Not The Usual Mess In The Middle East


    The recent events in the Middle East at a glance looks like one big mess. One could think that not much in the region  makes any sense anymore. It seems that everyone is fighting everyone and historic alliances have suddenly been broken. Moreover any involvement or prediction by the West, such as the positive effects on Arab countries establishing free democractic regimes have proved to be completely wrong.

    However, if one looks at the events and the background, one could see that it was up until now that things did not make sense and now there is finally a more logical explanation to some of the oddities that were prevalent before.

    The most extreme example would be the alliance between Sunni Hamas, Shia Hezbollah, Shia Iran and Alawaite Syria. The alliance that makes sense is Shia Iran with the Shia group Hezbollah, they share the same values and sect of Islam and Iran has helped set up Hezbollah and has been its main sponsor ever since. It is perhaps slightly less obvious that the Syrian Alawaite regime is also part of this alliance. However, despite the different roots and other fundamental differences the Shias consider that sect to belong to the same stream and therefore sees it as an ally opposing the Sunni sect.

    While those alliances, even if not perfectly, could somehow be explained, what really hasn’t made sense so far has been the alliance between the Sunni group Hamas and the other Shia players. Despite the media’s obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is naive to think that the animosity towards Israel surpasses the age-long Shia-Sunni divide. Considering the longevity (since ancient times), number of people(1.5 billion Muslims with 10%-20% being Shia) and the religious background (fundamental difference in belief). One could be forgiven for thinking that hating Israel is no more than an excuse to rally the Muslim world around a common cause. After all, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Shias saw themselves as a natural ally to the Jewish state of Israel, in its struggle against the threat of Sunni Muslims.

    In order to understand how this “small-scale” conflict could bring together two major players, it is important to look at the relations between countries in the Middle East leading up to the time.

    Before the Western intervention in the Middle East, the region was divided to tribes.There was no division of “countries”, rather everyone was Arab and there was a belonging to a tribe and/or a group of people. For example the Hashemite’s, which make up Jordan today, the Assyrians, which make up Syria…etc. After World War I, the Western intervention divided the region up and created the basis of the countries today. However, while creating countries, they bundled together some of the groups (Druze, Sunnis, Shia, Kurdish, Christian…etc.) and they did not create democracies. The intervention has left the region with countries with dictators. Over the years there have been “free elections”, however, they have not been real, as control was passed down in the family and even in cases, n which the countries went through the motions of “voting”, it cannot be considered a democracy without the other institutions such as freedom of speech, free press, separation of law and government…etc. .

    While in the West dictators are viewed as a wholly negative feature, in the Middle East there was one noticeable benefit. Since the countries that were formed were not always homogenous, the dictator had the job of keeping the people united. This of course was done via oppression of the masses, however it provided stability to those countries (many would argue it still not worth the price of oppression, however one might look at Iraq and Syria and perhaps not feel quite as strongly about it anymore).

    In many ways the “Arab Spring”  has let the cat out of the bag. The wall of fear between the rulers and the people has been broken, which made the dictators’ job of keeping the stability nearly impossible. The individuals have realized their power and conditions have been so bad that they often feel like they have nothing else to lose and are now couragously fighting for what they believe (in some cases the fighting has been kidnapped by Jihhadist groups, but this is again a matter of convinient alliances to reach a goal). A catalyst for the uprisings has of course been social media and other technical advances, which have contributed to the exposure of the masses to the outside world as well as provided a safer platform to organize and communicate.

    The tensions between the sects have been felt and somewhat exposed in the wikileaks reports. While the authenticity and sincerity in the cables should always be questioned, it was surprising to read statements such as Asad calling Hamas an unwanted guest in his country, or the eagerness the Sunni Arab nations showed in wanting the Iranian nuclear facilities to be bombed. However the events in the Arab world, namely the Arab uprisings since then have confirmed these reports, as Hamas is no longer wanted in Syria and the Sunni countries have increased their oil production to allow the West to execute the sanctions on Iran.

