Monthly Archives: November 2015

Alert on the Middle East! Seriously…

Putin became a Western hero of sorts as the US and EU bumbled into the Ukraine, giving him every excuse to take Crimea and secure the Black Sea military base at Sevastopol. He moved into Syria with Obama’s acquiescence to secure the Mediterranean base at Lathakiyya, and now will not be moved easily. He is exploiting his hero status in left-of-centre Western opinion, and exploiting also the dislike of Erdogan in these same quarters, in order to goad Turkey into subsmission. The fact that Putin openly said that Erdogan is ‘Islamizing’ Turkey – which is a ridiculous statement –  is evidence of this.

Putin is now cementing his ties with Iran during Obama’s lame duck months, and backing the bloody repressive regimes of Assad and Sisi to take an aggressive posture towards Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. We are now seeing the Ukraine/Crimea veneer wear off Putin and the brutal Chechnya reality gradually appear from beneath. Russian GDP fell -4% last year and is on course for a similar decline this year. It wouldn’t be the first time that a declining economic power engages in military adventurism to distract the local audience. Sputnik is full every day of new Russian weaponry coming on line, and RT is beating the Putin drum less and less objectively. The Independent newspaper in London owned by Alexander Yevgenievich Lebedev, who also owns the free evening paper – the London Evening standard, and the increasingly popular ‘summary newspaper’ for the Independent called the ‘i’, is joining that bandwagon.

I had some hope that Putin would consider economic ties with Turkey important enough to take it easy on Erdogan, but apparently not. Putin is allying himself with the Kurds to fight the rebels, shoving them out of Turkish border areas to create a Kurdish corridor, and denying Turkey its demand of a buffer zone. Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing itself with Erdogan visiting Qatar to guarantee his gas supplies, if he cuts Russia out, until the Trans Anatolian pipeline to Azerbaijan is ready in 2018. I can’t believe Putin is gambling all or nothing on Syria like this.

It is highly highly that HIllary Clinton will become next president of the US. She will face a de facto situation where Russia has firmly installed itself in its imperial back yard. What will she do? Iran is now out of its corner, and Putin is delivering the S-300, reversing Mevdeyev’s previous decision to cancel the deal. Syria is getting the S-300, if not the S-400, but there is hardly any army left in terms of Syrians – it’s all Iranians and Hezbollah fighters – and now increasingly Russians. I have looked and looked at the evidence on this – is Turkey’s claim that Russia is aiming to destroy the opposition in Syria, rather than ISIS, true?  I cannot but conclude that it is.

In this post:

(The evidence for Russia’s bad faith on the Turkish border)

I have Ibrahim Kalin’s article summarising the facts involved, and repeating the well-known fact that it is Russian banks that are clearing ISIS oil monies. Putin’s claim that it is Erdogan who is buying ISIS oil is a deflection to hide the true facts.

In this post :

(How things have changed for the worse in the Middle East with Putin’s entrance)

I have Jamal Khashoggi’s opinion piece on Putin. He is close to Adel Al Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister, and his piece makes worrying reading indeed. Saudi Arabia is already a war-state in virtue of operations in Yemen, and it takes little imagination to project a massive military escalation in both Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia is also a state whose establishment feels existentially under threat, not exactly like Russia’s but, in many senses, worse.

With Syria and Iran firmly now in the Russian camp, what will Hillary do if she’s president? She’s not exactly a dove. What will the implications be for Sisi’s regime, and for the resolution of the Libyan crisis, with Saudi Arabia/Qatar vying against the UAE on the opposing sides there? What will the deal be over the UAE, which is playing a double game, with and against Saudi Arabia, which cannot last. Their backing of Sisi also cannot last. The UAE is seeking closer and closer ties with Israel to protect itself, but Israel is increasingly becoming a bystander in what is shaping up as a massive showdown.

Meanwhile Western nations are vying for their place in the bombing circus against ISIS, killing children in schools and making craters in the sand. They are not even seeking to think about the fundamental reason for its existence – namely, the summary expulsion of the Sunni population from the Iraqi state by sectarian Shia governments in Baghdad, this one (Abadi) no better than the last (Maliki). Nor will any future one change things.

