The Mideast Crisis – deja-vu?

Claude Salhani

First published in The Arab Weekly

Although part of what’s happening in Iraq is eerily reminiscent of the events leading up to the 2003 US inva­sion, the subsequent occupation of the country and the sectarian divisions that followed, the threat itself has evolved into a more frightful enemy with a far deadlier arsenal.

Indeed, a number of intelli­gence officials have shown great concern at the possibility that the Islamic State (ISIS) may be in possession of elements that would allow it to go nuclear.

Of course, at this point, this all seems to be guesswork as nobody really knows what’s going on in the regions controlled by ISIS.

Is the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) true?

The “other” Axis of Evil — George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively former US president, vice-presi­dent and secretary of Defense — proved that if you inject the right doses of fear among the popu­lace, it will give you the right to get away with murder — quite literally.

In fact, Iraq Body Count, a non-profit organisation that has been keeping meticulous records of violent deaths in Iraq since the start of the US invasion, has recorded the deaths of 219,000. Add to that 6,900, the number of US service personnel.

Members of the George W. Bush administration took every opportunity to feed the monster and raise the level of hype and fear to obtain a green light for the project. Those included the presentation at the UN Security Council by then secretary of State Colin Powell and the blind support offered to the Bush administration by then British prime minister Tony Blair.

There was much talk then, as there is now, of “dirty” bombs and how easy it could be for the Iraqi leadership of the time to target any city in the world. All they needed was an old suitcase and an airline ticket. They had no need for perfected delivery rockets or missiles. So all this talk about Iran having the capability… Yeah, but that’s another story altogether.

Hold on a minute. The whole concept behind the US invasion of Iraq, so we were told, was to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction. And now we are back where we started, only with a fairly large disadvantage.

If memory serves well, there were hundreds of UN special inspectors running up and down the country, chased by CNN, looking practically in Saddam’s closets, under his bed and digging up trenches hither and yonder? And they came up with zilch, nada, rien, nothing.

Now we are being told that the newest threat to the region comes from those very same WMDs.

Either they think we are downright idiotic and that we will buy into the Weapons of Mass Destruction Ploy, Part Two, or we are idiots for buying into the Weapons of Mass Destruction Ploy, Part Two.

This is somewhat confusing at best, either there were WMDs or there weren’t. If there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then why did the Americans not find any and if there weren’t any then where is ISIS getting them from?

Several Western intelligence and some high-ranking members of the armed forces fear that ISIS is in possession of enough radioac­tive material to put together at least one dirty bomb.

For the benefit of readers who might not be up to par on their terrorism lexicon, a dirty bomb is nuclear waste particles wrapped around conventional explosives. The immediate result is an explosion that leaves the site with nuclear contamination for decades. If such a bomb were placed in Manhattan, for example, it would contaminate large portions of the island, rendering it uninhabitable.

The one certainty this time around is there is no need to convince anyone about the need to remove ISIS as a threat.


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No respite for Syrians and Kurds

By Claude Salhani

If one plays devil’s advocate, one can find just as many reasons sustaining a coun­terargument, that along with the deal signed between the P5+1 regarding Iran’s nuclear aspirations in return for the West lifting sanctions on Iran, both Washington and Tehran made concessions. Washington’s concession could have been to allow Iran a free hand in Syria and Lebanon in return for Iran promising to lay off enriched uranium for a decade, for exam­ple.

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Bashar’s real problems start now

By Claude Salhani

Frederic C. Hof, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, recently wrote a column in which he asks whether Syria has been ‘’sold” to Iran. By that he means whether a deal was struck between Washington and Tehran where the Syrians are the losers. Hof then goes on to answer his own question, explaining why this is unlikely, giving a sundry list of reasons why.

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Syrian civil war inches towards Turkey

By Claude Salhani

When the civil war began in earnest in Syria and outside forces started to interfere supporting one side or the other, Bashar Assad, at that point still a novice in the finer points of conducting war against one’s own people, issued a warning to the international community. Basi­cally what he said was along the lines of hell would spread to the rest of the region if the civil war was allowed to continue.

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Imagine the dividends of peace …

By Claude Salhani

(Note: this article was first published in January 2009)

This article may be somewhat premature, but it is never too early to dream of peace.

Imagine a Middle East without strife – and imagine what the people of the region could achieve if conflict was not omnipresent.

