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Turkish Islamic soft power strategies

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The Turkish foreign policy, as it has been dictated over the past few years, relies heavily in the so-called “Islamic soft-power” strategies that aim to push forward foreign policy interests via the use of Islam-based virtues of charity work and the Islamic ethics in general.

This approach has accelerated since 2007 when AKP political party in Turkey managed to establish firmly itself within the state by winning overwhelmingly its second general elections and since then it has effectively been able to disband numerous Kemalist networks of political and state influence. In terms of foreign policy, AKP places great importance into projecting Turkish interests abroad and especially in the regions of the Balkans, Middle East and Africa through the use of state-sponsored NGO’s, charity foundations and religious organizations.
For example, the original goal behind The Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW) organization was to perform a new kind of soft-power based foreign policy by the Erdogan’s Administration that aims to enchase Turkey’s role in the globe, by boosting Turkey’s profile as a major Sunni country. In short it plays the card of Sunni Islam, but in contrast to Saudi Arabia in a more moderate fashion, so as to be able to be accepted more easily by the “West” (NATO, EU). In a second level this particular NGO, acts as a hub and forum for the creation of interpersonal relations between a diverse crowd of figures that are involved in politics, business, charity and arts. Thus Turkish diplomacy, as directed by the pro-Erdogan elements- finds itself of new avenues to expand the diplomatic support this country may need for its state purposes. In simple terms, the Turkish foreign policy can “muscle” more supporters for Turkish aims and at the same time being able to grasp in a broader sense the tunes of societal changes in the contemporary globalized world. By having a reach in local societies as far as Seychelles, Indonesia and other countries, Ankara acquires a “global outlook”. In the case of the Balkans this particular organization has considerable reach in Kosovo, FYROM and Albania.
Continuing, there are many advantages of such strategies that blend Islam with foreign policy goals for Turkey.  First of all the building of a “good name” abroad is an expensive process that takes years to be achieved, but once it happens, it provides the country with advantages in issues such as the direction of developmental aid, peace-keeping operations and of course a greater diplomatic clout in the United Nations. The case of Norway is illustrative. A small country of 4.5 million people has managed since the early 70′s to establish a good name for itself in regions such as Africa and South East Asia by providing financing, humanitarian aid and know-how. Thus Oslo has managed to have a reliable international voice and garner diplomatic and political support in international forums, disproportional to its small size as a state. In case of Turkey, a 70 million people country, that connects the Middle East with Southeastern Europe and with obvious ambitions of becoming a regional power; the policy benefits of charity work can be tremendous and as far as the business opportunities are concerned, quite substantial.
However, it should be noted that this use of a “soft-power approach” is not unique in international affairs, and actually it has been a well-established tool for diplomatic services for decades now. There are different sets of powers using soft power approaches. First we have the former colonial powers such as France and UK and to a lesser extent Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The aims of these countries stem from their bonds with their former colonies, their commercial interest and their will to have a global voice by cultivating linguistic and political ties with these countries.
Then we have the Scandinavian group (Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark) that are interested traditionally in keeping up a stern image of peace-loving nations and supporters of economic development. Scandinavian countries, due to their highly industrialized and technologically advanced societies, who happen to be small in numbers and in the periphery of the Northern Hemisphere, the main manner under which they can have a political impact is by providing charities to the so-called “Third world”. Also these societies have always yearned to be heard globally due to their historical isolation.
Another category is the countries of Germany and Japan. Due to the WW2 effects and the peculiar state of affairs since, their aim has been traditionally to escape from the past and emerge as nations aiming for global security and peace, through charity work amongst other. USA, Russia and China, is another group that performs charities mostly for the sake of political interests, since they all have global ambitions and are keen and cynic players in the world stage.
Lastly we have the category where Turkey is located along with Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Iran, Gulf States, Brazil, India, and Indonesia. These are all emerging market countries with ambitions of acquiring a regional role or a wider global role based mostly on the religious factor, in the case of Turkey, Sunni Islam of the so-called moderate fashion, along with the “Neo -Ottoman” tendency which is frequently being exported as a role model in the Balkan region.
Somalia is the African country where Turkey seems to have the most high-profile role nowadays. Aside from establishing several aid centers, schools, mosques and other facilities in the country, Turkey has given full scholarships to more than 1,000 Somali students to study at Turkish high schools and universities. There have been quite a few developments in Africa in general since 2007, with Turkish delegations having visited and participated in conference, forums and events in almost all Sub-Saharan African states. Nevertheless, the ambitions of Turkey in that Continent are counterbalanced by the ambitions of global players such as USA, China or the well-established presence of former European colonial powers. Somalia is a country devastated by wars, famines and dissolution of the social fabric, therefore the direction of the Turkish foreign policy it seems was to take advantage of the dire straits the Somalia society is in, so as to be able to gain a “soft-power” base rather easily. Estimations point out those similar moves by Turkey to Africa will be directed in the coming period in Sudan, Angola and Nigeria.
