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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

UN Rebukes Assad, Rebels, Equally for Millions Suffering in Syria

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Almost seven million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria as a result of the two-year civil war there, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Ann Amos said on Thursday.

She explained that “the needs are growing rapidly and are most severe in the conflict and opposition-controlled areas” of Syria.

She cited data showing there are 6.8 million people in need—out of a rapidly shrinking population of 20.8 million—as well as an estimated 4.25 million people who have been internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million refugees who fled to neighboring countries.

The 15-member Security Council then urged both sides in the conflict “to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria.”

In the statement the council also deplored “the obstacles to the provision of humanitarian assistance and underlined the urgent need to remove all such obstacles, including those which are bureaucratic in nature.”

Under-Secretary-General Amos said that bureaucratic obstacles have grown since January, “inhibiting our ability to respond.” She added: “The limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations. We are approaching a point of no return.”

So the council statement also requested that shipments of food and medicine be allowed to cross borders if necessary, and called on all sides to “protect civilians and respect international human rights and humanitarian law, recalling the primary responsibility of the Syrian authorities in this regard.”

OK, so now we’re good, let’s go have a nice pizza…

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, addressing the UN Security Council by video link, said the number of refugees could surpass 3.5 million by the end of the year.

“These figures are terrifying. This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable,” he said, calling for more international support for countries hosting refugees, including Lebanon and Jordan.

Amos told the council that the number of approved non-governmental organizations in Syria was recently cut from 110 to 29, and the UN has just been told that every truck needs a permit signed by two ministers to pass government checkpoints.

“When I tell the council that a convoy from Damascus to Aleppo goes through 50 checkpoints—half of them government controlled—you will appreciate the impossibility of this request.”

In some ways it’s actually gratifying to observe how the UN Security Council is dealing with a situation that technically mirrors the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—except that both sides are crazy violent lunatics, making even the Hamas and the PLO look relatively civilized in comparison—and is just as paralyzed and totally unable to help anyone do anything right.

“We cannot do business this way,” Amos said. She’s so right.

Report: US Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

The commentariat universally rejected my Apr. 11 column arguing that Western governments should “Support Assad” on the grounds that he is losing and we don’t want the Islamist rebels to win in Syria but prefer a stalemate. An Arabic website in France threatened me.

Fine. But the Wall Street Journal today reports in “U.S. Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now” by Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes that the Obama administration is in fact following my counsel. To start with, the U.S. government fears “an outright rebel military victory”:

Senior Obama administration officials have caught some lawmakers and allies by surprise in recent weeks with an amended approach to Syria: They don’t want an outright rebel military victory right now because they believe, in the words of one senior official, that the “good guys” may not come out on top.

Of course, fearing a rebel victory gets in the way of ousting the current regime, its goal, leading to a self-contradictory muddle:

This assessment complicates the White House’s long-standing push to see President Assad step from power. It also puts a spotlight on the U.S.’s cautious approach to helping the opposition, much to the frustration of U.S. allies including France and the U.K., which want to arm Syria’s moderate rebels. The result of this shift, these officials say, is the U.S. has sought a controlled increase in support to moderate rebel factions. … “We all want Assad to fall tomorrow, but a wholesale institutional turnover overnight doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” a senior U.S. official said. “The end game requires a very careful calibration that doesn’t tip the meter in an unintended way toward groups that could produce the kind of post-Assad Syria that we aren’t looking for.”

Trouble is, Washington is attempting to thread a needle that it lacks the finesse to achieve:

Administration officials fear that with Islamists tied to al Qaeda increasingly dominating the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, too swift a rebel victory would undercut hopes for finding a diplomatic solution, according to current and former officials. It would also shatter national institutions along with what remains of civil order, these people say, increasing the danger that Syrian chemical weapons will be used or transferred to terrorists.

Officials say it will require delicate maneuvering to restrain the influence of radicals while buying time to strengthen moderate rebels who Western governments hope will assume national leadership if Mr. Assad can be persuaded to leave. … By strengthening moderates, the U.S. wants to put pressure on Assad supporters to cut a deal that would preserve governing institutions. …

Comments: (1) Obviously, I am pleased to learn that the Obama administration quietly has a adopted a sensible policy toward Syria. (2) Let’s hope that its unrealistic plan to guide the “good guys” to rule the country will fade with added experience; and that it will instead follow a balance-of-power approach such as I advocate.

Originally published at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, April 17, 2013, under the title, “US Fears Syria Rebel Victory, for Now.”

