Here are more facts concerning the true situation of Jerusalem in science and history.
Jerusalem was never capital all along its Islamic history
If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third Ḥaram and the first Qiblah; then
Why didn’t it ever serve as a capital city or even an important religious and political city at any time in Islamic history? When the Arab empire expanded by a deep process of imperialism and colonialism, and the Umayyad dynasty was established (661-750) and later on Abbasid dynasty (850-1250), Damascus and Baghdad respectively were established as the capitals, but not Jerusalem. When the Ottoman Empire established (1299-1922) and controlled the Arab lands including the land of Israel (1517-1919), it marked Istanbul (Constantinople) as its capital and not Jerusalem.
The Ottomans, like the Umayyads and the Abbasids were good Muslims, and they followed the Islamic Scripture properly. Does it sound logical that they did not know about the Mosque Muhammad had ostensibly built in Jerusalem? Why Istanbul, Damascus, and Baghdad and not Jerusalem? The fact is that there was nothing important in Jerusalem.
In between there were the Fatimid Caliphate (al-Fāṭimīyūn), an Isma’ili Shi’ite dynasty (909-1171) with its capital in Cairo; the Ayyubid dynasty (al-Ayyūbīyūn) of Kurdish origin (1174-1250), that ruled much of the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries, with its capital in Cairo (1174–1250) and Allepo (1250–1260); and Mamlūk Sultanate (Sulṭanat al-Mamālīk) (1250-1517) that ruled over Egypt, the Levant and Hijaz, with its capital in Cairo.
What is important that all these could have established their capital in Jerusalem, following Muhammad’s teaching and commandment, but they did not, as there was no legacy at all of Muhammad concerning Jerusalem. Moreover, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, cleaned it up from their institutions, and still left the city after calling the Jews to return to it.
From the onset of Islamic rule in 638 to its end 1917, including for the Crusader rule from 1099 to 1187, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Muslim state, nor even a provincial capital, until late Ottoman times, when it only became a special provincial religious site (Vilayet) separate from its larger provincial area [Sanjak].
Even during the 20th century Amin al-Husseini, who for the first time raised the importance of Jerusalem as a political weapon using religious symbols, did not call to mark it the capital of the Arab-Islamic inhabitants. He concentrated his ideas on its religious sanctity and the duty to remove the infidels from it. Moreover, even king ‘Abdallah, whose main interest 1948 war against Israel was to occupy Jerusalem, did not establish it as the Hashemite capital, and Amman remained the capital of Jordan.
How that is over the 1400 years of Islamic rule, Jerusalem did not enjoy the political prestige and religious importance that Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul did? How that is Jerusalem managed to retain its Judeo-Christian character throughout most of the historical period to the middle of the 20th century? Indeed, only under Jewish rule Jerusalem kept its importance as the only capital.
Jerusalem does not have an Islamic name
If Jerusalem was so important to Islam and if Muhammed visited the city and built a mosque there on the Temple Mount called al-Aqşa, and if Jerusalem is the third Ḥaram and the first Qiblah then
How that is Jerusalem do not have even a Muslim name? The first name in all of Islam was given by ‘Umar in 638 after the conquest of Jerusalem. That name was: Iīlya, Madīnat Bayt al-Maqdis. Iīlya was the Roman name for Jerusalem: Aelia Capitolina, a name chosen by Emperor Hadrian whose first name was Ilius, and at the center the “Forum” with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love. The Ḥadīth mentions the name Iīlya in connection Muhammad’s letter to Heraclius, the Roman emperor to surrender to Islam and to accept its religion.
Bayt al-Maqdis in Arabic is from the Hebrew Beit ha-Miqdāsh which means the Holy Temple (literally, the House of the Sanctuary) of the Jews.
Somewhat later on the Muslims used a shortened version of that title to Bayt al-Maqdis alone, emphasizing the Jewish sources of Jerusalem. The name al-Quds (the Holy City) referring to Jerusalem, became popular among Arabic speakers, is derived from the Aramaic root Q-D-S, still maintaining the Jewish word Kudsha (holy). It was introduced in the 10th century, it was unknown to the famous Muslim clerics and exegetes of the 9th century.
It is well-known that according to Islamic tradition the region of Mecca and Medina is called Arḍ al-Quds. Jerusalem was never called by that name, and the name simply called al-Quds was given to it only in the 10th century with heavy Jewish influence. It is believed that the historian and theologian al-Muqaddasi, was probably the first one to use that term from 985 on.