Turkey in Africa a rather new presence in the region and the most important countries involved in similar charity or business projects, have a achieved a long-lasting presence by either investing heavily, as is the case of China, or have committed substantial security guarantees, as is the case with USA which has a military Command for Africa (AFRICOM), that is actually very much involved in “Soft-Power” projects. The interesting fact around Turkey is the pace of activity its diplomatic efforts have been for Africa under Erdogan’s Administration, especially after his second electoral victory in 2007. Before that little attention was paid to Africa by Turkey.
It is assumed that Turkey will continue to pay attention to Somalia in particular, due to the piracy issue, since it offers diplomatic capabilities for Turkey to be involved in international culminations in such an important global security issue.
Almost all countries with either global ambitions of some sort (Political, economic), are all involved in establishing their soft power infrastructure into Africa. In the case of China for instance, this has resulted in bringing Africa closer to Beijing in diplomatic terms and has provided ample business opportunities for both sides. In the case of USA, it has resulted in a virtual political control of a significant area of Africa. In the case of European countries and the EU as a supranational organization, soft power has achieved the notion that Europe is a world mediator and a good-will actor, something that often translates into fruitful corporate and commercial arrangements and occasional diplomatic support in the UN, IMF and World Bank through the votes of the African countries.
In other regions the situation is similar, although fluctuations occur. In Latin America China is creating soft power webs of influence in Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru and increasingly Argentina that result often to business deals. In Southeastern Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have invested billions of Dollars into boosting the presence of Wahhabis, with negative results for the local societies, including terrorism incidents. In June 2012 a lecturer in the Police Academy of FYROM relayed to the local press that Al Qaeda-like training camps exist in his country and further attacks against Christians should be expected.
In Central Asia, Turkey tried in the 90′s especially to reach out to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, with no success due to the opposition by Russia and by the local elites that viewed any external influence as a danger for their survival. Attempts were intensified in these countries also after 2007, but the local governments reacted fiercely by confiscating assets of Turkish NGO’s and companies or prosecuting Turkish citizens involved.
Soft-power strategies in order to be successful needs a lot of available capital, a sophisticated state and non-state mechanism, political will, strategic global outlook, intercultural knowledge and sensitivity by the actors involved and integration of it, to the long-term visions that the prospective country has in mind. Moreover they need a solid cultural and historical base upon which they can reflect to other cultures. Thus, the tendency to use Ottoman Empire as a historical example by the modern Turkish state since it is viewed as the pinnaculum of cultural achievement by Ankara that could be exported as a “cultural best-practice” abroad.
In overall “Soft power, is not just a show of good-will but rather a carefully planned path that leads to the increase of the diplomatic capability of the country in question. Therefore the states that are able to amass all these qualities and abilities, are the ones that eventually are going to see their soft power approaches bear fruits and remain as such for the long-term.
The question that arises is what may happen if all these actors step up from their soft-power antagonism into a harder approach? History has showed that Africa and other regions will pay the price in terms of social unrest, conflicts and destabilization as each actor will try to advance it interests as it is vying for influence and power. The difference between soft and hard power it’s in the means. The ends are the same and it is the acquisition of power, control and wealth. Of course this  a cynic read of international relations, and as in ever social subject, it is only of subjective nature.
Turkish Soft Power in Albania
– On mid-May 2012 the infamous Turkish Islamic NGO “Humanitarian Relief Foundation” (Turkish name: Insan Hak ve Hurriyetleri ve Insani Yardım Vakfı) organized a mass circumcision ceremony in Tirana-Albania for 500 local children. The organization was held with the assistance of the Municipality of Istanbul which is completely under the control of the AKP party. It was a first time since the 1930′s that such a ceremony was performed in Albania and was covered by Turkish media, although the Albanian ones kept a low profile on it. A delegation of Turkish Muftis and Islamic theologists travelled from Istanbul to attend and more than 3,000 locals viewed the ceremony and participated in the afterwards feast.
– The same period in Tirana an international conference on Sufism in the Balkans was organized by the department of Islamic theology of the Turkish “Konya Necmettin Erbakan University”. A delegation also from Istanbul theologists participated and Albanian Sufi representatives attended and expressed their views on how to enlarge this religious Islamic sect in the Balkan region.
– In early May the President of the Albanian Parliament Mrs. Topali during a visit of her Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Tirana expressed her view that the Turkish nation “Has a lot of Albanian blood” and that “Turkey is a more than just a strategic ally to Albania and is a brotherly nation”. Cicek spoke along similar lines by hailing the “Turkish-Albanian brotherhood”.
– During the visit of Cicek who has accompanied by a delegation of Turkish Members of Parliament, a special trip was organized in the city of Shkondra, where tribute was paid to the monument of Hasan Riza Pasha (1871 – 1913) who was a general in the Ottoman Army. He was the son of Namik Pasha, Vali of Baghdad, and he was born in Baghdad. He was one of the commanders during the Siege of Scutari. He was shot dead by Osman Bali and Mehmet Kavaja, two Albanians who were servants of Essad Pasha. In parallel Cicek visited the Turkish cultural center “Junis Emre” that was established there in early 2012.
– This center is part of a wider “Soft-power” cultural centers network being established over the past few years by Turkey in several countries such as Albania, Iran, Jordan, Belgium, Georgia, UK, Japan, Kazakhstan, Cyprus (Occupied North), Kosovo, Lebanon, FYROM, Egypt, Romania, Syria. It is under the influence of the AKP government and can be considered as one of the basic elements of the “Turkish-Islamic soft power web of influence” presently.

