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Middle East: From COVID-19 invasion to an epidemic of disintegration?

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The recent declaration of autonomy in southern Yemen and Khalifa Haftar’s declaring himself the ruler of all Libya once again drew the world’s attention to the phenomenon of separatism. This phenomenon is certainly not new, amply exemplified by events in Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders and South Tyrol. In Europe, the problem is normally discussed and resolved on a legal basis, if not always peacefully. When it comes to Asia and Africa, the chances of legal settlement of such issues are even lower.

Back in the early 1990s, Bernard Lewis, a renowned expert on Islamic civilization, foresaw the breakup of a number of states in the Greater Middle East. Later, in 2006, Armed Forces Journal published the “future” map of the region, drawn up by the US military expert, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, who predicted the division of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite states and the emergence of a number of countries on parts of the territories of today’s Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The events of the largely foreign-influenced “Arab Spring” gave a strong boost to the centrifugal processes in the region. In some places it resulted in the downfall of political regimes, in others it led to their transformation. Armed conflicts flared up in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, which continue to this day and there are no guarantees that before very long these countries’ borders won’t change.

The start of the leap year 2020 was marred by the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, followed by an oil price collapse. According to the World Health Organization, the health care systems of developing countries are unable to cope with the pandemic on their own due to the lack of medical facilities, equipment, medical staff and even basic protective gear. While developed countries have allocated huge financial resources to check the spread of COVID-19, poor countries, most of which are struggling for survival, cannot afford the introduction of long-term quarantine, nor do they have enough money to assist their citizens. Moreover, the real picture of the spread of the coronavirus infection in developing countries remains pretty dim, meaning that the socio-political consequences of the pandemic for these countries can be disastrous.

The dramatic fall in oil prices has not only dealt a severe blow to the economies of the oil-producing countries, sharply choking off their budget revenues, but it also exacerbated the situation in the countries that survive largely on money transfers from their citizens working abroad and assistance from oil and gas-rich neighbors.

In addition, the region has enough old problems to deal with.

Yemen, which is a patchwork of various tribes and tribal unions, was established in its present form in 1990 as a union of North and South Yemen (or rather as a result of the annexation of the country’s southern regions by the North). According to the UN, the country experienced a genuine “humanitarian catastrophe” even before the advent of the coronavirus and collapsing oil prices.

Just four years after the unification, the so-called Democratic Republic of Yemen was proclaimed in the country’s south, but existed only a couple of months. In 2014, an armed conflict erupted (and still continues) among the northerners themselves – the Shiite group Ansar Allah and the central government. In March 2015, an international Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the fight against the Iranian-backed Shiites. In addition, the central government has since 2007 been confronted by yet another secessionist organization, now in the south – the so-called Southern Transitional Council, which recently declared self-governance of the territories under its control.

Faced with such a disturbing reality, the governors of several provinces, including the most economically developed ones, stop making financial transfers to the state budget and host foreign ambassadors and foreign military delegations.

Iraq is a country characterized by significant ethno-confessional diversity with almost two-thirds of the population being Shiite Arabs, most of them pro-Iranian due to the fact that during the long reign of the Ba’athists (members of the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party – PASV, or Ba’ath), Shiite Arabs were not considered as 100-percent citizens of the country. During the 2003 intervention by a US-led international coalition, many Shiite organizations allied themselves with the Anglo-American forces. During the subsequent occupation of Iraq, the local administration assumed real power over the country’s Shiite south and to this very day the central government in Baghdad does not completely control the southern governorates.

During the 1960s, the Kurds, who predominantly lived in northern and northeastern Iraq, mounted an armed struggle for independence. The government’s brutal, including with the widespread use of chemical weapons, crushing of the movement in 1987-1989 made it absolutely inacceptable for many Kurds to keep living in the same country with the Arabs, even after Iraqi Kurdistan was granted the status of autonomy in the wake of Operation Desert Storm. The invasion by the Western coalition forces allowed the Kurds not only to establish a regional government, but also to phase out the local Arab population and occupy a number of oil-rich regions, which the Kurdish leaders said had been taken away from them by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

An independence referendum for Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which was an attempt to finally legitimize the Kurdish statehood failed however, even though an overwhelming majority of votes were cast in favor of independence. At that time, the prospect of an independent Kurdistan did not sit well with either Iran and Turkey (as it would sent a “wrong” signal to the Kurds living there), or the United States, who believed that the Kurdish state in Iraq could lead to the emergence of a pro-Iranian Shiite entity in the south, including in the strategic Basra oil field.