The name al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf, commonly used today by Muslims to refer specifically to the Temple Mount as a means of distinguishing it from the Jewish Holy Temple, came into use only during the 19th century Ottoman Empire. This name had always been the name of the Ka’aba in Mecca. The name “Het al-Buraq”, which ostensibly refers to the Jewish Western Wall is a recent invention of the Palestinians from 1929, following the riots in Jerusalem and Hebron but was used extensively during the time of Yasser Arafat.
One important phenomenon that took place in Muslim history is that any time the Muslims captured a town they Arabized, Islamized and changed the names. Therefore, Damascus (Dimashq in Arabic), a pre-Semitic name known from the 15th century BC, Dammeśeq in Biblical Hebrew, was given the Arabic name “Ash-shām.” In Egypt, al-Qāhirah (Coptic: Kahire, the place of the sun, the ancient name of Heliopolis), means “the Conqueror”, established by the Fatimid dynasty in 968. It has replaced the city name al-Fustāt, the first capital of Egypt under Islamic rule, established by ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas in 641. Both Islamic names came after the old historical capital of Egypt, Memphis. Indeed, if Jerusalem was indeed so important to Islam, why wasn’t it ever given an Islamic name?
Jerusalem was neglected as long as it was under Muslim rule
If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third Ḥaram and the first Qiblah; then
Why was it abandoned by ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb immediately after being captured? He signed a treaty of protection with the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, Dhimma, left to the town to the Christians and Jews, and established the regional capital in Caesarea. After almost 60 years it thrived and became prosperous under the Umayyad dynasty, Jerusalem descended into the depths of oblivion and misery. When the Dome of the Rock collapsed on the 5th of December, 1033, along with the walls of the city, nothing was done by the Muslims to restore these structures for many years.
Again, after a short period of time of fighting the Crusaders, Jerusalem came back under Islamic rule, immediately to relinquish it and calling the Jews to reenter the city. Indeed, during the four hundred years of the Abbasid Dynasty, including the Fatimid, the Ayyubid and Mamluk rule, and during the four-hundred year of the Ottoman occupation, Jerusalem was a neglected city, devoid of any political importance, with destitute social and economic state. Though Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinforced its public structures, he only did so because Jerusalem was a transit city for pilgrims to Mecca, not because of its importance. The city still suffered a state of disrepair and negligence.
Under the Ottomans rule it was placed under the administration of the Damascus Vilayet (province) or Sidon region. Only in the 19th century, it became a (Vilayet), but still much less important than Gaza, Jaffa, Beirut, and other cities around. This is a clear indication how unimportant Jerusalem was to Islam during its history.
Jerusalem was never an Arab or Muslim City from the inhabitants’ perspective. In the mid-19th century, Jerusalem was neglected and impoverished, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. In 1842, the Prussian Consulate in Jerusalem estimated that Jerusalem’s total population of 15,150, of which 7120 were Jews. In April 1854 by Karl Marx stated that “the sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Muslims and 8,000 Jews.” In 1864, the British Consulate reported that while the total population of Jerusalem were 15,000, there were 8000 Jews, 4500 Muslims and 2500 Christians. In 1898, “In this City of the Jews, where the Jewish population outnumbers all others three to one…” In 1914 there were 45,000 Jews in Jerusalem out of 65,000. This is another perspective how Jerusalem was unimportant religiously in Islam. And at the time of Israeli statehood in 1948, 100,000 Jews lived in the city, compared to only 65,000 Arabs.
When and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims?
From all this evidence, comes the big question: when and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims? It was not important and even was not mentioned during Muhammad’s life. It was not important to ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattāb, the conqueror of Jerusalem, who left it to the Christians immediate after its occupation. It became important to the Umayyads only after the revolt of Ibn al-Zubayr, for 60 years. It was again totally neglected during the Abbasid’s rule, and came back to Islamic consciousness only when it was captured by the crusaders in 1099.
The Christians destroyed mosques and synagogues, and replaced them with churches. Most of all, they made Jerusalem the apex of their religious quest. The change occurred only after Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi (Saladin) was appointed in 1187. Fadā’īl al-Quds literature, created by the Umayyad dynasty was distributed and this was the first time the importance of Jerusalem was stated religiously. Still, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi did not take any steps to change the capital of the Islamic world, or to establish Jerusalem’s religious significance.
Jerusalem was even more neglected under the entire rule of the Ottoman Empire, for 400 years. It was forgotten, neglected, and came into oblivion compare to other cities. The change came only after the immigration of the Jews, and the Jewish-Zionist plans to establish a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem.