What is Really ‘Broken’ In Syria?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Among the many noteworthy aspects of President Barack Obama’s recent tour of the Middle East was a comment on March 22, during a press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II. Obama said, “Something has been broken in Syria, and it’s not going to be put back together perfectly, immediately, anytime soon – even after Assad leaves.”

Although the characterization of Syria’s condition was accurate, Syria has been “broken” for a longer time than most Weste­rners seem to think. A religious fissure in Syrian society – a tear that has now widened into a civil war and filled up with blood, bodies, and ruins – dates at least to 1970. That was the year Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of the current dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, who are both members of the Alawite religious minority, seized power within the Syrian wing of the Ba’ath party, which had ruled the country since a coup in 1963.

Supporting both Al-Assads, and serving as their main subordinates and followers, were – and are – other members of the Alawite denomination, which some consider Muslim and others do not. The world was slow to recognize in the Syrian civil conflict, commencing in 2011, a sectarian confrontation. The Syrian war pits the Alawites, who are typically counted as about 11% of the country’s population of 22.5 million, against the Sunni Muslims, who total around 75%. There is also a small Alawite presence in Lebanon, which is vulnerable to involvement in the Syrian contest.

When Hafez Al-Assad became dictator of Syria, Alawites had already infiltrated the Syrian army on a wide scale, a pattern that began under the French mandate controlling Syria from 1920 to 1946. Hafez Al-Assad installed still more Alawites as Ba’athist leaders, at the summits of military elite and state administration in Syria – an Alawite ascendancy maintained by Bashar Al-Assad. Between the Alawites and the Sunni Arabs stand small communities of Sunni Kurds and Turkmens, Christians, Druze (an esoteric faith derived from Shia Islam), other variants of traditional Shi’ism, and even a microscopic Jewish contingent. While favoring the Alawite minority, the Al-Assad regime pursued, under both father and son, a policy of public secularism. This included protection of the marginal creeds, as a bulwark against the overwhelming Sunni multitude.

Even though the Alawites are typically described as an “offshoot of Shia Islam,” from their emergence in the 9th century until the 20th century, their identification with an Islam of any kind has been denied by Muslim rulers and theologians.

Rejection of their claim as Muslims was, and is, based above all on their worship, as God, of Ali Ibn Abi Talib – the fourth caliph who succeeded Muhammad (and three others from among Muhammad’s companions). Ali, assassinated in 661 CE, was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and is considered by Shias to have possessed divine knowledge – one of the core differences between Shias and Sunnis, who refuse any such an assumption about Ali.

All Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, accept Ali as a righteous leader of the Muslims. The Alawites, however, have taken their devotion to Ali so far as to believe that Ali was the creator of the world, of humanity, of Muhammad of a third member of the “Alawite trinity,” Salman Al-Farsi, a companion of Muhammad and the first translator of the Koran out of Arabic, into his native Persian. Ali, as the Alawites conceive him, was the final manifestation of God.

The notion that Ali was God and created Muhammad, has been treated by Sunnis and, until the late 20th century, conventional Shia Muslims, as a departure from Islam, if not a tradition with which Islam was never directly involved. The Alawite sect has been said by foreign scholars to have roots in, and reflections of, ancient Phoenician practices, Persian religious movements derived from Zoroastrianism, and even Christianity.

Through the centuries, several important Sunni fatwas [Islamic clerical judgments] proclaimed that the Alawites were not Muslim. These fatwas include three issued by Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), an ultra-fundamentalist Sunni, considered the leading forerunner of Wahhabism, the state religion in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda frequently praises Ibn Taymiyya a a source of inspiration. Ibn Taymiyya’s knowledge of the Alawites, however, was imperfect, according to Yvette Talhamy of the University of Haifa, who summarized 650 years of fatwas made against Alawaites in a 2010 article in Middle East Studies, “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawits of Syria.” In 1516 and in the 1820s, high Ottoman Sunni clerics issued even more fatwas against the Alawites which justified repression of the minority.

Israel, Syria and Double Standards

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Syria’s civil war recently entered its third calendar year. With worse still to come, in recent days it has been estimated that the number of people killed in Syria since the uprising began now stands at more than 90,000. Any death is a tragedy for someone and the people close to him; and a million deaths are not a statistic but a million individual tragedies. How can this fact glide by us with so little comment?

When it comes to Syria, there are probably a few practical reasons. One, undoubtedly, is that people get bored with long news stories. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown — in which American, British and other Western troops have after all featured prominently – public and media attention was fairly short-lived. After an initial burst of fascination, once the new norm was established, peoples’ attention wandered elsewhere. Syria has now dragged on too long to hold peoples’ ever-smaller attention spans.