Today, Sunni Arabs fear (rightly or not) that the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will make them defenseless both against the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, leaving them one on one with Iran, which Iraq fought against during the war of 1980-1988.

The ethno-cultural makeup in Syria is equally diverse, with over 70 percent of Syrians being Sunni Arabs and about 15 percent – Shiites, including the Alawites, whose affiliation with Islam is questioned by many. After the country gained independence in 1946, Syrian army officers and members of the state bureaucracy were traditionally and overwhelmingly recruited from Alawites, much to the chagrin of the country’s majority Sunnis, many of whom still support the armed opposition.

In 1920, France carved up the mandated territory of the Middle East entrusted to it by the League of Nations into four zones: Greater Lebanon, the State of the Alawites, the State of Aleppo and the State of Damascus. The Jabal Druze State and the Sanjak of Alexandretta, which broke away from Turkey before WWII, were added the following year. However, France later ended its experiment on ethno-confessional division of the region, and the Alawite clan of the Assads, backed by the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party, has thus ruled Syria since 1963.

The “Arab Spring” all but destroyed Syria as an independent state, which survived only thanks to the political and military assistance of Russia and Iran.

The Kurds – the largest ethnic minority in Syria – live in the northeast of the country and make up about 10-12 percent of the population. After decades of discrimination (until recently, the Kurds did not even have Syrian citizenship), big and small revolts, Kurdish politicians, taking advantage of the chaos of the civil war, established regional authorities virtually independent of Damascus. Then, due to their support for the Western coalition fighting ISIL (ISIS, IS, Islamic State – a terrorist entity outlawed in Russia) and apparently heeding the advice of US instructors, the Kurdish groups, like Iraqi Peshmerga, occupied a number of the country’s traditionally Arab oil-bearing territories.

The Syrian Kurds are being sponsored by the United States, which is not going to cede to anyone its control neither over the territory, nor the local administration and militia, let alone the oil fields.

Syrian Turkmens (Turkomans) are a sizeable ethnic group, who are under the watchful care of Turkey.

For Christians (about 6 percent of the population) and Druze (about 3 percent), the threat posed by the Sunni Islamists borders on genocide, hence their unconditional support for the central government.

The territory of modern Libya consists of three historical provinces – Tripolitania (in the west), Cyrenaica (in the east) and Fezzan (in the south), which were united by Italy only in 1934. The country’s population is relatively homogeneous: the vast majority are Arabs, and there are also Berbers who live in the southwest, Tuaregs in the south, and Tubu in the southeast. The tribal organization of society plays a significant role in the socio-political life of the country.

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years until he was deposed and killed in 2011. The country has virtually fallen apart as a result of a long-running war of all against all. There are two main rival political forces now existing in the country – the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar and based in the east of the country, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, with its headquarters in Tripoli. The opponents rely on the support of a various social groups, including Islamists, and divisions run along political, not national or religious lines.

Many analysts still see “a significant potential for the emergence of new centers of power.”

The long-term efforts by outside actors (primarily European countries and Russia) to set in motion the negotiating process have not yet yielded any tangible results. Khalifa Haftar recently announced the transfer of power in the country to the armed forces (i.e. to himself). The GNA assumed an equally implacable position, turning down an LNA-proposed truce for the duration of the holy month of Ramadan.

If the hypothetical disintegration of these four countries becomes real it would lead to a new spiral of degradation of the political situation in the region and to a further escalation of violence.

