Let us elaborate this by relating to misconceptions in Western public opinion concerning the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first misconception is the number of fatalities. Since WWII, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the national conflict with the lowest number of victims, and at the same time, with the world’s highest number of publications in the academia and attention in the media. Palestinians dead by Israel will cause endless headlines and articles all over the world, but Palestinian massacre and murder by other Palestinians will receive only few lines. That is also the case with the Arab states.
Moreover, if entire villages are destroyed in Sudan and a genocidal apparatus occur there, or when many Arab states are set on fire with huge massacre and destruction as in the last five years of “Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter” (mistakenly called “Arab Spring”) there will be only moderate attention if any on TV. The amount of attention the so-called Palestinians get from the international media and world public opinion is amazingly huge and at the same time baseless compare to other world situations.
There is another and more dramatic countdown – the total amount of those killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1882 up to 2006 are 75,000. 85% of them are from Arab states, and almost half of them Egyptians. Only 9000 were Palestinians killed by Israel, most of them during the two Intifadas (1800 and 3,700). Not millions. Not hundreds of thousands, and not tens of thousands.
Compare this to the 20 to 30 thousands Palestinians killed by king Hussein of Jordan in one month, in September 1970; or to the 8000 Palestinians killed by the Syrian President, Asad, in Lebanon in November-December 1983; or to the 6000 Palestinians killed by their own brothers in the “Arab Revolt” of 1936 to 1939; or to the hundreds killed only the few months in Gaza by the war between Hamas and Fath, in 2007; or to the destruction of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, during the war in 2014.
Compare this to the millions killed in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, or the total destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen as states and societies during the last five years of the Islamic Anarchic Tribal Winter.
Compare the situation of the millions of Arab refugees, running from their ruined cities and villages, being under real annihilation, to the situation of the so-called “Palestinian refugees.”
Compare the billions of dollars the Palestinians get, for the rehabilitation of these refugees (and mostly goes to terrorism and corruption of their leadership), and what the Arab, only Arab, refugees get. They have nothing and get nothing. One group gets everything and the other group, much bigger in numbers, gets nothing.
Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians “refugees” get a monthly generous food parcel, education and social assistance, so that at least a billion of people around the world never dream to have and never get.
Compare the 4.5 million Palestinians who live in proportional social and economic prosperity to the standard of living of at least 80 other states around the world, including Arab states.
According to the UN data, one billion people around the world earn less than two dollars a day. The UN has coined the term the “Fourth World” relating to these peoples. One will not find even one Palestinian among them.
According to the UN data, 40% of world population drink polluted infected water, and thousands of children die every day only for that reason. One will not find even one Palestinian among them. They get fresh high quality water from Israel, who thanks to its sophisticated industry can export water from this desert area.
Indeed, the Palestinians get so much money and attention as compare to so many other countries and people around the world that it has become a disgrace to the world. They are the only people that gets more and more and they do not work for it.
The second misconception, a most important one, is related to the meaning of occupation. When Palestinians say ‘Israeli occupation,’ it is not the 1967 occupation, but the 1948 occupation, and it is not the 1967 borders and not the 1947 borders, but the entire territory of Israel. When they murder and massacre Israelis by inhuman terrorism, it is not because of the “occupation”, and not because of the “settlements”, but because Israel is a Jewish Zionist state living on that land, even one inch of this land.
The so-called “occupied territories” have no relevance to the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is just another problem in a large set of complex issues which firstly must be focused on the recognition of Israel as a state and as a nation. Let me elaborate this by quoting the formal Palestinian ideological attitude toward Israel, so as to expose what they mean by “occupation.”
In the Palestinian National Covenant of the PLO, one can find the following declarations as a political ideology:
Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinians assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 9). The liberation of Palestine means to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression, and aims at the elimination of Zionism from Palestine in its entirety (Article 15). The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 are entirely illegal (Article 19).
The Balfour Declaration , the Mandate for Palestine [1919 and 1920], and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of the Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history. Judaism, being only a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own. They are only citizens of the states to which they belong (Article 20).
The Palestinian people, expressing himself by the armed revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine (Article 21). The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace (Article 22). This Charter shall not be amended save by [vote of] a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National assembly of the PLO [taken] at a special session convened for that purpose (Article 33).
As for Hamas, in its Charter it declared clearly:
Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it… [Hamas] strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine (Article 6). The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders. It goes back to 1930’s, and it includes the struggle of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1948 war and all Jihad operations… The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the and kill the Jews, and when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Muslims, O the servants of Allah, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him (Article 7).
The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to deny that. Palestine in its entirety belongs only to the Palestinians. This is the law governing the Islamic Shari’ah (article 11).