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The UAE-Israel deal’s historicity is in the fine print

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A close read of the agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel suggests that the Jewish state has won far more than diplomatic recognition. It won acknowledgement of its claim to historic Jewish rights. By the same token, the UAE has received a significant boost to project itself as a leader in inter-faith dialogue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed walked away from this month’s White House signing ceremony with more than just an agreement to establish diplomatic relations.

Included in the agreement are references that are key to foundational Israeli arguments asserting the right of the Jewish people to a state on what was once predominantly Arab land rather than simple recognition of the fact that the Jewish state exists.

Recognition of Jewish rights has long been a demand put forward by Mr. Netanyahu.

In talks with the Palestinians as well as the building of relations with Arab states over the years, the Israeli leader asserted that mere diplomatic acceptance of Israel’s existence was not good enough. And yet, that was the basis of earlier peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as well as Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat’s 1988 recognition of Israel and the subsequent 1993 Oslo accords.

From the outset, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been as much a dispute about control of land as one of perceived rights.

Recognition of Jewish rights in Palestine bolsters Israeli assertions that its claims to territory occupied during the 1967 Middle East are legitimate rather than a land grab resulting from military conquest.

To be clear, it does not by definition endorse annexation, but it constitutes Arab acceptance of Israel’s position that any compromise between Israelis and Palestinians, a sine qua non for a resolution of their dispute, would involve mediation of claims that are historically and morally on par.

Arabs in the past have projected solutions as the need to address Palestinian rights while accepting Israel’s existence.

The agreement did not explicitly recognize Jewish rights, but enabled Israel to interpret the deal as doing so by stating that “Arab and Jewish peoples are descendants of a common ancestor, Abraham.”

The text of the agreement suggests that the reference was primarily related to allow the UAE to boost its efforts to project itself as a leader of inter-faith dialogue and a moderate interpretation of Islam – a pillar of the country’s well-funded soft power campaign that paints the Emirates as a militarily capable, forward-looking, religiously tolerant and technologically savvy, cutting edge state.

The interpretation of the phrasing as recognition of Jewish rights may have been an unintended consequence or icing on Israel’s cake.

It was a bonus that David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy — widely viewed as leaning towards Israel — was quick to point out. Mr. Makovsky noted that the reference implied that “both (Arabs and Jews are) indigenous to the Middle East.”

Mr. Makovsky suggested that the phrasing “is important because it clearly refutes longstanding allegations in the Arab world that Zionism is alien to the region.”

It puts past to Arab and Palestinian arguments that the long-touted two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of dividing up land claimed by two parties driven by facts on the ground rather than consideration of legal and moral claims.

This is not just of esoteric significance. It bolsters Israel’s long-standing rejection of Palestinian insistence on the right of refugees, including those who left during the 1948 war, to return to their homes and lands in what is now Israel.

Israel’s reading of the agreement as endorsement of its assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about equally valid rights is likely to be interpreted differently on both sides of Israel’s right-left divide.