In the event of a collapse of Yemen, Iran will obtain a satellite in the form of the country’s Shiite north, but complicated logistics may hamper the provision of assistance to its newly-acquired ally. Riyadh will not tolerate Shiite statehood on “its” peninsula, and the military suppression of the Houthis will take long due to the Saudis’ low combat efficiency. Following the example of Djibouti, the country’s north and south will start selling land for  foreign military bases (oil reserves are depleted and you can’t live long off exporting fish, and this is about all the country can sell now), which could escalate tensions in the strategic region of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

In Iraq, interfaith clashes and social protests that began after the main forces of the Anglo-American coalition were pulled out in 2011, have not subsided, to say the least. The Kurds are taking their time, but the 92 percent of the “yes” votes cast in the 2017 independence referendum means that sooner or later they will resume their drift away from Iraq. The country’s breakup into three parts would theoretically be beneficial to Iran as the southern governorate bordering on Saudi Arabia would have to move under Tehran’s control. The country’s Sunni center will find itself sandwiched between Iran, the Shiite south, the Alawite-ruled Syria and the Kurds, who hold a longtime grudge against their Arab fellow citizens. Under such circumstances, the Sunnis will have to look for other patrons – the United States (if, despite all Trump’s statements to the contrary, the Americans stay on in the region, and it looks like they will), Saudi Arabia or Russia. This choice will determine the future course of events in Mesopotamia.

In Syria, centrifugal processes are presently being determined by outside players: Americans support the Kurds, Turks – Turkomans and Sunni Arabs along the border, Iranians – their fellow Shiites, and Saudis back the Arab Sunni tribes in the east. The most likely candidates for secession are the Kurds, who, having expanded their controlled territory in northeast Syria, have actually linked up with the semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan. So far, their political leaders haven’t been getting along with each other, but this may change if it meets the interests of Washington, which is sponsoring both.

Libya, meanwhile, is increasingly turning into an arena of proxy war, which the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are waging against Turkey and Qatar. The degree of hatred borne of many years of mutual extermination is going through the roof, making the prospects of a settlement close to nil. The country is actually fighting for oil and control over the flow of refugees, which, as the events of the recent years show, can be quite successfully used as a bargaining chip with Europe.

Many experts warn that any redrawing of borders in the region can bring about a chain reaction and even resuscitate the “Islamic international,” if under a different moniker. Meanwhile, the United States, as the Indian political scientist Brahma Chellaney put it, will not get rid of its addiction to interfering in the “chronically volatile Middle East.” And its policy over and over again turns out to be “spectacularly counterproductive.”  Well, it’s hard to disagree with.

From our partner International Affairs

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The Intensifying War in Yemen: World’s worst Humanitarian crisis

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Devastation caused by protracted conflict in Yemen. Photo: UNDP Yemen

Since the beginning of this year, the violence in Yemen’s civil conflict has increased. From being the centre of the ancient Arab world, the nation became one of the poorest. Millions of people have been drawn into conflict as a result of the seven-year conflict. Civilians have been killed in record number and people are hungry more than ever. Yemen has been torn apart by war for several years, and its citizens are battling mightily to live. According to the UN Development Programme, more than 370,000  people have perished since the war began in 2015, with 60% of those deaths coming from indirect factors including a shortage of food, water, and medical care. United Nations calls it as the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. With 21.1 million people, 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian aid of some kind. 11 million children need humanitarian assistance for survival.

What is the conflict about?

The conflict in Yemen is over who will rule the nation. Although the conflict has been ongoing for years, it has recently become more violent. As the wave of anti-government protests that swept the Middle East area expanded to Yemen, the war in Yemen was set off in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.The war in Yemen has numerous participants. The main participant in the conflict is the Houthis, a minority Shia sect from Northern Yemen. They claimed that they had been oppressed and were taking part in a rebellion against the government. The group participated in an uprising against Yemen’s former president Ali Abdul Saleh during the Arab Spring.  Houthis now control areas of Yemen where most people live including the capital Sana’a. Saudi Arab is another prominent player of the war who is also the most influential member of the Gulf cooperation council. The GCC have installed new government in Yemen by removing Ali Abdul Saleh and putting Abd-Rabbu Mansoor Hadi in charge. The Houthis and Saleh who were both sidelined by GCC allied with each other. Houthis along with Saleh’s allies in the army took control of Sana’a.. However, Saleh broke with Houthis and called up his followers to take up  arms against them. Saleh was killed by Houthis in December 2017, and his forces got defeated within two days. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia along with the other coalition joins hands to return Hadi to power. For the last 7 years, the main fighting is between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition has the backing of western countries including the US and the UK and is supplied with arms from states like France, Canada, and Germany. The Saudi-led intervention includes relentless air attacks on Yemen. SLC said that they have been attacking the enemy fraction but the right group has accused the coalition of bombing hospitals and schools, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians.

