Friday, November 4, 2011

Something's Afoot Regarding Military Action Against Iran

by Rick Moran

After yesterday's blog post about the Israeli cabinet mulling military action against Iran, today, it's the turn of the British military also apparently gearing up for a strike. They're calling it "contingency planning" and it may very well be. But it is a curious coincidence that preparations are occurring less than a week before the much anticipated IAEA report on the Iranian nuke program is published.


Britain's armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran amid mounting concern about Tehran's nuclear enrichment programme, the Guardian has learned.

The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.

In anticipation of a potential attack, British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months as part of what would be an air and sea campaign.

They also believe the US would ask permission to launch attacks from Diego Garcia, the British Indian ocean territory, which the Americans have used previously for conflicts in the Middle East.

The Guardian has spoken to a number of Whitehall and defence officials over recent weeks who said Iran was once again becoming the focus of diplomatic concern after the revolution in Libya.

They made clear that Barack Obama, has no wish to embark on a new and provocative military venture before next November's presidential election.

But they warned the calculations could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by western agencies, and the more belligerent posture that Iran appears to have been taking.

As I mentioned yesterday, the current leadership of the IAEA is far more suspicious of Iranian intentions than the former chairman and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad ElBaradei. Any new information is likely to come in the warhead design area or missile modifications - a sure sign that Iran is close, or already possesses, the means to make a bomb.

Obama might see an Iran attack as just the ticket to win re-election so don't count on his indecision to use force. He hasn't backed down from Pakistan, or Yemen in launching drone strikes or even missiles at terrorist targets. As long as American forces won't be exposed to casualties, he may see an Iran attack as a cheap way to score commander in chief points with the voters.

Rick Moran


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When France’s Laughter Died

by Stephen Brown

No one at France’s national satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was laughing this week after the publication’s Paris offices were destroyed by a firebomb overnight late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning. It is believed Islamists, angry that the editors had named the Prophet Mohammad​ as guest “editor-in-chief” for this week’s edition, were responsible for the attack. The edition was dedicated to a satire of sharia law, but the firebomb assault took place before it had even hit the newsstands on Wednesday.

“We received threats, but no one had seen this edition,” said Stephane Charbonnier, the magazine’s designer and director. “People reacted violently to the paper yet they were completely ignorant of the edition’s contents; that is the most aberrant and idiotic.”

The leftist weekly publication, founded in 1960, came up with the idea to satirise sharia law and to honour Mohammad with the editor title after the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia’s election last week and the announcement sharia law would be introduced in Libya. The editors proclaimed the upcoming sharia theme in a humorous statement they released in advance that elicited “quite a few letters of protest, threats, insults,” on Twitter and Facebook.

“To fittingly celebrate the victory of the Islamist Ennhada party in Tunisia…Charlie Hebdo has asked Mohammad to be the special editor-in-chief of its next issue,” the statement read. “The prophet of Islam didn’t have to be asked twice and we thank him for it.”

When it appeared on Wednesday, the controversial edition’s front page showed a caricature of a “visibly happy” Mohammad and had him saying “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.” The edition had also had its title changed to ‘Sharia Hebdo’ and contained a women’s section called “Madame Sharia” as well as an editorial by Mohammad titled the ‘Happy Halal Hour.’ There are also two pages of cartoons with sharia law as their subject, and Mohammad appears again on the last page, wearing a clown’s nose, with, ironically, the caption: “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour.”

As it turns out, the magazine was wrong. Its headquarters were also not the only target singled out for attack. In what may have been a co-ordinated move with the firebombing, Charlie Hebdo’s website was simultaneously hacked. On Wednesday morning, its home page showed the words “no god but Allah” accompanied by a picture of the grand Mosque in Mecca with a message in English and Turkish.

“You keep abusing Islam’s almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech,” the message read. “Be God’s curse upon you!”

French politicians and France’s newspaper association were all quick to condemn the assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices and express solidarity with its staff. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the “…every attack against the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness,” while the French minister of culture, Frederic Mitterand, called the assault “intolerable.

“There is no democracy without irreverence, without parody and without satire,” said Mitterand.

But as usual after such events in France regarding Muslim terrorism, the politicians will not discuss or investigate how their country reached this point where a well-known, national publication could be burned out of its offices in its capital, like in a Third World dictatorship. To do so would only help confirm that France, once the land of the Enlightenment, is turning into a place of darkness, thanks to Islamic fanaticism. So it is best just to express nice-sounding phrases, let things settle back down to the way they were and prepare a new set of reassuring phrases for the next attack, which in France nowadays is probably never too far off.