Will Erdogan and Muhammad bin Salman turn to embrace the Iraqi sunnis and eventually domesticate and back ISIS in a new escalation? Will we then have a repeat of 1980s Afghanistan in the Levant? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

NATO having sabre rattled in Eastern Europe for months, now sits and watches as Putin smashes through its encirclement. The US is now paying for its regressive and anti-democratic policies in the Middle-East, as Russia takes full advantage of its endless mistakes, and the empty and irrational course that the American foreign policy establishment has charted since 2004. That was when the Democratic party’s Progressive Policy Institute backed the Princeton Project on National Security (PPNS), to create the post-Bush consensus, i.e. the Obama doctrine, which sought to achieve Bush-type goals by stealth, and which has failed as royally as the Bush boots-on-the ground approach.

Meanwhile, whichever way it goes, the Middle-Eastern peoples keep getting trampled on by empires.

How things have changed for the worse in the Middle East with Putin’s entrance

The US is looking on as Putin changes the rules of the game. The goading of Turkey is just the start (see the last post on this, where I run Ibrahim Kalin’s latest column). For the first time I see the possibility of a major conflagration in the Middle East, as Putin installs himself in the levant, in alliance with Iran, during Obama’s lame duck months. Jamal Khashoggi’s opinion is important here, as he more or less says what the Riyadh foreign policy establishment thinks:

اضغط على الرابط أدناه لقراءة او لتحميل النسخة العربية

English translation by MEMO

We ought to take seriously the implicit Russian threats in an article in Pravda newspaper calling for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to be punished before they cause a third world war by supporting ISIS. This is what the newspaper, which is quite close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claims. A former adviser of Putin called insolently in the Moscow Echo for military positions and oil installations in Saudi and Qatar to be targeted. Yes, Putin is stupid and bloody. Furthermore, he cannot be trusted. And I believe he also hates the Saudis. Indeed, we should take such threats personally.

Since he took over in the Kremlin fifteen years ago, posing as Russia’s strongman, Putin has endeavoured to base his popularity upon provoking nationalist sentiments and pride. He ignited semi-fascist flames in Russian minds in a bid to compensate for his economic failure and cover-up the massive wealth gap between the poor and middle classes, and a scandalously rich ruling minority.

Putin pushed ahead from victory in Chechnya, where he oversaw massive destruction and mass murder, to the Ukraine where he annexed Crimea in stark violation of international law. However, we happen to be living in the time of Barack Obama, the US president who needs someone to translate the Arab proverb, “I poured insults on them while they walked away with the camels.” The West protested, fumed and boiled but eventually accepted the new status quo. Then Tsar Putin came to the Arab world claiming that he has “vital interests” therein. He entered without permission and sat cross-legged while forging an alliance with a sectarian minority, joining it in the pursuit of murder and oppression and imposing his own fait accompli.

He is even trying to rearrange the Muslim house. He travelled to a destination where a minority of his liking exists, taking along with him a historic copy of the Qur’an written in Russia. He sat before Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian leader, just as a disciple would sit before his guru, delivering to him the gift he brought with him and rubbing his hand in full submission in a symbolic gesture that cannot escape a prudent person. He meant to say, “Here is the authority, here is Islam” while at the same time daring to attack what he described as the policy of “Islamisation” in Turkey. It is just a matter of time. He’ll soon attack Saudi Arabia and hold it responsible for the sins of the past and the present altogether.

Putin has lived through a series of victories that together form a necklace, which he intends to wear on the day that he receives allegiance as the possessor of the force dominating a region that extends from Crimea to the Levant. His dream has been interrupted only by the stubbornness of three countries that oppose his project and refuse to succumb to him. Step forward Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

This was revealed clearly on Tuesday morning when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian fighter jet that fell to earth amid cheers and shouts of “Allahu Akbar” by the Syrian revolutionaries on the mountains close to the Syria-Turkey border. Those few moment were sufficient for laying the foundations of a new political game in the Middle East.

Putin changed the rules of the game when he took his aircraft to join the Iranians and the Syrian regime in their war on the people who want their freedom. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now changed Putin’s rules and the world is awaiting the latter’s reaction to see whether he will accept the new rules or turn the table once more on everybody.