Imagine if billions upon billions of dollars currently being wasted on defense budgets in the combined countries of the region was invested instead in the advancement of social welfare, in encouraging businesses, and stimulating the sciences.

Consider the leaps and bounds that could be made in research and development in technology and medicine if the best brains in the Middle East could work for the benefit of the people of the region instead of looking for ways to emigrate to America and other greener pastures, as is currently the case affecting faculty members from the universities at Ain Shams to Yarmouk and from Beirut to Tel Aviv.

Think of what the tourism industry could offer with its temperate climates most of the year. When Europe is freezing in the dead of winter, depression and suicide rates climb to their highest point in northern Europe. When the sun is visible for just a few hours a day, if that, the beaches of Beirut, Tel Aviv and Gaza — only a couple of hours by plane from any European country — can be very enticing and affordable.

Imagine a vast industrial zone established in Gaza where labor is abundant, easy to train and inexpensive — and where European and U.S. car manufacturers can open assembly plants and textile mills to market their products in the Middle East and Africa and beyond.

Imagine Christian pilgrims looking to follow in the footsteps of the great prophets, traveling unhindered from Israel to Palestine to Jordan to Syria and to Lebanon. Imagine Muslim pilgrims doing the same from Mecca and Medina to Karbala, Jerusalem and Qom.

Imagine a Middle East without refugees! Where the camps of shame — now 67 years in existence, and where second- and now third-generation refugees are still squatting amid rancor and misery — no longer exist.

Imagine those camps replaced by decent, modern and comfortable tenements with all the amenities of modern life. Where the idle youth who were once only too happy to be offered an AK-47, a monthly stipend consisting of a few hundred dollars, along with unlimited prestige that accompanied the uniform of a “freedom fighter” — and nothing else, let alone hope for a better future — can now aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.

Give them a taste of what life should be like, then take a head count to see how many remain in line for suicide missions.

But amidst all this hate and killing that is going on today the following question can be asked: Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? The answer is simple: yes, there will be one day peace in the Middle East, the day the antagonists in the Middle East will agree on peace is when the love they have for their children outgrows the hate they harbor for their enemies.

 

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Will the ‘caliphate’ be around a year from now? I

by Claude Salhani
It has been a year since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), changed his name to Ibrahim and declare himself caliph of the Islamic caliphate on lands belonging to two established states — Iraq andSyria. The franchise has since expanded to many other places in the region.  By ignoring international
frontiers, ISIS basically has voided the Sykes-Picot agreement that established the
borders of the Middle East at the close of World War I.But then ISIS is trying to wipe
the region’s geopolitical slate clean. It is establishing new parameters in which all is
permitted, including removal of borders and ethnic and sectarian cleansing that tries to implement a totalitarian and fanatical vision of the world.
Until now, the various groups fighting for power in the region tended to respect old borders.That is no longer the case. The region’s map is being fundamentally challenged. States of the region can lay claim to other countries’ territories. Minorities,
too. Before too long, they are all likely to do so.
With very few independent media reports coming out of the region held by ISIS, it is difficult to offer a precise idea of what day-to-day life is like for those living there. The few reports that have filtered out tell of horrifying cruelty and atrocities, especially
against women and minorities. It is incredible that such brutality and backwardness can be presented as a possible way of life.The leaders of ISIS claim they are imposing the purest interpretation of Islam.
They are in reality trying to impose an anachronistic andvicious vision of the faith that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, who yearn for peaceful coexistence and progress. The Islamic caliphate self-servingly picks and chooses
what aspects of modern life it can accept. While it declares itself the nemesis of modernity, it does not shy away from using and abusing the internet to shock and horrify worldwide audiences and put forward its nihilistic ideas. It spends millions of dollars on the latest cinematography equipnt to depict its barbaric behaviour.
In its propaganda videos, ISIS shows prisoners being forced to repeat the slogan “the Islamic State is here to stay”. Whether the so-called caliphate is around for a second…
anniversary will depend on to what extent the world faces up to this threat. It will depend in particular on the ability of Muslims to deprive this dangerous phenomenon of all legitimacy and support.
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This is WW III

By Claude Salhani

We are at war; of that there is no doubt. In fact, we are in the midst of a world war; yet we fail to realise this because this war is unlike anything we have previ­ously experienced. And by “we” I mean all civilised nations that are either engaged or will become engaged in the fight against the group calling itself the Islamic State.