Nothing is more significant or deeper than Jihad against the Zionist enemy. Resisting and quelling the enemy become the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. Abusing any part of Palestine is tantamount to abuse part of the religion [which means death]. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad to eliminate the Zionist invasion. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors (Article 13). It is the utmost necessary to instill the spirit of Jihad in the heart of the Muslim nation (Article 15)… Jihad is the path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of all wishes…
This is the ideology. There is no mentioning of the occupation of 1967 borders or peace with Israel in any borders. Indeed, it has never been “the occupation of 1967” but Israeli legitimacy to exist as a Jewish Zionist state.
What about the operational level? The town of Sderot is not in the 1967 occupied territories, nor the town of Ashkelon or all the villages and Kibbutzim around Gaza. They are all in the 1948 Israeli territory, but they are shelled and bombed on a daily basis.
Israel has left Gaza to the last inch in August 2005, by its own decision; willingly. And what happened? Is there peace and tranquility around? The situation has worsened and exacerbated without any comparison to the past when Israel was in Gaza. Hamas has won over the Palestinian Authority, and there erupted three small wars over Gaza. Billions of dollars continue to pour to Gaza, and the result? All the evidence prove that a fourth small war is coming, and the Hamas government continues its aggression.
If the problem is 1967 borders, why do they continue bombing Israeli cities inside the 1948 border? If they are innocent in their demand to free only the 1967 occupied territories, why do they terrorize and shell the 1948 territories? If they want to liberate the 1967 territories, why do they use homicide bombers against Israeli citizens inside the 1948 borders? If the issue is 1967 borders, why do they dig tunnels into Israeli area to hit villages in the 1948 borders?
The clear proof is found in Gaza. Israel has totally retreated from Gaza, to the last soldier and settler to the last cm. there is no occupation in Gaza. And what happened? Hamas won the elections; Iranian officers, Hizballah personnel and al-Qaeda groups are already in Gaza, now the members of the Islamic Caliphate State.
Indeed, on June 20, 2007, Islamist websites posted a 13-minute video, titled: A message from Jaysh al-Islam to ‘Izz Al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, congratulating the establishment of Islamic Emirate (al-Khilafah al-Islamiyah) in Gaza. On June 25, 2007, al-Qaeda deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, calls on Hamas to enforce the Shari’ah in Gaza and to become the front-base of World Jihad. Muhammad Nazzal, a Hamas leader, has declared: if al-Qaeda wants to come to Palestine, they are welcome.
Domestically, there was chaos and anarchy in Gaza between the Palestinians groups themselves. They murdered and butchered each other; they killed injuries in the ambulances and in hospitals; they burn out mosques and shelled universities; they targeted women and children; and all these done openly and it was televised, without any reaction or even attention of world public opinion. One can find TV executions done by the Hamas terrorists against Fath terrorists in the streets. Had Israel done much less than these atrocities, the entire world would have erupted in rage against Israel. Moreover, had Israel given Abu-Mazen full support he would have not survive as the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas won in the so-called West Bank.
Indeed the problem is not, and it has never been the 1967 occupation. Moreover, the conclusion of “the 1967 occupation” will not end the conflict, perhaps, as the Gaza example teaches us, will exacerbate it.
Arab and Palestinian leaders continue to sell the fraudulent mantra that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the heart of the problem and the cause of hostility and violence in the Middle East,” but they know that this claim has not a grain of truth. The conflicts and foci of violence in the Middle East are many and sundry, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of them, and is definitely not the problematic one.
The Arab and Palestinian leadership rides on this wave, in order to hide the collective Arab shame over the lack of unity and the hostility among themselves, and in order to “threaten’ Western interests in the Middle East and to gain its support. The Middle East is almost ruined out of the last five years of atrocities and the disappearance of the state system. There are failed states in the Middle East, and Israel has nothing to do with it, but still has become in world public opinion as the scapegoat to these disasters.
The third misconception is that when the Palestinians declare the two-state solution, it also includes the implementing of “the right of return” of the Palestinian refugees inside the Israeli state. When Israel and the world refer to “the Jewish and Palestinian state solution,” the Palestinians declare instead “the two states solution.” The difference is huge and decisive. They do not mean a Jewish state beside a Palestinian one, but a Palestinian state beside a multi-national or all its citizen state, very soon to become another Palestinian state. Abu Mazen and all the Palestinian leadership clearly declare they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Then, on what terms we talk about?
Indeed, the Palestinian demands are as follows: first, the total Israeli retreat to the 1967 borders, and then to solve the refugee problem inside Israel in its 1967 borders, according to Saeb ‘Areqat and Abu Mazen himself, seven million Palestinians. This is not a peace solution, but a peace of the grave for the Jewish people. In the long run it means one big Palestinian state from the Sea to the River. It also means with high probability, the end of Jordan, being a part of historic Palestine, and Palestinians being 70% of its population.