The Saudi-led coalition carried out more than 150 airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen, according to Yemen data project  According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people have perished as a result of combat or its indirect effects, such . According to conservative estimates by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), which monitors war zones around the world, the devastating air campaign  alone  conducted by a Saudi-led coalition has killed close to 24,000 people, including combatants and close to 9,000 civilians.

The escalation of War:

 In 2017, another group emerged as a big player in the war, the Southern Translational council (STC) . It was a separatist group who wants independence for southern Yemen. They got support from UAE and controls parts of South, including port of Aden.  The Houthis have been attempting to take control of Marib, the largest oil and fuel producing region, but their efforts are being hampered by this portion backed by the UAE. Houthis are being driven away from Marib by the SLC. Houthis retaliated in response to SLC’s aggressive attacks. They directly assault the UAE, attacking an Abu Dhabi gasoline storage complex on January 17,2022. The Houthis tactics used in the fighting became more sophisticated with time. The Saudi Arabia accused Iran of allegedly providing financial aid along with weapons. However, Iran completely denied the allegation. In March 2022, According to Saudi state-run media, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, hitting a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, water desalination plant, oil facility, and power station. In retaliation, the coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen once more. The fighting then intensified as a result.

Civilian casualties:

Children and civilians have been killed as a result of airstrikes in Yemen that target detention facilities. The United Nations  reports that January 2022 has been Yemen’s bloodiest month for civilians. In the seven years of the conflict, it was likely the worst month. Attacks on civilian targets have become routine, causing damage to the infrastructure, homes, hospitals, farms, weddings, funerals, and schools According to Mwatana for Human rights and human rights watchthe Saudi and UAE-led coalition launched three attacks in Yemen in late January 2022 that appeared to violate the laws of war and resulted in at least 80 apparent civilian deaths, including three children, and 156 injuries, including two children. More terrible are war’s broader effects. More Yemenis die from hunger, poverty, and diseases than from actual fighting.

The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis:

According to the deputy humanitarian chief of the UN, Yemen’s economy is crumbling, its humanitarian crisis is getting worse, and the conflict in the poorest country in the Arab world is becoming more brutal. Despite an ongoing air campaign and ground battles, the conflict has essentially come to a standstill and given rise to the worst humanitarian crisis in history. Since then, the US has stopped taking a direct part in the fighting.

Early in 2020, the Houthis started an offensive in the largely under government control Marib region that claimed thousands of young lives and forced thousands of residents to flee their homes and live in constant fear of violence and being forced to move again. The country is essentially unrecognizably different now as a result of six horrible years of airstrikes, mortars, shooting, dread, and devastation.

The once-favorite vacation spot, the coastal city of Aden, is engulfed in debris and destruction. Farmland that has been fruitful and green for many generations is now left bare. Healthcare facilities have been destroyed or run out of supplies, and electricity networks are down.

Over 20 million Yemenis are now in need as an estimated four million have abandoned their homes out of terror. No aspect of life has remained unchanged, whether it be the schools that kids used to attend or the highways that communities used to rely on for food supplies.

It is difficult for humanitarian organisations to prevent starvation in these circumstances.

The number of cholera cases has been rising, and doctors are struggling with a serious medication shortage. When Covid-19 first arrived in Yemen, families had to put all of their efforts into acquiring food, so concern about the virus had to take a backseat. In the ongoing crisis, aid is being used as a weapon in addition to the increased violence that has been the main cause of all the misery. In order to prevent supplies from entering or leaving Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition erected land, sea, and air barriers around the country in 2015. The SLC has been accused of obstructing, obliterating, or stealing aid that the Yemenis sorely needed.

There were hopes that the Yemeni conflict would de-escalate when US President Joe Biden took office last year because of anticipated improvements in US foreign policy.

