in Latin America, at the grassroots level and otherwise.

In late 2010 - early 2011, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador joined Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in officially recognising the Palestinian state. They also supported Palestinian membership in UNESCO later that year.

Back then, Latin America seemed to be a true Palestinian ally, under left-wing leaders such as Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

But much has changed since then. Chavez died, Lula and Rousseff have been removed from power, Correa took a break from power, and Kirchner and her former government faced accusations of treason. What remains of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), of which Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba are the main representatives, still loudly criticises US politics in the Middle East, but with limited resonance within the region.

Latin America has gradually turned to the right, and this has affected the region's relations with the rest of the world. In the past, leftist governments managed to build new international relationships independent of the US, but the rise of the right in the region has allowed Washington to assume an active role in its "backyard" once again. The right-wing shift in the region brought to an end the era of independent foreign relations and transformed Latin America into a US playground once more.

Several Latin American countries that recognised Palestine as a state between 2008 and 2013, including the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Argentina, and Haiti, chose to abstain in the UN condemnation of the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Other countries that recognised Palestine during the same period, namely Guatemala and Honduras, voted against the UN resolution. Domestic considerations and a need for continued US support motivated these decisions.

Both countries are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the US to continue their fight against criminal gangs and drug trafficking, and they do not want to lose this money at any cost. And the political leadership in both countries recently went through severe political crises in which they badly needed US backing.

But Honduras and Guatemala's stance on the Jerusalem issue was not solely shaped by their need for US support. Both Morales and Hernandez visited Israel in the last year to improve their countries' security and commercial relations with it. Both countries, which had cooperated with Israel in underground programmes of counterinsurgency in the 1970s, renewed several security agreements and boosted the exchange of military technology with Israel.

Israel's Charm Offensive

Since Mauricio Macri assumed power in Argentina in 2015, former members of the Kirchner government have been under investigation for allegedly conspiring with Iran, to undermine the criminal investigation of the 1994 terrorist attack on the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and injured 300 others. The defendants have been accused of treason for signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran. Even Human Rights Watch considered the accusation of treason as "strained and unreasonable".

But during his visit to the country as part of his Latin America tour in September 2017, Netanyahu lauded Macri for his efforts to solve the case, saying: "We know without a doubt that Iran and Hezbollah initiated and backed up the attacks." This was the first sign of the new Argentinean government's rapprochement with Israel, and it was swiftly followed by a shift in Argentina's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, it was no surprise that Argentina chose to abstain in the UN vote against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Mexico, a country that historically has always supported Palestine, also changed its stance on the issue, and chose to abstain in the UN vote. The country, along with Paraguay, also abstained in a previous UN vote promoted by Ecuador on the issue of the "permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".

According to the Israeli ambassador in Mexico, Jonathan Peled, Mexico voted with Israel against several pro-Palestine resolutions in the last year, as a result of specific requests the Israeli government made to Mexican authorities. During Netanyahu's visit to Mexico, President Enrique Pena Nieto reaffirmed the "friendship" between Mexico and Israel and talked about strengthening relations.

With the rise of the right, the US is resuming the control of its "backyard", and Israel is using the situation as an opportunity to have a more solid presence in a region it previously ignored. With no sign, for the moment, that the left is going to take back power, support for the Palestinian cause remains in the hands of the grassroots.



US Should Use Foreign Aid Leverage Wisely

By Kerry Boyd Anderson

16 January 2018

Since the start of the year, the Trump administration has suspended most military aid to Pakistan and threatened to cut aid to the Palestinians. In December, the US also threatened to cut aid to countries that voted in favor of a UN resolution that essentially criticized the decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

President Donald Trump is not the first president to use US foreign aid as a carrot and stick, and not the first to threaten to cut aid to countries that displease Washington. However, his “America first” rhetoric and recent actions raise new questions about the future of US foreign aid.

The United States gives more foreign aid than any other country in simple dollar terms. According to a Washington Post estimate from October 2016, the country was spending more than $42 billion abroad in combined economic and development aid and security assistance. However, many other countries spend a larger proportion of their economy and budget on foreign aid.