This war is different because it is being fought simultaneously not only on different fronts but on dif­ferent planes.

First, the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) is being fought in a conventional manner but not entirely so.

The difference in this war is that the front lines are fluid and the enemy is in multiple locations. There are overt and cov­ert aspects to this war.

Second, this is an asymmetrical war being fought by principals but also by proxies, with parties chang­ing side while the allegiance of others remains unclear.

Third, this is still very much a war against terrorism. On June 26th terrorist attacks occurred in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. The Tunisia attack at a seaside resort left 38 dead and more than 40 wounded, made hundreds of tour­ists run for the airport, cancelling remaining holiday time, and in all certainty dampened the country’s tourism trade for the next two to five years.

The attack in Kuwait targeted a Shia mosque, killing more than two dozen people and will very likely aggravate community rela­tions. In the attack in France one man was beheaded.

And fourth, this war is also being fought on the world wide web, as the internet has become a valuable place where hearts and minds can be addressed and recruited.

This type of four-pronged con­flict has never before been expe­rienced, and it is forcing conven­tional armies to rethink how they approach conflict.

However, ISIS may have contrib­uted directly to its eventual demise partially due to its arrogance and perhaps overconfidence.

With the establishment of the so-called caliphate, ISIS now has a return address — and that is its Achilles heel. Al-Qaeda was op­posed to establishing the caliphate before the United States was defeated because its leaders knew the United States would intervene. ISIS chose to ignore that threat and ploughed ahead and is paying the price for it.

As for defeating ISIS, someone needs to take the lead and, as the remaining superpower, the job be­falls on the United States, though this is unlikely to happen unless there is strong leadership in the White House, which is lacking.

Current political differences with Moscow need to be put on the back burner while the ISIS threat is ad­dressed. Let there be no doubt of the magnitude of the task ahead. The bloody events of June 26th showed that despite suffering a military setback with the loss of Tal Abyad to Kurdish forces, ISIS was still able to devote time and resources to carry out the Tunisia, Kuwait and France attacks.

These attacks raise many more questions than there are answers for. In an act of defiance ISIS had announced its intention to com­mit terrorist acts during the holy month of Ramadan.

Authorities were expecting attacks. Why did ISIS succeed? Unless authorities have advance knowledge of where and when something is planned, generic threats are hard to act upon.

Why were Tunisia and Kuwait targeted? Probably because they are the most liberal Arab countries in their respective region.

Tunisia is the only success story to emerge from the “Arab spring” disaster. It is the antitheses of what ISIS stands for. And probably facilitating the focus on Tunisia is the fact that about 3,000 Tunisians have joined the ranks of the terror­ist organisation.

Which raises more questions: Why? And how can the European Union and the United States help Tunisia?

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President Palin? God help us

Please note this is a repeat of an article first published in 2008

 

By Claude Salhani

November 3, 2008

The gossip around Washington these days compares Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to a ‘post turtle’. Not familiar with the term? Don’t worry, most urban folks aren’t.

Say you’re driving in the countryside and you see a turtle sitting on a post. First, you know it didn’t get there by itself. Second, you know it doesn’t belong up there. Third, it doesn’t know what to do while it’s up there. And fourth, you wonder what kind of dumb-ass put it up there to begin with.
The frightening reality is that this ‘post turtle’ could end up being the next vice president of the United States of America. Even more worrying is that she could also be president.