But this year, conflict has only gotten worse. Internally, regionally, and internationally, the violence that Yemen is currently experiencing has increased. According to international relief organisations, Yemen’s severe humanitarian situation, which is exacerbated by widespread starvation, disease, and displacement, is predicted to get worse over the next few months. More than half of the population of the country, or at least 17.4 million people, are in need of food aid because they are caught between a lengthy war and an economic downturn.

Despite the UN ranking Yemen as the greatest humanitarian calamity in the world, a recent pledge conference fell short of raising enough money to avert more devastation. To solve Yemen’s food insecurity, only $1.3 billion of a $4.3 billion donation goal was raised.

Due to their own financial constraints, the World Food Programme was compelled to lower food supplies for eight million people earlier this year. By June, 161,000  people are predicted to be affected by the projected five-fold increase in hunger.

A Glimmer of Hope?!

Yemen’s two-month cease-fire which came into effect on April, gave people some reason to believe in a better future and an opportunity to rebuild. A deal mediated by the UN between the Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, and the Yemeni government on one side and the Saudi-led coalition on the other is an important step toward resolving a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and caused millions to go hungry. The six-year battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has since evolved into a proxy war has now reached its first nationwide ceasefire.

Additionally, according to the UN, the warring parties in Yemen have agreed to extend the current cease-fire for another two months. Despite charges of truce violations from both sides, the ceasefire was initially in effect on April 2 and was renewed on June 2.

Commercial flights have resumed from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt under the truce, and oil tankers are also permitted to dock at the crucial port of Hodeida. A two-month extension is expected to allow for the reopening of roads connecting cities and regions, the safe repatriation of more displaced persons, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who have been cut off from it for too long due to hostilities in Yemen.

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Israelis and Palestinians agree on one thing: Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity

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Much of Gaza City has been damaged as a result of Israeli air strikes. (file photo) © UNRWA/Mohamed Hinnawi

If there is one thing that Israelis and Palestinians agree on and religiously adhere to, it’s Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Israelis have long believed that overwhelming force, collective punishment, denial of rights, rejection of identity, humiliation, and a devastating Egyptian-supported 15-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip would persuade Palestinians to surrender their national aspirations, accept a rewriting of history, and settle for Israeli control in exchange for economic opportunity.

Israeli officials hailed the decision by Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, not to become militarily involved in this month’s fight with Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian organization based in the strip, as evidence that the government’s strategy was working.

However, there is little reason to assume that Hamas has suddenly changed its leopard spots and surrendered the principle of armed struggle. On the contrary, it is more likely that Hamas wants to decide on the timing rather than let Islamic Jihad or Israel drag it into a conflict at a moment that suits their agendas.

The Israeli military said this week that it had sealed an attack tunnel Hamas dug from northern Gaza into Israel. It noted that an underground defensive barrier Israel completed in December had blocked the tunnel.

Even so, Israeli officials believe that Hamas’ refusal to join the fray constitutes proof that Israel’s strategy is working.

“What is happening now between Israel and Hamas is a de facto (ceasefire). It is a system of big sticks and sweet carrots. Hamas is receiving what it never got from Israel before and delivering the goods to residents. They understand the price they are paying, but realize the alternative is worse,” a senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor.

With the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating youth unemployment at 75 per cent, Israel is expected to incentivize Hamas by allowing thousands of Gazan workers return to work in Israel.

Israel is also considering increasing the number of Gazan work permits from 14,000 to 20,000. Furthermore, Israel may allow Gaza residents vetted by security to travel abroad on flights from an airport in southern Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz argued in recent days that “for the past year, Israel has had a clear policy. On the one hand, a heavy hand against all violations of sovereignty and offensive and defensive efforts to prevent (attacks) on all fronts. On the other hand, a responsible civil and humanitarian policy strengthening moderate forces over terrorist organizations.”

It’s a strategy built on Israeli scholar Micah Goodmen’s notion of “shrinking the conflict.”

Mr. Goodman argued in a 2019 New York Times oped that this “wouldn’t solve or end the conflict… It would contain it, it would lessen it. It would broaden the Palestinians’ freedom of movement, their freedom to develop and their freedom to prosper — all without an Israeli military withdrawal, and therefore no security dangers for Israeli civilians.”