There is also the fact that in Syria – as in other recent wars – journalists have found themselves becoming targets. While many journalists are willing to take the same risks as the population at large, few are willing to stay in situations where they might be the actual object of death-squads or the attentions of RPG’s. In Syria, most journalists have found it hard to get in, or once there, are unwilling to stay, so the amount of footage coming out is necessarily limited. With an absence of plentiful footage, if the story cannot be visualized, there is now rarely a story. Evidently we need pictures.

But there is another, more important, reason why this story has got so little attention. There are often underlying, as well as immediate, reasons why something does not make news. There are some situations in which a tragedy helps a political cause and others in which it hinders it. For some people, casualties are not tragedies or statistics, but simply a well-spring for political point-scoring. To compare the cases of Israel and Syria is to see this at its most stark.

Take, for instance, the highest figures for all the wars in which Israel has been involved throughout its history. The upper estimates suggest that the War of Independence in 1948 cost around 20,000 casualties in total – that is 20,000 on all sides. The upper casualty estimates of the wars of 1968 and 1973 are similar: another 20,000 and 15,000 respectively. The smaller wars in Lebanon and Gaza in the years since add several thousand more to this sad total. But something is striking here.

All the wars involving Israel, throughout its history, have caused at least 30,000 fewer deaths than have been caused in Syria in the last couple of years alone. Say that you added together all the wars involving Israel, and they had all happened either consecutively or in one go. Would we have seen the same amount of coverage that we have seen in Syria? Would there have been more or fewer protests around the world involving people of all religions, races and backgrounds, than there have been outside of Syria in recent months? Would the nations of the world, the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council, have been quieter or noisier than they have been when it has come to the matter of Israel’s neighbor, Syria, over recent months?

The answer to all these questions is that the air and ground incursions in Gaza in recent years have on each occasion led to deaths — tragic though they may be — that are a fraction of the number in Syria since the uprising there began. Yet the world, and the world’s press, and the world’s protest movements, and the world’s governments and the world’s supra-national organizations have on each and every occasion mobilized in a way which seemed at the time, and in retrospect, to demonstrate an obsession which is probably at best unhealthy, and at worst the expression of straightforward bigotry. All those people who claim that small incursions into Gaza have not been small incursions, but in fact a “holocaust,” where are they now? If the death of a hundred people is a “holocaust,” what is the death of 90,000?

Lincoln as a Bleeding Heart Peacenik?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

An interesting trend has emerged in recent weeks. The Israeli Left, along with most of the world’s pseudo-intellectual classes, has suddenly discovered Abraham Lincoln, and is proclaiming him an honorary member of “Peace Now.” Obviously it is thanks to the new Hollywood movie. Columnists in the Israeli media are claiming that Israel needs to follow the ethical leadership of Lincoln. Just as Lincoln freed the slaves, or so their mantra goes, so Israel must “free” the Palestinians from “occupation.”

The Israeli Left has embraced Lincoln because it is convinced that, if Lincoln is regarded as a moral champion, identification with Lincoln must clearly lead one to support the political agenda of the Israeli Left. First and foremost this would mean supporting Palestinian demands and “resistance.”

So what should we make of this new “Lincoln as Leftist Pro-Palestinian” campaign?

Well, even someone with only the shallowest familiarity with American history would know that the two most important principles represented by Lincoln would make him for all intents and purposes the ethical analogue of the Jewish settler leaders in Judea and Samaria, and not a Peace Now whiner.

Lincoln fought the American Civil War first and foremost in to order to prevent the partition or division of his homeland, and he was fully prepared to use massive military force to achieve this goal. Lincoln was in favor of peace but not under all conditions or at any price. Those in Israel proposing such a “two-state solution” are the 21st century’s Copperheads.

Second, Lincoln had no reluctance about using the word “treason,” and throughout the Civil War he made it clear that he considered the Union war against the Confederacy and its supporters to be a campaign against treason. Those who supported secession or the Confederacy were engaging in treason, not academic debate. Lincoln did not mollycoddle traitors in the name of “understanding the Other.” He did not insist that those opposing national interests be allowed to control the universities and the courts and the media.

Those who are trying to deconstruct Lincoln as the ultimate opponent of “occupation” will have to explain why his party imposed a severely harsh occupation on the member states of the Confederacy, one that continued for years. The analogue to the PLO and Hamas in the occupied Confederacy was the Ku Klux Klan, and it was suppressed mercilessly in actions that included Union militias acting as anti-Klan death squads. There were thousands of arrests of KKK “militants” and “activists,” and martial law was imposed upon counties with Klan activities. No one proposed seeking peace by granting the Klan its own country.