    In the last couple of years the situation in the Middle East changed so much that the false pretence has been broken down and the real dirty politics have come out. The Shia – Sunni conflict is in full swing and  affecting many countries. Ironically all the ethnic groups that were able to play nicely for all these years under an oppressive dictator and sympathize with, what they called, human rights violations of the Palestinians, are now mercilessly slaughtering each other not sparing women and children and seeing millions being displaced. Even Turkey that once declared a zero conflict policy is now bombing Syria as well as trying to manage the internal Kurdish conflict, involving also occasionally bombing areas in North Iraq.

    The group probably worse off from this turn of events is the Palestinians. On the one hand their plight has been pushed aside as a minor issue in light of everything else that is taking place. On the other hand, while the more pragmatic Fatah is losing its place at the top*, Hamas is gaining prestige. The visit to Gaza by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thaniof, the Emir of Qatar just shows how little the Arab countries are interested in a long viable solution in the Middle East and how much this is about alliances and politics (It is almost laughable how a minute after Syria and Iran favour the more radical groups in Gaza over Hamas, Qatar moves in and offers Hamas money and support).

    With the re-election of president Obama it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold. Whereas in his first term Obama was testing the waters and making some junior mistakes as to how to handle Iran and the various revolutions, this time around things might look a little different and every foreign policy decision would no doubt, ripple across the Middle East changing the dynamics between countries and temporary allies.

    It has been said before never to attempt to predict the future in the Middle East. That statement is perhaps more true now than ever.

 

 

 

* Fatah losing its place is one of the worst things for the Palestinians as it seems that as an act of desperation Abbas will be insisting on getting a UN General Assembly recognition for a Palestinian state, probably in order to leave his mark on history, before he is ousted. While a recognition will do nothing for the Palestinians, other than give them the ability to fight Israel legally in various UN organizations. It will mean an immediate economic collapse as the US will cease any aid and banish their representatives from Washington, as well as Israel potentially withdrawing the Oslo agreements, in which they collect tax money for them, as well allow workers into Israel.

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The Heart of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


There is a conception amongst people, who learn about the Israeli Palestinian conflict from the media, that the negotiations are not going on because the Palestinians have set a condition to stop the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and Israel would not or is unable to comply. This statement is partially true, however, anyone thinking that this is the heart of the conflict or that the ongoing settlement is the issue that needs to be tackled is missing the most important point altogether.

The conflict started well before the Second World War, when Jews started arriving to Israel from Europe. It is important to mention that there were already Jews in the land, however they were a minority at the time (The fact they were a minority was a result multiple expulsions from foreign rulers such Shalmaneser V,  Nebuchadnezzar II, the Greeks, the Romans, etc). Since historically there has always been  friction between Jews and Arabs,  due to the different faiths, manifesting itself in the violence and discrimination in the Arab lands where Jews lived, the Arabs were already wary of the immigration and the prospect of becoming a minority in the future.

Due to the Arab’s fear, in the beginning of the 1900’s the local Arabs fought both on the ground and politically trying to restrict the arrival of Jews to the land. Following the Balfour declaration of making the land the home of the Jews, they put great pressure on the British mandated ruler to stop the Jewish population growth by restricting Jewish immigration.

The British realising that this is a problem set up the Peel Commission to find ways to settle the dispute. The gist of the commission’s conclusions, after conducting a thorough investigation including interviewing leading figures on both sides, was that it is not likely that Jews and local Arabs would be able to live side by side. There is an animosity between them and as Arabs would not be happy living under a Jewish rule, the Jews would not be happy living under an Arab rule (the Zionist movement’s aim was to establish a Jewish leadership rather than returning to being a minority under a foreign rule). Therefore the most conceivable conclusion would be to divide the land to Jewish and Arab.

