Photos of the Lebanon War

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The cruel image of war

By Claude Salhani

If truth is the first casualty of war, children are a very close second.

The advent of the modern media — the constant bombardment of information, the 24-hour channels and the internet with hundreds of websites offering news from all perspectives along with social media — has rendered many people almost immune to the harshness and the realities of war. Chronicling the violence of conflicts has become so common that we hardly flinch at the monstrosities unfolding on our television screens, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

However, every so often there emerges an image — a single image — that makes us pause and reflect. A particular photograph that succeeds in capturing a fraction of an instant, the fraction of a second in the immense drama, giving us a very brief aperçu into the insanity and the cruelty of war. If you have any doubts about how cruel war can be, especially on children, take a good look at the image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh.

This image of another Syrian boy, identified as Omran, shows him moments after he was rescued from the rubble of a building in Aleppo that was destroyed by aerial bombardment by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad or Russian warplanes.

What is particularly gripping about this image is the look on the boy’s face. Omran’s eyes are focusing off into space. He is quite possibly reliving in his mind the horror of what he just lived through; playing back memories of events that just occurred, reliving the horrendous sound of warplanes sweeping over the city, the sound of rockets fired, the explosions, a tremendous bang, death knocking on his door, the smoke, the dust, the building collapsing around him. The cries of pain from the wounded around him and the eerie silence of those killed.

The young boy who has become overnight an iconic symbol of Syria’s tragedy has the same look in his eyes found in many soldiers after a particularly vicious battle. As with the previous image of the tortured Syrian youth, there will be many calls for an end to the violence, regretfully a call that will very likely also be ignored.

Earlier in the Syrian civil war, there was the unforgettable image of Aylan Kurdi, an innocent 3-year-old Syrian whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey. That image moved the world to tears and led to cries for greater efforts to stop the war in Syria, a war that has driven nearly a quarter of the country’s population into exile, claimed the lives of some 450,000 people and maimed possibly more than 2 million others.

Well, the war did not stop, the fighting continues and now there emerges another iconic moment from the madness of this conflict, now in its fifth year.

Much like the picture of the boy who drowned, the heart-wrenching pictures of young Omran, showing him moments after his rescue, his face and body covered with dust and dirt, will undoubtedly raise new calls for cessation of the fighting and killing.

Worldwide reactions to Omran Daqneesh’s picture tell us something fundamental: Even after hundreds of thousands of deaths, the picture of one single casualty in Syria’s bloody war can still move us. That’s probably the only glimmer of hope in the tragedy.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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Omran Daqneesh’s message

1By Claude Salhani

If truth is the first casualty of war, children are a very close second.

The advent of the modern media — the constant bombardment of information, the 24-hour channels and the internet with hundreds of websites offering news from all perspectives along with social media — has rendered many people almost immune to the harshness and the realities of war. Chronicling the violence of conflicts has become so common that we hardly flinch at the monstrosities unfolding on our television screens, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

However, every so often there emerges an image — a single image — that makes us pause and reflect. A particular photograph that succeeds in capturing a fraction of an instant, the fraction of a second in the immense drama, giving us a very brief aperçu into the insanity and the cruelty of war. If you have any doubts about how cruel war can be, especially on children, take a good look at the image of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh.

This image of another Syrian boy, identified as Omran, shows him moments after he was rescued from the rubble of a building in Aleppo that was destroyed by aerial bombardment by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad or Russian warplanes.

What is particularly gripping about this image is the look on the boy’s face. Omran’s eyes are focusing off into space. He is quite possibly reliving in his mind the horror of what he just lived through; playing back memories of events that just occurred, reliving the horrendous sound of warplanes sweeping over the city, the sound of rockets fired, the explosions, a tremendous bang, death knocking on his door, the smoke, the dust, the building collapsing around him. The cries of pain from the wounded around him and the eerie silence of those killed.

The young boy who has become overnight an iconic symbol of Syria’s tragedy has the same look in his eyes found in many soldiers after a particularly vicious battle. As with the previous image of the tortured Syrian youth, there will be many calls for an end to the violence, regretfully a call that will very likely also be ignored.

Earlier in the Syrian civil war, there was the unforgettable image of Aylan Kurdi, an innocent 3-year-old Syrian whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey. That image moved the world to tears and led to cries for greater efforts to stop the war in Syria, a war that has driven nearly a quarter of the country’s population into exile, claimed the lives of some 450,000 people and maimed possibly more than 2 million others.