Two states will disappear for the establishment of one Palestinian state that already exists de Facto: 94 percent of the Palestinians in western area of the Jordan live by their own governmental system and under a Palestinian rule.
The fourth misconception is the belief that Palestinian society is ready and willing for the historical compromise with Israel. Well, Habeas Corpus. Please, anyone who thinks he can, please do it; please, prove it is possible. Sadat came to Jerusalem. Please bring the Palestinians to take his model. Indeed, monitoring the Palestinian communications media; reading the total incitement in educational institutions; listening to the sermons in the Mosques; watching the leaders’ declarations and their political and social agenda; and listening to the anti-Semite speeches and declarations thundering in the streets – all these uncover an atrocious picture as to the nature of Palestinian hostility toward Israel.
Unfortunately, the result will be very highly disappointing to any optimistic person who has a good will and a political drive to bring calm to this area. Anyone will find out that it is very complex attempt to conclude peace with a society that has undergone such processes of socialization and indoctrination of hatred and animosity; that has poisoned its own youth with so highly venom of incitement. Before everything else, we must cut off the vicious circle of the deadly indoctrination to death and Shahadah, homicide bombings, among the Palestinians.
This is the reason why there are the Israeli road barriers. Yair Lapid, one of the Israeli leftist journalists and novelists, has addressed a British lecturer, after the UCU ban on the Israeli academia:
You are right. The most humanitarian act is to take off the security barriers. However, In that case I will die, and I really do not want to die. The only thing that interest me is that the bus my daughter takes to reach her target will not be exploded by a so-called freedom fighter. She only wants to live. Please, promise me this, and you will see all the barriers vanish. Promise me that the terrorists will not use innocent people – small kids and old ladies, or other means to pass over weaponry and bombs devices for murdering Jews in Israel, and you will not see security barriers and other barriers. Promise me to stop the vicious unprecedented phenomenon of the homicide bombers and you will not find barriers. All I ask is just you to understand that I do not want to die. And please don’t tell me that the problem is the occupation. Palestinian terrorism was perpetuated in the 1920’s and 1930’s, much before Israel was established. The occupation should be removed, but terrorism and homicide bombers must be stopped much before. I want to live. So is my family, and this is my utmost priority; and this is why the barriers are so important.
The fifth misconception is related to the religious variable when discussing tolerance. We can unfortunately conclude that in the Middle East, for the time being, religion is not a constructive factor to bringing peace and harmony. Let’s look at the balance sheet:
In Palestine. The Christian plight in Mandatory. Palestine represents the harsh situation and their persecution. From almost 18% of the overall population in 1948, they are now less than 3%, and countdown continues. In 1948, the Bethlehem area was 87% Christian. In 1990, it became 60%, and in 2005 it is less than 15%; and todat only few percent. Joseph Farah, a Christian Arab details: They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being systematically persecuted. This is a massive display of ethnic cleansing and population movement which is covered up by the international media. But the worst is that the perpetrators of these crimes successfully blame Israel for committing them.
In Sudan. There were three waves of genocide onslaught against the black Christians of the south in which millions have massacred and annihilated. The third one, since 1983, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have died from war crimes, and about 2 million have become refugees. Sudan’s genocidal campaign of massacre, torture, rape and starvation is most significant in the world. Sudanese now massacre black Muslims by hundreds of thousands in Darfur, creating 2.5 million new refugees, only because they are black Muslims and not Arabs. This is one of the greatest holocaust to a people since World War II, second only to the Jews and the Armenians.
The man who has uncovered the hideous atrocious massacre in Darfur, is brian Steidel, a volunteer in the Peace Force. One can watch his dreadful film “the Devil on the horseback.” It is worth mentioning that Sudan is an honorable member in the UN Human Rights Committee and other UN committees, and presiding some of them. However, compare this genocide massacre and the attention it gets compare to how the Palestinians are lucky to get all international attention and support, while they are committing the terrorist crimes.
In Iraq. The Christians were 5% of the population in 1930, and now they have almost annihilated – less than 1%. First, there was Saddam Hussein; then when Iraq has become a failed state, due to the US march of folly in the Middle East, the Muslim groups and organizations are perpetrating a genocide against Christians, including the destruction of world historical heritage sites.
To this story of the mass genocide one may add the persecution of the Kurds by hundreds of thousands, and since 2003, another front has been opened: the massacre of Muslim Shiites by Muslim Sunnis through terrorist acts, by Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. He should be regarded perhaps the greatest terrorist ever, who was the father and the Mentor of the Islamic Caliphate State. `Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist, assesses: Not since the Nazi era has there been anything like the declaration of war on the Shiites in Iraq. The Sunnis persecute the Shiites and declare them infidels. al-Qaeda is waging a war of collective extermination against the Shiites in Iraq.