The Russian jet incident may well be repeated. We are nearly in a state of war with the Russians despite all the visits, meetings and smiles. Sooner or later Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey will appear in Putin’s eyes to overlap with the Syrian opposition. Once he fails to defeat this opposition he will start looking for someone to blame, and he will find no one but us.

Then, once the upcoming Vienna negotiations fail (and they will most likely fail), the conflicting parties inside Syria will find no route other than that of escalating the confrontation in a bid to accomplish decisive victory. This will lead to the emergence of two distinct camps: the free Syrian people and their allies on the one hand, and the sectarian anti-freedom trio and their allies on the other.

There may even be another confrontation prior to Vienna. The SU-24 incident was a slap to Putin’s image as Mr Invincible, and to the image of his dreaded Russia. This will undoubtedly undermine his position domestically, especially with the return of the first body bags of the Russian soldiers embroiled in their first entirely foreign war since their defeat in Afghanistan. Perhaps he will challenge the Turks once more and that challenge will result in the downing of another Sukhoi, or perhaps a MiG. He will then go mad. The Russian president has now launched indiscriminate bombings of the Syrian Turkuman regions. This is not a war, it is an act of revenge. Who can guarantee that another Sukhoi will not be shot down, this time by a ground-to-air missile? The bear will be filled with more rage. He will accuse Saudi Arabia or Qatar or both of supplying the revolutionaries with the missile and will hold them responsible. The deterioration of his economic position also adds to his anger. His economy has lost its position as the 8th ranking in the world and is now lagging behind Spain and North Korea, both of which surpassed him in Gross National Product. At this juncture he may just accuse Saudi Arabia of causing the fall in oil prices.

Can we meet the Russians half way in the middle of a Syrian road so as to avert a disastrous result? I think that this is highly unlikely. If we were to define our project in Syria and in the region, it would be a project that does not involve intervention but is based on its full independence and the establishment of a pluralistic democratic system of governance in Damascus. If we were to define the Russian project, though, we would find it based on minority rule and foreign intervention under the guise of staged elections and fake democracy similar to the version in Russia, where public liberties are in retreat while the state is growing bigger and bigger; where the press is scared because the price of doing ones job is a bullet in the head fired by persons unknown.

These two projects stand in stark contradiction to one another in Vienna. Due to their huge differences they will never agree. They will also clash on Syrian territory until one defeats the other. Just as it is impossible for the Kingdom to accept a permanent Iranian influence in Syria, Turkey will not want, from a strategic point of view, Russian influence on its southern border. It will be inevitable for us to clash. Since Putin lacks any notion of chivalry, he will not concede defeat and back down in the spirit of a sportsman; he will, most likely, continue in the confrontation. He will escalate the situation militarily and try to drive a wedge within our ranks, for there are indeed gaps there that he will seek to exploit. Our situation is similar to that of Al-Hussein Bin Ali, may Allah be pleased with him. We have allies whose swords are with us but whose hearts are against us (I have deliberately reversed the wordings so as to agree with the context). These are the ones who agree with Putin in some aspects of his project, namely the regeneration of despotism in Syria in the guise of a deformed democratic system that does not bear the Assad head but lives with his claws. They are not unhappy with the Iranian-Russian expansion in Syria but are displeased to see Saudi Arabia rise as a regional leader. They have even shown more displeasure toward the Saudi alliance with Turkey and are unhappy to see such ties expand day after day as they plan together for the future. Should the balance of power in the region tilt in favour of Putin’s camp, they will uncover their true colours and side with the tsar.

Lastly, will Putin dare carry out dirty operations in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey, such as those called for by Pravda and his former adviser? Will he, for instance, target a certain site and claim that it is a training camp for terrorists or that it is a warehouse of weapons destined for Syria where it would pose a threat to “world peace” and the safety of Russian pilots? These are dangers that should be taken into consideration. They call for the necessity of activating Saudi foreign policy in cooperation with the Turks and the Qataris in order to persuade the Europeans that adopting silence as a strategy vis-a-vis Putin will, as with every other dictator, only increase his appetite. The man is behaving like an arrogant bully and not as a prudent politician, but this should not be a surprise. After all, he is the graduate of the old Soviet school of intelligence and will, therefore, not hesitate to pursue the dirtiest of methods, such as the assassination of a former Chechen president who took refuge in Doha in 2000 or the liquidation of a political opponent in London in 2006 using poison in the most horrid way. Nor have presidents of republics escaped his wrath. He poisoned a former president of Ukraine as part of his efforts to make it submit to Russia. That led to the rigging of elections and then to a popular revolution that eventually turned into a civil war that is still raging to this day. It’s a lousy record, yet Putin remains important and it is necessary to deal with him, not least because he leads a superpower.