Well, the war did not stop, the fighting continues and now there emerges another iconic moment from the madness of this conflict, now in its fifth year.

Much like the picture of the boy who drowned, the heart-wrenching pictures of young Omran, showing him moments after his rescue, his face and body covered with dust and dirt, will undoubtedly raise new calls for cessation of the fighting and killing.

Worldwide reactions to Omran Daqneesh’s picture tell us something fundamental: Even after hundreds of thousands of deaths, the picture of one single casualty in Syria’s bloody war can still move us. That’s probably the only glimmer of hope in the tragedy.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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The culture of violence and death is self-defeating

By Claude Salhani

The Arab Weekly

The news has been rather depressing with the scale of violence reaching frightening propor­tions. And then there is Turkey, a country that was on the brink of becoming a fully fledged democracy slowly sliding into the abyss of dictatorship.

One may ask what has Turkey’s worrisome slide from democratic to autocratic rule have to do with the rise of Islamist terrorism? For the moment perhaps nothing but given time and a continued uncertain situation on the ground things can change and they often do. Short of a military coup the situation might only worsen. Oh yes, a coup was tried but failed.

The depressing fact is not so much the number of people killed in possible terrorism-related attacks. It is rather the selection of those killed and the manner in which they were killed. The underlying message that radical Islamists want to send to the West is that nowhere is safe.

The horrifying feats to which jihadist terrorists can lay claim include the killing of a Catholic priest in France and what stands out as the most barbaric action undertaken by the Islamic State (ISIS) is the report from the so-called caliphate of the burning alive of a 2-year-old child along with her parents for attempting to leave a town under its control.

How in the world can one justify such actions?

The sad thing about this violence is that it is gratuitous and serves no real purpose other than to reinforce the determination of the civilised world that such a culture of death and destruction can have no place among the community of nations. It is not the killings of the innocent that will bring about the demise of Western countries and Western civilisation or culture.

In ISIS’s case, the use of violence will only help bring about its demise.

Having been noted in the past for its aberrations that caused human suffering, the self-declared Islamic State has taken the notch up another point or two. There has been the usual or perhaps we should say more than the usual spate of killings.

ISIS has grabbed headlines by investing heavily in propaganda. Its leadership wants to make sure that executions are taped, recorded and filmed.

In Turkey it is another sort of terror that is instilling fear in the hearts of many Turks. Thousands of people are being arrested in Turkey with the excuse by the government of reacting to the failed military coup.

After arresting thousands of military personnel, thousands more from the education field, scores of judges and basically anybody the country’s president wants to remove from the political arena, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now targeting journalists. More than 40 journalists were detained by Turkish police in the wave of arrests following the coup.

Then there is the talk about bringing back the death penalty, something to which the Europeans were quick to react, telling Turkey that such actions would settle the question of it joining the European Union once and for all: it would never be allowed to join the European Union if the death penalty was reinstated. Indeed, reinstating the death penalty would be sentencing to death Turkey’s hope of one day joining Europe.

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ISIS on the rampage

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

A slew of terrorist activities — from running people over to bombings, shootings and knifing bystanders — in numerous cities across Europe and the Muslim world has killed more than 400 people and wounded many more in what some observers say may indicate that the Islamic State (ISIS) is changing tactics.

That change comes amid multiple defeats for the jihadist group on conventional fronts in recent weeks.

Reports from Western intelli­gence sources said ISIS has suffered as much as a 25% loss of territory it had grabbed in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of Arab, European and North American forces on one side of the battle in Syria and Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces on the other have pounded ISIS positions with devastating effect.

Despite the large numbers of volunteers who have flooded to ISIS’s self-declared caliphate — many who made their way from Europe and Central Asia, espe­cially from the Caucasus — the group has been in retreat.

Establishing a physical address rather than remaining in the shadows was a major point of contention between ISIS, which was eager to establish a territory, and al-Qaeda, which also wanted to create a caliphate but opted for a more cautious approach.

Facing defeat after defeat, ISIS chose to launch its terror cam­paign far beyond its borders. Eleven cities in the Arab world and beyond have been hit since the start of the holy month of Ramadan as ISIS expanded its geographic presence and reach.