The US spends about 1 percent of its annual federal budget on foreign aid. Surveys show that most Americans believe the country spends far more, with a 2015 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation finding that the average American respondent thought the country spent 26 percent of its budget on foreign aid. Given this misperception of the country’s generosity, it is hardly surprising that many Americans think the country spends too much abroad.

Many Americans are unaware of the complex goals behind US foreign aid. While some is purely humanitarian, most is designed to support strategic goals abroad — in fact, serving US interests. Aid usually is mutually beneficial.

Sometimes aid directly suits “hard” US interests. A large portion of US security assistance requires that recipient countries purchase weapons and military equipment from US producers and contractors — essentially a US government subsidy for the military industry that also bolsters allies’ military capabilities. Security and development aid to countries that are the source of drug supplies, such as Colombia, or important drug transportation nodes, such as Mexico, also directly serves the US interest of tackling the country’s drug problem at source. Aid designed to help countries implement counter-terrorism programs is intended to improve security in the recipient country while also helping the US combat terrorism.

In many cases, US foreign aid helps buy more “soft” power in terms of influence. Various forms of aid help persuade foreign governments to cooperate with the US on intelligence, counter-terrorism and military interests. Economic development aid often follows the idea that countries with stronger economies make better trade and investment partners for the US and are more likely to be politically stable. Aid also helps to support US strategic goals; for example, aid to Israel — the second-largest recipient of US aid after Afghanistan — and to Egypt and Jordan, which are also among the top recipients, is intended partly to provide incentives to maintain those countries’ peace treaties.

Fundamentally, much US aid is based on the idea that it is cheaper to address problems abroad at the source rather than deal with problems spreading to American shores. For example, Washington provides aid to help countries deal with public health problems and pandemics, such as Zika and Ebola and especially HIV/AIDS, partly in the hope that such aid helps to contain infectious disease and limit their spread. It is also cheaper in dollars and lives to address problems abroad that, if not prevented, could turn into conflicts requiring US military intervention. For example, current Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in 2013 (when he was head of US Central Command) that “if you don’t fund the State Department fully then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

Given these arguments in favour of foreign aid, there has been a lot of debate about the effectiveness of cutting aid when Washington is unhappy with recipient countries. On one hand, it is reasonable that the American people would want to be sure that their money is not being wasted on corruption or used to harm innocent people or to damage US interests. On the other hand, some recipient countries also have significant leverage with the US, such as Pakistan, whose cooperation is needed to support American military operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, some other countries like China are emerging global donors and Washington faces some competition for buying influence through aid. The case of cutting US funds to Pakistan is a perfect example of the difficult pros and cons in giving or cutting foreign aid.

The Trump administration is not the first to struggle with this issue. However, the administration’s rhetoric around the UN vote on Jerusalem demonstrated a lack of understanding of the nuanced ways in which foreign aid serves US interests. Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened to cut aid to countries that voted against them on a non-binding resolution of little strategic importance — not a wise use of the limited leverage that aid gives Washington. The Trump administration is right to expect to get something in return for US aid, but it is wrong to believe that aid buys total acquiescence to all US demands.



Dirty Money and the Coming Wave in Lebanon

By Hussein Shobokshi

16 January 2018

There is a cynical saying that there is always a bank for every citizen in Lebanon and that the number of Lebanese bank employees is more than the number of employees in restaurants. Lebanon has traditionally been the center of the banking industry and thus, with time, the central bank has become the most important symbol of the state.

The stability of the central bank, and hence its currency, has always been the most important element of security for maintaining the state’s identity. Whatever the differences between the president and the political parties, there is something “looming” in the near future that strongly threatens this stability.

There are signs of “decisive and unprecedented” financial and administrative sanctions because of the penetration of a huge amount of dirty money that is being washed in commercial banks for the benefit of the Hezbollah terrorist organization from sources in South America and West Africa and some Arab countries, particularly Syria and Iran.

There is “irrefutable” evidence collected by the security and financial authorities of influential Western countries to prove the validity of the claims against the most important financial authority.