Only then Amin al-Ḥusseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an anti-Semite and member of the Nazi Party, with his political-religious ambitions, identified the potential of Jerusalem to attract the support of the Arab states and the Muslim world to his struggle against the Jews. Nobody had a greater influence on the Jerusalem Issue than al-Ḥusseini, who as president of the Supreme Muslim Council, was not only the supreme religious authority but also the central figure in Palestinian nationalism.
Husseini saw Jerusalem as the crystallization point for the “rebirth of Islam” and Palestine in its center. Under his encouragement, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassām group, the terrorist “Black Hand,” whose name is borne by Ḥamās’s homicide bombers, was the first to unite the ideology of a devout return to the original 7th century Islam. The “Arab revolt” of 1936-1939 was sparked and led by Ḥusseini. The “Jewish threat” and “saving Jerusalem” was a central theme in the Islamic propaganda. The call was to embark on a Jihad to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
One cannot be surprised that Yasser Arafat, who was a nephew of uncle Amin al-Ḥusseini, took the same road of anti-Semitism and Jerusalem at the center of the struggle against Israel. Yasser Arafat, Rahman Abd al-Raūf al-Qidwa al-Ḥusseini, was born in Cairo. He was not a refugee of 1948 war, and only since 1967, after the Israeli liberation of Jerusalem, he “discovered” Jerusalem as a political issue. The crowds of praying Muslims were not there until the leaders began claiming that Jerusalem is their first Qiblah and Third Ḥaram, from 1994 on. This “discovery” was not displayed before, as long as east Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation.
Before Arafat, it was Abdullah, King of Jordan, who realized the importance of Jerusalem for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and decided to conquer Jerusalem at all costs in 1948. His intention was to make Jerusalem the capital of Jordan. He thought that by doing so he would be able to achieve some religious importance for his kingdom following the loss by the Hashemite family of Mecca and Medina to the dynasty of Ibn Saud. He also sought to enhance his political significance, his prestige and status, and his legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab nations. But he was deterred by the strong resistance of the Arab and Muslim leaders. Amman remained the capital.
However, Arafat systematically pursued his goal of having the Arabs support the notion of Jerusalem’s critical importance for them as the Palestinian’s capital and its ties to Islam. In that capacity Jerusalem could serve as a point of Identification and national pride in order to create a Palestinian people and nation, which never existed at any time in the past. Arafat strove to have the West recognize Jerusalem as the Muslim capital of the world and to recognize him as the Muslim’s political leader.
As we have seen, over the 1,300 years of Muslim rule the following facts are observed: Jerusalem was not mentioned in Islamic Scriptures, and was given the status of Ḥaram only when it came under Infidels’ rule. Jerusalem was never the capital of any Islamic political entity or even an important provincial capital during all its Islamic occupation. The name of Jerusalem in Islamic sources indicates that the city did not belong to the nation of Islam. Religious and other learning institutions were not established. And no less important indication, Jerusalem was always neglected and in oblivion under Islamic rule.
Jerusalem became important politically when it was occupied by others. Religion was used as a veil to confer legitimacy on the Muslims while waging an external campaign against the infidels the Christians and the Jews. Three major periods are distinguished in the Islamic relationship to Jerusalem: the Umayyad; the Ayyūbi and the Jewish-Zionist periods. However, the first who really understood Jerusalem case as an Islamic political symbol was Amin al-Ḥusseini. Yet, the one leader who best understood the importance of Jerusalem as a political epicenter was Arafat.
It is of noteworthy, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple Mount are not called “al-Aqṣā” which means the far-away Land, but rather the “nearby land.” The reason is simple, because geographically it is the land closest to Mecca and Medina. It is clear that Muhammad and the Sahābah did not attribute any importance to Jerusalem, and consequently no conclusion from this evidence is possible except that Jerusalem had no religious or any other kind of significance for Islam.
Jerusalem has become important only for political reasons: it was raised up as an alternative to Mecca against Ibn al-Zubayr’s revolt; it was raised up to fight the crusaders; and it is raised up against Israel. Indeed, Jerusalem’s importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-Muslims control or capture the city. Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem to be their first turn of prayer and their third holy city.