The result — at least until ISIS is completely neutralised — is bad news for Europe and the Middle East, as experts predict more terrorist attacks to come. Attacks against civilian targets with the aim of causing large numbers of casualties, such as the attack in the French resort city of Nice or the shoot-out in a Munich shopping mall, seem to be the new ISIS tactic, although some observers fear economic and strategic installations, such as the oil industry, could also be potential targets.

Recently, however, it has been gatherings of people that have been chosen as targets. One of the most deadly attacks was in Baghdad where about 300 were killed when a truck bomb was set off in a commercial centre crowded with people shopping for Ramadan. ISIS claimed responsibility.

In Jordan, a suicide car bomb struck a Jordanian Army post along the Syrian border, killing seven soldiers in the worst attack in the kingdom in years. ISIS claimed to be responsible for the attack.

Yemen suffered a string of attacks in the southern port city of Mukalla, killing 43 people. The majority of the victims were intelligence and security offi­cials. A group closely affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility.

In Lebanon, five people died when three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a small Chris­tian Lebanese village on the border with Syria.

In Turkey, three bombers armed with automatic weapons went on a rampage in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 44 people and wounding 150 others. The perpetrators were a Russian, an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz with links to ISIS.

In Malaysia, a grenade thrown outside a bar in Kuala Lumpur wounded eight people watching a football game.

In Bangladesh, gunmen armed with automatic rifles and knives attacked patrons at an expensive restaurant in Dhaka and took 35 people hostage. They ended up killing 20 — nine Italians and seven Japanese among them. According to witnesses, the gunmen released Muslims but tortured those unable to recite the Quran. ISIS claimed responsi­bility for the attack.

In Indonesia, the most popu­lous Muslim country, a suicide bomber struck outside a police station in Solo, Java.

In Orlando, Florida, a gunman killed 49 people in a crowded gay nightclub, in the worst mass shooting in modern US history. The gunman, according to law enforcement officials, claimed he was “a soldier of the caliphate” acting on behalf of ISIS. It is far more likely that he was mentally deranged.

In Saudi Arabia, suicide bombers struck in three cities, including outside the mosque in Medina where the Prophet Mohammad is buried, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Four security guards were killed. Just outside the US consulate in Jeddah, two security guards were wounded in an attack. Nobody claimed responsibility for the Saudi attacks, leaving open to speculation that these were home-grown and not coordinated by ISIS.

Whatever its new tactics may be, ISIS remains the most ruthless terror organisation in history.

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France has become primary European target for ISIS

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

The ignoble act that marred Bastille Day festivities in the south­ern French resort city of Nice claimed more than 80 lives when a lorry was driven into a crowd of people celebrating French National Day. The driver was identified as a 31-year-old French- Tunisian resident of Nice. He was shot and killed by police trying to stop the carnage.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. How­ever, knee-jerk reaction would be to suspect this could be the work of jihadists who have carried out a number of attacks in France as well as in neighbouring Belgium.

France has been under a state of emergency since the November terrorist attacks in Paris and one of the first questions raised follow­ing the attack in Nice is how was a truck allowed near such a large crowd? Crowds had gathered on the seafront Promenade des Anglais to watch fireworks celebrating Bastille Day.

Understandably, tensions will run high in this great city and throughout France. Chances are innocent Arab citizens of France, or legal residents, who have absolute­ly no sympathy for the murderous thug who carried out the attack, could suffer harassment and abuse.

We owe that much to the memory of the victims of the Bastille Day massacre not to wrongfully accuse people just because of their faith or the colour of their skin. The result of such behaviour would only wedge a further gap between com­munities across the country. This would grant terrorists a dividend they do not deserve.

French police forces will be stretched thin in the weeks to come, making it easier for people whose aim is to create chaos to act out their intentions. France’s political leadership must not lose track of who the real enemy is and not give further satisfaction to those who wish to create mayhem in Europe by allowing mob justice to take place. As a first step, French President François Hollande said he would deploy units of the French Army.

The attack in Nice, much like the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, establishes a sombre landmark in the history of terror­ism. As the terrible incidents played out in southern France the night of July 14th have shown, terrorists no longer require aeroplanes to kill people in large numbers, when this can be done using a simple truck.

This is one of the most barbaric modus operandi used by a terrorist.

Focus must be given at the high­est levels on how to eradicate this disease at the source. This means concentrated efforts by intelligence services — domestic and interna­tional — combined with tactical military action when needed in conjunction with international and Arab leaders. Many of these leaders had to deal with terrorism in their own countries and were unanimous in condemning the attack.