This reminds us of the statement by the Saudi foreign minister which “warned” about the danger to the banking infrastructure in Lebanon caused by the influx of suspicious money. It is not the first time that the official apparatus of the Central Bank of Lebanon has been exposed to a violent shock.

We all remember what happened between the Lebanese Canadian Bank and the Bank of Medina. The accusations against them were made because of suspicious accounts related to the terrorist organization Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence and sanctions shook the Lebanese markets at that time.

The Famous Intra Bank

History reminds us of the disaster of the famous Intra Bank, which was discussed by the well-known Canadian-Lebanese writer Kamal Dib in two important books that focused on how dirty money entered the most important banks at the time and how bank balances were manipulated for the interests of suspicious and dangerous entities.

The researcher presented the evidence and proof that confirmed the collusion of certain personalities and the mechanisms used to commit financial abuse, which caused a huge shakeup in the Lebanese banking sector.

Now there is talk of a very important bank “involved” in manipulating the accounts of individuals and institutions that “filter” and “launder” huge amounts of money through charitable and commercial “manifestations” that have been exposed as a mere cover for drug trafficking.

Lebanon is in a state of great denial. However, the next series of sanctions will not threaten one or two banks but will touch the spinal cord of the banking system itself. This will lead to the possibility of crippling the economy and will have a devastating impact on the Lebanese lira and prices in general.

Because everything is “politicized” in Lebanon and even the central bank fails to follow and apply a policy of distancing itself from politics, the situation is fraught with danger. The next wave of sanctions on Lebanon will be serious and that is “not a joke”.



American Entry in the Syrian Crisis

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed

16 January 2018

A Syrian army made up of 30,000 fighters is being built east of Euphrates, bordering Turkey and northern Iraq. Half of this army will consist of Syrian Kurds and the other half will consist of the sons of Arab and other regions. The US is the head of this project, and the new player who has finally decided to fight the Syrian war on the ground with the support of opposition forces, so it can impose its vision of what a political solution will be in Syria.

The Asharq al-Awsat newspaper was the first to notice these fast civil changes, and described the US project as the birth of a new Syria.

It is indeed an important development built on a strong force, but it won’t be a state in the legal sense as the division and establishment of an entirely new state is a complex and dangerous political, legal and military process. In addition, there is almost an international consensus that this should be rejected, which is what happened with the Kurds in Iraq and their dream of establishing their state in a territory that was under their full control.

The Syrian eastern Euphrates project is a little less than a project that will create a whole state, but it’s also more than just a protective territory. In his statement to the congress, David Satterfield who is in charge of managing the eastern file at the State Department, said that the project will be a new model for Syria. According to him, the project is meant to execute several large goals that will involve diplomats, intelligence and military commanders.

This time, the US unusually surprised everyone by showing them that it can build new ideas, build a project from zero and protect its secrecy. In the name of fighting ISIS in eastern and southern Syria, it gradually sent its forces and experts that reached around 5,000 people, more than half of which were in the eastern Syrian Euphrates. It was in charge of gathering and training a big force of 30,000 Syrians, whose first victory was the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa.

The first opposing reactions to the US project didn’t come from the Damascus regime or Iran, as was expected, but from Turkey who announced that it will not remain silent about this, and that it will go to war with armed Syrian Kurds, which it considers an extension of the “terrorist separatist” Turkish Kurds.

Turkey’s Kurdish Worry

Everyone is awaiting the first Turkish forces battle in Afrin in the next few days. Turkey’s worry about any armed Kurdish forces on its borders is understandable, but their reluctance to confront Iran in Syria has created a vacuum that prompted an alternative force to take up the task. Countries that are involved in the crisis found out Turkey’s weak point and succeeded in taking advantage of the pragmatic approach of Erdogan towards politics which seems ready to cooperate and compromise with any party that would join its feud with the Kurds.

This is what the Iranians did, and then the Russians, so Ankara was quick to reconcile with them in exchange for their support against the Kurds. Maybe the Americans feel that they need to send the same message to the Turks. But there’s a more important American message directed at the Iranian regime which is that Syria will be Iran’s Vietnam.

