The OSCE Ministerial Council elected Italy to chair the Organization in 2018. The consensus decision was taken on July 27 last by the current 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And there is nothing to prevent that – by changing the Statute – also “observer” countries may add to them, as currently happens for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Hence it would be appropriate to use this one-year OSCE Italian Presidency in a good and new way. It is worth recalling that the Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – with a five-year term which started on January 1, 2016 – is the Italian Roberto Montella, a conflict resolution expert who worked for years with the Organization in the Balkans.
Hence we must not think of a remake of the usual “European semester” to be served with bombastic statements, expensive conferences and zero facts, just to show off and publicize the national government.
The issue lies in thinking big, at last.
This is what Italy shall start to do if it wants to survive in the new international scenario.
Hence it shall make use of the largest organization for security in which as many as 57 countries operate, although it is an organization which has not yet full international personality.
However these are results to be reached on the field – not with official documents – as is the case with honor, respect, prestige and charisma.
So far we have seen the Vienna-based organization operating in the field of management and monitoring of elections. Nevertheless there is an extremely important functional factor for OSCE regarding – as by Statute – the settlement of international legal disputes. It is in this field that we must play our cards well.
We must not forget, however, the Warsaw-based office dealing with election observation missions.
In a phase in which there will be important elections – ranging from those scheduled in Somalia for next August to those in the Russian Federation on September 18, in Jordan on August 20, in Morocco on September 18, in the Palestinian West Bank and in Montenegro next October – the OSCE traditional monitoring activity projects the Vienna-based Organization onto the top of the current system of international relations.
This provided that it shifts from the observation of elections to a strategic project, which is not a mere “democratization”, but the redesign of international balances and alliances.
We hope that, with the Italian Presidency, the issue will not only be to monitor the formal regularity of the voting procedures, but to set a new mode of international political and strategic relations in the new global strategic scenario. This scenario has changed all the dreams of decision-makers following the end of the Cold War.
Certainly monitoring elections and, above all, making full use of the international legal affairs management system currently means having a flexible, wide, powerful, influential and universally recognized instrument.
This is designed to start to resolve some of the current global tensions and, in particular, to redesign the map of the balance of power, influence and stability.
Currently using the OSCE means being able to draw a new map of international balances outside the network of the old and now dead alliances: the Atlantic Alliance is increasingly a network à la carte, with Turkey playing its independent game in the Middle East and the United States which use the countries of the old Warsaw Pact to encircle Russia – not to mention the now countless NGOs only dealing with migration, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or health, which are a direct expression of governments (over 54) or strictly regional organizations (at least 32 in this sector).
They are too small to be strategic and too weak to impose a new system of international relations, as well as too sectoral to solve even the problems they would like to solve.
They are all regional organizations and hence not very active: many of them are linked to the major governments of the various regional alliances, while others are still too specific in their scope to carry out strategic and geopolitical tasks and functions.
Therefore OSCE has the size, tradition and role to begin – with the Italian Presidency – to solve a series of problems that neither NATO, an organization which is currently experiencing weaknesses predicted as early as the end of the Cold War, nor the United Nations, too big and inhibited by cross vetoes, nor the EU, now Germany-centered and always deprived of a geopolitical project, nor other similar organizations can start to solve in a new and effective way.
Let us analyze the breaking points of the balance between Europe and the world’s great geopolitical areas which border on Europe or have traditional relations with it.
And let us examine how the OSCE could help us to solve them.
Meanwhile, we must still consider the Balkans.
Excessively fragmented, pending the end of the Cold War, to avoid the Slavonization of the region in relation to Russia, as well as the Serb hegemony, and to finally create independent, but not autonomous statelets, which would be EU members or small potentates.
Therefore the region is still unstable, dangerous, economically problematic and unable to be a rampart against the pressures exerted by the radical or non radical political Islam.
The Wahhabism imported from Saudi Arabia is still spreading like wildfire among the vast Muslim populations in the Balkans. In Bosnia the two different populations have never relinquished the separation project – either consensual or not – and the Republic of Srpska, namely the Serbian part of Bosnia, is threatening a referendum on independence to be held in 2018.
Moreover Kosovo is undergoing a deep economic crisis, but the local Serbs have recently gained the right to territorial autonomy, which has led to harsh demonstrations by the Albanian population that, with some naivety, the United States had promoted to the rank of hegemonic population in the region.