The country’s weakened left will see it as highlighting the need for territorial compromise. Significant segments of the Israeli right will view it as validation of its belief dating back to the period prior to the 1948 creation of Israel that the clash of Jewish and Palestinian rights is irreconcilable. That is a view that has historically also resonated among elements of the labor movement.

That may be what makes the UAE-Israel deal truly historic.

The icing on the UAE’s cake, beyond the significant geopolitical, military, security, technological and economic benefits of the agreement, is the stress on inter-faith dialogue.

Under the agreement, the UAE and Israel “undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence, and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham, and the new era of peace and friendly relations ushered in by this Treaty, including by cultivating people-to-people programs, (and) interfaith dialogue…”

The UAE, like Saudi Arabia, one of its multiple autocratic religious soft power rivals, has gone in recent years to great lengths to cultivate ties to Jewish and Evangelist communities and to position itself as a sponsor of an inter-faith dialogue in which Islam is represented by Muslim scholars who preach absolute obedience to the ruler and reject endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its an interpretation of the faith intended to ensure regime survival and counter allegations of violations of human rights in the UAE.

The signing of a Document on Human Fraternity by the imam of the Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Cairo, Ahmed El-Tayeb, and Pope Francis I during his 2019 visit to the UAE, the first by a head of the Vatican to the Gulf, served to offer an alternative to the Universal Declaration that allows the Emirates to pick and choose which rights it accepts.

The emphasis on inter-faith dialogue is bolstered and conditioned by the agreement’s implicit condemnation of political Islam, a key driver of UAE policy that is shared by Israel.

The agreement rejects “political manipulation of religions and…interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment…in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion.”

Omar Ghobash, UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, speaking in a US-UAE Council webinar, noted that one driver for the conclusion of the agreement was “what happened around the so-called Arab Spring and then the rise of vicious groups like ISIS, let alone Al Qaeda.”

Mr. Ghobash was referring to the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen as well as the rise of the Islamic State in the aftermath of the uprisings, which was a product of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq rather than the rebellions.

He projected the agreement as part of the UAE’s institutionalization of its values.

“There is a distortion that has taken place over the last few decades…represented by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS … There is a recurring theme in conversations with my leaders and that is that Islam has been hijacked by these groups. The reality is that in taking Islam back, you need to free it from those constraints. You free it by presenting a different expression of Islam,” Mr. Ghobash said.

Critics suggest that the agreement’s formalization of Israeli support for the UAE’s propagation of a state-controlled Islam fails to tackle a core issue: the need to address religious concepts that are either outdated or outmoded or require reconceptualization and reinterpretation.

Those concepts legitimized decades of Muslim demonization of Israel as well as Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims.

The UAE took a first major step to address the issue by distributing to schools barely two weeks after the announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations textbooks that cite the agreement with Israel as an expression of fundamental Islamic and Emirati values.

However, the ultimate litmus test of the UAE’s effort to shape moderate Islam will be if and when it loosens the state’s grip on religion and allows for free-flowing, credible theological debate in which scholars tackle problematic religious concepts that have served their purpose but are out of place in a modern, forward-looking society.

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The current situation in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Syria’s current prospects are no longer a return – albeit a laborious one – to an old pre-2015 unitary State, but the persistence of a very fragmented territory. This, however, responds to a logic of various countries’ future participation in the great reconstruction business.

 The war operations on the Syrian territory are currently prerequisites for the various strategic players’ future presence for reconstruction. They are not only mere war actions for reconquering a specific territory, but also actions to achieve a “post-national” hegemony.

In this regard, as early as 2005, in his article entitled War is Peace: on Post-National War, Ulrich Beck spoke about the relationship between post-national and cosmopolitan responsibility, currently typical of the West, when war is decided in a specific place of cosmopolis.

War is waged – often an unending war as the United States is currently doing – but then a new war is waged to isolate the type 1 conflict from the rest of the global system.

Certainly, as we well know, the motivations of the various players that started the war in Syria were much more immediate and earthly. However, if the West decides a war in its periphery, it must always justify it globally, because this is now its code of action and the justification it must “sell” to its public.

Ever more laboriously, indeed.

 The East must not justify its wars. It just wages them. Also China and Russia, however, are very careful not to spread the effects of a regional conflict to the rest of the international equilibria system like wildfire.

Israel is continuing its air strikes in Syria, especially to avoid friction between Hezbollah, Iran, some Syrian units and its key positions in the Golan Heights.