The new Syrian power might be the best option for a reasonable peace in Syria, not the Sochi peace that was planned by the Russians and Iranians for them to force a solution favourable to them in Syria. Iran wants a peace that will allow it to occupy Syria and impose its influence on Lebanon and Iraq which will ultimately provide it with a high negotiating power in the region as well as with the west.

Iran’s Plans for Syria

Iran is in a race with time. It seeks to control areas previously approved by Russia to be left under the control of the opposition. A member of the opposition delegation, Yasser al-Farhan, spoke about the agreements and how the Iranian’s breached it.

Asharq al-Awsat reported him saying, “The maps were laid out very clearly showing that these areas would not be entered by the regime, and will be run by unarmed local committees while small arms will remain in the hands of security and civil defence forces to protect service institutions for the people.”

“The agreement states that Iranian militias cannot enter, nor the regimes forces. Only a limited amount of Russian forces are allowed in three checkpoints solely there to supervise that the agreement is being implemented. And that Turkish troops remain stationed behind the dividing line between the two parties,” he added.

As we can see, the Iranian militia have not honoured the agreement, nor did Russia force them to respect it, nor did Turkish forces intervene. This Iranian activity is shows that the Sochi talks are not to be trusted, which makes the appearance of a new parallel power a necessity in light of the regional race to control Syria.



The Gulf Region’s Evolving Military Balance Since 1991

By Shehab Al-Makahleh

16 January 2018

January 17th marks the 26th anniversary of the First Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces. On this day in 1991, the United States has led a coalition against Iraqi by launching a massive military operation that paved the way for shaping a new world order with a new generation of weapons such as cruise missiles tracking targets in Iraq.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s fault was his expansionist agenda, which has had devastating results on the Iraqi military. Though the Americans had deployed thousands of their forces in many states in the region after the first Gulf War, this has not helped secure Gulf States from any external threat including the Iranian menace.

Since 1991, military balance in the Middle East and in the Gulf region has changed entirely. At the beginning of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was by far the dominant military power in the Middle East region and its army was considered among the top 10 armies in the world. It had determinedly defeated Iran in 1988 after eight years of war.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Gulf States started thinking of making power balance with Iran as the Americans dissolved the Iraqi army. Thus, Gulf States started thinking of arming themselves with strategic weapons.

Since the Second Gulf War in 2003, it has become clear that the UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken the lead to heavily arm their forces. Therefore, from a strategic perspective, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been investing in costly and sophisticated weaponry and in training their forces, providing them with state-of-the-art arms and localising maintenance and domestic defense industry.

The Middle East in general and the Gulf region in particular are one of the most militarized regions in the world, with copious encounters or logjams that embroil approximately every state in the region. Gulf armed forces are steadily leaving the conventional army models by embracing a gallant military configuration, combining imported prognostication and nationwide mobilization and deployment through introducing military conscription and competitive edge of weapons over Iran to create a state of deterrence of any external threat including the Iranian.

Thus, if the issue of the political rift between Iran and other countries of the region continue, two scenarios are inevitable in the Arabian Gulf. This means the world has to be ready for two possible developments that would instigate tensions in the Middle East.

Iran is viewed as a threat not just by the US or Israel, but also by the Gulf states, except Oman. Unending conflicts in countries such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya reveal the extent to which other countries seek to affect upshots by using their own military forces and through arms transfers to local partners such as in the case of Yemen.

Many countries in the region face transnational terrorist threats and, in some states, inland insurgencies. Thus, the Middle East and the Gulf region have participated to a great extent in the global arms trade, constituting 63 percent of the value of all arms deals concluded by all suppliers with the developing world from 2013 - 2016, and 55 percent from 2009 -2012 as per military statistics.

Scenario I: Dispute over Iran’s Nuclear Program

Tensions between the US and Israel on one hand and Iran on the other with regard to Iran’s nuclear program could increase. This would exacerbate tension between the Gulf States and Iran if both the US and Israel, jointly or individually, launch a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, making the Gulf States a potential target for Iranian retaliation or retribution.