In Egypt. There is constant harassment and persecution of the Coptic Christians. The Egyptian reformist, Tarik Heggy details: the Copts live in a deep religious intolerance, hateful fanaticism and mortal persecution.
In Algeria, the government embarked on a campaign of forced Arabization of the non-Arab Berber Muslim population, including social and economic harassment. From 1992 there is an internal civil war with 130,000 of fatalities.
In Lebanon, the Christians comprised 86% of the population in 1920, and now they are less than 20%, and counting down.
Majid Aziza, an Arab liberal scholar analyzes the plight of the Christians in the Muslim world: They are massacred and tortured, their communities were destroyed, and the acts of coercion, discrimination, and collective expulsion have caused the almost disappearance of the Christian from the Middle East
Gaza has shown the worst behavior of civil war, to the extent that Watch Organization accused both sides with perpetuating war crimes against civilians. We hear new songs: Fath accuses Hamas of perpetuating Nazi means, being blood suckers. Abu Mazen has declared: “Hamas are the sons of evil… the worst enemies of the Palestinians… they deserve death… Hamas have brought Hezbollah and Iran… This is a struggle against the Emirate of Darkness and Backwardness. Gaza will turn into a Taliban-style Islamic emirate with Iranian and Syrian support…”
US: No Restitution to Syria
On April 22nd, an anonymous U.S. “Senior Administration Official” told a press conference in Toronto, that the only possible circumstance under which the U.S. Government will agree to pay anything for the harms (bombings of infrastructure etc.) it’s doing to Syria, would be if Syria will agree to cede, to U.S. control, a portion of its land:
QUESTION: When you say no reconstruction money for areas that are under Assad’s control, there is some reconstruction money that’s currently frozen or under question for areas that are not under Assad’s control?
MODERATOR: That’s stabilization, which is different from reconstruction, just to clarify.
“Stabilization” is the solidification of control by the U.S. Government, via its proxies (‘rebels’ trained by U.S. and financed by the Sauds) who are fighting to overthrow Syria’s Government; and the U.S. won’t pay any reconstruction unless it’s “stabilizing” that particular part of Syria. If America’s 7-year-long effort at regime-change in Syria turns out to be a total failure (grabbing no part of its territory), then the U.S. won’t pay even a cent for restoration of Syria from its 7-year-long war to control that country via installing there rulers who will be doing the bidding of the royal Saud family, Saudi Arabia’s owners, who have been America’s direct agent all along in Syria to ultimately take over its Government. (America’s other main ally demanding regime-change in Syria is Israel, which is a Jewish theocracy; and, of course, no predominantly Muslim nation would accept being ruled by Jews of any sort — nor by any Christians. Consequently, the U.S. has been using the fundamentalist Sunni owners of Saudi Arabia — the Saud family (the world’s richest family) — as its agent to fund Syria’s ‘rebels’, and to select which of the ‘rebels’ constitute, at the U.N.-sponsored peace talks for Syria, the ‘opposition’ who are negotiating against Syria’s elected Government to rule the country.) The other participants, along with the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia, are the Thanis who own Qatar, and the six royal families who own United Arab Emirates — all likewise being fundamentalist Sunnis. Syria’s Government is committedly secularist and opposed to Sharia (Islamic) law. By installing a Sunni Sharia law government, the Sauds would take effective control over Syria — the U.S. would conquer that land.
On March 16th, the Washington Post bannered “Trump wants to get the U.S. out of Syria’s war, so he asked the Saudi king for $4 billion” and reported that “In a December phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, President Trump had an idea he thought could hasten a U.S. exit from Syria: Ask the king for $4 billion. By the end of the call, according to U.S. officials, the president believed he had a deal. The White House wants money from the kingdom and other nations to help rebuild and stabilize the parts of Syria that the U.S. military and its local allies have liberated from the Islamic State.” The U.S., in actual fact, had ignored ISIS in Syria until Russia on 30 September 2015, at Syria’s request, started bombing it and other jihadists there. After that, opposing ISIS became America’s excuse for its earlier and continuing demand that “Assad must go,” and America’s objective then became bombing and totally destroying ISIS’s Syrian headquarters in Raqqa so as for America and its allies to gain access to Syria’s oil-producing region. The U.S. had never bombed any of ISIS’s oil tanker trucks in Syria until it started doing that on 17 November 2015, after Russia had on September 30th begun its bombings in Syria. Ever since 1949, America’s real target in Syria has been to replace Syria’s Government, and this goes back long before ISIS even existed, anywhere; and Barack Obama had entered office in 2009 hoping to be the U.S. President who would achieve that decades-long U.S. and Saud and Israel objective. So, for the U.S. Government, Syria is to be conquered, never to be restituted unless and until, and only to the extent that, it is conquered.