Republicans, or at least the ones who placed Palin on the post, believe she is highly qualified for the job. The reason is that she is so politically hollow inside that she can easily be molded by the neocons. Think Bush II, but far easier to influence and control. In defending Palin many Republicans have said she is qualified for the vice presidency (and therefore possibly the presidency, especially when the president is 72 years old and has a history of heart problems) because “she lives next door to Russia.”
Republican Party big shots and their supporters have gone on record with that statement, as unbelievable as it might sound; Fox News was the first to announce that Sarah Palin was knowledgeable in foreign affairs because “she is right up there in Alaska right next door to Russia.”
Frank Gaffney, a syndicated columnist, said that Palin has picked up foreign policy “by osmosis” as a result of Alaska’s geographic location.
The governor’s office in Alaska’s capital Juneau, where Palin works, is about 1,230 miles from the closest point in Russia. My office for the good part of the last 15 years was only 0.19 miles from the White House. Does that qualify me for the presidency? At least I could actually see the White House from my office.
Still, McCain’s wife, Cindy, told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that “Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. It’s not as if she doesn’t understand what’s at stake here.” Appearing on ABC’s Charlie Gibson, being questioned about Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience, McCain was asked if in all honesty he could feel confident having on board someone who is as green in international affairs (about the only time anyone is likely to call Palin “green”) as his running mate. Until a year ago Palin had never applied for a passport or traveled outside the United States.
McCain replied that one of the key elements to America’s national security requirements are energy and that Palin “understands the energy issues better than anybody I know in Washington, D.C., and she understands Alaska is right next to Russia. She understands that.”
Hmmm.
Well, glad she got the geography part right, ‘cause she sure flunked in economics. When asked by CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric how the $700 billion economic bailout package the Bush administration and Congress negotiated would help taxpayers, this is how she replied: “What the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed, to help shore up our economy, helping… oh, it’s got to be all about job creation too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track, so health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reduction and tax relief for Americans and trade, we have to see trade as opportunity not as competitive, scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we’ve got to look at that as more opportunity, all those things under the umbrella of job creation, this bail out is a part of that.”
Wow! Yes, she sure is ready.
Kathleen Parker, a well-respected conservative columnist had this to say in the National Review website after watching the interview: “A candidate who is clearly out of her league,” adding that “If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street by herself.”
Just how clueless Palin is and how controlled she is by her Republican minders was made all the more obvious in the vice presidential debate where it was more than obvious that the governor of Alaska was getting immediate feedback and directives on her portable telephone via text messaging.
I wonder if the fact that Governor Palin “lives next door to Russia” will facilitate any dealing she may have with the Machiavellis of foreign politics? How would she stand up to negotiators with such as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer?
The Palin saga has of course has provided late night talk shows with a gold mine of ammunition. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show cut to the chase, describing a Fox News commentator who supported the “living close to Russia” thesis as a “moron.”
Steve Benan, writing in the Washington Monthly described it as “the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard.”
“Palin and McCain are a good pair,” said the Tonight Show’s Jay Leno. “She’s pro-life and he’s clinging to life.”

 

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The dark side of migration

by Claude Salhani

Despondency, despair and disillusion. Those feelings, combined with the absolute realisation that the future is not about to improve, regardless of which tyrant, despot or dictator is in power, is what drives tens of thousands of men, women and children into uncertain migration and into the belly of an ugly beast called human greed.

Running away from economic disasters or civil wars, searching for peaceful streets and a pay cheque at the end of the month, illegal migrants face Herculean challenges on the level of a Greek odyssey.

They set out facing some of na­ture’s harshest challenges, having to cross jungles or deserts, carrying all their worldly goods in a small suitcase. According to many who survived the trip, often what little they do have, they are obliged to abandon along the way. Often, if what they carry has any value, it may end up being stolen. There have been numerous reports of women being sexually abused.

And when they finally manage to slip past border guards and military patrols and make it to the coast of Libya – the current preferred desti­nation for embarkation to Europe — it’s often at this point in the journey that the real dangers begin. From discrete harbours in North Africa the next step requires the migrant to buy a seat on one of the many vessels used for that purpose.

The price they are charged to cross the Mediterranean represents, for many, their life savings and sometimes they borrow from fellow villagers back home.

It is at this point in the voyage that they face some of the most serious and danger­ous challenges: Dealing with modern-day pirates and human traffickers who have absolutely no scruples. The migrants are seen as merchandise to be trans­ported.

The cost per person is about $10,000- $15,000 for a place on an overcrowded and unseaworthy vessel to take them across the Mediterranean.

These greediest of hu­man traffickers have no qualms of dumping entire families into the sea. The nationality of the migrants of the day depends largely on which country is presently undergoing in­ternal strife, civil war or some other major catastrophe.

And still they come. Every week we hear of dozens, of hundreds, of illegal immigrants dying as they try to make their way to Europe and what they hope will be a better world. Many make it, many, how­ever, do not.

Recently up to 900 African mi­grants might have perished when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. Yet for those, like many oth­ers before them and just like many others who will follow, the choice is to remain in their home country facing unemployment, uncertainty and possible death. Alternatively they can embark upon a dangerous voyage and the possible reward of a better life on the other end. It is a gamble many choose to make.