The Iranian response will be through the use of short-range and medium-range missiles, the use of secret cells in the Gulf States, the use of its new arsenals with warheads, and the deployment of its navy in the Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt maritime trade and navigation in the Gulf, where Iran will attack commercial vessels and close the Strait where more than 17 million barrels of oil per day pass through the strait.

According to American Energy Information Administration (EIA), the 17 million barrels of oil, represent 30 percent of all maritime-traded petroleum, passed through the strait each day. Oil from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iran, and Iraq all pass through the strait and head mostly towards Asia, Europe and America.

Whatever the form of the US attack on Iran would be, Iranian retaliation will focus on attacking many American military bases in the region, mainly in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

However, the threat of Iranian vengeance can be absorbed and mitigated by developing missile defence capabilities in the Gulf States by focusing on the command, control and communication systems. The Gulf States should also cooperate with each other to develop security and maritime counterterrorism capabilities in cooperation with the US and NATO.

Scenario II: Short-Term Conflict

In the absence of an open conflict between the US and its allies on one hand and Iran on the other, Tehran could use covert relations with Shi’ite groups in the region to exercise more pressure on the US and Saudi Arabia or their allies. If instability continues in Yemen, Iran will continue to support factions and clandestine cells through its military arm and militias.

Iran may also continue to benefit from its support to the Houthis, and perhaps al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to put more pressure on Washington and Riyadh as well as Abu Dhabi to pull out of Yemen. This can be dealt with arms deals between the GCC states and the USA as means of partnership.

The US has recently increased its arms sales under partnership agreements with the GCC by more than 8 times between 2004-2007 and 9 times during 2008 - 2011. Saudi Arabia had the largest share of these deals, an increase of 9 times. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer in 2012-16, with an increase of 212 percent compared with 2007–2011.

Arms imports by Qatar went up by 245 percent, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman and the UAE have also experienced significant growth in US arms deals. The Gulf States have been able to obtain quality weapons for the missile defense system.

United States has cemented its bilateral relations with the Gulf countries for the security and stability of the region. There is no doubt that the GCC States face fundamental challenges and threats in a turbulent territory, as was the case with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and Iran’s continued occupation of the three Emirati islands.

The coming few years are very detrimental for many countries due to the change in political games and alliances. The competitive edge would be more alliances, more sophisticated weapons and military technology transfer as well as regional and international cooperation to counter terrorism.



Arabs Need Greater Access to Books

By Nidhal Guessoum

16 January 2018

It has been claimed that Arabs have no interest in reading, but if people by and large can’t find the titles they want, then obviously they will read less.

Do Arabs read a lot or very little? Information on the subject is contradictory and confusing.

Until recently, we had no data, only intuitive views, either insisting that the Arab culture holds high regard for books and reading, or claiming that people in general, and youngsters in particular, don’t seem to read at all, and certainly not books.

Personal experience, such as mine, seems to confirm both views. Whenever I lecture in the Arab world, I am told that books (mine and others’) are very difficult to obtain, but at the same time I find that people (perhaps not of their fault) read few contemporary works. Indeed, as Arab authors know, rarely do books sell even a thousand copies in a region with a population of more than 300 million and whose holy book starts with the word “read.” And, contrary to what one sees in other parts of the world, people in the Arab world rarely read on buses, metros or planes.

In the last several years, a number of articles have been written about reading in the Arab world, and one could only come out confused from the mutually contradictory ideas and conclusions presented by the authors of those articles.

Much was made in 2011 when a report claimed that Arabs read only six minutes per year on average (the equivalent of four pages per year or four words per day), compared to 200 hours a year for Europeans. The claim was later investigated and found to be totally unfounded.

Still, the stereotype of a people (Arabs) who don’t read or even hate reading has stuck. In June 2015, author Colin Wells published an article titled “Why Arabs Hate Reading.” In it, he cited the researcher Niloofar Haeri, who in her contribution to the 2009 “Cambridge Handbook of Literacy” concluded that educated people in the Arab world “find reading very difficult, don’t like to do it, and do as little of it as possible — even the librarians!”