I do not mean to weaken anyone’s resolve. Nor am I suggesting that we cannot handle him. All I am saying is that we should expect the worst and, therefore, should be careful. Furthermore, we are on the defensive and cannot withdraw from the Syrian arena. Our support for the Syrian revolution is an act of defence on behalf of our own country. What matters is that we take care as we find ourselves compelled to walk through the Russian forest.

The evidence for Russia’s bad faith on the Turkish border

Russian media in Europe, including the Independent London newspaper, are leading the charge against Erdogan, and their cries of innocence ring false. The positive capital they have acquired with the events in Ukraine and Crimea and their intelligent policy towards them, is now being using in reinforcing their take on the Turkish situation. NATO corroborate Turkey’s facts, but the West in general is not on his side, and Putin is exploiting this. See the next post for the implications.

Ibrahim Kalin writes

The downing of a Russian jet fighter over the violation of Turkish airspace is another casualty of the Syrian conflict. The incident has created short-term turbulence in Turkish-Russian relations but will not derail it. The relationship has enough depth and political-economic capital to overcome it.

Russian jets violated Turkish airspace multiple times in the past. Turkey’s warnings seem to have gone unheeded by the Russian military. Recently at the G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya, Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin took up this issue again and agreed on avoiding any incidents along the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey’s rules of engagement are clear and have been made known to all sides in the region.

This was not a hostile act towards Russia. The identity of the warplane was established after the shooting. Despite major differences over the Syrian conflict, Turkey has not targeted any Russian interests and has no intention of doing so. In fact, Turkey did not join sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Both countries have developed strong economic relations over the last decade and created new opportunities for their citizens.

It is only natural that sentiments run high in the immediate aftermath of the incident. But the Turkish-Russian relations have enough width and depth to overcome this turbulence.

President Erdoğan, who cultivated a special relationship with President Putin despite criticism from the West for doing so, expressed his sadness over the incident. Speaking to France24, he added that “had we known it was a Russian plane we may have acted differently.

But this does not change the fact that as a NATO member Turkey has the right to defend its land and airspace against any violations. Turkish airspace is also NATO airspace.

As Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, “The downing of an unidentified jet in Turkish airspace was not – and is not – an act against a specific country. Turkey took action, based on standing rules of engagement, to protect the integrity of its sovereign territory. While the measures to defend our territory will remain in place, Turkey will work with Russia and our allies to calm tensions.

The claims that Turkey supports DAESH and buys oil from it are part of a smear campaign that has no foundation. Those who have made such claims have yet to produce a single piece of concrete evidence. Instead, they narrate anecdotal stories with references to unnamed persons and unspecified locations. But what we know for sure is the fact that both the U.S. and the EU have sanctioned key people for buying oil from DAESH on behalf of the Assad regime. They include Syrian businessman George Haswani, Mudalal Khuri, a Syrian banker, and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a wealthy Russian businessman and the president of the World Chess Federation.

In regards to foreign terrorists going into Syria, Turkey has done more than any other country. It has deported over 2,500 individuals and barred 25,000 people from entering the country on suspicion of terrorism. It has arrested hundreds of individuals for suspected ties to DAESH. The countries of origin from which these individuals come have begun beefing up security only after the Paris attack. Intelligence sharing and coordination is key to the success of stemming the flow of foreign fighters into DAESH ranks. No country can deal with cross-national and cross-border terrorism on its own.

Blame games should be put aside; instead, we should concentrate on conducting an effective fight against DAESH and bring about a fair and reasonable political transition in Syria. The Russian-Iranian plan to save the Assad regime will only strengthen the hands of DAESH and other terrorists. Bombing moderate Syrian opposition groups help only the two criminals-in-chief of the Syrian war: the Assad regime and DAESH. The world must be rid of these two evils at the same time. As Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande pointed out at the joint press conference at the White House, there is no place for Mr. Assad in the future of Syria. The longer he stays, the longer the Syrian war will continue, giving ammunition and space to DAESH for more terrorist recruitment. By helping the Assad regime continue his criminal war, its supporters are deepening, not resolving the crisis.