It would be unfair to history to claim that the Jews happily accepted the Peel Commission’s conclusions. It is reported that some of the Jewish leaders who came had big plans to turn the entire land to be their own. Backed up by European consent and their biblical and historical ties to the land, they believed that it was their  right to live on the land and turn it completely to a Jewish state, where Jews could return and be free. According to historians such as Ben Morris, it was the start of  WW II and other practical reasons that made the Jewish leadership realise that the ambition of owning the whole state is unachievable and therefore agree to a territorial division.

On the Palestinian side things were viewed quite differently. They did not want a Jewish state on the land. The Palestinian leadership wanted to maintain the Arab majority, which rules over the Jews, who were present prior to the European immigration. When Britain suggested the division, the Jews accepted it, while the Palestinians refused. When the UN voted on the partition plan in 29 of November 1947, the Jewish representatives accepted it and curbed the “Revisionists” groups, who claimed that land compromises should not be made. The Palestinians on the other hand rejected the vote and declared a war, described by some of their leaders as a war of extermination. Ultimately and possibly against all odds the Arab nations lost the war and Israel was founded.

Since the founding of Israel the Palestinians have rejected the idea of a Jewish rule. Even after their big defeat in the six days war in 1967 they were adamant to rule the whole land and accordingly they replied to peace talks with the conclusion of their conference in Khartoum in Sudan with the famous 3 no’s (No to peace, no to negotiation and no to recognition  of Israel).

The fear Israeli rulers have always had is that the Palestinians are adhering to what has become known as the “Phased Plan”. This plan is claimed to be the Palestinian pragmatic strategy, which is attributed by some historians to the “moderate” Palestinian leaders. This approach, as stated in the PLO resolution in 1974, involves accepting a settlement to establish a Palestinian Statehood, however then to continue an armed struggle, until the entire land is liberated. This resolution has been talked about and agreements have been made to change it (during the Oslo Accords), however it has never been modified.

The fear of Israel that making concessions would not lead to peace, rather give the Palestinians a better grounding to continue their struggle has dominated  several negotiations and peace conferences between Israel and Palestinians. In some of these talks some breakthroughs have been made, resulting in Israel handing over control over land and cooperation, however they always side-stepped two main issues: Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

Jerusalem is a complex issue as a holy place to three religions, neither party wants to hand over control, there have already been suggestions on how to resolve it (for example an international rule or division of the city to East and West sections), however, no one has had the courage or deemed it is the right time to take this big step.

The second point about the refugees goes straight into the heart of the issue and is possibly never properly explained in the mainstream media. The Palestinians demand justice for their people by allowing them to return to their houses, which they fled as part of the conflict. Even though many of the people are already dead, they deem their descendants have the right to return. On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable request, which would help the Palestinian feel that justice has been done and therefore accept a long-term settlement. However in reality this issue causes great concern to Israel and is much more complex.

In 1948 there were an estimated 7000,000 refugees that fled the land. In 2012 their descendants are estimated to be just under 5 million. If those 5 million return to Israel and therefore become citizens, the Arabs would immediately  become a political majority and Israel would cease to exist as a Jewish State. Therefore this request, which is often presented as a minor dispute over territory, in its current capacity trumps any talks, as land division would be meaningless, if Israel loses its Jewish majority and hence Jewish rule.

Once the Jews become a minority two scenarios are likely to occur. In the first scenario, the Arab rule will preside and Israel will become a country made of two major ethnic groups. Judging on the treatment of other religions such as Christianity in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries such as Egypt as well as the experience of the jews who have fled from Arab countries,  the future is looking very bleak. Especially with the recent re-birth of Islamic rule as a result of the Arab uprisings, which is sweeping the region.

The second scenario is that the Jews would maintain their rule and preserve their values. However, preserving their values and rules is compatible with being a minority in this situation, as one of the main values of Israel is a free democracy. In order for the Jews to preserve control, they would have to employ tactics of an Apartheid country, something which would find many opposers both internationally and at home.