Muslim leaders in France also condemned the firebomb attack, but the president of the French Council of the Muslim Religion (CFCM) qualified his condemnation by stating his uneasiness about the “climate of Islamophobia” in Europe. But this is unsurprising. Mentioning Islamophobia is becoming a common tactic on both sides of the Atlantic whenever Muslim radicalism comes under scrutiny. It helps deflect attention from the real wrongdoings. And while expressing strong condemnation, the CFCM president added his organization “also vigorously deplored the magazine’s tone of caricature in regard to Islam and its prophet…,” indirectly indicating Charlie Hebdo may have itself to blame for the night assault.

France, a country of 62 million people, has a Muslim population of about six to eight million, the largest in Europe. The week-long riots of Muslim youths in suburbs on the outskirts of French cities in 2005 brought to the world’s attention that all was not well with multiculturalism in what was once one of the West’s leading democracies. Once highly regarded for its culture, French society is now probably so sick from the Islamist infection, it is beyond help.

American author and Islam expert Robert Spencer, for example, was unable to have his translated book, Islam Unveiled, published in France in 2003 by a publishing house that had agreed to do so. The book contested conventional wisdoms held in the West about Islam. Publication was cancelled when both the translator and the publisher received death threats.

More in keeping with France’s dhimmi status, while people were threatened with death over Spencer’s book, the novel Rever la Palestine (Dream of Palestine) was published the previous year with no apparent obstacles. Written by a fifteen-year-old Egyptian living in Italy and published by France’s third-largest publishing house, Rever concerns Palestinian teenager’s fighting against “bloodthirsty Jews, who assassinate children and old people, profane mosques, and rape Arab women.” Which says it all about the state of French culture and freedom of expression nowadays.

Charlie Hebdo is moving temporarily into the offices of the leftist daily newspaper Liberation and intends to bring out next week’s edition on time. Europe already experienced a serious and potentially deadly caricature crisis in 2006 when the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, published different drawings of the Muslim prophet. Since then, several terrorist attacks have been broken up that targeted the newspaper building, editors and Posten caricaturist Kurt Westergaarde.

It is as yet unknown whether Charlie Hebdo and its staff will also have to live under the same, years-long terrorist threat as the Jyllands Posten newspaper. But from its recent fiery experience, its editors should at least take away the realization France is no longer a land of unbridled humour, but also one of Islamist hatred.

Stephen Brown


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King Abdallah of Jordan on How No One Trusts Obama’s Government

by Barry Rubin

Earlier this week, The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed King Abdallah of Jordan. Here’s how King Abdallah responded to Weymouth’s question, “Do you and other leaders in this area believe you cannot rely on the U.S.?”

He replied:

“I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West….Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on [Egyptian President Husni] Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way. I think there is going to be less coordination with the West and therefore a chance of more misunderstandings.”

This is devastating. I’m not shocked that the king thinks that way but I am shocked that he says so openly. In other words he isn’t afraid of Obama’s being angry and thinks he has nothing to lose because things aren’t going to be better. That’s how far the situation has deteriorated.

Imagine that instead of going to Jordan (which is also an Arab country in addition to being a pro-American, moderate one) for advice on building the opposition leadership in neighboring Syria, the Obama Administration went to the non-Arab, Islamist Turkish regime!

Jordan is now turning to Saudi Arabia, another country that is no longer relying on Obama, to be its protector and source for financial aid.

Jordan has been the most long-term, consistent ally of the United States in the Arab world, continuously for more than 40 years. Yet the king cannot trust those in the White House any more. They dumped Mubarak, they might dump him.

Therefore, no one will stick his neck out on behalf of U.S. interests or requests. Moreover, they are going their own way. While Washington extolls Islamist forces or things that benefit them in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey, they don’t seem to care at all about Israel, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, the scattered survivors of recent developments and Obama’s pro-Islamist policies.

Iraq’s disinterest in having a continued U.S. troop presence arises from several issues but Baghdad’s determination to go its own way is also connected to this situation. And in Afghanistan, the government knows that it cannot depend on a U.S. government that is not only withdrawing but has subverted the Kabul regime, proven powerless in dealing with Pakistan, and openly talks of political negotiations with the Taliban and even al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups (the Haqqani Network).