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Goodman suggested that shrinking the conflict “would mitigate the risk of a deterioration into a one-state reality” in which Israeli Jews would likely no longer be a majority.

Mr. Goodman’s notion constitutes an acknowledgement that Israeli policy has not worked, even if Hamas appears to have become more selective in picking its fights.

The experience of the Palestinian Authority that has been rendered powerless because of Israel’s refusal to push for a definitive resolution of the conflict and the Authority’s mismanagement, corruption, and rivalry with Hamas, is likely to serve as a red line for the Islamists. They will want to ensure political, not just economic benefits.

Moreover, more than seven decades since the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinians continue to cling to their national identity and aspirations. Yet, many implicitly acknowledge that ordinary Palestinians pay the price for violence that is not getting them closer to a solution.

“At the end of the day, the ones who lose are the people. Rockets fired into Israel don’t change anything. All they do is ensure that more civilians and children are killed. We have rights, but we have to find another way of securing them” said a West Bank resident.

Israel’s dilemma is that its future as a Jewish state and democracy may today be as threatened as it was in the early years when Arab armies were determined to wipe it off the map.

Today’s decreasing options for a solution to the century-old conflict constitute the most serious existential threat facing Israel rather than Palestinian violence, despite the wounding earlier this week of eight people when a Palestinian gunman attacked a bus in East Jerusalem.

To be sure, Israeli officials have linked the Gaza operation to stepped-up Israeli countering of Iran, widely viewed as the greatest threat to the existence of a Jewish state.

Israel’s increased focus on Iran comes at a time when the revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program hangs in the balance.

Islamic Jihad maintains close ties to the Islamic republic. Ziad al-Nakhalah, the group’s top leader, was in Tehran meeting Iranian officials when Israel began its three-day operation against Gaza on August 5.

“Islamic Jihad has an open tab in Iran… Islamic Jihad in Gaza is a violent Iranian proxy,” Mr. Gantz said. He asserted that the group received tens of millions of dollars a year from Iran.

Journalist Ben Caspit noted that the assault on Islamic Jihad “was Israel’s first military operation against Gaza terrorist groups since 2009 from which it emerged with a sense of strategic victory” by “keeping Hamas out of the fighting, cutting Islamic Jihad down to size to contain its threat, and restoring its deterrence. On the other hand, metaphorically, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) as the neighborhood bully took on the weakest kid on the bloc.”

With or without Iranian support, Palestinians have fared no better than Israelis by adhering to Mr. Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Palestinian violence in the 1970s and 1980s served its purpose by putting the Palestinian issue on the world’s agenda. However, it has since contributed to taking it off the agenda of some Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that in recent years established diplomatic relations with Israel and downgraded the issue’s importance to others like Saudi Arabia.

Add to that, a United States that has all but given up on pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis with no one willing to seriously replace America as a mediator, albeit a flawed one.

Palestinian Islamists continue to cling to the principle of armed resistance that primarily targets civilians in the illusion that violence will again succeed or in the hope that violence will keep Palestinians in the international public eye.

Meanwhile, despite making concessions such as recognizing Israel’s existence and abandoning the notion of armed struggle, moderates have failed to halt Israeli settlements and achieve a modicum of independence.

Moderation also has not prevented the hardening of Israeli public opinion and marginalization of the country’s dovish left.

Israel’s attack on Gaza in a bid to deal a fatal blow to Islamic Jihad, a group that rejects a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a coalition of armed groups on the West Bank, serves as the latest affirmation of Mr. Einstein’s definition.

The attack and the Palestinian response have done little more than widen the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, entrenching self-serving positions at a time of Israeli election maneuvering and mounting Palestinian frustration and lack of confidence in leadership.

The international community, as does the Palestinian Authority that administers parts of the West Bank, cling to the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in areas conquered by the Israelis during the 1967 Middle East war even if the presence of 670,000 Israeli settlers in 152 settlements in the territory as well as East Jerusalem makes partition extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In the final analysis, the de facto removal of the two-state option as a viable solution, turns solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by opting for one state for both Palestinians and Jews into an existential threat to Israeli democracy if both groups do not enjoy equal rights or to the Jewish nature of the state if they do.