The repercussions of the demographics on Israel may at times sound like a conspiracy theory, as there are some assumptions made such as all refugees would choose to return, all Arabs will vote the same…etc. However considering the military balance, whichgives Israel the upper hand inthe region, it is the Palestinians’ best prospect to regain control of the whole land. It is then no surprise that many of Israel’s harshest critics such as Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway and other Palestinian figures have abandoned the two state solution and are calling for a one state.

Since the Palestinian refugees right to return issue is far from being resolved, the prospect for an imminent peace is minimal if not non-existent. So, it is unlikely to be any progress, before the Palestinian leadership and the international community would address specifically what rights the Palestinian refugees should get, using as a basis the other refugees in the world, who have been settled after a conflict, possibly starting with the Jews who fled Arab countries.

UN Games: Iran, Russia, China and the Rest


This article was written nearly a month ago. It was not completed on time, so I decided not to post it. Having just re-read it, little progress has been made and it is still as relevant as always. So please disregard the time-bound events and hope you enjoy my analysis   

 

    This week Britain has seen some of the most horrific accidents on its roads. Slowly the news of a 34 car pileup with at least 7 dead started hitting the global news. From the initial reports it was hard to understand what had actually happened, however with this number of casualties, it did not matter, as this was already a tragedy.  From reports later it was assumed that the large scale accident was caused by a combination of heavy rain, poor visibility and a nearby firework display, which blew smoke onto the road.  Whether someone will actually be accused of negligence is yet to be seen, but it was through an apparently indirect event that this tragedy has happened and it is too late to undo it.

    In world politics and especially the Middle East, this chain of events is often observed. Almost always in politics a team of people could be found sitting in a back room running scenarios of cause-and-effect to ensure that decisions that are taken would serve certain interests, provided time allowing of course. However, despite this fact every now then an event transpires that sets off another. The Arab Spring is a great example of minor events taking place shaping others. The massive arms smuggled into Gaza from Libya, as a result of the instability of the Gaddafi regime is one. The severed Iran and Hamas relationship as a result of Syrian uprisings is another. Not only do those events destabilize the region with their unpredictability, but it is often hard to understand when they have finished, which makes an analysis impossible to do.

    While there are many of these indirect events taking place, there is currently one, which is possibly the most substantial. As expected, the most substantial event involve the most influential country in the Middle East, which in many respects is Iran. On the other side of this events are NATO countries headed by Israel and the USA. The surprising element (surprising to anyone who does not follow the events in the UN) is that the indirect cause of this major event is the actions of China and Russia.

    The background for this event has been in the headlines for some time, so it is no secret that Israel has been, somewhat unusually, trying out their long range missiles, running massive evacuation drills preparing for a missile attack as well as simulating, in Italy, fuelling in midair and attacking distant targets. To add to these events there has been much debate regarding whether attacking the nuclear plant in Iran should take place. The local reports in Israel give the impression of the government being in favour, while the previous heads of the Mossad and other security organization are against this assignment. Those who would have thought that the strong opposition of the security heads to this operation would mean this is a ‘no go’, should be reminded that a similar situation occurred in 1981, which resulted in the government pushing ahead and approving the execution of the bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq.

    There are many sceptics doubting Israel’s true intention to attack. These sceptics are claiming that this is clever politics intended to bring the Iranian situation back to the center of the Middle East, after a long break, in which the Arab Spring and the struggling regimes have taken center stage, allowing Iran to continue work away from the spotlight. This theory goes on to couple this event with the low status of Iran following the exposed assassination plot. It is worth mentioning that some suspect a conspiracy theory, concocted by Israel and the USA, which puts the entire authenticity of the assassination plot in question*.

    On the other side of the sceptics, there are some opinions warning of the window of opportunity closing on a military action taken against Iran. Some reports indicate that Iran is more advanced than previously believed. There are analyses indicating that the stuxnet virus released in the nuclear facility has not significantly damaged Iran’s capability. Other speculations are that Iran has made progress developing missiles to mount and launch an atomic bomb. Once you factor in the possibility of Iran moving their sensitive facilities into safer locations (underground facilities carved under mountains), add to that the potential of the weather during winter delaying any actions and the window of opportunities does seem to close rather quickly. Some of these speculations have been confirmed by the damning IAEA report released this week, which has been doubt showed that Iran’s intentions are anything but pure.