The U.S. policy formulated around 1955–allying with moderate Arab monarchies and nationalist regimes–as well as that originating in the 1970s–adding Israel to that list–has been undone by the Obama Administration. When the king of Jordan openly complains you know that U.S. credibility among pro-Western Arabs is pretty close to zero.


Barry Rubin


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“Moderate Islamism?” Does It Exist?

by Barry Rubin

Suddenly, a new term is foisted on us without serious debate or proof and we are supposed to rejoice at the triumphs of those now called “moderate Islamists.” The problem here is not just that I don’t believe such a thing exists but that no case can be made that it does. The tactics of some Islamists (participate in elections, advance slowly) are being confused with principles (impose Sharia law, overthrow all non-Islamist governments, defeat the infidels).

This is no abstract argument. In effect, we are being told to rejoice as the West’s worst enemies take power. We are being told about the alleged virtues of forces intent on repressing their own people; destroying women’s rights; trampling on non-Muslim, non-Arab minorities; genocide against Israel; overthrow all non-Islamist governments, and demolish Western interests. And on what grounds? Because in some statements, which must be cherry-picked from a sea of extremist expressions, they claim to be moderate.

Where are the academics and mainstream journalists laying out a persuasive case that Moderate Islamism exists, rather than just assuming it does? Where is an honest presentation of the “Moderate Islamists” many radical statements? Where is even an even-handed discussion based on a fair hearing for the doubters?

Where has this new “movement” suddenly come from? Remember, up until now the debate has been over defining “Moderate Muslims,” but now the most radical sector of Muslim politics–the enemy of Muslims who are moderate–is declared worthy of that designation. Yet the whole case for “Moderate Muslims” was based on saying that these people weren’t Islamists and indeed that they were fighting against Islamism.

Up until now, the only important group that might conceivably have been called “moderate Islamists” has been the Turkish Justice and Development Party. Yet examining that party’s views and behavior disproves the idea of any “Moderate Islamist” movement.

First, party leaders consistently denied they were Islamists, knowing any such admission would be political disaster because most Turks–even most of the party’s voters–don’t believe in “Moderate Islamism.” The party defined itself as center-right

Second, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the party’s leader, has publicly said that there was no such thing as moderate Islam but only Islam; that the minarets of mosques are the bayonets of the revolution; and that democracy is like a trolley and you just get off when you want. Do you need him to draw you a picture?

Third, Erdogan has now gotten off the trolley, since repression in Turkey is increasing with, for example, hundreds of political prisoners and more added each day.

So the phrase “moderate Islamist” is like something out of George Orwell’s novel 1984, along with such phrases as war is peace and freedom is slavery.

How should we know if someone is a moderate Islamist? There should be some historical record of this species’ development. There should have been highly visible ideological battle. Where are the admissions of past mistakes, the explanations of Moderate Islamist philosophy, a reinterpretation of Muslim texts, a struggle between “moderate” and “traditional” Islamists in a group like the Muslim Brotherhood? There’s nothing, not the least hint.

Professor John Esposito, the leading advocate of the Moderate Islamist theory (the CIA is the leading advocate in government rightly points out that Muslim reformers, “are often initially perceived and received as a threat by religious institutions and more conservative religious leaders and believers.,” even being threatened with death. So if the Muslim Brotherhood now embodies such a huge reform in Islamist and Islamic thinking as to justify leading a government that would substitute votes for divine instruction, where is the angry rebellion against such treason by powerful forces? Where is the revolt, even split, within its ranks against such heresy?

The answer is that while a few–notably tiny and isolated al-Qaida–hold a different view of what should be done, almost everyone else sees this as a merely tactical shift. No heresy, just a different way of implementing the proper goals.

Thus, the “Moderate Islamists” speeches, statements and internal articles remain extremely radical and even bloodthirsty. And when moderate statements are made (usually in English, almost never in Arabic or Turkish), they assert only that democracy is a good idea for gaining power, not that it is a good idea.

So what do those who believe in “Moderate Islamism” think is going to happen?

Option A: The Islamists gain power and impose Sharia law. Then they lose the election, the opposition comes in and abolishes Sharia. The Islamists chuckle, “Oh well you can’t win them all!”

Option B: The Islamists gain power but contained by public opinion, coalition partners, and the restraint of the military, they content themselves with making small changes and “sell out.” To put it another way, they can become the Islamic version of European Christian Democratic parties. Yet this would require daily violations of their interpretation of Allah’s will in even the smallest acts–giving a construction license to a Christian church, appointing a woman judge. Muslims, even pious Muslims, can do things like this–because they either don’t want to impose Sharia or interpret it loosely–but Islamists cannot and don’t want to do so.