Had it not been for the struggle between the Umayyad and Abdallah Ibn al-Zubayr, no mosque would have been built in Jerusalem with the name of al-Aqṣā, and no claims would have been made by Muslims about the sanctity for them of Jerusalem. Had it not been for the Christian Crusaders and their aspiration to establish the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” and had it not been for Zionism’s activity and establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, Jerusalem would have remained on the margin of the Islamic world. No national-political struggle over the city would have ever arisen, and certainly not a struggle accompanied by the invention of an entire set of myths lacking any historical –religious-political foundation. Indeed, the struggle for Jerusalem is the mere political use of religion for political ends.
At the same time this decision marks the Israeli political defeat. Israeli leaders should have comprehended the Palestinians’ strategy, but their treatment of the subject of Jerusalem testifies to their consummate failure in this matter. Israel should have repeated incessantly that Jerusalem was never the capital of any People or nation at any time in history except for the Jewish People. Unfortunately, Israel bases its policy on defensive-retaliatory measures, under the slogan of “the full cup of blood,” and not on pro-active strategy based on “think first before you act.”
Still, why should the Palestinian leaders make such an incredible lies and ludicrous fabrications? On the face of it, lying, knowingly distorting the truth, in Arab-Islamic culture is simple and easy. However, it is in fact a highly sophisticated strategy. Domestically, this fictional nonsense helps shape Palestinian culture, beliefs, and political behavior of building a national identity. Yet, the important side is the international. The Palestinian leaders know that the world is mired with anti-Israel approach. Unfortunately these rhetorical fabrications resonates deeply anti-Zionism, which has become the new anti-Semitism.
Therefore, the strategy is to deceive and mislead the world by de-legitimizing Israel’s existence and de-humanizing its reality. Western media is the best example of how this strategy succeeds. It has been silent about the fantastic historical fabrications of the Palestinians. It just does not bother itself to engage with the moralistic narratives and the out of the blue stories that stem from outer galaxy about Palestinians having existed 9,000 years ago and Jerusalem being its capital since.
For Western politicians, the media, and human rights organizations the Palestinians’ lies, hatred, anti-Semitism and inhuman incitement are overwhelming the basic common sense. The new “multiculturalism religion” dictates that the sincerity of the Palestinians cannot be challenged since to do so would require making subjective judgments. The post modernism situation means downgrading objectivity as much as elevating multiple narratives as being equally valid, and at the same time there is valuation of feelings over scientific facts.
For example, the PLO representative to the United Nations, stated that Palestinians had “lived under the rule of a plethora of empires: the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Persians, Greeks, Crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans, and finally, the British…. Palestinian Christians are the descendants of Jesus and guardians of the cradle of Christianity.” No comment from The Washington Post editorial.
Most instructive is the case of Reuters. It engages in systematically biased storytelling in favor of the Palestinians that “is able to influence audience affective behavior and motivate direct action along the same trajectory.”
Western critical scientific filters are closed and has become one-way street. Science is no longer free and in fact in our contemporary “multiculturalism religion,” science, history, and common sense no longer matters. Anti-reality continues to spread.
Appendix: Jerusalem and Judaism
Jerusalem, wrote Martin Gilbert, is not a ‘mere’ city. “It holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people.” For more than 3,000 years, the Jewish people have looked to Jerusalem as their spiritual, political, and historical capital, even when they did not physically rule over the city.
Eli E. Hertz puts it: throughout its long history, Jerusalem has served, and still serves, as the political capital of only one nation, the Jews. Unfortunately, history would not be kind to the Jewish people. Four hundred and ten years after King Solomon completed construction of Jerusalem, the Babylonians seized and destroyed the city, forcing the Jews into exile. Fifty years later, the Jews were permitted to return after Persia conquered Babylon. The Jews’ first order of business was to reclaim Jerusalem as their capital and rebuild the Holy Second Temple.
Jerusalem was more than the Jewish kingdom’s political capital – it holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people. Their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem. Jewish ritual practice, holiday celebration, and lifecycle events include recognition of Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish spiritual existence. Jerusalem was a spiritual beacon, and Jews never relinquished their bond to Jerusalem and to the Land of Israel. No matter where Jews lived throughout the world for those two millennia, their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish experience.
It is fair enough to declare that Jewish life without Jerusalem is defective, and Jews without Jerusalem are crippled. It is indeed
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its purpose, may my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not mention you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”
The Bible mentions ‘Jerusalem’ directly 349 times, or with its many other names that glorify it, 669 times. “Zion,” another name for ‘Jerusalem,’ is mentioned 154 times, a total of 823 references. In the Jewish Scripture Jerusalem has 72 names, all of them glorify in admiration its eternal beauty. In the New Testament Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times, and the context always concerns incidents involving Israel in Jerusalem. The Gospels and the General Epistles deal at length with the story of Jesus, who lived in Jerusalem when the Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount.