    Needless to say that any attack on Iran could quickly escalate into a full blown regional conflict, or as former CIA analyst, Riedel, put it “attack on Iran would ignite regional conflict from Gaza to Afghanistan ….”  Therefore as stated before by most Western players, it is generally believed that an attack should be the last option used. The other option available to the Western world is tougher sanctions, which would suffocate Iran economically, leading to either a rebellion within, toppling the government, or draining the funds used for the nuclear program. In fact, this option is also the favourite option by the heads of the military mentioned previously. This method is less risky and if military action has to be taken later, it would be easier to fight an economically weak Iran.

So why is this option not being pursued?

    This is where the indirect effect comes into play. There have currently been three rounds of sanctions past in the UN against Iran. Those sanctions have been proposed by the US and significantly watered down by China and Russia in exchange for not vetoing them in the Security Council. So while these sanctions were passed, their scope has been very limited, targeting only specific organizations whose link to the nuclear program has been established. This did not exclude China from trading with Iran in other areas, mainly oil, which has been keeping it afloat. In the next round of proposed sanctions the USA wishes to tighten the rope and disallow any trading with Iran’s central bank, which would essentially stop all foreign trading with Iran. If these sanctions are passed, it is very likely that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be abated, however, if those sanctions are watered down again and become ineffective, the current threat would remain on the cards.

    In the Middle East often things are said in the heat of the moment and are not followed through. For example, during the Palmer report leak and Israel’s refusal to apologize Erdogan made some game changing statements such as that Turkey would pursue to hound Israel down every UN route as well as send armed Turkish ships for any future flotilla heading to Gaza. So far there has been no significant impact in the UN and the 2 ships Flotilla, which arrived last week near the Israeli shore was not escorted and stopped as per the Navy procedure Israel said it would follow. Therefore, it is not unlikely to believe that Iran itself does not want a conflict and perhaps has now found itself in a difficult position. The Iranian regime could possibly be hoping to turn time back to a couple of years ago, when they had the option to accept the deal the US and Euro proposed, in which they would achieve their nuclear power aspirations by allowing the Uranium to be enriched in a different country. However that window has passed and perhaps explaining to their people that the dire economic situation in the past two years has been as a result of a badly calculated risk and could have been avoided all together, would have a worse impact on the longevity of the current regime than a well calculated military response.

     If Iran was indeed bluffing and would be looking to avoid an escalation of the situation, it should also lament the missed opportunity of the Obama administration’s initial policy revolving around reaching out and settling the differences, which for all intent and purposes has been rejected by Iran, by refusing to reach an agreement and continuing to advance its nuclear plan. It is clear that whichever way Iran chooses to take at this juncture would be harder than before and would require clever tactics as well as an element of risk taking.

    For the sake of the Iranian people it might be the lesser evil of two to have the Security Council impose tougher sanctions, as it might force the regime to do a complete policy change in regards to its nuclear program and make this whole episode go away until the conditions are in Iran’s favour again.

    Only time will tell whether Israel is serious regarding its intention to attack the Iranian nuclear sites, or whether Iran is willing to let this conflict escalate. Currently the most critical factor standing between a physical attack or not is the Russian and Chinese vote in the Security Council in the next few weeks. Hopefully the media will find the sense to dedicate enough attention to this event and therefore hold the entire Security Council and in particular China and Russia accountable for their vote and its direct and indirect consequences.

 

 

*I normally, do not include my own opinion in my blogs, however, it is worth mentioning that while I fully believe that timing is not a coincidence and governments are known to sit on bits of information until the right time to release them, I find it too farfetched that Israel and the USA would have this level of cooperation or that the US would fake an incident on this scale only to aide Israel, especially when Netanyahu’s government has not exactly been playing ball with the Obama administration.