In theory, the only other option would be a three-way solution involving some sort of federation, including Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. But that may not go down well with Jordanians and could potentially aggravate the demographic threat to Israel.

In sum, failure to implement a two-state solution when possible may have made a solution to the conflict more intractable and perpetuated cycles of violence that undermine Israel’s social fabric and democracy.

“If there is one thing completely missing from the public agenda in Israel, it is the long-term view. Israel does not look ahead, not even by half a generation… There is not a single Israeli, not one, who knows where his country is headed,” noted controversial Israeli columnist Gideon Levi.

Mr. Levy could have said the same about Palestinians who know what they want, have no idea how to get there, and, true to Mr. Einstein, stick to strategies that, at best, are unproductive and, at worst, counterproductive.

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Assyrians are Not Refugees Who Settled in Iraq

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In recent years, some Kurdish and Arab politicians and wanna-be historians have been making statements that the Assyrians of Iraq were refugees from Hakkari, Turkey and that the British brought them to Iraq. This absurd and misleading statement spread as Assyrians were trying to find their place in the new Iraq post 2003 US invasion.

On October 3, 1932 Iraq became the 57th member of the League of Nations (replaced by the United Nations on October 24, 1945 post World War II). On December 15, 1932, an article titled “Iraq and the Assyrians” was published in the periodical The Near East and India. The article addressed the settlement of the Assyrians in Iraq. The Assyrian leaders have been pleading to solve the settlement issue before ending the British mandate over Iraq and before admitting Iraq into the League of Nations as a sovereign and independent state (planned for 1932). The Assyrian leaders warned the West that Iraqi leaders could not be trusted and that Assyrians are not safe under the rule of Arabs and Kurds.

Before going further into the article aforementioned there is an important point that the readers must understand. The Assyrians did not fall from Mars onto northern Iraq. The Assyrians have been living in Northern Mesopotamia from time immemorial and their dynasties established one of the greatest civilization and empire in the Near East. The fall of the last Assyrian dynasty, i.e., the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC and the last capital in Harran in 609 BC did not mean the disappearance of the people. This is similar to the fall of the Roman, Greek, Persian and many other empires. The people of those empires survived. The Assyrians continued to live in and around the historic Assyrian capitals of Ashur (Qal’at Sharqat), Kalhu (Nimrud), Dur Sharukin (Khursabad), Nineveh (Nebi Yunis) and Harran in upper Mesopotamia or lived in new settlements near by those capitals, such as Mosul, Arbil, Kirkuk, Urfa (Urhai or Edessa), Nisibin, etc. that were centers of the Assyrians’ Christianity.

Assyria was occupied by several nations including the Medes, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanids, Arabs, Mongolians, Ottoman Turks and others in between. The Assyrians adopted Christianity during the time of the Apostles and remained Christians ever since. The Christological controversies that followed the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) isolated these Assyrian denominational communities from each others. As the Church established further structure and hierarchy, the Churches of the Assyrians kept the various Assyrian communities together, each under its leader, the patriarchs. The Assyrian denominational terms Nestorian and Jacobite were born. Later, in 1681 in Diyar Bekir (Turkey) and in 1830 in northern Iraq (Alqosh) the conversion of Assyrians to Catholicism isolated more Assyrians as the term Chaldean was given to these converts.

With the clear establishment of these denominations, a clear distribution of the Assyrian population was shaped. The Nestorian Assyrians lived as a concentrated region of the Hakkari Mountains (Van Province) and Urmia region in Persia, Jacobite Assyrians in the Tur Abdin/Diyar Bekir region (Sandschak Zor and Diyar Bekir Provinces) and Chaldean Assyrians in Nineveh region/Arbil/Kirkuk (Mosul Province); however, these various denominational groups were intermixed in some locations. Despite this denominational separation, they all continued to refer to themselves as Suraye, which is Asuraye or Assuraye, meaning Assyrians.

The genocide of World War I (1914-1918) committed against the Assyrians by Turks and Kurds in Hakkari and Tur ‘Abdin (today both in modern Turkey) forced the Assyrians out. One escape route ended the Assyrians first in the camp of Baquba (1918 near Baghdad) and then in the camp of Mindan (1920 near Mosul) via Urmia, Persia.