Indeed, two crucial historical facts demonstrate the unshakeable bond between the Jewish People, the Land of Israel and the Jewish religion – and Jerusalem figures at the center of this bond. Any meticulous historical study would demonstrate that:
First, throughout history many nations ruled over the Land of Israel but only the Jewish people established their country there, three times – during the time of the First and Second Temples, and at the establishment of the State of Israel. The Jews did not establish a state anywhere else and always insisted on returning to their Land and establishing their sovereignty there exclusively. This is a permanent bond. In contrast, and astonishingly enough to prove the Hand of God, never had any of the empires and religions that ruled here established their country in this territory as a unique and separate sovereign state.
Secondly, During the Jewish diaspora many foreign rulers ruled over Jerusalem (Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ottomans, British, and more), but no political entity made Jerusalem its capital and none attached any importance to Jerusalem. This something to note and consider: Jerusalem was never the capital city of any other nation, empire or religion that ruled the area with the exception of the brief period of the crusader “Kingdom of Jerusalem”.
This entity, Crusaders, was not established in the aim of creating a separate political entity, but rather to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim occupation. Conversely, Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jewish nation (and only the Jewish nation) in three separate periods: during the reign of the houses of David and Solomon that began at the end of the 10th century B.C.E.; during the time of the Second Temple and until its destruction in the year 70 C.E.; and since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The outcome result of these two facts is that Jerusalem only flourished and blossomed when under Jewish rule. Throughout most of history while Jerusalem was ruled by others, it remained in a neglected and miserable state. Only under Jewish rule did it become an important city, the capital of a nation.
After nearly 1900 years the Jews have returned en masse to the Land of Israel, established their state and immediately made Jerusalem their capital. They returned in significant numbers to the city in the 20th century, though throughout all it history Jewish presence has existed.
Archaeological Finds. During the past several decades Jerusalem has been extensively excavated. Findings have been unearthed, and those findings substantiate the existence of ancient Jewish life in the Land of Israel. Herewith is only a small list.
A Hebrew University archaeologist discovered a Jerusalem city wall from the time of King Solomon (10th century BCE). The finding “is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon’s building in Jerusalem.” Artifacts found inside excavations around the City of David and within the Old City, date the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as far back as 1000 BCE, during the time of King David.
Many symbols of a menorah were found on coins. Hebraic inscriptions from the time of the First Temple were found. Seals with Hebrew writing dating to the time of the Bible were discovered. About a year ago 33 seals with ancient Hebrew writing were discovered. These date back to the time of the First Temple. The writing on one of the seals reads: “To Hizkiyahu [ben] Ahaz, King of Judah”, and researchers date this finding to the time of King Hezekiah who ruled Jerusalem in 600 B.C.E.
First Temple period findings, an ancient Hebrew seal dated to the First Temple period (approximately 2,800 years ago) was found in excavations near the northern section of the Western Wall. The following words are imprinted into the coin: “To Netanyahu Ben Yaash”. This was apparently a private seal used by a Jew in Jerusalem.
Many ancient Jewish specimens were found at the City of David with Bullae used by private individuals, including Gemaryahu Ben Shafan, who is mentioned in the book of Zekariah and lived during the reign of Yehoyakim King of Judah (2,600 years ago).
The Siloam shaft was also discovered. It was the ancient city of Jerusalem’s source of water. This shaft was dug as an underground tunnel through which water brought to Jerusalem at the time of King Hezekiah (700 B.C.E. found in the Book of Kings II, 20: 20. A Hebrew inscription describing the digging process was unsurfaced where the two groups of excavators met.
Archaeological findings on the Temple Mount: Under the façade of the mosque a ritual bath associated with the Second Temple Period was discovered. Seals of private individuals were found as well as a seal with the words “Yehochal Ben Shilmiyahu Ben Shevi”, a senior minister in King Zedekiah’s government (Jeremiah, 37:3).
Also many coins dating back to the First and Second Temple periods, ritual baths, and a synagogue from the time of the Second Temple were found. At the entrance to one synagogue is a Greek inscription:
“Theodosius, the son of Vatanos, priest and president of the synagogue, son of the president of the synagogue, grandson of the president of the synagogue, built the synagogue in order to read from the Torah and study the commandments, and built the inn, the rooms, and the water facilities to host the needy who come from abroad, which his forefathers, sages, and Samonidas instituted.”
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.