In July 2016, The Economist published a short article commenting on the state of reading and publishing in the Arab world. “The biggest challenge is that Arabs simply do not read much,” it said. Commenting on the article, Ursula Lindsey added facts along the same line: In 2012, the entire Arab world published about the same number of books as Romania and Ukraine; bookstores and public libraries are few, badly stocked and rarely visited; and other issues. Lindsey also proposed reasons for that sorry state of affairs, including censorship, turmoil, declining purchasing power, and widespread violations of copyrights (including pirate publishers, illegal downloading, photocopying and distribution of books).

Additional issues make the question of reading in the Arab world multifaceted: Reading the Qur’an often dominates people’s reading habits; many educated Arabs read in other languages (English or French) more than they read in Arabic (sales indicate that only 15-20 percent of books sold are in Arabic); most books read in the region are written by non-Arabs; much reading is done on smartphones; and other complex issues.

But, in December 2016, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation released an interesting Arab Reading Index, which it produced in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program. The index presented a starkly different picture: The average Arab reads 17 books a year (11 in Arabic and 6 in foreign languages) — five more than the average American. Either we’ve made huge progress in the last 15 years (perhaps due to the many initiatives that have been launched in the region, such as the annual “Arab Reading Challenge” and the 2016 “Year of Reading”), or we are comparing apples and oranges. Indeed, reading habits are complex and need to be investigated and analyzed very carefully.

Another important issue I would like to highlight is the stuttering and struggling Arab book publishing industry. First, the very low number of titles produced and sold, estimated at less than 10,000 in the whole Arab world, compared to some 50,000 in Turkey, 80,000 in Spain and 220,000 in the UK. Secondly, the number of copies produced and sold for a typical title is roughly 1,000; an Arab bestseller is a book that sells more than 5,000 in a given year. Thirdly, and most importantly, the distribution network is abysmal: Readers rarely find copies of good books that were published in another (Arab) country. And, last but not least, the percentage of Arabs who can buy online (there are online sellers of Arabic books, and even Amazon has started selling Arabic titles) is very low because most Arabs do not have credit cards.

If Arabs by and large can’t find the books they want to read, then obviously they will read few books. While we need to encourage people to read (serious material), we equally need to ensure the availability of books throughout the Arab world. Only then can we talk about reading habits and statistics.



Pragmatic Macron Wants to Reform Not Lead the EU

By Nabila Ramdani

16 January 2018

French president’s voice appears particularly resonant because of the increasing feebleness of his counterparts in other European states — but that does not mean he wants to rule over the bloc.

This is the year when many expect Emmanuel Macron to move up from boy wonder to undisputed leader of Europe. The French president turned 40 in December and, during his state visit to China, observers certainly thought he looked ready for the challenge.

Speaking in Beijing last week, Macron told Chinese business executives in English: “I want you to just get this message — France is back, but with France, Europe is back.”  

There was little ambiguity in what Macron meant. Using the language of global trade, rather than his mother tongue, he showed he was just as keen to open up the economy of the European Union as he was France’s. From the moment of his astonishing election win last May, which Macron chose to celebrate with a rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the EU anthem, the future success of the union of 28 states  has been as important as domestic ambitions.

It comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel — in recent years the personification of calm and stable leadership — faces serious problems at home. The head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is currently involved in apparently never-ending talks with her rival party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), as she tries to form a coalition government. A preliminary deal was struck after a 24-hour verbal marathon that finished last Friday, but there is still much politicking to be done.

France and Germany are the traditional powerhouses of the EU project, with the latter dominating historically. However, the political stalemate in Germany has caused an increase in votes for smaller parties at the expense of both the CDU and SPD, and a rise in extremism.

In such circumstances, Merkel is hamstrung as she attempts to tackle issues such as Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis, and — crucially — power struggles within the EU. An inconclusive federal election in September means the Chancellor desperately needs the SPD. It is telling that, following the negotiating session at the end of last week, Merkel said: “The world is not waiting for us — we need a fresh start in Europe.” She added: “A fresh start for Europe is also a fresh start for Germany.”