Just think that Kosovo is the “masterpiece” of the two Balkan wars between 1991 (Slovenia) and 1995 (the Croatian war of independence), then of the Bosnian war which began in 1992 and apparently ended in 1995, as well as of the actual Kosovo war, which began in 1991 and ended in 1999, followed by the insurgency in the Presevo valley from 1999 to 2001 and finally by the uprising in Macedonia in 2001.
The dates and number of wars show that the current solution is worse than the tensions which gave rise to the splitting and fragmentation of the Balkans, which has always been the greatest danger for the peace and stability of Europe (and also of its allies).
Here a great project of the OSCE Italian Presidency could be to follow again a great idea of an excellent Italian Foreign Affairs Minister, namely Gianni De Michelis.
Having already foreseen the silly indefinite fragmentation and splitting of the Balkan ethnic groups and micro-nations, in 1991 the Venetian Minister launched the so-called Pentagonal Initiative, later renamed the Hexagonal Initiative with the addition of Poland, which served to stabilize Central Europe, to allow its integrated development and to support the idea of a “united and democratic” Serbia, as well as to finally manage the large infrastructure aid which the Pentagonal Initiative could not fund on its own, but only through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Furthermore, in Minister De Michelis’ mind, the problem was to remove the danger of triggering off more or less historically justified separatisms which would endanger Europe itself – as also happens today.
The issue is still pending and the OSCE could solve it – at least starting from the one-year Italian Presidency – by equipping itself with a series of financial and operational arms on the field, which are practicable considering its autonomy and legal specialization.
Moreover Macedonia is currently without a stable central government and the large Albanian minority is getting organized after some public demonstrations.
The OSCE solution could be a new alliance, a new wider “Pentagonal Initiative” supporting a network of alliances resulting from the crazy geopolitics of the Balkan splitting and fragmentation.
The issue still lies in linking economic aid and investment to a sound internal stability, to mutual military, strategic and commercial consultations between the countries in the region and finally to a new strategic stability pact between the EU and the whole system of micro-States resulting from the Balkan wars fought between the 1990s and 2002.
Here the issue does not lie in the usual and mere monitoring of the regularity of elections, as often happened in the OSCE brilliant history.
As the old saying goes, when the cat is away, the mice will play: once regular elections are over, the country destabilizes itself exactly as if they had not taken place.
The “daily referendum” – as the French historian Ernest Renan called the election process – only works if the political classes and the elites share relevant homogeneous traits.
Hence the real problem that the Italian Presidency shall solve is the “substantial legitimacy and lawfulness” of the micro-States’ actions, thus avoiding their coalescing towards the jihad exporting countries and the strategic porosity of the whole Balkan system which, as previously recalled, is the greatest threat to European stability.
This is the reason why a Pact among all 57 members of the Organization would be needed, ensuring the possibility of an interposition and stabilization intervention – also at military level – outside the NATO context and with the inevitable agreement of the other great country vitally interested in the Balkans, namely the Russian Federation.
Russia has been an OSCE Member State since June 1973.
Another point of tension that the organization could begin to solve is in the Greater Middle East. The Near East we knew in the past was an old design on the British map between London and the Indies: today it is the largest source of global instability and the point in which all the geopolitics threads converge, both eastwards and westwards.
Many of the smaller Islamic countries of the region are OSCE Member States: Turkmenistan (since 1992), Azerbaijan (since 1992), Uzbekistan (since 1992) and, more importantly, Turkey, which is an OSCE Member State since 1973.
At this juncture the issue lies in encompassing Israel, which is not a member of the Organization, along with some other countries in the region.
The Jewish State is even the key to the new OSCE which should start with the Italian Presidency: firstly, it would be the pivotal link between the Organization and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, the new “Silk Road” between East and West proposed by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Nevertheless China, too, is not an OSCE Member State – hence the quick and anti-bureaucratic role played by the Organization’s “observer members”.
Moreover, Israel could provide to the OSCE its great economic and technological potential, which is essential for the new foreign policy which is in the offing.
And in so doing Israel could also reconnect its foreign policy with a wide network of alliances and mutual balances which it currently lacks in the new Middle East devastated by the jihad.
Nothing prevents, however, that the entry of new countries in the region allows to implement less war-directed rules and regulations than the current ones, in a context of relaxation of tensions in the region in which Israel could also avoid the two-way relationship both with the Russian Federation, which has other interests in the region, and with some Iran’s Islamist enemies, with which Israel’s relations are bound to be written on water.
