2 Years on and what about Israel


    It has been years that things looked very bleak for Israel in the Middle East. Hamas was gaining power, Hezbollah has engaged in conflict and was since training and  re-arming for the next one, Syria supporting movement of weapons to Hezbollah, Egypt not doing much to stop the weapons into Gaza and Jordan slaying its policies at every turn. At the same time in the outer ring, Iran was continuing its nuclear weapon program and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Turkey was becoming more religious and alienating itself from Israel, while supporting Hamas and finally the negotiations with Fatah were at a deadlock.

    However, then something unexpected happened and parts of the Middle East started burning. Changing the game completely.

    Looking back 2 years many things have happened that despite the chaos make more sense. For example, there has always been a tear between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This difference, which  is religious based, goes back many years and a great deal of blood has been spilled over it. However, it was always odd to see the cooperation between Sunni and Shia when it came to fighting Israel. As ambivalent as they made themselves seem, the Palestinians have always been a majority of Sunnis and therefore for Shia Iran to support them was unusual to say the least. Like gravity versus inertia, there was always a force pulling them down, however, it was almost invisible once the much stronger force pushing them together was at play.

    Another odd example was the rule of the minority of Alawaites in Syria, which was secular, yet supporting Hezbolla and at the same time hosting the Hamas leadership, both ultra religious groups of Shia and Sunni respectively. What is still peculiar in respect to the Syrian-Iranian relationship is that Alalwaite and Shia have very little in common, apart from the fact that they are grossly outnumbered by Sunnis in the world. In fact, many of the Alwaites traditions would seem foreign as well as sinful to Shia, who choose to look beyond the differences as well as Iran an ultra religious regime allied with a secular state.

    However, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots and it was only a matter of time until a catalyst ended this pretence.

    Since the uprising two very important things happened. The first one was the pressure that was created with the fierce fighting and extremely high number of casualties, which forced all groups to declare their allies. While the Palestinians would have liked to stay on the fence in regards to the conflict, they could not ignore the harassment and number of dead Palestinians at the hand of the Assad regime and as a result chose their natural Sunni side. On the other hand, Hezbollah has stayed loyal to its Iranian patron and has since openly declared its involvement in the fighting.

    The second byproduct was the pushing the Palestinian issue off the table. As far as the Arab world was concerned, once the glue that kept them all together was no longer effective, there was no reason to continue to support it. The Palestinian have been sidelined, as the regimes fight to keep control and stabilize their countries. Who still cares about the descendants of the 300,000  refugees that fled Israel over 60 years ago and  are now settled in neighbouring countries, when there are now over a million displaced Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan? Or When a country as big as Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy and the streets are still riddled with anti government demonstrations. This change in attitude has manifested itself in many forms, for example Egypt, run by the Hamas’ mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is currently imposing more restrictions on Hamas than Mubarak ever did. Destroying the smuggling tunnels, stopping weapon shipments, restricting border movement and applying pressure for them to avoid a conflict with Israel. The Syrians on the other hand have expelled Hamas’ headquarters from Damascus and Iran just recently stop supporting Hamas with weapons and reduced their financially aid.

    As far as the Western media, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably always gain some media attention, especially by the professionals dedicated to keep it in the headlines, in comparison in scale to what is happening around, it has shrunk and in some ways almost disappeared. Not only is it hard for the media outlets to favor such a relatively tiny and controlled conflict in comparison to the turmoil around, but the politics have blatantly conflicted with the usual narrative, making it a very long stretch to relate the events from the surrounding countries back to Israel. For example, Assad complaining that it is Israeli intervention that is pushing the rebels doesn’t sit well with the fact that Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy has chosen the rebels side. There are other inconsistencies such as the Iranian role and change of heart about Hamas, which all point back to the same conclusion that it is a Muslim sectarian war.

    A new villain that has not come well from local uprisings has been Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. On a few occasion he has already exposed his propensity for drama and uncontrolled anger, which is not necessarily followed through, like in the case of the Flotilla, after which he exclaimed that every flotilla travelling to Gaza would be escorted by Turkish war vessels, which never took place. While this was easy for the media to ignore, it was less easy for people to question the toughness towards Israel killing the 7 people onboard the flotilla in to say the least dubious circumstances, as opposed to the acceptance of Syria shooting down a Turkish plane killing two fighter pilots or regularly shooting into Turkish border towns. However, the recent events have landed him in the most negative exposure after his bad handling of the demonstration in Gezi park for the people opposing turning the public green space into a shopping mall. The casualties and evidence of police brutality against the Turkish people have earned him some very bad publicity.