How the Guardian newspaper fulfills George Orwell’s prediction of ‘Newspeak’
On Sunday April 15th, Britain’s Guardian bannered “OPCW inspectors set to investigate site of Douma chemical attack” and pretended that there was no question that a chemical attack in Douma Syria on April 7th had actually occurred, and the article then went further along that same propaganda-line, to accuse Syria’s Government of having perpetrated it. This ‘news’ story opened [and clarificatory comments from me will added in brackets]:
UN chemical weapons investigators were set on Sunday to begin examining the scene of a chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, which had prompted the joint US, French and British strikes against military installations and chemical weapons facilities near the capital, Damascus.
The arrival of the delegation from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came as the Syrian military announced that it had “purified” [no source provided, but this — from 7 March 2018 — is the only source that existed prior to the April 14th missiles-invasion of Syria, and its meaning is very different: the region of eastern Ghouta, of which Douma is a part, after a two-month campaign that killed nearly 2,000 civilians [no source provided as regards either the number, or that all of them were ‘civilians’ and that none of them were jihadists or “terrorists”], following years of siege.
The propaganda-article continued directly: “Units of our brave armed forces, and auxiliary and allied forces, completed the purification of eastern Ghouta, including all its towns and villages, of armed terrorist organisations,” the general command statement said.
No source was provided for that, but this sentence is a sly mind-manipulation, because here is what the Syrian Government’s General Command had actually said: “Statement of the Army General Command declaring Eastern Ghouta clear of terrorism” as headlined by the Syrian Government itself.
In other words: the Guardian’s ‘journalist’ had substituted the word “clear” by the word “purify” and did this after having already asserted but not documented, that the Government had just completed “a two-month campaign that killed nearly 2,000 civilians.” When the Syrian Government announces that an area has been “cleared of terrorists (or of terrorism),” the U.S.-allied propagandist uses the word “purify,” such as “purified the region of eastern Ghouta” or “the purification of eastern Ghouta, including all its towns and villages, of armed terrorist organisations.” But by the time that the reader gets there to “purification … of armed terrorist organisations,” the reader has already been doctrinated to believe that Syria’s Government is trying to “purify” land, or perpetrate some type of ethnic-cleansing. That’s professional propaganda-writing; it is not professional journalism.
Later, the article asserts that, “The OPCW mission will arrive in Douma eight days after the chemical attack, and days after the area fell to the control of Russian military and Syrian government forces. That delay, along with the possibility of the tampering of evidence by the forces accused of perpetrating the attack, raises doubts about what the OPCW’s inspectors might be able to discover.” However, a fierce debate is being waged over whether this was not any real “chemical attack” but instead a staged event by the jihadists in order to draw Trump back into invading Syria. In other words: any journalistic reference yet, at this time, to the event as “the chemical attack” instead of as “the alleged chemical attack” is garbage, just as, prior to the guilty-verdict in a murder trial, no journalistic reference may legitimately be made to the defendant as “the murderer,” instead of as “the defendant.” That is lynch-mob ‘journalism’, which Joseph Goebbels championed.
The Joseph-Goebbels-following ‘journalist’ has thus opened by implying that the Russia-allied Syrian Government is trying to crush a democratic revolution, instead of the truth, that the U.S.-allied Governments are trying to overthrow and replace the Russia-allied Syrian Government. It’s a big difference, between the lie, and the truth.
Another story in the April 15th Guardian was “Pressure grows on Russia to stop protecting Assad as US, UK and France press for inquiry into chemical weapons stockpiles” and this one pretended that the issue is for “Russia to stop protecting Assad,” who is the democratically elected and popular President of Syria, and not to stop the invasion of Syria since 2011 by U.S. and Saudi backed foreign jihadists to overthrow him. Furthermore, as regards “press for inquiry into chemical weapons stockpiles,” the real and urgent issue right now is to allow the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into Douma to hold an independent and authoritative investigation into the evidence there. Russia pressed for it at the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. and its allies blocked it there. But the OPCW went anyway — even after the U.S.-allied invasion on April 14th — and this courageous resistance by them against the U.S. dictatorship can only be considered heroic. Now that they are there, the remaining jihadists in Douma are firing shots at them to drive them away.
That type of ‘news’-reporting is virtually universal in The West, among the U.S. and its allied governments, which refer to themselves as ‘democracies’ and refer to any Government that they wish to overthrow and replace by their own selected dictator, as ‘dictatorships’, such as these regimes had referred to Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, Syria forever, and Ukraine in 2014. It’s Newspeak.
first published at strategic-culture.org
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