Hence to make Israel get out of the current strategic cul de sac and impose, at least on a part of the Arab world, new negotiations, outside the Cold War myths – for example, we can here consider the hypothesis, never relinquished by Saudi Arabia, of an exchange between territories and pan-Arab (Sunni) recognition.
Old stuff, which could be overcome if the OSCE proposed itself not only as an organization capable of managing elections, but also as an organization active in conflict resolution within a new context, by involving old and new regional and global players in the negotiations.
I am referring to Russia, China, as well as many Central Asian republics, and even to the United States which, in this case, would see their leadership within NATO be less burdensome for them.
Another issue to be considered in the new OSCE set-up here proposed is Great Britain’s new economic and strategic integration after the Brexit.
Great Britain is now an autonomous country, but it cannot fully use its Commonwealth, in which many countries now have size and interests which are very different from the British ones. It is currently outside the EU political context, regardless of the date of its formal exit from the European Community.
Great Britain has been an OSCE Member State since June 1973 and the network we are planning for the new organization is such as to mostly replace the system of alliances that Great Britain had reached with the EU throughout its long membership.
Hence support on an equal footing and not monopolized by the European concert for the new British globalization.
We must be well aware that while the UK cannot do without the European strategic system, which is its natural bulwark for geopolitical security, not even the EU can do without Great Britain, a member of its military nuclear club and a country of great influence within the UN Security Council, as well as a globally strong and autonomous financial center.
The EU is blind without Great Britain, while the latter could become deaf without a network uniting the EU and the rest of the world, such as the OSCE.
Hence, with its integrated system of international relations and its legal expertise, which could be used both in trade negotiations and in more strictly strategic ones, the Organization could be a good way to recover Great Britain, which cannot leave the EU alone.
Therefore I am thinking, first and foremost, to a large OSCE Conference on the Greater Middle East, in which some basic points would be established: a) Israel’s universal recognition and the equivalent right to its autonomous self-defense; 2) an Israeli system of relations, through the OSCE, with all regional and global players without the dangerous burden of interactions with the United Nations and NATO; 3) the redesign – not imitating the Balkan follies – of the Arab areas in the region, with an OSCE interim protection for small countries and such a border protection as to finally prevent the Islamic globalization, namely the jihad.
Briefly a “Pentagonal Initiative” for the Middle East.
In the Balkan region which, as we all know, has always been the hotbed of European instability, we shall follow the heritage left by former Minister Gianni De Michelis: stabilization of the region; avoidance of the crazy virus of ethnic fragmentation and splitting; the network of intra-State aid which, in this new strategy, could be integrated with the Chinese aid of the Road and Belt initiative.
The great OSCE Conference should make Great Britain come back into play in the international system, precisely through the Organization, so as to recover it to a Grand Strategy without too many debts with the United States and suitable for what is still a major world power.
Once again, through the OSCE, Israel could establish its new network of international relations, thus quelling many Arab countries which, although not being members of the Organization, are too experienced to neglect it.
Hence the issue lies in shifting – by also making OSCE acquire autonomous international personality – from an Organization only monitoring elections to an Organization which, pending the structural crises of the others, plans and designs a new geopolitics in the most important points of tension: the Balkans, Northern and Eastern Europe and, above all, the Greater Middle East.
It is a major challenge to which the OSCE Italian Presidency should be able to rise up.
Assad’s Army and Intelligence Services: Feudalization or Structurization?
Authors: Anton Mardasov* & Kirill Semenov
2017 marked a turning point in the Syrian conflict. With the full support of Russia and Iran, the Bashar al-Assad regime was able to neutralize the “domestic threat” completely. Throughout 2017, Damascus used the situation to carry out “outlying” operations, manipulating the ceasefire agreements and other accords reached as part of the Astana Peace Process. As soon as a relative calm would settle in a given “de-escalation zone” [in the opinion of the present authors, quotation marks are necessary in this case, as they indicate the real nature of these four zones], the regime would start transferring the available forces to other areas. First to eastern Syria in order to break the blockade of Deir ez-Zor and establish control over adjacent areas, which undoubtedly accelerated the downfall of the “Caliphate,” then to Idlib Governorate. And then, taking advantage of the agreements reached between Russia and Turkey on the division of spheres of influence in this “de-escalation zone,” to East Ghouta. Now Damascus has the initiative in terms of launching an offensive and a significant advantage over opposition groups.