    So while the region is burning and some taboos have been broken, such as rockets fired on Israeli territory from the Syrian side for the first time in decades and Egypt seriously considering renegotiating the peace treaty terms, the threats on Israel have reduced. While the terror attacks might grow and Israeli lives might be disrupted, apart from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has little threat to its existence by its crumbling neighbours. In fact in the latest developments, the rebels have managed to injure Hezbollah in a way that Israel never could and Hamas’ weapon arsenal and money stocks are depleting, which would ultimately make it more focussed internally and less of a trouble for Israel.

    However, one must remember that this is the Middle East and not only is nothing forever, but things don’t necessarily have to make sense either.

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Will Iran be another Iraq?


    Almost a decade after the West’s venture in the Middle East, the world finds itself in a similar position having to consider whether a pre-emptive military strike is the correct approach, in order ensure future global security and stability.

    Ten years following the decision to engage in military action in Iraq, the West’s armies are still committed (although slowly withdrawing) and the controversy is still alive and in many ways has redefined the people’s attitude to war and the trust in government. Therefore, in understanding Iran it is important to first look at the events in Iraq, without the media’s hysteria and sensational headlines (at times on the expense of accuracy).

    The biggest controversy is that fact that weapons of mass destructions have never been found. That claim strengthens the notion that the West was never under any threat and therefore there was no  interest for the West to get involved. The other controversy was that at the time a new UN resolution was not sought after, rather an older resolution was used, which some consider illegal. And finally the latest major point of contention is the aftermath of the war, which has seen about 110,000 deaths from military action, although mainly from sectorial violence, which followed the toppling of Saddam.

    The case to invade Iraq is argued very well in a few resources. Perhaps the most interesting and powerful argument is put forward in Tony Blair’s biographical book, where he dedicates a whole chapter to Iraq. Without repeating the argument, Tony argues that the life in Iraq before the war wasn’t much better than after the war. Different in that instead of suicide bombs and sectorial fighting, children were dying of malnutrition and lack of medicine and ethnic groups were deprived of human rights. Tony goes on to argue against Saddam’s history of violence in attacking Iran, Kuwait and more importantly using chemical warfare against his Kurdish population.

    However, many would find that all the argument against Saddam, still do not amount to a justification for war, especially since the Western world is routinely looking the other way in different regimes committing similar crimes. This then leads to an examination of the intelligence used to justify going to war.

    There is still a notion that Tony Blair lied to the people of Britain, fiddling with the intelligence to justify the move. However, the government has exposed the intelligence that was used and made it public (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/iraqwmd0903.pdf). Anyone that cares to read the report would probably conclude that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the British government’s decision. And therefore the big question is how could the intelligence get it so wrong and could it be trusted again?

    There is no reason to crucify and doubt the intelligence, as it is almost on a monthly basis that we hear that terrorist attacks are being foiled (one has to make the base assumption that the media is doing its job finding out information and would expose a situation in which the government is manufacturing these news). Evidently, the various global intelligence services have informants in the right places as well as the ability to intercept messages and collaborate, so what was so different in Iraq?

    This is where the views differ (please note these are ‘views’ not facts). One view is that Saddam saw admitting a lack of capability of WMD as a regional suicide. In a tough neighbourhood such as the Middle East it is important to have a military might, in order to affect regional policies, ensuring survival of the regime as well as economic prosperity (this would explain, why during years of sanctions and population starvation, Saddam still found the money to fund terrorist activity as well as pay bonuses to families of suicide bombers in Israel). The other view was that Saddam truly believed that the programs were progressing, however in effect he lost control of the army, who were feeding him wrong information. A third view is that the US were so eager to attack Iraq that while knowing of chemical and biological capabilities, they forged some of the intelligence on nuclear, in order to win public support. The most crucial case is that of Saddam’s attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, which seems very unreliable after Wilson’s Op-Ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) claiming he was the one that filed the  report confirming the low likelihood of Iraq signing an agreement with Niger to buy ‘Yellow Cake’.

    The war in Iraq was a political disaster to both the US and Britain. Both leaders have been accused of lying to the people. However the blow would have not been so great had it not been for the longevity of the war and the high number of deaths. Had Saddam been toppled and Iraq stabilized within months, criticism would have probably been minimal.

    However, in politics as well as warfare, not only does one not have the benefit of hindsight, but one can’t accurately assess the outcome of the road untaken.  Arguably, the sectorial fighting that took place in Iraq would have taken place today as a result of the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt and Syria all have a great deal in common with Iraq and are suffering or have suffered a similar consequence. Or even worse, perhaps not toppling Saddam would have meant that the Arab public wouldn’t have risen against their dictators. Furthermore, in defence of the decision to go into Iraq, one should not forget that it is not the army, which is killing civilians en masse, rather ethnic differences and foreign powers, which is dominated by the old Sunni – Shiite conflict.