On September 11, the Israeli Air Force and missiles hit the missile construction stations at al-Safirah, near Aleppo, probably in Hezbollah’s hands.

 In that case, sources of the Syrian regime stated that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft forces.

The Israeli Air Force also attacked the T-4 base, in the Homs province, with a probable departure of Israeli jets from the U.S. base of Al-Tanf on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

 Moreover, some military logistics analysts state that Israel’s targeted attacks on the Hezbollah missile stations in Syria and on the Golan Heights have now completely inhibited Iran from transporting weapons, both within the Tehran-Beirut line and from that line to the Golan Heights.

 Other Israeli attacks have been recorded in Al-Mayadin and Abu Kamal, but in total there have been six Israeli attacks, at least since the beginning of September 2020.

 There was also an ammunition depot in Abu Kamal.

Pending the attacks, but also the current reconstruction of the “Caliphate”, all this is matched by Bashar el Assad’s request for closer relations with Russia, with a meeting held on September 7 last between Bashar el Assad, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, where the two countries reaffirmed their common fight against “terrorism”, but underlined their efforts for Syria’s reconstruction.

Russia is more interested in achieving hegemony and benefiting from the reconstruction business than in militarily supporting Assad for him to fully reconquer the whole Syrian territory both against the jihad and the various other forces, always linked to external players. An operation which is unlikely and anyway future and very expensive.

 The “Caliphate” is currently present in various parts of the Syrian central desert.

There were already some ISIS suicide attacks to take some territories back after the “Battle of Baghouz” of March 2019, which also put an end to the Caliphate’s grip on Iraq.

 By what means? Much of the money that was in Raqqah, the capital of the aforementioned ISIS, is still held by the various regional leaders who, however, still have an obscure, but probably strong military and political link between them.

Initially the flow of money was above all from Raqqah to Abu Kamal, the ISIS last outpost before the supreme, but not final defeat. Currently, however, the “Caliphate” is attacking Deir-ez-Zor, Raqqah, Homs and Shaddadi, south of Hasakah, hitting both Bashar el Assad’s army and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Only a few days ago the Russian forces reconquered the gas deposits and wells of Doubayat, south of Sukhnah, in the Homs province.

There were also other ISIS attacks against the Shiite militias west of the Euphrates.

Nevertheless, the most important one was the attack of various (Sunni) tribes, gathered by the leaders of the Aqidat tribe, against the Kurdish troops and especially against the Syrian Democratic Forces.

 This happened after the clashes in Jajsh Aqidat, but there was also a threat – not even too veiled – from the Baghouz Coordination to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), so as to force them to apologize for their behaviour in the region, especially with regard to the many citizens of Baghouz currently interned in the camps organized by the Kurdish-led FDS.

 Tribes really count, “foreign” armies less.

 It is the logic of the old Bedouin proverb: “I against my brother. I and my brother against my cousin. I, my brother and my cousin against the stranger”.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Al Qods Forces support, even materially, the Shiite or non-Shiite defections of elements already belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), without any Western supporters of the SDF raising the problem.

The main Kurdish tribes are currently seven, with religious affiliations of various origin, including Yazidis, Yarsanis (the oldest Kurdish religion),Alevis and obviously Sunnis.

In the Kurdish tradition, however, there is also a considerable Shiite minority, the FailiKurds – about 1.5 million people – who are found between the Zagros mountains and the two Syrian and Iraqi borders, but now also live in Baghdad, Diyala, Wasit, Missan and Basra.

 They have always had little affinity with the Ba’ath Party. They are often rich and hold important positions in the commercial communities of the cities where they live, but they have played a significant role in the creation of Kurdish nationalism.

There are also the Shabak, mainly Iraqi Kurds, who speak an Iranian dialect and live in religious communities (ta’ifa) in the Nineveh area.

 The ancestors of the Kurdish Shabak were almost all followers of the Kurdish mystic Saif-ad-Din Ardabili.

 As a man linked to the Sufi order of Zahed Gilani, the Zahedieh, Ardabili created a mystical tradition largely linked to the Kurdish identity, although no Sufi order really bonded with these “appearances”.

If we do not study the development lines of Islamic mysticism, but also Alawite (which is a modern expansion of Shiite Sufism) and Christian mysticism, we do not understand anything about Middle East’s Arab factionalism and the true “incense route” that currently separates the various territories of the Greater Middle East and not only them.

 The Sufi, Sunni and Shiite Tariqat connect areas which are very far one another: the Horn of Africa connects to Iran, from Sudan to the Amazigh of the Maghreb desert, from India to Egypt.