Attack on Iran


    Every single person in the Western world should be somewhat concerned about the latest exchanges between Israel and Iran, as it might change things as we know them.  Now that military action in Libya is finished and the Arab League has managed to engage in some level of dialogue with Syria, the world attention is back to Iran and its nuclear program.  The timing or the decision of turning back to Iran is not a coincidence, rather, after every big change (i.e. change of government in Egypt, Libya, Syria) a vacuum is created and if the big players are not managed, they could move to fill this vacuum, in this case the fear is that Iran would advance on the newly formed regimes.

    What is surprising about the timing of the pressure being applied is that while one would expect more diplomatic pressure, it seems unusual to opt for a military strike, unless there is new information about the imminence of a threat. So far no new information has been provided or leaked to the public domain about Iran making a breakthrough in its nuclear capabilities, in fact reports suggest otherwise. It is assumed that the computer virus attack damaging the centrifuges, as well as the recent assassinations of key scientists and the economic sanctions are all slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.   

However, one must accept that not everything is in the public domain and not everything gets leaked. For example, the Western nations’ intelligence were sitting on information of Iran’s secret nuclear plan for months and it wasn’t until Iran realized that they have been found out that they “volunteered” that information. Another example is the bombing of the Syrian nuclear plant by Israel in 2007. There was no warning before, outside of the intelligence community, and it took time until the reports came through of what has actually taken place and why. So following that logic, it could be that Iran has decided to accelerate their nuclear plan. Perhaps it decided to make the nuclear breakthrough, in which Uranium is enriched to higher levels needed for a nuclear bomb in a relatively short amount of time. Possibly develop appropriate war heads to be able to mount a nuclear bomb on missiles. Or even just buy key components from other countries, which would provide immediate capabilities.

    Whatever is happening in the background, there are already symptoms showing on the ground. There have been reports of Israeli planes practicing manoeuvres in Italy, in which they bomb a distant location. As well as that air practice, Israel has launched a test missile today and has stepped up its drills to deal with the consequences of a massive missile attack to the heart of Israel.  It has also been reported that the US and British military are preparing for a possible attack by moving their navy vessels to strategic positions. On the other side, Iran has been quite defiant in its statements to the West, threatening a retaliation for any attack. The difference noted about these statements is that they were made by the head of the army, who has a direct reporting line to the superior leader. The controversial exposed plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat and carry out a terror attack, are also signs of Iran stepping up the pressure.

    It is possible that once again this is just a show of strength of both sides, which in reality would not be allowed to spill over. In fact, since this is already in the media, suggests that it is not genuine, as such an attack would undoubtedly benefit from the element of surprise. However, no reasonable person could look at the facts and claim that the threat of a conflict is not on the cards.

    If a strike does take place, there could be different outcomes. Due to Wikileaks, it is a known fact that some Arab countries around Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai are in favour of an attack. It is also known that the West has stepped up the pressure and no doubt that Israel is very much in favour of ridding Iran of nuclear power. Therefore, it is almost of little difference, who actually launches the attack as it is supported by most and the result would undoubtedly be the same, regardless of who pulls the trigger.

    If Iranian targets are attacked, it is assumed that it would rely on its proxies around the Middle East to launch an attack on American and Israeli targets. It is almost a given that Hezbollah and militant groups in Gaza would launch missiles into central cities in Israel (following the recent rift between Hamas and Iran, it would be interesting to see whether Hamas would launch missiles itself, look the other way, while the Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups do so, or distance itself from Iran and ensure the rocket fire is merely symbolic). Syria, which is Iran’s biggest ally in the region, normally does its military work via Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, it is not unlikely that due to the dire condition the government is in, would try to gain political power by positioning itself as a Muslim opposition to the attacks by the West and engage in the conflict in some capacity.