    So now the world is faced with Iran. Similar to Iraq, Iran has decided not to cooperate with the UN, resulting in crippling sanctions, making their civilians’ lives more difficult than they should be. Furthermore, Iran is not taking any steps towards reassuring the world that their nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and while most information is hidden from the public eye, even the media catches a glimpse every now and then of disconcerting facts, such as Iran hiding the existence of the nuclear facility in Qom, the rejection of the compromise to enrich the fuel outside of Iran, advances in the development of long range missiles and most concerning the change of attitude since El-Baradei has been replaced by Amano as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) representative.

    There is little doubt that unless the world waits for advanced stages of the nuclear program, once again it will be hard to produce a “smoking gun”. However, one would think that the governments would have learned from past mistakes and run a different campaign, if action in a foreign country were to be taken.

Here are some of the mistakes that have not been addressed in Iraq and should be addressed in Iran:

–          The support of terrorism. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and so is Iran. It should not be difficult to invest in collecting proof that it is Iranian financed or Iran militia fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel as well as abroad (mainly via Hezbollah)

–            Dictator regimes, while the West cannot take the high ground on intervening with every conflict, there is no reason, why they should not intervene in certain cases. Just as there was an intervention in Kosovo to save the Muslims, purely on a humanitarian basis.

–          The UN has proved to be affected by small time international politics, a campaign needs to be done to expose such countries playing international politics rather than fulfilling their humanitarian duties (such as currently China and Russia in the case of Syria)

–          Securing the parameters, if an action is taking place in Iran, the countries have to anticipate and address the involvement of foreign powers (such as limiting across the border movements from neighbouring countries)

    Experience has shown that Iran has already decided to sacrifice its people for the bigger purpose of continuing with their plan. For example sending two war ships through the Suez Canal to Syria is another way to show defiance and give a “Business As Usual” feeling both domestically and overseas.

    The timing is crucial, since the US is going to elections in November and is therefore reluctant to commit to another war, while Israel has hinted towards a ‘point of no return’, which is said to be this spring, in which if there is no evidence of the program stopping, they will attack, not allowing Iran to secure the nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

    In the meantime, Israel is practicing warplane manoeuvres as well as drills simulating rockets hitting the center of the country and there is much talk about who is behind the mysterious killings of personnel involved in the missile and nuclear program in Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s economy is suffering with the Rial, Iran’s currency, dropping by half (the unofficial rate, which is not regulated by the government), the sanctions on oil and commerce, which will see their export revenue declining and cost of commerce increasing and the most recent blow, disconnecting them from SWIFT, the international money transfer system.

    Only time will tell whether an attack will take place and if so whether this conflict would be perceived as justified or another Iraq. However one thing is almost certain, which is the Iranians will suffer like the Iraqis did, because of their dictatorship government’s reluctance to drop their last century aggressive mentality.

Turkey and Syria – A Short Lived Alliance


    There are a few major events happening in the Middle East, which are to shape the region politically and economically for the foreseeable future. The first event is the revolution in Egypt, which despite the removal and humiliation of Mubarak has not been completely put out. The second event is the revolution in Libya, which is currently unfolding as rebels assisted by the ally forces are drawing closer to toppling Gaddafi. The third and perhaps most interesting development is the Turkey – Syria relationship, in light of the violent depression of the Syrian revolution.

    The mainstream media has, as usual, focused on the death toll and key developments in the conflict as they unfold. However there is a much more interesting story behind the developments, which has a more serious impact on the West and was started in 2009.

    Following ‘Cast Lead’ operation in Gaza at the end of December 2008, Turkey’s government expressed its indignation at the operation and their dismay at the stealth move by Israel, while they were mediating the negotiations between Israel and Syria. One of the most famous public displays was Erdogan storming off the stage in a conference in Davos after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of killing civilians.

    The Davos display was followed by a few more public criticism of Israel, however at the time, many interpreters explained the situation as the AKPs winning strategy for the elections as well as an attempt to establish their status as political leaders in the region, especially after getting nowhere with their application to join the EU. Israel, which still has diplomatic ties with Turkey, saw this as a hurdle in the relationship, partly due to Erdogan’s Islamic nature and partly due to a power game between Turkey, the EU and the US, however other signals such as the fact that Turkey did not withdraw their ambassador to Israel or demand that Israel do the same, gave Israel assurance that things are still at hand.