On April 16th, the Wall Street Journal headlined “U.S. Seeks Arab Force and Funding for Syria: Under plan, troops would replace American military contingent after ISIS defeat and help secure country’s north; proposal faces challenges.” This report said that, “The initiative comes as the administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute billions of dollars to help restore northern Syria. It wants Arab nations to send troops as well, officials said.” The article closed: “Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have helped pay the stipends for the Syrian fighters the U.S. is supporting, American officials say. Administration officials are calculating Arab nations will respond more favorably to a request from Mr. Trump, who already has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion to restore former Islamic State-held areas of Syria.”
America’s plan also includes taking control over the dams that supply water to the rest of Syria; so, the goal remains strangulation of Syria’s Government, even if outright conquest of it remains beyond reach.
On 10 June 2017, a meeting was held in Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli, which borders Turkey, and where Syrian tribal leaders met with America’s allies and with U.S. Colonel John Dorrian (shown here holding a press briefing on a different occasion), at which, according to the Turkish newspaper reporting the event, “Representatives agreed on a pipeline route. Radical decisions were made regarding the extraction, processing and marketing of the underground wealth of the Haseke, Raqqah and Deir ez Zor regions, which hold 95 percent of Syrian oil and natural gas’ potential.” However, as of yet, Trump hasn’t been able to achieve the type of deal that he is aiming for. On April 18th, that same Turkish newspaper bannered “US to build Arab force in NE Syria as part of new ploy: The US is seeking to amass an Arab force in northeastern Syria comprised of funding and troops from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.” So, perhaps there will be a portion of Syria that the U.S. will “stabilize” or even, just maybe, restitute for damages done in the effort to conquer it.
Whitney Webb has provided an excellent comprehensive view on which Syrian assets the U.S. Government is hoping to win.
Saudi engagement in Iraq: The exception that confirms the rule?
Stepped up Saudi efforts to forge close diplomatic, economic and cultural ties to Shia-majority Iraq in a bid to counter significant Iranian influence in the country appear to be paying off. The Saudi initiative demonstrates the kingdom’s ability to engage rather than exclusively pursue a muscular, assertive and confrontational policy towards the Islamic republic and its perceived allies. It raises the question whether it is a one-off or could become a model for Saudi policy elsewhere in the region.
The kingdom’s recent, far more sophisticated approach to Iraq is testimony to the fact that its multi-billion dollar, decades-long support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism that at times involved funding of both violent and non-violent militants had failed in Iraq. It constitutes recognition that Saudi Arabia’s absence effectively gave Iran a free reign.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Iraqi charm offensive amounts to a far more concerted and successful effort than attempts more than a decade ago by then Saudi King Abdullah to reach out to Iraqi Shiite leaders, including firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr and involving the organization of a meeting in Mecca between Sunni and Shia Iraqi religious leaders. King Abdullah’s efforts did not at the time involve a crackdown on funding by Saudi sources of a devastating Sunni Muslim insurgency.
King Abdullah’s initiative notwithstanding, Saudi policy towards Iraq for more than a decade since Iraq’s Shiite majority emerged from the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni Muslim rule as a result of the 2003 US invasion was one of non-engagement, sectarianism, and support of the country’s Sunni minority.
It took the kingdom 11 years to open its first embassy in post-Saddam Iraq, the kingdom’s first diplomatic presence in the country since it broke off diplomatic relations in 1990 because of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Even then, relations got off to a rocky start with Iraq demanding the replacement of the kingdom’s first ambassador, Thamer al-Sabhan, after he publicly criticised Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs and the alleged persecution of Iraqi Sunni Muslims.
The emergence in 2014 of Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who succeeded Nuri al-Maliki, seen by the Saudis as an Iranian pawn, coupled with the rise of Prince Mohammed and the Saudi charm offensive in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic state has produced a remarkable turnaround that holds out the prospect of the kingdom becoming an influential player in the reconstruction of war-ravaged Iraq.
Beyond the opening of the embassy, Saudi Arabia is slated to open a consulate in Basra as well as in Najaf, widely seen as Shia Islam’s third most holy city that rivals Iran’s Qom as a centre of Shiite learning. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Prince Mohammed may visit Najaf after Iraqi elections scheduled for May 12.
The two countries have reopened their Arar Border Crossing that was closed for 27 years and restored commercial air traffic for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. More than 60 Saudi companies participated earlier this year in the Baghdad International Fair.
A Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council, inaugurated last year aims to strengthen security ties as well as economic and cultural relations envisions student and cultural exchanges and Saudi investment in oil and gas, trade, transport, education, light industry, and agriculture. Saudi Arabia pledged $1.5 billion for Iraqi reconstruction at a donors’ conference in Kuwait in February.
Saudi Arabia garnered substantial brownie points in February by playing its first soccer match in Iraq in almost three decades, boosting Iraqi efforts to persuade world soccer body FIFA to lift its ban on Iraqi hosting of international matches. The kingdom subsequently promised to build a 100,000-seat football stadium in Baghdad.