There are further questions about Russia’s military actions in the Turkmen mountain regions near Turkey. There are no DAESH groups in the Syrian Turkmen areas. The Russian jets are bombing moderate opposition groups to help the Assad regime move towards Jisr al-Shughur and Idlib currently under opposition control. This is a wrong-headed strategy as it will not help the fight against DAESH. As a matter of fact, 90 percent of the Russian attacks so far have targeted moderate Syrian opposition groups rather than DAESH.

If Russia is serious about eliminating DAESH, it should stop bombing anti-DAESH Syrian groups and help the political transition process that will bring an end both to the Assad regime and DAESH terrorism. No one has any problem with Russia or the U.S. or France hitting DAESH targets. Unnecessary divisions among the anti-DAESH coalition members will only help the terrorists and the Assad regime. Instead of costly attempts at global power rivalries, the world powers need to focus on the root causes of DAESH terrorism, the state terror of the Assad regime and the refugee crisis.

Why are polling booths a threat to western city streets?

Ken Macdonald writes

Of all the things the government might wish to encourage around the world, now more than ever, democracy and its accompanying dignities should be high on the list. And certainly there was praise in Downing Street when four years ago, amid jubilation and a stunningly high turnout, the Arab spring brought free and fair elections to Egypt. This was a distant cry from the present-day horrors of Islamic State and its visitations of violence across borders: surely the polling booths were no threat to western city streets.

The Muslim Brotherhood-inspired government that followed this festival of voting showed its inexperience and did too little to build broader support, particularly with liberals. Yet it easily avoided the criminal abuses of power and violence that have characterised military dictatorship in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser – and it had the considerable merit of being elected, in a region where that was a remarkable distinction. So it was no surprise that senior members of the ruling Freedom and Justice party were lauded guests in London, even visiting Chequers to break bread with David Cameron in his country home.
UAE told UK: crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals
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It wasn’t to last. The silence characterising London’s and Washington’s response to the military destruction of Egypt’s democracy in 2013 may have smelt more of complicity than disapproval, but worse was to follow. The prime minister was not only disinclined to speak up for his former dinner guests in their time of need; he was about to turn on them himself.

Any examination of the thuggish new military government could wait. Executions, mass shootings and show trials were put to one side as Cameron ordered a hostile UK government review into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Britain, just months after tanks had forced its elected government from office. Egyptian generals, saved only by state immunity from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, might be honoured guests in London, but the deposed ministers of an overthrown democracy were not.

British policymakers, it seems, were not in the mood to indulge these inexperienced, even inept, new democrats. And we may be sure that other, less tenderly minded players in the region noticed.

Any lingering puzzlement at the prime minister’s behaviour was emphatically dispelled when the Guardian recently revealed documents exposing the price tag likely to have attached to any alternative British policy that stood for democracy or failed to demonise victims of the military violence that destroyed it.

These documents made clear that suggestions from its detractors that the Muslim Brotherhood review was just a cynical device to ingratiate Downing Street with nervous allies in the Gulf weren’t just paranoia, as the government repeatedly claimed. In fact, the truth was cruder: principles, the sheikhs had made clear, would cost money.

Senior UAE figures explicitly threatened that, unless the British turned decisively against the Muslim Brotherhood during its period in government billions of pounds worth of arms deals would be lost. And, as Paddy Ashdown told the BBC yesterday, it took just a phone call from the Saudis to persuade the prime minister to launch his review “almost off the top of his head”.

It would be naive to dispute that an argument exists for Britain’s arms industry, as an export asset, to be protected and sustained. Morality and international comity are not always easy companions and our alliances in the Gulf have real strategic value. But in allowing himself to be bundled into quite such an ugly corner Cameron may have confused the wider national interest with the passing satisfaction of bank transfers. He may have passed too much control over our Middle East policy to despots addicted to cruelty.