The horror stories of those dying along the way do not seem to deter or even slow the migration drive from Africa to Europe.

The trail of dead bodies, of shat­tered lives and stories of sorrow that stretch across the African con­tinent to the shores of Tripoli and the thousands of those who end up at the bottom of the Mediterranean does not seem to deter others from trying. Everybody believes their luck will fare better. Some do and some don’t.

The 900 souls who died in the Mediterranean in mid-April can be counted among the “lucky ones”. There were enough survivors to relate their tragedy. Think of the many who perished and who no­body knows about.

What is tragic about this is that it is no longer shocking. Nor is it frightening enough to deter oth­ers from following the trail of sorrow and death that treks across Africa to the coasts of Libya or Morocco.

Italian authorities said approximate­ly 8,500 migrants had been rescued at sea from April 10th and 12th. Italian authori­ties say more than 15,000 migrants have reached land so far in 2015. There were 15,000 in April alone last year and an average of 25,000 each month from June through September.

Regrettably, people smuggling remains a lucrative business.

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Kerry throws Assad a major victory

– – Tuesday, March 17, 2015

News of Secretary of State John Kerry stating that the United States needs to talk to Syrian President Bashar Assad must have been received in Damascus with as much jubilation as a July 4th party in middle America. After years of being ignored by most of the international community, of being shunned and considered a political pariah, Assad must have been astonished to see Washington suddenly reverse the tables. And all it took was a short phrase from the Secretary of State.

“We have to talk to Assad,” said Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry’s statement carries importance because it gives the Syrian president a new dose of legitimacy that he badly needed. Mr. Assad had become a political outcast. Neither Washington nor London nor Paris would talk to him. In fact, not only would they not talk to him, but they were trying to remove him from power.

Now these few words could possibly change everything and certainly not for the better. To begin, it will upset several U.S. Middle Eastern allies, primarily Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two key actors in the current conflict.

“I can’t find the appropriate words to express my anger at Kerry’s last stance,” said Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, someone who is rarely, if ever, at a loss of words.

Secretary Kerry’s actions clearly demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Middle East and how things are done there.  His statement sets the pace back several years and will instill uncertainty and even further mistrust of the United States amongst a number of groups in the opposition that were supported by Washington.

“Kerry is desperately muddling through the Middle East grasping at straws in order to win some positive praise for himself, first, and Obama second. Kerry may want a white feather to wave while pursuing another run and president, and Obama no doubt is looking for another unearned ‘peace prize,’” said Robert Jordan, a retired major from the U.S. Marine Corps who has served in the Middle East.

One Middle East observer summed up the situation by saying that Mr. Kerry’s short phrase — those little six words – has basically wiped out the chances of the Democrats winning the next presidential election.

This statement could also prove to be counter-productive in more than one way, as its consequences will have an impact on the ground in Syria as it will undoubtedly frighten some rebel groups who will become fearful of the government reclaiming the upper hand in the conflict. This would push them into bed with the extremists of the Jabhat-al-Nusra, or even more frightening with those of the Islamic State. That would make the IS even stronger than it currently is.

The outcome of such an unholy alliance would in turn be far more deadly for the pro-democracy forces and the Western power and would in turn possibly expand the danger level on neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine and ultimately, would present a raised level of danger for Israel.

As the civil war in Syria progressed the U.S. and its Western allies, as well as Turkey and several Arab countries pushed for the removal of Mr. Assad, yet the Syrian president held on to power refusing to budge and that, despite the staggering number of casualties. International organizations estimate the number of killed in the four-year war has surpassed the 290,000, while the number of wounded hovers around the one million mark.

“We have to talk to Assad,” said the U.S. chief diplomat. Those six little words have drew statements of anger and surprise from many who hoped that a coordinated policy would finally remove Assad from power.

Secretary Kerry and presumably his boss, President Obama, fail to realize just how damaging those six little words can be, and will be. With those little six words U.S. political credibility — or what was left of it — went down a couple of notches in the Arab world today.

As far as political gaffes go, this was indeed a major one and the consequences will be felt in the weeks, months and years to come.

For weeks on end the Obama administration had failed to say anything about the war in Syria and were criticized for failing to have a coherent policy, or even a policy. Now that they have spoken it would have perhaps been far better if they had remained silent.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/mar/17/claude-salhani-kerry-throws-assad-major-victory/#ixzz3UggSUJfL
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