Aside from the two most obvious characteristics of Lincoln, which make him the moral analogue of Jewish settler leaders, Lincoln had a few other features that will make the Left squirm. Lincoln abolished habeas corpus during wartime. He had traitors executed and deported, and had no hesitation about the use of capital punishment. Among those executed, William Bruce Mumford was convicted of treason and hanged in 1862 for tearing down a United States flag. Some 500 people were executed by hanging or by firing squad during the War, some for desertion. At least one of those hanged was a woman, Mary Surratt (executed for her role in the assassination of Lincoln).

Lincoln had no patience for terrorists, known in the Civil War as “bushwhackers,” and ordered them to be executed by firing squad. “Bridge burners” were given the same treatment. He believed there was ONLY a military solution to the problems of terrorism.Lincoln also imposed censorship on the press and suppressed treasonous journalism. Want to ponder how Lincoln would handle the pro-Hamas radical Left in Israel?Then in Sherman’s march to the sea, Lincoln conducted war against CIVILIANS, explicitly targeting and attacking the civilian population and its infrastructure to end rebellion and treason. With no Betselem and no Supreme Court interference.

Lincoln also sponsored the Homestead Act of 1862, perhaps the greatest settlements construction effort in history.

Perhaps most notably, Lincoln imposed an uncompromising blockade upon the entire Confederacy. The very same Israeli Leftists, who insist that lifting the “embargo” of Gaza is the highest form of humane morality so that the Hamas can more easily import weapons, will have a an interesting challenge explaining the blockade imposed by their new-found moral champion, Abraham Lincoln. It was a policy proudly described by Lincoln as “starving the South.” Food and civilian commodities were prevented from passing through the blockade. Guess how Lincoln would have dealt with “Gaza Flotilla” blockade runners?

UN ‘Peacekeepers’ Afraid to Go Out After Dark

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

As Syria’s blood-soaked Assad regime approaches its demise, Israel’s northern border is getting greater focus in light of the growing scope of activity on the Syrian side by jihadist rebel forces.

A Ynet article today ["Fearing terror attacks, IDF boosts forces on Syrian border"] says the IDF is mainly concerned at this stage with the danger of shooting attacks from the Syrian side on the contract workers putting up a sophisticated border fence that includes sensitive new alarm systems incorporating a fiber that sounds an alarm at the slightest touch. But it’s clear that the far greater concern is with how dangerous the border is likely to become when a new Syrian jihadist regime is in place, which seems inevitable.

The Ynet report says Syrian rebels released a video clip yesterday (Saturday) showing their men firing weapons close to the Israeli-Syrian border and within sight of a U.N. sign indicating the area’s demilitarized status. Another scene captures verbal threats from one of the rebels:

“We are now in front of the occupied Golan, the blessed land sold by Hafez Assad… For 40 years, not a single gunshot has been fired on this land. For 40 years, not a single gunshot has been fired towards Israel…” [Ynet]

The U.N. has had a contingent of ‘peacekeepers’ in the area since 1971. But the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that was established by Security Council resolution has seen prouder days. Twenty-one soldiers from the Filipino contingent of UNDOF peacekeepers were kidnapped by Syrian rebels earlier this week and were handed over to Jordan’s Foreign Minister yesterday.

Ensuring that such embarrassments are less likely to happen in the future, U.N. management in New York has changed the ground rules, as Times of Israel reports:

U.N. peacekeepers on Syrian border halt night patrols: International teams fear more kidnappings, violence; Israel beefs up border security | Times of Israel | March 9, 2013 | Peacekeepers from the UN’s UNDOF mission have ceased patrolling the Israel-Syria Golan Heights border area at night, for fear of being kidnapped or hurt in the violence in the area, Israeli TV reported on Friday night… The news came as the UN continued efforts to extricate 21 members of UNDOF from the Philippines who have been held captive since being kidnapped Wednesday by rebels from a group calling itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Their convoy was stopped on the outskirts of Jamlah, a Golan village less than a mile from the Israeli border. Eight more UN peacekeepers fled to Israel Friday, abandoning their posts to escape the fighting between the rebel groups and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad… The IDF has urged the remaining three UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) member-nations — Austria, India and the Philippines — not to abandon the 40-year mission, after Japan and Canada withdrew their forces in recent months, and Croatia announced plans to do so, a Channel 2 report said.

The outcome?