Certainly, in the light of the unspeakable horrors in Paris, for Britain to have selected for special treatment and condemnation the only mass political movement in the Arab world to have sought legitimacy through suffrage seems a singularly tragic error.
PM should order inquiry into funding of jihadism, Paddy Ashdown says
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In making it, the prime minister may have rubbed up against parts of the British state possessed of much finer instincts than his own. Sir John Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who led the review, is not so supine in the face of oil-rich tantrums. He has reportedly declined to find that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a serious security threat in the UK at least – and he will not be bullied into tempering his view.

Most probably it is this unwelcome conclusion that has caused repeated postponements to a prime ministerial announcement railing against Islamists in our midst, so keenly anticipated by securocrats, to follow hard on the review. Instead, having foolishly agreed to humour Britain’s friends in the Gulf by traducing participants in a democratic experiment that the oil kingdoms were certainly right to fear, Cameron may now be reluctant to announce substantial measures against the Muslim Brotherhood for fear of provoking their lawyers into bringing a judicial review to force the publication of a report whose unhelpful conclusions he would prefer to keep hidden.

It would be damning irony indeed if the prime minister’s sole achievement in this demeaning affair was to give Whitehall a lesson in the emptiness of appeasement



Syria: Where reason is crushed in the rush to war

David Hearst writes

The First World War started over less. Jets from Turkey, a member of NATO, shot down a Sukhoi 24 fighter from Russia, a state with around 7,700 nuclear warheads, over Turkey’s border with Syria.

The circumstances and location of the shooting are, of course, in dispute. The Turks say it was over their air space, that they warned the Russian pilot 10 times in five minutes, and that they downed the plane “under rules of engagement”.

The Russians say their plane was in Syrian air space and the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, called its destruction “a stab in the back from the accomplices of terror” – meaning Turkey.

Needless to say, this did not come out of the blue. The territory where the Su-24 and its two pilots came down was in a border area controlled by Turkmens who are fighting for the overthrow of the Russian-backed Bashar al-Assad. Only last Friday the Turkish government summoned the Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov to protest at the “intense” Russian bombing of Turkmen villages close to the border.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, issued a detailed statement warning that the continued bombing of Turkmen villages could have serious consequences. He said: “Nobody can legitimise attacks targeting our Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish siblings there via claiming to have been fighting against terror.”

Thousands of Turkmen have fled the bombing, and Turkey has been pressing for a meeting of the UN Security Council to protect the minority.

The insanity of intervention

This is only the latest chapter of insanity that is now foreign intervention in Syria. The club of interveners grows by the week. Last week it was France seeking revenge for the attacks on Paris. This week parliament in Britain may overturn its well-rehearsed objections to a bombing campaign in Syria.

What’s going on in Syria is collective, multilateral madness. The Russian, Iranians and Hezbollah are fighting all opposition forces to shore up Assad. Shia fighters in Iraq are welcoming the Russian bombing campaign, having been bombed, they claimed, by the US near Ramadi. The US are providing air cover and special forces units on the ground to back the advance of Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish groups, but they will not advance further than their own territory.

The $500mn US “train and equip” programme collapsed after many of their Syrian fighters called Division 30 were captured by Jabhat al Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The Jordanians have withdrawn support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades including the Southern Front group, which launched a series of offensives in June on the Syrian government’s positions in Daraa. The Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman said the attacks were chaotic and ineffective, but says it reached an agreement with Russia not to bomb the Southern Front.

Turkey is fighting the PKK-aligned PYD in northern Syria, while joining Saudi Arabia in backing Jaish al-Fatah, “the Army of Conquest”, which includes in its command structure Jabhat al-Nusra.

What a perfect time for Britain to join the throng. Defying all evidence on the ground, David Cameron claimed in Paris on Monday that “the world was coming together” in its fight against the Islamic State. It was his firm conviction that the UK should join the airstrikes in Syria, and even before a vote in parliament, he revealed that Britain had offered France the use of the RAF base in Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Like Putin whose support for dictatorship in the Middle East is unwavering, Francois Hollande has made France a fully paid-up member of neo-conservative interventionism. He is talking and behaving exactly as George W Bush did in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings. In fact Hollande is the new Bush. He is even going as far as establishing a French version of the US Patriot Act.

Before even the facts and the numbers of those who planned the raids in Paris on 13 November are known, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on France Inter: “We must fight against Islamism which is a pathology of Islam.”