What we should not do, however, is mistake Merkel’s woes, and Macron’s fierce loyalty to the EU, for a desire for France to rule over the European entity. On the contrary, Macron is a pragmatic team player who has a very clear idea of what the European project was set up to achieve, and this can be summed up in one word — peace.

After 1945, integration and cooperation were seen as essential in combating pugnacious nationalistic interests, and especially the Franco-German rivalry, which had led to two cataclysmic world wars. Just as importantly, centralizing power in a single mighty figure was associated with the kind of fascist dictators who turned Europe into a series of battlefields.

Macron was born and grew up in Amiens, the provincial northern town that had to be rebuilt after both conflicts, as vast areas of the surrounding Somme countryside were also decimated. During his election campaign, he told me how he saw Europeans joining forces as being the key to avoiding such horrors being repeated.

Macron was far more interested in reforming the EU than becoming its figurehead. Yes, France and Germany’s roles as founders of the bloc would be hugely important in its future development, but this does not translate into them controlling everybody else. Working closely with Merkel will be as important to him as dealing with the other EU nations.

What is happening at the moment is that Macron’s voice appears particularly resonant because of the increasing feebleness of his counterparts in other EU states. Merkel’s energy-sapping inter-party bargaining makes her far less reliable as a buttress to less secure world leaders, and especially American president Donald Trump.

Macron established himself as an immensely confident and realistic statesman within weeks of taking office by inviting Trump to Paris. He did not fawn over the populist head of state, but simply expressed his willingness to engage with the most powerful nation on earth, whoever was in charge.

It was the same when Macron received Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the Palace of Versailles; the French president was as critical of Russian policy in Ukraine as he was of manipulative bots and fake news emanating from Moscow. Similarly, Macron called the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan an “essential partner,” despite serious concerns about his country’s human rights record — notably from Merkel.

Look, too, at how non-confrontational Macron has been over Britain’s slow, muddled exit process from the EU. Rather than using Prime Minister Theresa May’s tribulations to bolster his own position, he has mainly kept a dignified silence about them. This, after describing Brexit as “a crime” before he came to office.

Macron’s resounding victory over far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in the second and final round of the presidential election is another reason for his European-wide, and indeed worldwide, popularity. Le Pen’s Front National (FN) still represents division and hatred of foreigners, as well as a protectionism that is frequently medieval in substance. 

Macron embodies a younger generation that is repulsed by FN and Trump-style cant. He comes across as a dynamic politician who is already reviving a notoriously sluggish domestic economy, while promoting France’s global engine room — its multinationals.

This all adds up to a thoroughly up-to-date operator who will not just continue to work with traditional EU allies such as Germany, but also perceived enemies, no matter what difficulties they find themselves in. Many will criticize him for acting like the Sun King (French presidents are constantly compared to King Louis  XIV, and their first ladies to Marie Antoinette) but such cliches are wide off the mark.

Macron is a consensus politician who is currently offering a sensible, but by no means remarkable, alternative to failing contemporaries. He will invariably impress, but calling him the leader of Europe, let alone the free world, would display an abject misunderstanding of who Macron is and what he stands for.



The United States: Addicted to Special Forces

By Belen Fernandez

16 January 2018

The Special Operations forces of the United States - currently 70,000-strong and thus larger than the regular militaries of many sizable countries - occupy a very special place in US national mythology.

According to TIME Magazine, Special Ops "heroes" are the "planet's most skillful soldiers" and "toughest warriors" - operating in their very own "secret world".

Newsweek hails them as "dead accurate, lethal and all-but-silent. They are the military's elite - highly trained badasses armed with bullets and brains in equal measure".

The obsequious glorification of "badass" warriors is of course hardly surprising, given that US society has been inculcated to view international relations as a sort of video game in which the US gets points for blowing things up.

More surprising, perhaps, are the dimensions of the oh-so-secretive world.

In a recent dispatch, investigative journalist and author Nick Turse reveals that Special Operations forces were active in no fewer than 149 countries in 2017 - meaning that the "secret world" has managed to encompass 75 percent of the globe.