The closest real thing to moderate Islamism is the tiny al-Wasat Party in Egypt. But that group argues that the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t moderate!:

–Leaders of al-Wasat quit the Muslim Brotherhood precisely because they were convinced that it is hardline and cannot be moderated.

–Not a single leader of the Brotherhood joined these defectors.

–The Brotherhood today has about 40 times the base of support of the real (if it is possible to exist at all) “moderate Islamists.”

Thus, “Moderate Islamism” is not a movement but a propaganda line: Conceal your aims, neutralize the infidels with soothing words, get non-Islamist votes by promising to be flexible, and then spring the trap closed. In other words, we are merely talking about clever tactics, a situation that should have been obvious given decades of dealing with parallel Communist maneuvers.

And yet the great institutions of the Western democracies–a free press and, scholarly community fearlessly debating and seeking truth; a political leadership grounded in the real world—have fallen for this nonsense. Worse, much worse, they are trying to indoctrinate their own people to believe it. Yet events will increasingly contradict such assertions, just as they did about similar ideas that Iran’s revolution was going to be moderate or that the Palestinian movement would be moderates by power.

So how is this illusion of “moderate Islamism” going to be maintained?

First, by under-reporting of the Islamists’ radical statements.

Second, by under-reporting the Islamists’ extremist actions.

This is exactly what has happened in Turkey. The Turkish model is very ugly indeed. And note the New York Times coverage of Tunisia, pushing the line that real Arab liberals like the Islamists and that if you campaign against the Islamists the voters won’t like you. Actually, I pointed out that it was leftist parties that were eager to form coalitions with the Muslim Brotherhood that whitewashed the Islamists; the real liberals condemned them as phonies and extremists. So instead of supporting the true democratic reformers in their battle to avoid having their countries turned into Islamist states, the counterparts of these people in the West are subverting them!

Barry Rubin


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American Jewish Leaders at a Crossroads

by Isi Leibler

On the surface, it would seem that two of American Jewry’s most highly regarded Jewish leaders, both deeply committed and devoted to Israel, have lost – at least temporarily – their political bearings.

In a recent column titled “The silence of American Jewish leaders,” I drew attention to the fact that over the past year, despite a major Jewish grassroots backlash against President Obama’s Middle East policies, American Jewry’s principal leaders appeared to have adopted a policy of avoiding public criticism of the administration’s hostile policies toward Israel.

This is especially noteworthy in relation to ADL National Director Abe Foxman, who two years earlier broke with many of his colleagues by courageously and publicly condemning the administration’s bullying of Israel.

But now, together with American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris, Foxman has called for a new “National Pledge for Unity on Israel.” Many of the statement’s objectives would be endorsed by the vast majority of American Jews of all political persuasions. In addition to a call for unity, the statement calls on Jews to avoid actions that could threaten or undermine bipartisan support for Israel.

Traditional support by both major parties is the key to maintaining support for Israel in Congress and amongst the American people. It is also one of the principal reasons for the success of AIPAC and the esteem in which they are held by both Congressional parties.

YET THERE are now worrying indicators of growing hostility towards Israel emanating from far-Left elements within the Democratic Party. Currently they are a minority, unable to detract from the overwhelming prevailing congressional Democratic support for Israel. But they carry immense influence inside the current White House administration. Should they garner greater support within the Democratic Party as a whole, the long-term durability of the American-Israeli alliance would be in jeopardy.

For this reason, leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations must continue ensuring that they not be perceived as favoring one party against the other unless basic Jewish interests are involved. Jewish voters are perfectly capable of making their own judgments based on the facts.

In addition, praise should be extended towards positive initiatives such as Obama’s recent UN address, US opposition to Palestinian statehood at the UN, membership of UNESCO and of course crucial ongoing military support.

WHY THEN, is there so much agitation over this ADL-AJC national unity pledge? Because this is a manifesto that goes to the other extreme and gives the impression of primarily seeking to silence critics of the Obama administration. It represents an attempt to muzzle public criticism of the president’s anti-Israel policies and silence those who Foxman claimed “challenged their opponent’s pro-Israel bona fides or questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-a-vis Israel.” It effectively amounts to a call for an embargo on any condemnation of policies espoused by political candidates in relation to Israel.

If such an approach were adopted, it would provide a green light for President Obama to revert to appeasing the Arabs by distancing the US from Israel without facing political repercussions. Of course, in future that could apply equally to a Republican administration which chose to abandon Israel.