In shifting gears in Iraq, Prince Mohammed appears to have broken with decades of Saudi efforts to primarily confront Iran in proxy and covert wars. It remains, however, unclear to what degree Prince Mohammed’s policy shift in Iraq is an indication of a broader move away from sectarianism and support for ultra-conservative militants and towards engagement.
The record is mixed. Saudi Shiite activists see little positive change and, if anything, assert that repression in their heartland in the kingdom’s Eastern Province has increased since Prince Mohammed’s rise.
“Bin Salman is already acting like he’s the king of Saudi Arabia. He keeps telling the West that he will reform Islam, but he keeps raiding the homes of Shia and stripping us of any political rights,” one activist said.
Nonetheless, a Saudi-funded Bangladeshi plan to build moderate mosques to counter militancy, the kingdom’s relinquishing of control of the Grand Mosque in Brussels, and the newly found propagation of tolerance and inter-faith dialogue by the government-controlled World Muslim League that for decades funded ultra-conservatism globally would suggest that Saudi money may be invested in attempting to curb the impact of the kingdom’s decades-long support of ultra-conservatism.
There are, however, also indications that Prince Mohammed is not averse to funding militants when it suits his geopolitical purpose. Saudi funds have flowed since his rise in 2015 to militant religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan at a time that the kingdom was drafting plans to destabilize Iran by exploiting grievances and stirring unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, including the Baloch. Those plans have not left the drawing board and may never do so, but ultra-conservative militants figure prominently in them.
Nevertheless, the magnitude of the shifting of gears in Saudi policy towards Iraq as well as other steps that Prince Mohammed has taken to curb, redirect, and reduce, if not halt, Saudi support for militant ultra-conservatism is highlighted by the conclusions of a 2002 study of funding of political violence conducted by the New York-based Council of Foreign Relations.
Coming in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when Saudi funding and counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States was put under the magnifying glass, the study suggested that the kingdom’s global support for ultra-conservatism was woven into its fabric.
“It may well be the case that if Saudi Arabia…were to move quickly to share sensitive financial information with the United States, regulate or close down Islamic banks, incarcerate prominent Saudi citizens or surrender them to international authorities, audit Islamic charities, and investigate the hawala system—just a few of the steps that nation would have to take—it would be putting its current system of governance at significant political risk,” the study warned.
In many ways, Saudi support for the Iraqi insurgency was a textbook example of the decades-long, $100 billion Saudi campaign to confront Iran globally by promoting ultra-conservatism and sectarianism and in a minority of countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq and Syria – funding violence.
Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi scholar with close ties to the government, said Saudi options at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency included supplying the insurgents with the same type of funding, arms and logistical support that Iran was giving to Shiite armed groups. Another option, he said, was to create new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.
“Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks — it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse,” Mr. Obaid said in 2006.
US and Iraqi officials at the time suspected Saudi Arabia of covertly supporting sectarian Sunni jihadist insurgents opposed to the US military presence in the country and the rise of a Shia-dominated government. While there was no evidence of government assistance, the lines between the actions of private citizens and authorities were and remain often blurred in the kingdom.
An Iraq Study Group report in 2006 at the height of the Sunni Muslim insurgency concluded that “funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.”
Without identifying them, Iraqi officials asserted that funds were also flowing from Saudi charities that often operated as governmental non-government organizations. They said some of the funds had been channelled through Saudi clerics who decided who the beneficiary would be.
Truck drivers at the time described transporting boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia that were destined for insurgents. The transports frequently coincided with pilgrimages to Mecca.
“They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq. I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don’t take it with me, they will kill me,” one driver said. He said he was instructed to hide the money from authorities at the Iraqi border.
One official said $25 million was sent by a Saudi religious scholar to a senior Iraqi Sunni cleric who bought Russian Strela shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles on the black market in Romania.
Baath Party loyalists claimed at the time that a US Air Force F-16 jet that crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting insurgents in Anbar province had been downed by a Strela. The US military denied the claim.
“We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans),” a spokesman for the party, said.
The Iraqi cleric involved in the purchase of the missiles was suspected to be Sheikh Harith Sulaiman al-Dhari, a tribal chieftain dubbed “the Spiritual Leader of the Iraqi Resistance” with a lineage of opposition to foreign rule dating back to the killing in 1920 of a British colonel by his father and grandfather. Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Al-Dhari in late 2006, who has since passed away, on charges of inciting sectarian violence after he visited Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s approach to Iraq has come a long way since the days of the insurgency. The question is whether the kingdom will draw a lesson from its success in the way it manages its regional rivalry with Iran. So far, there is little indication that Iraq is more than the exception that confirms the rule.