This record high is courtesy of US President Donald Trump, that self-appointed "very stable genius" who is now building on the special forces frenzy fuelled by his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

Exempt From Scrutiny

The US Special Operations Command was officially established in 1987, but the appeal of its services grew considerably among the US political establishment in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Now, Turse writes, the push to further expand Special Operations "comes at a moment when [various US senators] continue to acknowledge how remarkably clueless they are about where those elite forces are deployed, and what exactly they are doing in far-flung corners of the globe".

He refers to the shock expressed by certain officials in Washington in 2017, following the news of the demise of four Special Operations commandos in the West African country of Niger.

Other clues as to US activity in Africa - where the present significant expansion of Special Ops activity surely has nothing to do with copious resources found on that continent - can be found in headlines like: "Strong Evidence that US Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia".

Anyway, a negative headline here and there is a small price to pay for a "secret" army largely exempt from public - and even governmental - scrutiny.

Speaking of prices, a September New York Times article quotes a former special forces commander who speculates that it "probably costs closer to $1.5 million" to train a special forces soldier these days.

Add to this the hefty subsequent costs of deployment and equipment - not to mention the financial demands of a conventional US military that is itself none too tiny - and it's no wonder the US has no pennies to spare for trivial things like healthcare.

"Combat Boots Every One of Them"

One of the major selling points of Special Operations forces is that their footprint is perceived to be light, a perception buoyed by the US habit of referring to deployed forces as "advisers" and "trainers" even when these forces are directly engaged in combat.

A November TIME Magazine article quotes an assessment of the arrangement by former Navy SEAL-turned-Republican-congressman Scott Taylor: "It's easier to put 'trainers' and 'advisers' in a country and say we don't have 'boots on the ground' ... Well, that's bullshit. They're combat boots, every one of them."

As for what certain boots on the ground have been up to in places like Iraq and Syria, the US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) was lambasted last year for its use of white phosphorus munitions, prohibited in civilian areas under international humanitarian law. Amnesty International suggested that the coalition's reliance on white phosphorus on the outskirts of Raqqa - ISIL's former self-declared capital in Syria - "may amount to a war crime".

Indeed, one gets an idea of the effectiveness of phosphorus munitions from a passage in veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk's book Pity the Nation, which quotes a Beirut doctor on the incendiary aftermath of Israel's use of phosphorus shells in Beirut in 1982:

"I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames. When I took them out half an hour later, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for hours."

Perpetual War

White phosphorus aside, the US Special Operations forces have been implicated in other carnage, as well - including by assisting in the coordination of air attacks in various conflict zones. 

In the battle for Mosul, Iraq - which ended in July 2017 and also involved plenty of US "advisers" doing more than advising - NPR reported that "more civilians than [ISIL] fighters are believed killed."

The Independent also reported a "civilian casualty rate" in Mosul "nearly 10 times higher" than the official one: "As coalition and Iraqi government forces increased their pace, civilians were dying in ever higher numbers at the hands of their liberators."

A precise casualty count has been thwarted by a number of factors, including that many bodies remain under the rubble and that, as the Independent notes, "The Americans say they do not have the resources to send a team into Mosul."

Apparently, a country with an annual defence budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars - and unilateral entitlement to invade and bomb sovereign nations at will - can't be expected to count the dead.

Meanwhile, in response to a growing perception that US special forces are stretched to the limit, US Defence Secretary James Mattis has brought up the possibility of having conventional forces assume some of their tasks.

Such an adjustment would not, however, constitute a retreat from the Special Ops obsession, but rather a reinforcement of the culture of the "badass" warrior - who, "work[ing] almost entirely in the shadows", as Newsweek puts it, has helped the US war-making apparatus permeate the globe.

And the shadows, it seems, have gotten even darker with the ascension of the aforementioned "very stable genius" to the role of military commander-in-chief, one who spends his time threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation and otherwise scoffing at the idea of any sort of accountability to humanity. 

In fact, as the US marches on towards perpetual war, it's nearly impossible to detect a bright side.