A statement from al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s leading centre of learning, said the “vile terrorist attack” con­tradicted Islam and called for “unit­ing efforts to defeat terrorism and rid the world of its evil.” Tunisia denounced the attacker, whom po­lice said held joint French-Tunisian citizenship, as having committed an act of “extreme cowardice” and expressed solidarity with France against the “scourge of terrorism”.

Shawki Allam, a prominent Egyptian Muslim cleric, vigorously castigated the assailant, saying: “People who commit such ugly crimes are corrupt of the Earth and follow in the footsteps of Satan… and are cursed in this life and in the hereafter.” The six Gulf Arab states issued a joint statement “strongly” condemning the “terrorist” act in Nice.

Saudi Arabia denounced the “heinous terrorist” act, adding that it stands in “solidarity” with France and would “cooperate with it in confronting terrorist acts in all their forms”.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: “This heinous terrorist crime makes it imperative for all to work decisively and without hesitation to counter terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

Such cooperation could help the world community answer a crucial question: How does a young man — whatever his motives — end up losing his humanity and all sense of the humanity of others?

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly


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A great review of Inauguration Day on Amazon.com

By John R. Carpenter on June 29, 2016

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

In “Inauguration Day” a dramatic countdown begins to the day when a newly elected American president is to be sworn in and inaugurated, January 20th. But it is also the day when an assassination of the president-elect has been so meticulously planned that it is certain to succeed. All the details are so carefully thought out it becomes almost inevitable, and any possible flaws in the planning have been corrected, none left out. A lucky piece of information at the beginning of the novel reveals when the assassination will take place, January 20th. But no one knows who, no one knows how.
The suspense gathers with each page, the narration follows the terrorists and those who might stop them during the months, weeks, then days until January 20th. It turns out the assassination is only the first step in a plan hatched in Cairo. Taking advantage of the chaos and universal mayhem after the assassination, the US government will be paralyzed and impotent, incapable of forming a response, unable to defend itself for weeks if not months. And this will coincide with a plot of a further strike using biological weapons: “What we have done is combine two very lethal toxins, Bacillus anthracis and VX. One pound of anthrax alone has the power to kill everyone is an area as large as Manhattan, while a single drop of VX the size of a pinhead leads to instant paralysis.”
The book is well-informed. The author, Claude Salhani, has traveled widely, reporting on conflicts in the Middle East and Israel. The narrative is fiction, to be sure. But it is filled with realistic information about the world where we now live. Salhani knows the topography and the cities with their neighborhoods, sights and smells, and creates a narrative that is vivid, tactile, believable. He seems to feel at home in many of the countries he describes such as Egypt and Lebanon. And the Americans he describes who work in the Middle East have often lived there for many years. He describes Chris Clayborne: “He could not get himself to leave the place. There was a certain attraction that kept him hooked to Beirut and the Middle East. It was a love-hate relationship. At times he felt as though he was living life to the fullest; yet at other times he was really tired and fed up. There was a certain joie de vivre in the Middle East that was lacking in the US.”
Sometimes Salhani puts himself inside the mind of a terrorist, as with the sheik Omar: “The Naqba, or the Catastrophe—that’s when they lost Palestine… Omar’s world was a desperate one. It was a world where tenderness and affection did not belong and where love had been unable to survive. Born into a violent society, in turbulent times, Omar belonged to a generation where understanding had been replaced by violence… Only one thing mattered now: revenge!”
A great strength of this novel might be summed up in the word “careful.” In some journalistic talk about terrorists, descriptions of them remain outside their minds and feelings. They are portrayed often as emotional, lacking the stringent discipline to plan. This novel stands out for the methodical planning that goes into a plot against America: the covering of tracks, the creation of baffling false leads; and many of the terrorists have the ability to use the most advanced sophisticated technology with the internet a resource for the latest scientific information.
The narrative is fast-paced and well- informed. The action is seen through the eyes of a wide array of characters from different countries, through their thoughts and acts. Events happen rapidly; in the first pages the reader is introduced to Lebanese and American characters in Beirut, then the scene shifts to Cairo, the thoughts and conversations of a Sheik, a terrorist operative. Also in Cairo the reader is introduced to an American journalist and long-time Middle-East hand. Many players from different countries are caught up in the action. The narrative technique is one of the most successful and original features of the book: rapid, dynamic, well-informed, self-assured, sometimes proceeding in bursts set in different parts of the globe. But at the same time the fast-moving narrative never loses sight of the overall suspense: the count-down to January 10th.
If Inauguration Day is a work of fiction– of suspense and vivid highly dramatized conflict– it is also firmly grounded on real current events, the insoluble conflicts of today’s international world.
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Europe’s camp of shame