    The biggest turning point in the equation wasn’t when Turkey cancelled the regular military drill it holds with Israel, rather, when they decided to hold the drill with Syria. Israel could not ignore this move, as Turkey has been a partner in economic trade but more important a recipient of advanced Israeli military capabilities. Israel was involved in updating the Turkish air fleet as well as providing them with advance tank arming technologies, rockets and surveillance equipment. Transferring these capabilities to countries Israel is in conflict with, would put Israel in a great disadvantage and Israel couldn’t ignore this risk and the impact in its potential future conflicts.

    In 2010 by the time the first flotilla incident happened, in which a group of ships sailed to Israel from Turkey with the blessing of the Turkish government to break the naval blockade on Gaza, it was obvious that the relationship between the two countries was in fast decline and was not about to improve. One of the ships in the flotilla was the Mavi Marmara, which later proved to contain a group of men prepared for violence, ending in the death of 9 Turkish citizens as a result of resistance to the Israeli commando takeover.

    Turkey’s change in foreign policy broke two unofficial core rules. The first rule is the move away from the West, despite being mainly Muslim Turkey has always managed to stay secular and West-facing . The second rule was to openly criticize Israel over the treatment of the Palestinian, indirectly opening the door to criticism about its own treatment of ethnic groups such as the Kurds. Considering the two norms in place and their repercussions on Turkey, it is reasonable to believe that this shift in behaviour is not a reflection of one man ideals or a different management style, rather a government’s new foreign policy strategy.

    Part of the new foreign policy was also to take a more lenient line towards Iran and establish closer ties to Syria. So far the latter part has already blown up in Turkey’s face, as Syria was also infected by the Arab Spring and the only way Asad could protect his throne is by violently killing the demonstrators in the hope that the rebel leaders would be removed from the equation and the rest would prefer not to risk their lives. Under the bloody circumstances, Turkey could not be seen to support the killing of so many civilians (over 1500 civilians have already been killed a number that far exceeds for example the number of civilians killed in the 3 weeks Gaza war). Nor does Turkey see kindly the thousands of Syrians fleeing into its borders, which is causing a humanitarian crisis or even worse inflaming Turkey’s own ethnic groups seeking a change of government. There have also been reports about Turkey making it very clear to Asad that cross-border operations, targeting the opposition forming on the Turkish side, would not be tolerated and could prompt military retaliation. The worst part, however, has been the Turkish realization that they still have limited influence in the region and with the EU sanctions on Syria, they may need to change their economic strategy.

    The other part of the changed foreign policy was the leniency towards Iran, this has already damaged the Turkish American relationship, however, not enough to have a major impact yet. Turkey should not ignore this development though, as all the intelligence reports are indicating that Iran is using the turmoil in the Middle East to quietly get on with their nuclear plan, hence the increased rate of dead nuclear scientists bodies turning up in the Iranian morgue. Apparently Iran is not far from making the nuclear breakthrough (increasing the uranium enhancing rate, essentially creating enough raw material for a nuclear bomb). There is no doubt that if Iran achieves its purpose, this development would become common knowledge shortly after and cause a complete shift of power and alliance in the region and possibly the world.

    Turkey’s government has been playing a very dangerous game, turning its back on old friends and agreements and seeking new ones, which do not have the best reputation. One gamble has already proved wrong and another doesn’t look too promising either. The question is whether the government would be able to find ways to sustain the economic growth, which would secure it another win and prevent a coup. No doubt the Turkish government should be following every toppled regime in the Middle East and recalculating their strategy accordingly.

Anders Behring Breivik – A murderer’s profile and motives


    Only a couple of days have passed since the horrific massacre of innocent people, mainly teenagers, in Norway and already the picture is starting to get a little clearer about the motives behind the killing. At first this incident didn’t seem relevant to the Middle East, but as it turns out, the Middle East and Muslims have a lot to do with this case.

    When the first report came in, it was east to assume that this is again the doing of a deranged individual in an all too well known format, which includes taking a weapon, going on a killing spree and eventually getting caught and turning the gun on himself. However this case is notably different. Since the murderer is still alive, the number of dead is significantly higher than normal, the attack includes a separate car bomb and the planning as it turns out was meticulously done.

    Before looking at the reasons of why this was done and tying it into a global event, it is important to reiterate the obvious, which is that targeting of non-combatant civilians could never be justified. The killer acted wrongly and should be persecuted according to the local law. Moreover, the law enforcement organizations need to asses, whether this was a one off event and if not, invest resources in ensuring this does not happen again.