Said political analyst Hussein Ibish in a just published study of Saudi-Iraqi relations: “Iraq is the only major regional battleground at present in which Saudi Arabia is relying almost entirely on carrots rather than sticks. Yet, arguably, more has been accomplished by Riyadh over the past year in Iraq than, for example, in either Yemen or Lebanon… Saudi Arabia’s outreach in Iraq, particularly in 2017, belies the stereotype of a rash, reckless, and uncontrolled new major regional actor, showing instead that Saudi Arabia can be deft and delicate when it wants to. That’s an important lesson for the rest of the world, but also for Saudi Arabia itself, to ponder.”
Many sources think that the most significant clashes in Syria are likely to end late this year.
Probably the small clashes between the various ethnic groups and hence among their external points of reference will not end yet. The bulk of armed actions, however, will certainly finish since now the areas of influence are stabilized.
The first fact that stands out is that, despite everything, Bashar al-Assad’s forces have won.
All the international actors operating on the ground -be they friends or foes – have no difficulty in recognizing it.
Certainly neither Assad nor Russia alone have the strength to rebuild the country, but Western countries – especially those that have participated in the fight against Assad – and the other less involved countries plan to participate in the reconstruction process, with a view to influencing Syria, although peacefully this time.
The military start of Assad’s victory was the Northwest campaign of the Syrian Arab Forces from October 2017 to February 2018.
Operations against what the United States calls “rebels” -namely, in that case, Isis and Tahrir al-Sham – focused at that time on the intersection between the provinces of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo.
It is extremely difficult for a regular army to conduct operations against guerrilla organizations, but Assad’ Syrian Arab Army has succeeded to do so.
The subsequent destruction of Isis-Daesh pockets south of Damascus, in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib was decisive to later establish stable and undisputed hegemony of the Syrian forces throughout the Syrian territory – and above all in traditionally Sunni areas.
There is also the issue of Al-Rastan, the ancient town of Arethusa on the Orontes river, located on the side of the bridge uniting Hama and Homs. From the beginning of hostilities, it has been a basis for the jihadism of the so-called “rebels”.
Another military problem is the opening of the bridge and the commercial passage on the border between Syria and the Lebanon, namely Al-Nasib, which is essential for Syria’s trade with Jordan and the Gulf countries.
Conquering the Al-Nasib pass means conquering also the road between Deraa and Damascus, as well as the Syrian side of the Djebel Druze.
Between the Deraa-Damascus road and the Golan, the situation is still largely frozen thanks to the agreement reached by the Russian Federation with the United States and Israel, in which the former guaranteed to the Jewish State that Iran and Hezb’ollah would not get close – up to the limit of 25 miles (40 kilometers) – to the old ceasefire line established in 1973.
Moreover, even though the representatives of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, commonly known as Rojava, were never accepted in the negotiations between the parties in conflict, the Kurds – already abandoned by the United States – know that the territories they freed from Isis-Daesh will be returned precisely to the Sunni Arabs, but in exchange for the autonomy of the traditionally Kurdish districts of Afrin, Kobane and Qamishli.
Furthermore, since the Sochi Conference on the Congress of Syrian National Dialogue held at the end of January 2018, Russia has convinced the 1,500 participants from the various parts of Syria to accept the fact that every ethnic and religious area and every group of Syrian society must be respected and protected by the new Constitution. A break with the old Ba’athist and centralist tradition of the Syrian regime, but without reaching the Lebanese paradox, i.e. permanent civil war.
The political process envisaged by Russia is a process in which the Westerners still present in the Syrian territory had no say in the matter.
Nor will they have it in the future.
The going will be really tough when the time of reconstruction comes.
Reconstruction is the most important future lever for external influence on the long-suffering Syrian Arab Republic, where conflict has been going on for seven years.
The World Bank estimates the cost of reconstruction at 250 billion dollars.
Other less optimistic, but more realistic estimates point to a cost for Syrian national reconstruction up to 400 and even 600 billion US dollars.
Syria does not even dream of having all these capital resources, which even the Russian Federation cannot deploy on its own.
Six years after the outbreak of the conflict, in 2011, the great diaspora of Syrian businessmen met in Germany in late February 2017.
Hence the creation of the Syrian International Business Association (SIBA).
With specific reference to the great Syrian reconstruction, the Russian, Iranian and Chinese governments are already active and have already secured the largest contracts in the oil and gas, minerals, telecommunications, real estate and electricity sectors.
As far as we know, there is no similar investment by Western countries, which will still leave the economic power they planned to acquire in the hands of other countries, after having caused the ill-advised but failed “Arab Spring” in Syria.
Also the BRICS and countries such as the Lebanon, Armenia, Belarus and Serbia invest in Syria, or at least in the regions where peace has been restored and the “Caliphate” does no longer exist.