By Claude Salhani

The camp of squatters at the edge of the north­ern French port city of Calais is often referred to as “the Jungle”. Indeed, this “jungle” is not only an eyesore — a small city built haphazardly with bits of cardboard, tin and anything else migrants could get their hands on — but it is an eyesore at one of France’s ports of entry. Not what Paris wants to be the first site seen by visitors to France

The Jungle is also a political failure; it is a humanitarian shame and it is a sin on the collective con­science of every political leader in France and Great Britain.

The Jungle exists in a sort of geopolitical purgatory. It is a place where thousands of refugees from conflicted countries found their drive to a safe haven blocked by red tape and immigration laws.

Inside the camp, there are no laws on the books. Heck, there aren’t even books there. If there were, chances are they would be used keep fires going to give refugees some warmth for a minute or two longer.

By some fluke — or perhaps lack of luck — these immigrants find themselves so close yet so far from what they hoped would be their final destination, England. Why England? Perhaps because they speak English. Also, once inside the United Kingdom, the migrants hope to benefit from Britain’s immigra­tion policies. The difficulty is get­ting there in the first place.

The occupants of the Jungle are, for the most part, economic refugees but as conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa gather momentum, the camp houses mostly political refugees, many of them with simply nowhere to go.

There are also Kurds fleeing Turkey, Somalis, Ethiopians and many others. However, it is not their nationality that is important in this context. What is alarming is that such conditions are permitted to exist in Europe.

The refugees are in the Jungle be­cause it is the closest jumping point to Great Britain. In the interim they squat, waiting with an uncertain future, rampant crime that includes forcing women — even young girls — into prostitution, and, of course, drugs. Not to mention the opportu­nities that such camps offer jihadist recruiters.

These abominable crimes are tak­ing place in the heart of Europe and in the country where human rights were first launched. By any means what is taking place in the Jungle is a crime and those responsible are criminals.

What is happening in the Jungle is a crime all the more so because, by French law, it is a crime if one fails to provide assistance to someone in danger. The thousands of residents, especially the younger ones, of the Jungle are definitely in danger.

Migrants living in the Jungle try almost on a daily basis to sneak into Britain. They hide in lorries, cars, ferries or trains travelling through Calais in the Eurotunnel. French authorities send out regular patrol of riot police, which often end up clashing with migrants.

Police patrol the perimeter of the camp but leave the interior to its own fate, meaning mostly that it ends up being controlled by some sort of organised crime group.

Frustrated by their situation, the continued uncertainty of the future and being so close yet so far from England, the migrants periodically storm the highway leading to the port of Calais, blocking traffic for hours, as they try to sneak aboard any vehicle headed to Britain. French police typically fire tear gas and even deploy bulldozers to tear down parts of the shantytown-like areas of the Jungle.

The Jungle has attracted pimps and people traffickers who focus on the large number of orphan children who wind up in the Jungle. Accord­ing to multiple reports, there are hundreds of children in the camp living on their own and who become easy prey. Many are from countries where war has torn them from their land and family.

This situation should not be al­lowed to exist in a country such as France.

The immediate task should be finding a way to resettle all refugees and to close this despicable place of shame.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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A tribute to religious tolerance