    Anders Behring Breivik is a 32 year old Norwegian. He has spent the last 9 years of his life plotting this event, as part of an organization called the Knights Templar. During his preparation regime he has carefully documented his every move, which gives insight to his background and beliefs in a 1500 page document.  Breivik comes from an affluent family and is also a self-made millioner according to his document.  In his writing Breivik displays great intelligent capacity and even more determination. The document talks about the relationship Breivik has with his family and friends, it goes into details about his strict training and steroid regime and his hatred to the left party that has dominated Norway for over 100 years. From the document it becomes very apparent that Breivik is creative, well educated, confident and has the ability to appear as an average person in order not to arouse suspicion.

    As with most cases of massacre the media and public are trying to put Breivik in a category, which would give an insight to why he committed this massacre. However, in this case it is not easy to map him to a sect. While his ideology is Christian, he clearly has not based his massacre on Christianity scripture nor did it stem from a messianic mission. It is more accurate to state that Breivik based his ideology on European history and culture, which happens to be Christian.

    Breivik mostly opposes the left party, which has a very lenient attitude towards immigration into Norway. It is very hard to get exact statistics about immigration as some of the information such as country of origin is bundled as well as the fact that the question of religion observance is not asked. However from what is available, it could be observed that as of January 2010, Norway’s population was 4.8 million and around 826,000 people had an immigration background (either them or their parents immigrated to Norway). The exact number is 17% immigrants of the total population, however, most of these are from neighboring countries or Eastern Europe, to which Breivik seems indifferent. When looking specifically at the Muslim population, which Breivik went against in his manifesto, the recorded number is about 100000, which is only about 2% of the population.

    If the numbers are so low, then why does Breivik oppose Muslims so much?

    Reportedly in 1980, there were only about 1000 Muslims in Norway, this number multiplied by 100 in only 30 years. In a country with a small population, this number is quite significant. For example, the UK has about the same percentage of Muslims, however in the UK the total population is 60 million, therefore, despite the higher Muslim birth rate, the overtime percentage impact on the demography is much smaller. Also, regarding the concentration of Muslims, most of the immigrants have settled in Copenhagen, which consists of 7.5% Muslims. For Copenhagen residents this may distort the percentage of Muslims actually living in Norway. As to the impact of Muslims in everyday life, it is next to impossible to get any reliable statistics, which has a breakdown by religion or ethnicity, for example crime.  However based on media reports, it could be deducted that even if not the reality, at least the perception is that most of the country’s rape reports describe the assailant as Muslim and the victim as Norwegian, also the majority of inmates in Norwegian prisons are Muslim. In Brievik’s mind the calculation is simple, more Muslims, more crime as well as change of European status quo. This calculation of course assumes that every Muslim would always follow its religion and propagate the values that Breivik opposes, this assumption is perhaps the biggest point of contention in the ideology between Breivik and the leftists in Norway.

    According to Breivik’s theory the only time that action was taken against Muslims in Europe was during the civil war in Yugoslavia, which ended prematurely in his opinion. He goes on to complain the fact that his government is responsible for giving Yasser Arafat, a terrorist in his mind, a noble price for peace and especially the politically correct stance, which was highlighted in Norway’s government’s apology about the Cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. In his manifesto, Breivik shows a complete disregard to the people he thinks are bringing the demise of Norway.

    The most shocking aspect of the attack to the Norwegians is possibly not the fact that someone is anti-Islam and has committed a massacre, rather that he targeted the government and the left party’s next generation, rather than Muslims themselves. This fact shows again that this was not purely a personal hate vendetta against another race, but a calculated politically motivated attack, which originated from racist sentiments.

    While Norway licks its wounds and will continue to do so in the coming weeks, the main concern around the world is whether this was a one off incident, or whether we are likely to see terrorism of a new kind. Possibly this could have been the high profile event for the Knights Templar’s, which could kick-start their activity, in a similar way that 9/11 was for Al Qaeda, or this could be an inspiration for copycat cases, however in the latter, it is hard to assume that it would be executed in the same percision and reach the same death toll.

    What is clear is that this event was a game changer for Western society. Despite the fact the Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who also opposes the Muslim immigration and status quo change in Europe, has condemned this act and no other person, religion or country has openly supported it, Europe has to deal with the fact that political terror has come from one of its own. The murderer was an educated, patriotic, intelligent and economically successful  individual, which has defied the behaviour the world has come to expect from someone in that position. As the trial takes place, it is apparent that Breivik is intent as using it as a stage to publicize his ideology, whether the Norwegians manage to prevent that or not, he has already won, since his story and ideology are on every front page and headline and tomorrow no doubt, while most would want to believe that the innocent did not die in vain, the topic of discussion will be Muslim immigration to Europe.