French fighters could be searching for a wide range of targets in Syria since Islamists – Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood – constitute the biggest single electoral bloc in most Arab countries. A Washington Institute poll found support for the Brotherhood running at about 30 per cent in the very Gulf states which have been doing their utmost to suppress it – the Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

A new cycle of madness

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the bitter memory of 14 years of catastrophically misjudged warfare in the Middle East have been jettisoned: the body counts; the civilian casualties from NATO airstrikes; the resurgence of the Sunni-Shia divide; the fracturing of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen; the interventions that Bush and Blair could start but never manage to finish; the inability to build a new state in the ruins of the old.

When Bush declared his “war on terror”, the foreign (mainly Arab) militants fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan numbered 800. A young Jordanian from al-Zarqaa called Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh had just 80 followers at a camp in Herat. In time he became known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and – like the Americans – moved his war to Iraq.

In 2015, and eight years after his death, there are between 20,000-30,000 fighters following Zarqawi’s Takfiri sect in Iraq and Syria. Their reach on social media is much wider.

Stanley McChrystal, the one time US counter-insurgency star in Afghanistan who infamously boasted that he could “unpack democracy from the back of a Chinook”, claimed that IS reaches a daily audience of 100 million on social media.

The voices of reason are being drowned out in the call to arms. A sensible and well researched report by the Foreign Affairs Committee arguing why bombing Syria would be a disaster is being ignored, while its chairman Crispin Blunt has sadly switched sides in the debate.

It said there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there was a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating ISIS and of ending the civil war in Syria: ”In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.”

It considered that the focus on the extension of air strikes against IS in Syria was “a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitators of ISIS’s rise.

“We are not persuaded that talks involving all parties would be any more of an incentive for people to join ISIS than allowing the continuation of the chaos and conflict.” These conclusions are more valid after the Paris attack than they were before it.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader who is pilloried and disparaged every working day, has been the subject of opprobrium – not least from his own party – for saying the obvious. Namely that Britain must not be “drawn into a response that feeds a cycle of violence and hate” following the Paris attacks.

Corbyn said: “The dreadful Paris attacks make the case for a far more urgent effort to reach a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria and the end to the threat from Isis. It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for Isis to thrive and spread its murderous rule,” he added.

“For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East. They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process.”

No one is listening to him. History, recent history, tells us the West’s response to terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, Casablanca, London, and now Paris have a been an endlessly self-repeating disaster, spreading the flames, collapsing states, supporting dictators whose only mission in life is self-preservation, crushing any form of democratic expression, making war on moderates and extremists alike, and enlarging the ISIS fan club.

And the news is, we are just about to relive the whole cycle of the last 14 years – anger, revenge, mindless air strikes, civilian deaths and ultimately defeat and withdrawal all over again. Corbyn was right on Iraq in 2003 and he is right on Syria now.



Beware of Trade Deals

File photo taken in 2008 shows farmed bluefin tuna off the coast of Kushimoto in Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan. Around 11,000 of them died after a powerful typhoon struck the region in July 2015. The tuna are believed to have died after crashing into nets or each other amid high waves. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

International trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) need to be carefully examined piece by piece because they can take precedence over a country’s own laws.

Case in point: the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday ruled that dolphin-safe tuna labeling rules — required by U.S. law, in an effort to protect intelligent mammals from slaughter — violate the rights of Mexican fishers.

As a result, the U.S. will have to either alter the law or face sanctions from Mexico.



The intensification of the war against ISIS may be inevitable, but it is still a mistake

Paul Rogers writes

The United Nations Security Council voted in favour of Resolution 2249 on 20 November. The France-sponsored document calls all nations to act to prevent and suppress violent actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It does not authorise the use of force, nor does it invoke the right to self-defence enshrined in Article 7. But it provides a strong argument for those supporting a far more intense war against ISIS.

The UN news centre reports:

“The [UNSC] this evening called on all countries that can do so to take the war on terrorism to Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and destroy its safe haven, warning that the group intends to mount further terror attacks like those that devastated Paris and Beirut last week.”

Russia backed the resolution in part because its military actions in Syria have propelled the country to a more central international position. If its intervention expresses Vladimir Putin’s aim to restore Russia’s status as a great power, support for the resolution also reflects awareness of the Islamist challenge in Russia itself. The Chinese signed up out of concern over instability in the Gulf, the source of so much of their oil and gas, but also with their own Uyghur challenge in mind.