Map of the Ottoman Empire divided by provinces Before its Fall in 1922

The other route ended up in Qamishli and Aleppo as genocide continued even after the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and the Turkish State was created in 1922. Therefore, the Assyrians were basically displaced because of genocide from one province to another within the same Ottoman Empire, i.e., from Hakkari to Mosul and from Diyar Bekir/Tur Abdin to Qamishli/Aleppo. Those displaced refugees from Hakkari and Urmia joined their Catholic brethren, the Chaldean Assyrians, in Mosul Province. Therefore, the Assyrians did not migrate from some foreign planet to Mosul Province considering also that there were Assyrians in Mosul region since the fall of the Assyrian Empire and these Assyrians after converting to Catholicism became known as Chaldeans.

Another important issue is the similarity in the geographical terrain. One of the principle Assyrian regions was the highlands that starts from Mosul (today in Iraq) and extends all the way to southern Lake Van (today in Turkey). The Assyrian people lived throughout these highlands. This continuation of topography was not divided politically until the official fall of the Ottoman Empire in November 1, 1922. After many disagreements, protests and negotiations, the British and the Turks finally signed the Treaty of Ankara on June 5, 1926 by which both states recognized the Brussels line (with some minor modifications) as the frontier between the two new created states of Iraq and Turkey. Even if we consider this new frontier, we need to understand that the large Assyrian region of Lower Barwar was always part of the Ottoman’s Mosul Province (Iraq) – the Assyrians of Lower Barwar did not migrate from Turkey to Iraq per se, unlike those of Upper Barwar.

During World War I, British and French representatives, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot, authored a secret agreement (concluded on May 19, 1916 ) regarding the future spoils of the Ottoman Empire that was expected to lose the war. After few modifications and incidents, the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was created from the three Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra and immediately placed it under the British mandate. Modern Turkey, Iraq, Syria and other states in the region did not exist before 1921/22. Therefore, we cannot say that in 1918 people moved from Turkey to Iraq because Turkey and Iraq did not exist at the time.

Now back to the December 5, 1932 The Near East and India article, which stated that the Council of the League of Nations considered the question of the settlement of the 40,000 [Nestorian] Assyrians in Iraq. At the council meeting, Nuri al-Said, the prime minister of Iraq stated: “The government of Iraq is determined to assure the prosperity, the happiness and the tranquility of all inhabitants of Iraq. It is following the best and most practical path to this end, allowing itself to be guided by the most human principles, by considerations of the general interest and by respect for existing laws.”

It took only few months later from the promise of the Iraqi prime minister that 3,000 Assyrians were massacred in the state-sponsored Simele Genocide in August 1933. The Assyrians continue to be persecuted and oppressed in Iraq by the Arab and the Kurdish authorities as the leaders and historians of Arabs and Kurds continue to claim that the Assyrians were refugees from Turkey and Persia (later Iran) and needed to be relocated or settled outside Iraq, if they had any conditions or hard to meet conditions, regardless how reasonable.

One important note, Kurdish nationalists and writers claim that the Allies post WWI divided Kurdistan into north, south, east and west Kurdistans. Such wild claims must never be allowed to spread. Unlike the well established and historic Assyrian Empire, there never existed an official state or country on the world map under the name of Kurdistan. After European travelers and missionaries visited the Middle East region, they encountered the nomad Kurds and soon a border-less and unofficial region under such name began to be inserted on certain Middle East maps to reflect the presence of these stateless people. In 1946, a Kurdish state under the name of Mahabad Republic was established in west Iran, but it was crushed by the Iranian army after 11 months. The Kurdish nationalists have promoted an aggressive Kurdification campaign to erase the Assyrian history from northern Iraq and replace it with Kurdish history.

Education empowers people – it enables them to understand. When they understand, they discuss issues affecting them with confidence, logically and accurately. Assyrians and other undermined people around the world must participate in this great battle of survival armed with education, because they must not let the murderers or oppressors write the history. The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq – history and archeology proves that. Throughout history, many Assyrians were forced to flee their homes and lands of northern Iraq (occupied Assyria) because of massacres and persecution.

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