    Israel will clearly be impacted the most by this situation, however, this is a risk it is willing to take, as it knows that once Iran achieves nuclear weapon capabilities, it would be much worse off. Also, with the right level of cooperation of the attack, Israel would be able to take steps to protect itself from the proxies’ attacks and reduce the loss of life and property.

    The risks to this type of operation are plenty. The first risk is that the intelligence is not reliable enough. The Iraq war has taught the West that they do get it wrong sometimes and it is enough to underestimate Iran’s current capabilities or even to miss an important element of the program, which would be used following an attack to undermine the whole effort. The second risk could be a failure to execute the mission, from human error to uncalculated risks, if an attack is launched, but is not successful, this would carry a very heavy price. Another risk would be the conflict escalating. Although, no doubt that there will be a massive diplomatic effort along with the strike, it is not impossible that support for Iran would gather momentum in other Arab countries as well as perhaps inside European countries. The West would hope that at most only Shia Muslims may identify with Iran, which would reduce the risk to part of Iraq, which is already in turmoil or Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which do not really pose a threat. However, experience has shown that this could be seen as an East Vs. West or Christian/Jewish Vs. Muslim conflict and draw into it new stakeholders. Such a development might land another Iraq or Afghanistan, whereby the military battle is won, but constant insurgency is taking place (this time potentially on Western soil).

    It should be fair to say that the West is wary of war. The political agenda in most European countries is anti war. In all countries including the US there is a very strong leftist movement, which includes in its ranks high profile academics, artists, politicians and human rights activists, who continuously campaign against interference in the Middle East. Therefore any military action would include a political backlash. The timing is problematic also in the sense that the Western world and Europe, in particular, are going through an economic crisis. The current voter is a tough crowd to convince to invest what little money is available into a potential military conflict, when the threat is not so obvious and visible, especially, when the case put forward for Iraq in 2003 is still fresh and has a big negative impact.    

    Whether this attack will take place or not is still to be seen. Whether this attack is the right answer would become apparent, although possibly not immediately and possibly not conclusively. What is almost absolute is that this is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if executed perfectly, it is likely that the planning takes into consideration an attack on Israel as well as a backlash in the West. There is also no doubt that many in the West will criticize this action and offer many sinister interpretations as to why it has taken place. On the other hand, if the attack is to take place, it would potentially change the rules of the game. It is not unlikely that Iran would lose clout or even have a regime change. Also without Iran financing terror in the Middle East, Hamas might fall back to its less radical allies (Muslim Brotherhood), or that Syria and Hezbollah would become insignificant players. Or perhaps a new player would rise up to fill the void in the axis of evil. The West will no doubt go through some troubling economic times, as the oil price and availability would destabilize the markets.

      However, unless concrete foul motives behind the attack are revealed with time, one can safely assume that the people elected to lead, know more than they are telling and have decided that there is a threat great enough, which justifies an attack, in order to guarantee our security and way of life.

UN – Is it really the best we’ve got?


    Most of us in the Western world have learnt in school that the UN is an impartial global organization, where all countries get representation, which was formed after World War II for the purpose of providing a framework for talks between countries to ultimately prevent international conflicts.

   Grasping the work of the UN is not an easy task, as it is a convoluted organization made up from many offices, committees and specialized bodies. The major building blocks are the different departments most known are probably the General Assembly, Security Council and International Court of Justice (in the Hague). However it also includes the Secretariat, Economic and Social Council and Specialised Institutions. Under these departments operate numerous bodies, for example the Human Rights Council (HRC), World Food Program (WFP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and over ten more. In a similar way, there are councils under the other departments, such as the Military Staff Committee under the Security Council …etc. Working along the different parts of the UN are specialized bodies such as the famous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many more.

    It is not unreasonable to assume that anyone not working in the UN or studying the UN is unlikely to understand all the different bodies and where they are in the hierarchy. Since the mainstream media has to avoid reporting too much information or topics which lack interest, the result is scarce reporting on the UN. However despite the little reporting most understand the basic function of the UN, which is that different country delegations vote on decisions whether a topic should be researched and later whether it should be addressed and how. For example, the UN General Assembly could vote to deploy the World Food Programme on a hunger stricken country and later vote again to increase the budget, based on the WFP findings.