That would certainly ensure “bipartisanship.”

But it would also amount to abandoning American Jewry’s public efforts on behalf of Israel, relying exclusively on Shtadlanut – silent diplomacy. Yet our recent history has repeatedly demonstrated that when applied in isolation, in the absence of a dual track policy involving public action, silent diplomacy invariably resulted in failure.

I recollect similar situations when I was a leader of the Australian Jewish community.

We learned that as long as in our capacity as Jewish leaders we avoided becoming embroiled in the broader political arena and restricted ourselves to commenting exclusively on Israel- or Jewish-related issues, the major political parties respected us for acting in a principled manner. In fact, it strengthened bipartisanship which to this day still prevails in Australia.

Surely, American Jewish leaders who have considerably more influence, should be expected to do no less. In response to a flow of criticism – largely limited to understandably angry rejections from conservative and Republican sources – Foxman has taken a step backwards, stating that the true intention of the pledge was “to post Israel ahead of politics” – a far cry from the language of the “national unity pledge.”

The litmus test will now be whether American Jewish leaders will break their self-imposed curtain of silence and display the courage to speak up and be critical of US policies related to Israel which they deem to be based on double standards or motivated by discredited appeasement policies.

For example, this week, immediately following the unprovoked missile attacks from Gaza – clear breaches of international law – the US State Department again reverted to pathetic moral equivalency “urging all parties to stop the violence and engage in negotiations.”

Is that an appropriate response by the US to an ally defending itself from missile launches against its civilians? Do we deserve to be treated on the same level as the Islamic Jihadist murderers? Yet the major Jewish organizations greeted this outrageous statement with deafening silence.

This will become especially relevant over the coming months when Israel will be subjected to highly sensitive diplomatic pressures which may have long-term repercussions.

There is no doubt that a positive US role will be crucial to inhibit the Quartet from making further unrealistic and dangerous demands of us. There are grounds for concern that notwithstanding his splendid UN General Assembly address, President Obama could once again revert to his former policies. To avoid further fallout from Jewish voters prior to the elections, President Obama may simply give the Quartet the green light to implement these policies while he stands on the sidelines.

Should that be the case, hopefully American Jewish leaders will not remain silent but will call on their president to intervene and prevent the Quartet from abandoning Israel. American Jewish leaders should revert to publicly and judiciously expressing praise or condemnation of administration initiatives taken in relation to Israel.

By so doing, far from undermining bipartisanship, they will be strengthening it and providing Israel with the moral support it is entitled to receive from the world’s premier democracy and its most important ally.

Isi Leibler


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Hackers Cripple Palestinian Internet Service

by Kifah Zaboun

Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Internet service to the Palestinian territories was disrupted yesterday after hackers attacked the servers providing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with online access in the early hours of the morning. This led to the entire internet network in the Palestinian territories being brought down, wreaking havoc on Palestinian organizations and businesses that rely the web, including government ministries and banks, as well as the media. Internet service had largely been restored across the Palestinian territories by Wednesday afternoon.

This cyber-attack took place after Palestine was granted full membership status to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], a move that was received with widespread condemnation and anger from within Israel, leading to the belief that Jewish or pro-Israeli hackers were responsible for this attack.

Palestine was subject to an organized DoS [denial of service] attack on Tuesday, cutting internet services and phone lines to the Palestinian territories. Palestinian Communications Minister Mashur Abu Daqqa said that the Palestinians would ask the International Telecommunications Union [ITU], a UN-agency, to officially investigate the cyber-attack which targeted the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Palestinian Communications Minister also told the press that the Palestinian servers were attacked “in an organized way using mirror servers” adding “I think, from the manner of the attack and its intensity, that there is a state behind it.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Mohamed al-Ayadi, who is an adviser to the Palestinian Communications Minister, revealed that “since 5 am [on Tuesday] we were subject to an organized and systematic cyber-attack from hackers from more than 20 countries…which led to the disruption and the disabling of the internet service, firstly to the West Bank, before the cyber-attackers turned their attention to the Gaza Strip.”

Al-Ayadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that this cyber-attack continued throughout the day until Tuesday evening, with local, Arab, and even international efforts being exerted to repel this.

The Palestinian Communications Ministry adviser refused to speculate as to who was responsible for this cyber-attack, but stressed that every effort is being made to uncover those responsible for this.