Usually collaboration takes place through the purchase of pre-existing companies in Syria – something which now happens every day- or through bilateral collaborations with Syrian companies.
With specific reference to regulations, Syria is continuously changing the rules regarding the structure of operating companies, work permits, imports and currency transfers.
State hegemony, in the old Ba’athist tradition – the old Syrian (but also Egyptian) national Socialism which, however, adapts itself to the structure of current markets.
It is estimated that Syrian companies can already provide 50% of the 300 billion US dollars estimated by the World Bank as cost for Syria’s reconstruction.
An estimate that many still think to be rather optimistic.
Nevertheless, it will take at least thirty years to bring Syrian back to the conditions in which it was before hostilities began.
With rare effrontery and temerity, the United States and the European Union are already putting pressure on the Syrian government to be granted economic and political concessions, but Assad has no intention of giving room to its old enemies.
In any case, the Syrian reconstruction will need at least 30 million tons of goods per year from sea lines, while the Latakia and Tartus airports can – at most – allow loads of 15 million tons/year.
From this viewpoint, the Lebanon is organizing a Special Economic Zone around the port of Tripoli, already adapted by China to the international transport of vast flows of goods in cargoes and containers.
Obviously the companies going to work in Syria must also take the physical safety of their workers and their offices into account, as well as the need to have constant, careful and close relations with local authorities.
Furthermore, the US sanction regime also favours President Trump’s plan to topple the Syrian regime through economic pressure, which would make also the work of European companies in Syria very difficult or even impossible.
However what is the need for destroying Syria economically? For pure sadism? The current US foreign policy is not unpredictable, it is sometimes crazy.
The US sanctions, however, concern the new investment of US citizens in Syria; the re-exporting or exporting of goods and services to Syria; the importing of Syrian oil or gas into the United States;the transactions of Syrian goods and services carried out by non-US citizens also involving a US citizen.
Other sanctions will soon be imposed by President Trump on the Russian Federation due to its “tolerance” for the increasingly alleged factories of nerve gas and materials.
Obviously the fact that the Syrian regime is the winner of military confrontation, along with Russia and Iran, is now a certainty.
Nevertheless, loyalist Syrians are still badly supplied, both at military and civilian levels, and they are severely dependent on external aid, which is decisive also for their survival and for preserving their strategic and military superiority.
Without Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad would have collapsed within two months since the beginning of the “Syrian spring”, when the Muslim Brotherhood organized by the United States was demonstrating in the streets violently.
Hence, in the current stability of the Syrian regime, nothing must be taken for granted: the end or decrease of Russian support and the fast return back home of the Iranian Pasdaran and Afghan Shiites organized by Iran would bring Assad’s military and civilian power back to the 2011 level.
Nevertheless Syria does no longer exist as a Soviet-style centralized State.
In Assad-led Syria the centralized economy does no longer exist, for the excellent reason that four primary military powers operate in the country, namely Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States.
They collectively control all the Syrian resources on which the Syrian national government no longer has any power.
As can be easily imagined, the United States holds oil reserves by means of their occupation – through the Kurds – of Raqqa and the Northeastern region.
Turkey holds a nominally Syrian region of approximately 2,400 square kilometers between Aleppo and Idlib, in the area of the “Euphrates Shield” operations.
Russia and Iran already hold the majority of reconstruction contracts, while they will acquire most of the public sector to repay the military expenses they incurred to keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime in power.
Hence if no agreements are reached between Russia and the United States, each area of influence will have different reconstruction and development plans.
As early as the 1945-1958 period, Syria had been the target of expansionist designs that were anyway bound to fragment its territory.
The two Hashemite Kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan thought they could together take control of the whole Syrian State, while their eternal rivals, namely the Saudi-Egyptian axis, thwarted their designs.
Great Britain and France, still powerful in Syria, operated through their Arab points of reference.
CIA collaborated with the Syrian dictator, Husni Zaim.
Zaim was of Kurdish origin and had taken power in 1949. He had organized a regime not disliked by the Ba’ath Party – a Westernizing and vaguely “Socialist” dictatorship.
After Husni Zaim’s fall, Syria was divided as usual: the collective leadership was held by the Sunni urban elite who had fought harshly against France.
Nevertheless, the unity of the nation – which was decisive for the Sunnis themselves – found it hard to bring together the Alawites, the Druze, the Shiites and the thousands of religious and ethnic factions that characterized Syria at that time as in current times.
The nationalist union between Syria and Egypt created in 1958 and soon undermined by Syria’s defection in 1961, experienced its Ba’athist-nationalist coup in 1963, with a military take-over.
Hafez El Assad – the father of the current Syrian leader, who ruled Syria from 1963 to 2000, the year of his death – immediately emerged among the military.
Long-term instability, medium-term political stability. That is Syria, from the end of the French domination to current times.
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