The practical outcome will be a concentration of the air war and wider use of special forces.  Russia has substantially expanded its air forces in Syria, France is once again deploying its aircraft-carrier to the region, and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron may now get his parliamentary vote to bomb Syria.

But as the war escalates, three ominous elements present a cause for real concern.

The first is that the war against ISIS in Iraq and especially Syria is becoming ever more a western war, with Russia included in what can relentlessly be publicised by ISIS to great effect as a “crusader onslaught” on Islam (see “The Paris atrocity and after“, 14 November 2015. All four Middle East states previously involved in airstrikes in Syria – Jordan, Beirut, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have withdrawn. Even if they can be persuaded to mount renewed attacks, these will be little more than symbolic. In any case, the view from ISIS is that such states are the willing lackeys of the crusaders.

The second is whether the heightening of military operations against ISIS, now clearly aimed at its complete physical destruction, can be remotely successful. The experience of the fifteenth-month air war is a caution here. As of 13 November, the United States-led Operation Inherent Resolve had seen attacks on 16,075 targets including 4,517 buildings and 4,942 fighting positions. Pentagon figures report that the strikes have killed 20,000 ISIS supporters, up from the 15,000 reported in July. On this basis, the 20,000-30,000 ISIS fighters that were reportedly facing the coalition a year ago should have been torn apart, yet that figure remains unchanged.

Perhaps most notable of all, the estimate of a year ago of 15,000 people going to join ISIS from eighty other countries has now been increased to 30,000 from 100 countries. In short, the persistent refrain from ISIS of being the defender against the crusaders is proving uncomfortably effective (see “Syria, another ‘all-American’ war“, 12 November 2015).

Moreover, destroying ISIS in Syria and Iraq will not be possible without ground troops, which is just what ISIS wants. And even if such destruction were possible, what would come next?  Would it involve long-term western occupation of Iraq and Syria, and what effect would that produce? Would the war then extend to air and ground operations against ISIS in Libya and Yemen, and far more troops going back to Afghanistan?  What about the al-Qaida groups across the Sahel, including those responsible for the attack on 20 November in Mali’s capital, Bamako?

The third element is the need for a more far-sighted view. This series of columns started immediately after 9/11 and has now run for over fourteen years, with most of the emphasis on trying to analyse the unfolding “war on terror”.  If there has been one underlying concern, expressed as each of the major confrontations has evolved, it has been the persistent and dangerous reliance on the “control paradigm” and its consequences (see “The global paradigm: seeing it whole“, 1 May 2014).

The attack on Afghanistan three months after 9/11 dispersed al-Qaida and led to the Taliban melting away. The prospect for the country looked superficially bright, yet fourteen years later the war there is once again intensifying. The rapid military success against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was celebrated by George W Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech on 1 May 2003, yet US troops stayed another eight years  before leaving behind a rapidly evolving ISIS (see “Iraq war and ISIS; the connection“, 29 October 2015). The intervention in Libya in 2011, which had a semblance of UN approval, saw Gaddafi’s lynching and the regime’s overthrow, yet four years later Libya is a collapsed state. The cascading of arms and ideas down across the Sahel has resulted in yet more conflict, as exemplified by the Bamako operation.

An enhanced war against ISIS may be the inevitable, and indeed fully understandable, response to the appalling events in Paris a week ago. Sadly, though, that does not make it any less of a mistake. That is especially so when other paths could be taken that will do much more to prevent ISIS gaining further strength and may even end up undermining it.


Sweden tells it as it is

Margot Wallström

When Margot Wallström, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, was asked: “How worried are you about the radicalization of young people in Sweden who fight for IS?”

Wallström replied:

“Yes, of course we have reason to worry, not just in Sweden, but around the world about the fact that so many are being radicalized. And here, again, you come back to situations like the one in the Middle East where not least the Palestinians feel like there is no future them. They feel like they either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

Of course this created a diplomatic crisis with Israel, but who cares. Wallström tells it as it is – the occupation of Palestine is the root cause of world instability today. Several other politicians in the past have been brave enough to say the same thing, only to be whipped into line by someone or other. Because of this nothing changes… yet.