The reduced patrols in the buffer zone, which extends for some 50 miles along the border, are already enabling al-Qaeda forces among the Syrian rebels to take greater control of the Syrian side of the Israeli border, and Israel has accelerated work to bolster security at the fence, Channel 10 reported Friday night. Israel has also deployed troops from the standing army to replace the reservists who usually guard the border, the report added. [Times of Israel]

In case anyone fears an outbreak of do-nothing-ness on the part of the UNDOF men, their website assures us differently:

March 5, 2013 – UNDOF assisted again after more than one year in Apple Crossing in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross. An eight-year-tradition continued when a range of ICRC trucks transferred apples again from A-Gate to B-Side… Within the next three months 18.000 tons of apples like Golden Delicious and Starking Delicious will be transferred. With assistance of UNDOF Military Police in coordination and traffic management, all apple boxes were carefully delivered to B-Side. The ICRC and UNDOF peacekeepers were well prepared to assist in this important procedure. The first apple crossing in UNDOF’s history took place in the year 2005, when 4.000 tons were transferred. It happened then after 31 years of no trading activities between Syria and Israel… [UNDOF website]

Visit This Ongoing War.

A Hard Reckoning for Assad

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Bashar Assad faces a hard reckoning. Not the one that comes from rebels battling for control of key Syrian assets, or the one that may come some day from charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court. The reckoning that comes from understanding that your key ally, Iran, has interests in your country other than you and regional interests bigger than you.

Iran connects with a variety of countries and non-state actors to advance its worldwide interests; Assad’s Syria is only part of the equation. Iran continues to supply the Syrian army and has military forces of its own there, but Iran is also moving to protect and preserve its Mediterranean proxy Hezbollah. Weapons are already moving into Hezbollah hands in Lebanon, which may have prompted an Israeli air strike late last month. Iranian and Hezbollah commanders appear to be building militias within Syria to retain a presence if Assad falls or leaves the country.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said Iranian and Hezbollah commanders oversee the Jaysh fighters, one of many groups that have sprung up as Syria disintegrates. In response, Syrian rebel forces are threatening to take the fight to Hezbollah directly, but the revelation means Syria may be on the path to resemble the morass of Lebanon during the 1970s.

A little history helps here.

The Alawite minority that has ruled Syria for decades is not of the Shiite mainstream; Alawites have been called “idol worshippers” — the worst possible sobriquet — by some Shiite religious authorities. (For the details see Martin Kramer). The short of it is that a marriage of convenience began in the 1970s between Hafez Assad, by most accounts a more clever despot than his son, and Iranian Shiite religious leaders.

It expanded after the Iranian Revolution brought those religious leaders to power, and it continues to this day. In the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, Assad did side with fellow secular Ba’athist Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But by 1982 (some sources put the timing after the Syrian massacre of 20-35,000 Sunnis in Hama to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood) relations between the two soured, leaving an opening for improved Syrian-Iranian ties.

According to CIA reports of the time, Iran and Syria agreed that Syria would close the Iraqi pipeline through its territory in exchange for subsidized Iranian oil. Shortly thereafter, Iran was known to have sent 2,000 Iranian Guard Corps troops to Syria and from there to Lebanon in support of Hezbollah, which was just emerging as a power center after the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war.

Syria has been a passageway for Iranian arms to Hezbollah, both by sea, and through the Damascus airport and overland, giving Iran influence in the internal affairs of Lebanon as Hezbollah continued to grow, particularly after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the expanded UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon was tasked with ensuring that only weapons of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were south of the Litani River; this should have meant disarming Hezbollah, but the mandate of UN Resolution 1701 did not include guarding or even monitoring the Syria-Lebanon border. Iranian arms shipments continued apace and in 2011, Hezbollah became the dominant member of the Lebanese Government.

Whatever the fate of Bashar Assad, Iran is unlikely to abandon its investment in Hezbollah or in other Syrian groups, but Iran’s interests go well beyond the Syria/Hezbollah axis. Iranian influence in predominantly Shiite Iraq continues to grow and there are reports of Iran building Iraqi Hezbollah militias as the security situation continues to deteriorate since the American departure in 2011.

Iranian warships have been docking in Sudan, where it appears that in December, Israel destroyed a missile depot housing Iranian Fajr-5 rockets destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iranian warships returned to Sudan later that month.

Iran’s relationship with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has been well documented. But in the late 1980s and 1990s, Argentina sold Iran nuclear materials and modified an Iranian nuclear reactor. Relations were cut short after Iran was implicated in the 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires. Trade relations were never halted though, and of late, Argentina’s sales of agricultural products to Iran have made it Iran’s 7th largest trading partner. The assumption is that Iran will pay for commodities it sorely needs with oil that it cannot sell owing to Western sanctions, which Argentina ignores.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-hard-reckoning-for-assad/2013/03/04/

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