The State of Affairs
As early as the beginning of 2017, the Syrian opposition demonstrated its ability to consolidate efforts and respond to the regime’s offensive manoeuvres. One such example is the way it managed to reduce “tension” in East Ghouta by carrying out distracting operations of its own in Daraa and Hama. However, the Syrian opposition became irreversibly fragmented after the process to form the de-escalation zones began, accompanied by the establishment of an external protectorate over these zones. As a result, most of the opposition factions in Greater Idlib now operate exclusively in the interests of Turkey, and the Amman Agreement between Jordan, Russia and the United States regarding the southwest de-escalation zone has succeeded in taking the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front out of the game. External actors have played a decisive role in the outcome of the confrontation between Damascus and the internal opposition, cutting off aid to opposition factions and effectively splitting them into isolated fragments.
That being said, until February 2018 (when the Russia–Turkey agreement made it possible to wrap up the active operation in Idlib and focus forces on East Ghouta), all the efforts of the elite units of the 4th Armoured Division, as well as the Syrian Republican Guard and other regular units of the Syrian Arab Army, to repel opposition forces in East Ghouta’s Jobar and Ayn Tarma ended with the withdrawal of government-sponsored troops after significant losses. The operation in Harasta ended with the encirclement of a Republican Guard battalion and the deaths of five colonels and brigadier generals. The same thing happened during an operation in Daraa in the south of the country.
Despite the active support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian Special Forces and the Shiite “Expeditionary Corps” led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and various Iraqi factions, the government forces still suffered significant strikes from the heavily outnumbered Islamic State. One such event took place in Homs and Deir ez-Zor in September–October 2017, when Islamic State units managed to cut off almost all the supply routes to pro-Assad troops operating along the Euphrates. The only thing that prevented the terrorists from building on their successes was the lack of numbers on the part of Islamic State (very few detachments are left) and the haphazard band-aid approach adopted by Russian specialists on the issue.
Thus, Damascus’ victories over its opponents can, for the most part, be put down to favourable circumstances and external support, rather than to the regime’s strengthening of its forces or increasing its combat effectiveness, despite the great efforts Russia has expended to train Syria’s military personnel and provide its regular units with up-to-date military technology.
Counting on the fact that these manipulations have successfully paralyzed the opposition to the point that pro-government forces will now be able to deal with current challenges does not eliminate the need to have a national military structure – without the growing Shiite International.
At present, the armed forces that Bashar al-Assad relies on continue to be an assortment of groupings, all of which depend on Damascus to varying degrees. There is no unity within the army in terms of readiness to unquestioningly carry out the directives of its leadership. There is a complicated system of approvals for the use of “elite” sections of the Syrian Arab Army in specific operations. This even applies to its most elite components: the 4th Armoured Division, the Syrian Republican Guard, Suheil al-Hassan’s “Tiger Forces” and individual units of other sections – for example, the “Deir Al-Qalamoun” unit of the 3rd Armoured Division and the “Saif Al-Mahdi” unit of the 4th Armoured Division, among others. At the same time, the combat effectiveness of the Syrian Arab Army’s combat manoeuvre units leaves much to be desired, and attempts are made to avoid moving them to regions far away from their areas of permanent deployment.
Various paramilitary groupings that do not answer directly to the Syrian Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the state security organs continue to play an important role, including the so-called National Defence Forces, the Local Defence Forces, foreign (primarily Shiite) groups, and other units created by them in Syrian territory, made up of Syrian nationals. There are at least twice as many fighters in the irregular army formations as in the Syrian Arab Army itself.
The Syrian crisis has made it possible for political institutions to acquire their own military formations. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party still has active squadrons, some of which are part of the 5th Corps. Eagles of the Whirlwind is the military wing of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. And the Syrian Resistance is a left-wing paramilitary group led by Mihrac Ural, who is considered a terrorist in Turkey.
The formation of various paramilitary structures – military wings of mafia-like clans, private military companies, regional and tribal militias and militarized political organizations – has undermined the stability of the regime. These forces do not simply support Damascus. From the very beginning, they have attempted take root in government institutions and/or take control of various sources of income. It is no secret that various Shabiha detachments currently operating under the aegis of the National Defence Forces control the checkpoints, which in practice means that they have access to corrupt schemes, including the opportunity to send radical opposition fighters into the Turkish zones of influence. A number of figures associated with the pro-Iranian Syrian group Liwa al-Baqir (the Baqir Brigade, part of the Local Defence Forces) have their own fleet of minibuses and continue to operate transport businesses.