  Claude Salhani

~~~The Arab Weekly

As the world prepared for more conflict, war and other associated acts of madness, an unusual event recently took place in the United States. This was a peaceful event, quite appropriate for a man who led a turbulent life but inwardly never stopped looking for peace.

In what way was it unusual? It was a gathering to say goodbye to one of the legends of our time, Muhammad Ali, the great boxing champion. Ali, of course, was much more than a boxer and I leave it to others who knew him far better to eulogise him. However, I want to point out one manner in which Ali’s spirit reaches out.

To begin with, one of the keynote speakers at the funeral of a prominent member of the Muslim community was a member of the Jewish community and then there were the contents of his discourse.

Wait a minute! A rabbi speaking at the memorial service for a Muslim?

Yes, and not just any rabbi but Rabbi Michael Lerner, a liberal rabbi from Berkeley, California.

Lerner used his platform, where a slew of dignitaries had gathered, to call for peace between communities and for greater equality between those who have and those who have not. He asked the powers that be to introduce a plethora of social changes.

What is the world coming to when traditional bigotry and hatred are interrupted by the likes of Rabbi Lerner, who promote interfaith dialogue and respect of each other? When an American Jew calls for an ending of drone warfare and the ending of Israeli West Bank occupation? What kind of world is this when the leader of a Jewish community calls on Israel to respect Palestinians? And calls on the Turks to respect the Kurds and on the United States to become the most loved country on Earth, not just the most powerful?

What you get is the opposite of Donald Trump’s narrow-minded views and limited scope of life and politics. What you get is the opposite of what fanatical Islamists such as members of the Islamic State want. What you get is hope that there exists some sanity among us.

Regretfully, the likes of Muhammad Ali and Michael Lerner are rare. What Lerner called for is almost utopic, only a dream, a political reverie, a minute oasis of sanity among vast oceans of madness, violence growing political, social and economic instability.

With people like these you get a chance for a better world.

The rabbi began his unusual diatribe by saying he was representing the Jewish community in the United States but does he really? Certainly he can count on many supporters but, then again, so can Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stands at the other end of Lerner’s political spectrum.

Lerner is no doubt a very learned man who understands the complexities of politics far better than some of the candidates running for the US presidency.

Alas, his talk is destined to be a good, provocative speech delivered in front of an impressive audience but that, regrettably, will soon be forgotten. Many people listened to the words of wisdom, applauded the man who delivered them, as well as the man in whose honour those words of wisdom were delivered.

Yet how many will have the courage to follow in his footsteps? Those were very big shoes Muhammad Ali left behind.

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The Syrian conundrum

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

Although the war in Syria seemed to be stagnating, recently the situation appears to be moving and evolving at an accelerated pace. Russia and Iran have increased their military involvement in Syria. Both countries contributed troops to the conflict in support of the Syrian president and the Russians committed their air force to back pro-government forces.

The Iranians who have been sending troops and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to fight in support of Syrian Presi­dent Bashar Assad recently ran advertisements aimed at recruit­ing young boys — generally aged 9-12 — to fight in Syria — a repetition of what the Iranians did during the war with Iraq. They would often have youth brigades precede regular troops on the battlefield to clear land­mines. In exchange for their lives, the ayatollahs promised the boys a place in paradise.

US President Barack Obama reiterated multiple times over the past year that there would not be any US troops in Syria. It seems he spoke too soon. It has been confirmed that, despite Obama’s promises, that there are a number of American special operations forces on the Syrian front. Although limited in numbers, there are nevertheless US troops in Syria today.

Peace talks — or rather attempted peace talks — in Geneva have gotten nowhere with the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition throwing in the towel, saying he was resigning in protest over the failure by the United Nations to make any headway.

The proverbial fog of war remains, thick as ever, rendering the situation as confusing and as murderous as ever. All sides in the civil war, more than five years long, claim to be on the right side and periodically they all claim to be on the winning side, too.

Indeed, at some point in this continuing mayhem, they may well be right or winning, or both or neither. Contributing to the confusion are the multitude of factions engaged in the fighting. Many of these groups have extraordinary names, such as the pro-government Cheetah Force or the Kata’ib Hezbollah. Or yet the pro-rebel Deterring the Oppressor Brigade.

Some of these groups have several thousand men while others consist of barely a handful of followers. But if the perhaps hundreds of thousands of fighters engaged in the Syrian conflict are unable to force a military solution despite five years of continued warfare and the military, finan­cial and political support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Russia and the United States as well as a handful of European countries, including France and Britain, what on Earth could find a solution to the current conun­drum?

What is obvious is the inability of Syrians at solving their prob­lem on their own and the solu­tion, if indeed there is one, would require the intervention of two of the world’s most powerful countries, each with its own reason to want to see the demise of the Islamist terrorists. The United States, of course, opposes terrorism and wants to promote democracy in the Arab world, even if it goes about it in a rather strange manner.

As for the Russians, they want to make sure they get to defeat the jihadists before they return to the former Soviet republics and autonomous regions within Russia.

It may have taken five years of all-out war but it finally seems as though the Americans and the Russians have finally realised that by working together they may be able to solve the crisis. It is perhaps to that end that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been meeting in recent weeks.

 

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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