 It should be recalled that in Turkey the Sufi orders were banned by Atatürk in 1925, but they went ahead with little legal trouble.

 The Albanian Bekhtashi were tolerated and, indeed, they became powerful even under Enver Hoxha’s regime.

Currently the greatest Sufi order is the Qadiriyyah, linked to the tradition of the first Sufi recognized by the Islamic tradition, Abd Al Qadir al Jilani, who was probably Kurdish. It was our year 1000 in Baghdad.

 It is a very rich order – thanks to the Arab informal finance channels – and operates everywhere.

 In Sudan there is also the Khatimiyyah, namely the Mirganiyah, not to mention the Mahdi sect.

Also Omar al Mukhtar, well known to the Italian occupying forces in Libya, was a Qadiriyyah, a Sufi order from which the secret society of Tijanijah originated and developed. It expanded especially among the Amazigh, in our 18th century, and had many Sufi traits.

 There are even the Fulani, who also love jihad very much, but in a different way from Al Qai’da al-Sulbah and other very recent similar organizations.

If, instead of studying how to fatten up the Islamic goose to make it addicted to the mystical Western ritual of the ballot in a box, we had studied the esotericism – even the political one – of the seven Sufis and the various confraternities and brotherhoods, we would have had much fewer political and terrorist problems.

 As an old Afghan Sufi “master” told me, “do not send us mobile phones and computers. We already have them and we know how to use them better than you. Just send us a holy manand we will listen to him with respect”.

 Materialistic secularism destroys, above all, its worshippers.

 But let us revert to Syria.

In Syria, ISIS is continuing its assassinations against both Assad’s and the Syrian Democratic Forces’ soldiers.

General Talal Qassem, an officer linked to Assad, was assassinated, as well as two officers of the 4th Division, supported and armed by Iran, and Muhammad Jamal al-Jamal, very close to Russia and leader of the Deraa Committee. The jihadists also killed Muhammad Qasimal-Yunis, recruiter of the Iranian Al Quds Forces in Deraa.

Hence a significant level of Caliphate’s territorial intelligence, which makes us assume that much more relevant operations will be made in the future.

 Since 2019 the “Caliphate” has been reorganizing itself, from al-Sukhna in the province of Homs,al-Mayadin, in the area of Deir-ez-Zor, to Ma’adan near Raqqa, towards the desert of Al-Suwaida, the one of Al-Buqamal, of Al-Mayadin, al-Salamiya and al-Zakf, in the Western area of the Anbar desert.

 The Caliphate’s primary triangle is currently the one between Al-Sukhna, al-Mayadin and Ma’adan that is supposed to count 45,000 militants approximately.

Talking again about Ba’athist generals, Firas Al-Nasaan, executive of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service, the real core of Syrian intelligence, and other leaders of Assad’s Intelligence Service, were also killed.

 This implies a dangerous penetration of Syrian structures by the jihad, which not even Russia has been able to avoid.

 There were clashes – very dangerous politically – between Assad’s 8th Brigade, in the hands of the Russian forces (like all the Syrian army operational corps),and some Bedouin tribes in the Deraa province.

Clearly this province is already an area of Caliphate’s deep penetration, but also of its financial, political and religious networks which, apparently, are currently not an evident part of ISIS.

This intelligence and military porosity of Assad’s regime is therefore extremely dangerous and could thwart both the pax russica and, above all, the already defined projects of investment in the “New Syria”, mainly by China. It is therefore clear to understand who is behind it, if anyone.

 In the meantime, the United States is sending mainly drones, which killed two commanders of “Hurras al-Din“, also known as the Guardians of Religion, an organization affiliated to Al Qa’eda, but also opposed to the other traditional subsidiaries of Bin Laden’s network in Syria. The two commanders were Sayyaf al-Tunisi and Abu Hamza Al-Yamani.

War with remote control, namely strategic zapping. It will not be enough.

The two U.S. operations were recorded by Russia in the Idlib area, but it is likely that the contrast between this Qaedist organization and the other traditional ones did not favour Haya’tTahrir Al-Sham and the subsequent Bin Laden’s networks.

 The Hurras al-Dinnetwork, however, is known to have stable relations with the Turkish Intelligence Services.

In 2018 it operated to mediate between the Syrian Liberation Army, in the Aleppo area, and Ayat Tahrir al-Sham.

 The above-mentioned pro-Turkish group has recently operated in the Hama area and, sometimes, in Idlib.