Given that Damascus is in dire need of local groupings in order to maintain stability and security, these militias will probably continue to exist after victory is declared. All the more given that all armed militia groups were legalized in 2013 and given permission to carry out their “activities” by the Ministry of Interior.
The incorporation of the National and Local Defence Forces into state structures was predetermined by the fact that both the Syrian special services and the army were unprepared for an uprising, and the vacuum thus created was filled by paramilitary groups. Iran also took advantage of this by helping set up various paramilitary structures and thus establishing a multi-echeloned presence in Syria.
Worthy of separate note is the Fifth Corps of Volunteers, an autonomous military structure that was created with the direct participation of Russian military advisers. According to some reports, the corps itself is also led by Russian generals. The corps can hardly be regarded as a regular military formation. It consists of various subdivisions made up of volunteers and is financed by a number of non-government sources. It also contains certain pro-government Syrian forces that existed before the corps was set up, including those financed by private individuals (the “Sea Commandos”) or set up with the participation of Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan). At the same time, the inclusion of defectors and objectors from among the Sunni population in the Fifth Corps was apparently supposed to break the stereotype about the sectarian foundation of the pro-government forces and the auxiliary nature of the Sunnis’ participation in the war. However, the experiment has yet to bear fruit. The most combat-ready units of the Fifth Corps – the so-called ISIS Hunters – are again “sectarian militias” (as far as Syria’s Sunni majority is concerned). Such groups are made up primarily of Syrian Christians and Alawites (for example, the aforementioned “Sea Commandos”) or Shiites (Liwa Dir’ al-Watan, with the participation of Lebanese fighters). Work of this kind is likely to continue: according to some reports, work on the establishment of a 6th Corps is already under way.
Sooner or later the Syrian armed forces will surely face the challenge of transition to a peaceful life. In this context, it is important to understand what will happen to the large number of paramilitary formations and militias. The Iraqi leadership is attempting to solve this very same problem at home, having initiated a procedure to integrate soldiers of the militia group “Khashd ash-Shaabi” into the country’s armed forces. The experience gained during the creation of the 5th Corps, as well as its predecessor (the 4th Corps) can be used to help integrate certain paramilitary structures into the Syrian Arab Army and the Ministry of Interior.
It is also possible at the initial stage to revive the three corps of the Syrian Arab Army that formally existed before, turning them into territorial commands. All the regular and paramilitary units could be placed under their control on a territorial basis, thus becoming parts of the regular forces, identified by numbers instead of names. This is a necessary step, because many of these structures simply refuse to dissolve themselves, as in the case in Iraq. However, their existence should be legalized and their activities brought into line with military regulations.
Another problem is how to overcome the increasingly “sectarian” nature of military forces in Syria. All or most of the combat-ready units are made up primarily of national and religious minorities. Sunnis play a secondary role, mainly serving in auxiliary, “second echelon” groupings. Attracting Sunnis who have fought or lived in opposition territories, earning their trust and ensuring that they carry out their duties in a diligent manner will also be a key issue.
A Necessary but Unrealistic Scenario
If we distance ourselves from the propaganda and frankly dilettantish stereotypes about the Syrian opposition, then the best option for establishing an ethnic and confessional balance would be to unite the opposition groups and pro-government forces into a single structure. This is the kind of renewal of the armed forces that the UN documents envision. It is hardly possible, for example, to incorporate the insurgent factions that have, with Turkey’s support, united to form the Syrian National Army (SNA, which operates exclusively in Northern Aleppo) into existing Syrian Arab Army units and divisions. The leadership of the opposition factions will not agree to this, bearing in mind what happened in Tajikistan (where the opposition was liquidated after its divisions were incorporated into government units). One possibility is to form about five to seven separate corps and divisional units from opposition forces and establish a single military council involving the Syrian National Army and the Syrian Arab Army.