    The funding for the UN is made by its members and currently most of the budget comes from the US (22%), followed by Japan (12.5%), Germany (8%), UK (6%) …etc. The amount paid to the UN does not give the members any more power as all votes are equal, however there are 5 countries that wield the veto power in the Security Council (US, UK, Russia, France and China), which is an extremely powerful tool, as the recognition of countries and military actions are decided within that council.

    While the members of the UN are not elected in the same way as our local politicians and therefore do not have to campaign to the public and gather votes, unfortunately, it still relies on voting as a way of operating. As a consequence alliances and dirty politics to secure votes is still very much part of the game. It creates strange alliances not dissimilar to local politics, for example like the UK’s Liberal Democrats from the far left, who have joined power with right wing conservatives to gain a majority on votes in the coalition, despite Labour being the Liberal Democrats natural partner. Similar behaviour could be viewed in the UN, where different countries have created a voting coalition against a common “opponent”.

    While there is nothing illegal about the voting alliances, there is a lot to say about the morality, which is expected to be held at the UN and the consequential diversion from its goal. One of the most noticeable examples is the Human Rights Council, who managed to condemn the violence in Syria only on the 23rd of August, after over 1000 civilians were killed by the army. Strangely, China, Russia, Cuba and Ecuador still voted against the decision, while other countries insisted on the watering down of the condemnation, before agreeing to vote in favour. A look at the trading agreements and investment between the countries in question, may help to explain the dubious decision to vote against condemnation.

    Just as the UN various bodies are not immune from perversion of justice, accordingly they employ research bodies that follow their politics and do not always adhere to the highest professionalism. A famous case is Richard Falk and his bias against US and Israel politics, which despite outrages statements has not suffered any consequences. In the Op-Ed, in which Richard Goldstone has retracted some of the allegations made against Israel, he clearly stated that the research done was not thorough and contradicted facts that later became available through by other independant means.

    Another example of self-interest voting results in the repeated vilification of Israel in the UN. While Israel is a democracy defending itself with a relatively low number of deaths and numerous evidence of taking measures to protect civilian lives, it is routinely criticized in the UN. There is no argument that Israel should be criticized for mistakes and taken to court for deliberate wrongdoing, however, it is perplexing that so much emphasis is put on Israel, when there are so many tyrannies and conflicts around the world with a significantly higher death toll (refer to the table on this page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_military_conflicts).

    Other than the notoriously biased HRC there are plenty more examples of double standards in the UN and a deeper examination would reveal a clear pattern of a Communist-Arab block that repeatedly votes against Israel and the US, while protecting its members, often dictatorships allowing very little freedom. This alliance makes any vote doomed from the start, as the contents plays a small part, what matters is who is in the voting panel and who would benefit from the outcome.

    However despite the troubling politics, the UN is also responsible for a great deal of positive impact around the world through its organization such as the World Food Programme, UNICEF and others. The UN has funded many laudable ventures helping nations in need, as well as maintaining or preventing conflict.

    It is very important therefore to maintain the UN for all its good, but at the same time scrutinize it, as one should scrutinize any political body. The organization UN Watch (unwatch.org) has been extremely good at not letting some hypocrisy or controversy go unnoticed. However the difficulty of addressing or bettering the situation remains, since the delegates are not elected and little can be done to remove them.

    Only time will tell, whether the UN will make itself irrelevant by making unacceptable decisions prompting its funders to pull their money away and consequently its power would be diminished, or whether the changing of the world economics would bring new funders to the tables, which would ultimately change the tone of the UN accordingly. The third option of course is that delegates serving in different bodies, would vote based on the values the committees demand them to uphold and leave their country politics behind, however this looks like the most unlikely scenario.

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.