 The Russian Federation has operated successfully in Syria but, mainly and indirectly, by organizing the Army structures of Bashar el Assad, thus controlling him closely.

The factionalism of the Syrian Ba’athist army is well known. In 2018-2019, Bashar el Assad’s Chief of Staff directly controlled only 25,000-30,000 soldiers and officers out of a total of over 200,000.

Hence the usefulness of the non-Syrian Shiite militias, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah; the Iraqi and Pakistani Ali Zulfikar, originating directly from the Islamist efforts of the Bhutto family; the Abu Fadl al Abbas Brigade, born in Syria mainly to prevent jihadist activities of desecration of Shiite mosques (and Christian churches), as well as, obviously, the Al Quds Brigade of the Iranian Pasdaran, and finally the Afghan Shiite Fatimiyoun and the members of the Pakistani Zeinabiyoun Brigade.

Russia strongly needs to have Iran present in Syria, but it certainly does not want to leave the Syrian future in Iran’s hands.

Quite the reverse. Many intelligence signals tell us that Russia knew about some operations of other regional players against the Pasdaran and the other forces led by Iran, but did not lift a finger.

The Russian plan is therefore to have a mobile and very centralized Ba’athist force, with a significant share of Special Corps and relative autonomy from Russia, especially in the Southern and Eastern Syrian territory, with reference to both jihadist operations and operations by more or less regular forces led by regional or global players.

As early as 2015 Russia had created the 4th Syrian Corps, with a core of Bashar el Assad’s old army and a unit of the National Defence Forces led by Iran, as well as some brigades of the Ba’ath Party.

It is therefore obvious that, in Syria, the second opponent of Russia is an ally, namely Iran.

 Putin has therefore correctly calculated his strategic equation: the West could not materially oppose his intervention in Syria.

Part of his intervention in that country was aimed at deterring the West.

Hence many Anti Access-Denial Area (A2AD) operations and full control of the airspace, as well as – particularly today – Russia’s continuous use of Private Military Companies (PMCs), which allow greater flexibility in the use of force and also to “do politics” on the territory.

There is also the oil problem, which can never be neglected.

At the end of June 2020, the U.S. company Delta Crescent Energy signed a contract with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, but also with a guarantee from the Kurdish leadership that Russia could benefit from the agreement, and with possible future opportunities for Russia to explore and extract local oil.

 Erdogan, too, offered Russia the opportunity to modernize the Deir-ez-Zor oil fields, in view of reinvigorating the Syrian economy.

 The Mercury company, owned by Yevgheni Prigozhin, an entrepreneur who is Putin’s personal friend, already operates in Eastern Syria but, in the meantime, Russia’s operatives are permanently dealing with the Syrian Tribal Council, as well as with the pro-Iranian Nawaf al-Bashir tribes.

Unlike other countries, Russia knows that the Middle East States are mobile compositions of tribes that are the real basic political entity.

This happens while the United States is leaving the Syrian buffer zone, i.e. the Peace Corridor, or the Security Mechanism placed on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border, and hence China is entering the scene.

China’s humanitarian aid to Bashar el Assad began in August 2016, but obviously China always stresses the principle of non-interference in conflicts and in the internal affairs of other States.

It should also be recalled, however, that China has shown a cold attitude also towards Russia’s missile and air operations in Syria, although it is an open ally and friend of Bashar el Assad’s regime.

Iran has often sought Chinese support for its engagement in Syriaand it is also trying to enter the system of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

 This Chinese support will continue also during the likely future offensive by Assad’s forces on Idlib.

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Middle East

The Case For Israel- Book Review

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The Case For Israel by Alan Dershowitz, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.2003

In his book, ‘The Case For Israel’, Professor Alan Dershowitz, sets out a “proactive defence for Israel” (p.1) and he does so in a manner that addresses the core and more fundamental premise that, Israel and its citizens have the right to exist in peace and security. With this focus, Professor Alan, sets out the narrative in the form of 32 key accusations against the state of Israel, which he then sets out to answer/defend. Interpreting facts and drawing conclusions as only a lawyer can, Alan does not hesitate to draw parallels with American Colonists seeking separation from the state of England, when he refers to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Having worked on this book from the year of 1967, with the first publication in 2003, the defence is unarguably exhaustive and honed with great skill and there is no dearth of historical references being used to state his case. All this assumes even greater importance when one acknowledges the growing Anti-Semitic sentiments in present day Europe and even the United States of America(Leff). Truly and unfortunately, not much seems to have changed since the inception of this book in 1967 and now, as far as the need to justify the existence of the state of Israel is concerned.