However, neither Damascus nor Tehran, nor indeed Moscow, is interested in such a scenario. Although it is far easier for the Russian side to play along with the Syrian regime, which seeks to eliminate the Syrian opposition once and for all by military means, that goal would serve only to strengthen the positions of Iran and Syria. Moscow has had a significantly more difficult time than expected positioning itself as a moderator in the conflict and maintaining effective working relations with the opposition groups that participated in the Astana Peace Process and signed agreements with the Russian military in Cairo and Geneva. Integrating the opposition into military and political structures that are aligned with the current regime could serve as a natural counterweight to the influence of Iran and preserve a certain balance of power that is beneficial to Moscow. The big question now is: to what extent will Moscow be able to maintain control over its “client,” given that Tehran is clearly benefitting from the situation?
Reform of the Military Intelligence Services
Against the backdrop of the Islamic State’s transition to clandestine activities in Iraq and Syria (which is common for the group) and various other challenges, the role of the Syrian intelligence services is acquiring greater significance. Their activities today little resemble the standards adopted in the sphere. Opportunities to carry out covert intelligence work have been greatly reduced, and the grassroots tools of state governance have been destroyed. The Syrian intelligence services were not even able to prevent terrorist attacks on the National Security Council building.
At present, the Syrian intelligence services do not seem to have an analogue anywhere in the Middle East. Four independent security structures operate within the Syrian Arab Army. These structures are divided into “military,” which includes military intelligence and aerial reconnaissance (Air Force reconnaissance) and “political” (civilian units formally subordinate to the Interior Ministry), which includes the main security department and the department for managing political security. All of these structures answer directly to the president. However, the system of intelligence services in Syria reflects the complexity of relations and confrontations among various groups of influence in the country’s ruling elite. The system is constructed in such a way that the individual intelligence services effectively work against each other, which makes it impossible for any single “branch” to become significantly stronger than the others.
Air Force reconnaissance was conceived as the intelligence structure “closest” to the heart of former president Hafez al-Assad, who was a fighter pilot himself. As a result, it effectively turned into an independent state security agency, with its own external intelligence and counterintelligence divisions, and even a department for combatting anti-government activities. During the Civil War, the Air Force reconnaissance formed an entire “pleiad” of special forces units to carry out operations using heavy machinery. The other three “branches” took similar steps in order to prevent any one of the intelligence agencies from becoming significantly stronger than the rest.
It would appear that the simplest solution for transforming the Syrian intelligence services with the goal of optimizing their activities would, first of all, be to merge Air Force reconnaissance and military intelligence into a single organ of the General Staff of the Syrian Arab Army, and strip these structures of the ability to carry out political investigations. As for the political security structures, it would be practical for one of them to focus exclusively on external intelligence activities, while the second could be engaged in counterintelligence and anti-terror activities. In other words, Syrian intelligence services would be brought up to global standards.
It is also imperative to create border security forces to control Syria’s eastern frontiers first and foremost, but also the entire border, as a kind of unified system with its own social and infrastructural characteristics. While Hafez al-Assad paid special attention to the country’s tribes, granting their leaders various privileges and taking their views into consideration in political life, his son Bashar all but forgot about them, which combined with drought in the regions and the misallocation of resources created the conditions for social upheaval. The years spent under the control of radical groups transformed the tribal social fabric even more. At present, the regime relies primarily on the Suqur al-Furat militia, which contains members of the Al-Shaitat tribe, to carry out its activities in the eastern part of the country. The tribe attempted a revolt against the Islamic State rule in 2014 but was defeated in a gruesome fashion. Damascus used this as a pretext to organize a military training programme for the tribe’s members and announced an amnesty for them.
If Damascus is unable to hold a constructive dialogue with the Sunni tribes, then there is a risk that the Islamic State will emerge once again in one form or another as a result of the joint efforts of independent Sunni groups and radicals (operatives, preachers, etc.), who will be able to remain in the country. It is all the more important to deal with the cadres who are familiar with the local terrain in the east of the country could help prevent smuggling, with which both Damascus and Baghdad have well-documented issues.
*Anton Mardasov, Military Observer Head of the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Institute of Innovative Development
First published in our partner RIAC
Russia Says U.S. Trains Jihadists to Do Chemical Attacks Blamed Against Assad
On March 17th, Russia’s Minister of Defense (equivalent to America’s Secretary of Defense) announced, through Russian General Staff spokesman General Sergey Rudskoy: “We have reliable information at our disposal that US instructors have trained a number of militant groups in the vicinity of the town of At-Tanf, to stage provocations involving chemical warfare agents in southern Syria. Early in March, the saboteur groups were deployed to the southern de-escalation zone to the city of Deraa, where the units of the so-called Free Syrian Army are stationed. They are preparing a series of chemical munitions explosions. This fact will be used to blame the government forces. The components to produce chemical munitions have been already delivered to the southern de-escalation zone under the guise of humanitarian convoys of a number of NGOs.”
He also said:
“The provocations will be used as a pretext by the United States and its allies to launch strikes on military and government infrastructure in Syria. We’re registering the signs of the preparations for the possible strikes. Strike groups of the cruise missile carriers have been formed in the east of the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea.”
He went on to add that in the most jihadist-friendly province, Idlib, another such “false flag” attack is being prepared by Al Qaeda in Syria, called there, “Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, in coordination with the White Helmets,” which is a group financed by the U.S. and UK Governments to rescue victims of bombings by Syria’s Government and its ally Russia.
This would hardly be the first example of such attacks. For example, on 14 January 2014, MIT’s Theodore Postol and the former U.N. Weapons Inspector Richard Lloyd co-authored a detailed technical study and analysis, regarding “the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013” (which was the most-famous sarin-attack, in East Ghouta), saying that “the US Government’s Interpretation of the Technical Intelligence It Gathered Prior to and After the August 21 Attack CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT,” and documenting that the rocket had actually — and clearly — been fired from an area that even the U.S. Government’s own maps showed to be under the control of the ‘rebels’, whom the U.S. Government supported, and definitely not of the Syrian Government, whom those ‘rebels’ were trying to overthrow. (That was the incident in which U.S. President Barack Obama announced to the world his “red line” and then said that the Government headed by Bashar al-Assad had crossed it and that this justified a U.S. invasion, but Seymour Hersh said that it had become blocked by the UK/s intelligence lab at Porton Down, by their finding that the sarin which had been used in this attack wasn’t of a type that the Syrian Government had in its arsenals.) There have been several such “false-flag” attacks, in order to get the public to support invading Syria. However, the main way that the U.S. and its allies try to overthrow Assad and his Government is to arm and protect Al Qaeda in Syria, which leads the various jihadist groups there (other than ISIS).
From Radical Ecology to Ecoterrorism
The schools of thought of contemporary eco-terrorism are many, but those that use an antagonist theoretical-practical approach can be identified in deep ecology, feminist ecology, Marxist ecology, primitivism, degrowth ecology, the Slow Food movement, ecology, animalism (which together with vegetarianism is a logical consequence of radical ecology) and, finally, eco-terrorism. In this sense – beyond the often demagogic rhetoric – eco-terrorism does not differ from the above-mentioned schools of thought because of its ethical-philosophical assumptions but rather by the operative procedures through which its antagonism is carried out. Therefore, an ideological community exists, whether implicit or explicit, in the main schools of thoughts of ecology and eco-terrorism. These schools of thought, however, can be associated with the idea of radical ecology.
Definition of radical ecology
While continuing to take the complexity of current ecology into account, the expression “radical” is used to indicate extremely antagonist ecology, from Pinochot’s utilitarian conservationism, which was deeply anthropocentric and aimed to rationalize the use of nature toward a lasting economic exploitation, to Haeckel’s neo-Darwinian approach, Tanskey’s view, Lotka’s trophic-network ecology, and finally, Odum’s thermodynamic approach. Firstly, radical ecology comprises the holistic preservationism of Thoreau, Emerson, and Leopold, ecofeminism, political ecology, deep ecology, primitivism, social ecology, the degrowth movement, the Slow Food movement, eco-regionalism, animalism, and eco-terrorism. Secondly, although the list of the organizations is not complete, it is important to underline that the several “-isms” do not exclude the possibility of profitable contaminations among the different schools of thought. Thirdly, the epistemological, political and philosophical features shared by the above-mentioned schools of thought can be identified as follows:
- they all support a structural modification of the current economic system and are against the supranational institutions that control global capitalism, in particular, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank;
- they are in favor of the anti-globalization movement, and know its limits and potentials;
- they share an eco-centric, bio-centric, anti-anthropocentric, holistic and sometimes organicistic perception of natural reality;
- they are against a mechanistic vision of reality such as Bacon’s and Descartes’, and are in favor of legal extensionism;
- they support a relevant extension of representative democracy or a radical exceeding of it in favor of an anarchic, neo-tribal society, or a participatory democracy;
- they share and develop apocalyptical and radical scenes of current society’s environmental and economic condition;
- they advocate a change in the ethic of western civilization through an eco-pacifist reorientation carried out by counter-information;
- they are against military institutions and share a typical interpretation of irenic pacifism;
- they are against the use of biotechnologies in agriculture and the civil and military use of nuclear energy;
- several members of radical ecology share a new interpretation of nature according to neo-romantic or oriental philosophies (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Zen philosophy);
- many scholars and activists belonging to radical ecology embrace animalistic and vegetarian views which they deem deeply coherent with an ecocentric vision of nature.