It may be said that the chief strength of this book lies in the fact that it rejects extremist claims of both sides, i.e. the Palestinians and the Israelis, just as the Peel Commission did in 1937 and most of the world does today. Professor Dershowitz in a sense carries forward the premise as acknowledged by the UN (and the Peel Commission) that both the Palestinians and the Jews had valid but irreconcilable claims with partition being the most realistic solution given the “two intense nationalisms” (p.65).

 In order to buttress his advocacy for a two state solution (which to him is the premise of the book), he points to the emergence of several Islamic states through a process of partition. Consequently, Alan Dershowitz, repeatedly drives home the point that, the Palestinians repeatedly rejected the Two State Solution, with not just Yasser Arafat’s’ contrarian’ (p.72) comments to Arab leaders at Stockholm after the Oslo Declaration(U.S Govt Office of the Historian) but also the failed Clinton driven initiative at Camp David (2001)where Yasser Arafat walked away without even making a counter proposal given his rejection of the proposed plan. Undeniably, as cited by Alan Dershowitz, and voiced by Prince Bandar, in his interview to the New Yorker Magazine, when he said (off the record)that Arafat’s refusal was “a tragic mistake- a crime really”(Walsh). Arafat’s refusal and consequent escalation in terror attacks even though ultimately engineered to win Palestinians world sympathy, were none the less, acts of terror.

In Alan’s words the world including the UN seemed to reward Palestinians for their acts of terror. According to AD, Israel on the other hand has repeatedly been subjected to double standards when it comes to judging its response to acts of terror at the hands of Palestinians.  He is utterly convincing in this regard when he points out that while Israeli soldiers are governed by a rigid code of conduct, Palestinians, eschew any such binding and routinely employing children, young adults and even women for committing acts of terror.

It would do us well to understand at this point that in the background of Alan’s defence for the state of Israel, is the recurring theme that the Jews of the First Aliyah of 1882 had legitimately and continuously bought land (mostly un arable) from absentee landlords (Arabs), often at exorbitant prices. In addition, AD also posits the premise that the problem of Arab refugees is a deliberate act emanating from actions of Arab Rulers and a factor perpetuated by the Palestinians as they kept demanding that the 4 million Palestinians should be allowed to return to from where they fled. Clearly, in the not so distant past there was an exchange of population which took place when 850,000 ‘Arab Jews’ living in Arab countries landed up becoming refugees while correspondingly, the 1948 war waged by Arab rulers against Israel saw Arabs migrate outwards from what is now Israel. What is pertinent in this regard is the fact that the ‘Arab Jews’ were attempted to be absorbed by present day Israel, the Arab leaders were not interested in absorbing these Arab refugees, choosing to mostly let them fester in camps instead of integrating them in to their more homogenous population.

In a sense, as pointed by AD, Arabs are more interested in denying the right of existence to Israel than they are in the formation of the State of Palestine. In fact, the words of Bey Abdul-Hati, a prominent Palestinian leader as addressed to the Peel Commission in 1937 “There is no such country ……Palestine is a term Zionists invented ……” (p.7), underscore the fact that Palestinians, historically, always, wanted to be a part of Syria. If this had not been so, and if nothing else, the most generous terms of settlement as offered by Barak in 2001as a part of the Clinton initiative. would have settled matters once and for all.  A corollary to this is Alan’s admission that even Israel faltered when it did not implement the Alon Plan(ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES) which would have given the population centres of the West Bank to the Arabs, while retaining some unpopulated strategic areas.

A possible criticism of this book certainly lies in the fact that, Professor Alan has unilaterally chosen the (possible) accusations and his defence is one without adjudication of any sort. Hence, in such a situation, it is the reader who must sit in judgment and   decide for himself/herself as to the merits and the validity of the evidence presented on behalf of the defendant- The State of Israel. Again, given the fact that Palestinians choose not to acknowledge or care for historical facts, we should not ‘crucify’ Israel even when historical and other facts (as cited in the book) speak in its favour. Given that we live in a less than perfect world, this “Jew Among Nations” (p.222), needs to be given its due as the only democracy and least theocratic state in the Middle East and should be judged by a yardstick that is not too different from the one used for its comparable ‘peer’ nations like, France England, USA and Canada when it comes to issues like morality and ethics. What better proof can there be, of democracy in Israel, given Joint Arab List’s splendid performance in the recent Israeli elections.

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