- Finally, several exponents of radical ecology refer to 1968 culture, and to underground American and tribal cultures.
In short, regarding the operative procedures carried out by the several schools of thought or radical ecology, we should point out the difference between non-violent and terroristic ones. There are three levels of antagonist procedure: a) non-violent practice strictly antagonist toward political and legal institutions; b) non-violent practice with an entryist political logic toward national and supranational political institutions; c) publically terroristic practice. We should, nevertheless, underline the differences between positions a) and b) both of which are well-organized and opposing: the first clearly condemns the use of terroristic procedures, the second supports terrorist procedures – but without putting them into practice – and is therefore ambiguous.
The historical predecessors of radical ecology
According to Livorsi, the genesis of radical ecology can be easily traced from a historical point of view to the philosophical and religious interpretation of Bachofen and the Marxist psychoanalysis of Reich as well. The author of the “Canticle of the Sun” (“Cantico del Frate Sole”) not only asserts the sanctification of the world by God – in other words, the sun, the moon, and the animal world – but also refers to Mother Earth, anticipating the modern concept of “Gaia” . Moreover the heterodox pantheism of Saint Francis implies a brotherhood between human beings and creatures according to an ecocentric and egalitarian view. The French philosopher Rousseau, in his “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” (“Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les homes”), emphasized the goodness of the state of nature and the existential authenticity of the human being in this pre-civilized context, while condemning in the meantime private property and therefore civilization determined by technique. Moreover, unlike civilized society, tribal society conducted an ecocentric, egalitarian and communal style of life. Bachofen, in his reinterpretation of the history of civilization, emphasized the existence of a gynocratic, anti-patriarchal view in pre-Achaean society in which there was no private life, there was sexual freedom, nature was accepted as a living organism, and above all, the modus vivendi was built on egalitarian pacifism.
In short, regarding Reich, the rise of patriarchy brought about the triumph of capitalism, the closed family, and sexual repression. The natural and erotic man who struggles for a libertarian socialism has reemerged only rarely in history, such as in the Paris Commune in 1871, for example.
Definition of Terrorism and Eco-Terrorism
According to Pisano, terrorism can be defined as a non-conventional form of conflict because it lies outside both democratic, organized and civil dispute and the traditional battlefield of war regulated by international law. Terrorism is characterized by three elements: a) physical and psychic criminal violence, b) political, religious political or social political movement, and c) the use of illegal structure. Traditional terrorism, as Pisano explains, together with neo-terrorism, coexist both as a threat and as a concrete aggression. Neo-terrorism is performed by dynamic and polymorphous schemes that can intertwine while preserving their methodological and operational autonomy at the same time. Pisano indicates ecologic terrorism, narco-terrorism, the NRBC, and cyber-terrorism as the most important.
Ecologic terrorism (the topic of our research) is based on lay and/or religious ideological ideas and from an organizational point of view is carried out alternatively by cellular organizations with no hierarchies and by binary structures that are cellular and propagandistic at the same time. Ecologic terrorism furthers its antagonism through several operative procedures: 1) obstructive human barriers (lock box), 2) machinery sabotage, 3) arson and explosive detonation, 4) legal instruments focused on reporting abuse by police, 5) assemblage and road blocks, 6) intrusion within military installations or scientific and university institutions, 7) wide use of misinformation through media, internet and magazines, and 8) instigation to tax evasion. The enemies or targets to strike are several in number as well: 1) national and supranational capitalism, 2) the state, which defends its interests and consolidates its power, 3) national and supranational military institutions, and 4) scientific and university laboratories.
In a nutshell, eco-terrorism presents two fundamental trends: animal (such as ALF, ARM or JD) and environmental (e.g. Earth First!). In conclusion, Pisano suggests that the dangers of eco-terrorism are linked to the potential strengthening of its organizational power, creation of operative or ideological ties with traditional terrorism, and the consolidation of its relations with the anti-globalization movement.
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