However Palestinian Communication Minister Mashur Abu Daqqa later told the press that “Israel could be involved, as it announced (on Monday) that it was considering the kinds of sanctions it would impose on us.” He added “it was clear that this attack was intended to wipe the name of Palestine off the internet in response to Palestinian membership at UNESCO.”

Abu Daqqa also suggested that this “organized” cyber-attack was the “work of a state” whilst Palestinian Communication Ministry adviser, Mohamed al-Ayadi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “ordinary people or even average hackers could not have carried out this cyber-attack.” He added “the hackers who carried out this attack are more dangerous and more numerous than some people imagine, this was part of a large-scale organized and systematic attack.”

Palestinian sources have suggested that Jewish or pro-Israeli groups could be responsible for this cyber-attack in retaliation for Palestine obtaining full UNESCO membership. One of the IT experts who was working on repelling this cyber-attack told Asharq Al-Awsat that “they [the hackers] are sending 5 million communication requests [to Palestinian servers] every minute from more than one source, which overloaded the Palestinian servers.” He added “this led to the collapse of all the [Palestinian] internet servers that operate globally, whilst those that operate on the local level were not affected.”

Kifah Zaboun


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Sudan's Ticking Time Bombs

by Damla Aras

The referendum held on January 9, 2011, was a milestone for Sudan. With an overwhelming majority of 98.3 percent, southerners decided to secede from the north and to create Africa's youngest state—the Republic of South Sudan. While this momentous development was expected to end Khartoum's decades-long struggle with the southern Sudanese rebels, it has set off a number of ticking time bombs and exacerbated existing conflicts. On top of Sudan's financial problems and the wider impact of the Arab upheavals, President Omar Bashir's government is now facing a number of pressing issues in the post-referendum era. With the rise of new disputes and the escalation of protracted conflicts, is Bashir's Sudan on the verge of further instability?

Darfur: An Incendiary Bomb

While rebel factions jockey for power, and President Bashir's northern Sudan government seeks to undermine resistance, conditions in Sudans's internal displaced persons camps worsen. The Zam Zam camp in Darfur is one of the world's largest refugee camps, home to more than 200,000 residents.

The most contentious and pressing problem confronting Khartoum is undoubtedly finding a solution to the Darfur conflict. The success of the southern Sudanese struggle for independence has had an impact on the Darfur movements, which quickly intensified their ties with the nascent southern Sudanese state. Historically, the Darfur movements have been influenced by and have had good relations with the anti-Khartoum southern Sudanese rebel movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). For instance, at the inception of Darfur's Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), John Garang—then-leader of SPLM—offered it logistical support, including weapons. Indeed, the SLA manifesto of 2003 was an echo of Garang's own vision of a "New Sudan."[1] Similarly, Suliman Arcua Minawi (known as Minni Minawi), the only Darfurian rebel movement leader to have signed a peace accord with the Sudanese government in 2006, moved to Juba, the South Sudan capital when he decided to end his partnership with Khartoum in December 2010. Indeed, Darfurian movements had been using South Sudan as safe haven for quite some time until the local authorities asked them to leave in late 2010 under pressure from Khartoum.[2] By way of coercing the south to stop its support for the Darfur rebels, since December 2010 the northern Sudanese forces reverted to air strikes against both the movements' main routes to the south and their likely safe havens there.[3]

Thus the referendum added fuel to the fire and inspired the Darfur rebels to unite their military forces against Khartoum. For the first time, major rebel movements such as SLA/MM (the Sudan Liberation Army's branch under Minni Minawi's control), SLA/AW (the faction under the leadership of Abdul Wahid al-Nur), JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), and LJM (the Liberation and Justice Movement) formed coalitions and have been fighting against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) since early 2011.

In addition to some external factors, notably pressure from the international community, the January referendum also played a role in pushing the rebel movements to form political pacts. Previous attempts at pacts had failed due to power struggles between the groups. But in early 2011, several formerly adversarial organizations united and declared their support for a northern democratic state. In March, the JEM and LJM, which had agreed to participate in ongoing peace talks in Doha, signed an agreement to coordinate their positions in future negotiations.[4] Khalil Ibrahim's JEM and Minawi's SLA/MM faction signed an agreement to unite their political resistance to the government, demanding a modern, secular, democratic state, which would resolve both the Darfur issue and Sudan's problems in general. JEM also confirmed their contact with Abdul Wahid, in a demonstration of the groups' determination to bring all Darfur movements together.[5] By the same token, Abdul Wahid's SLA/AW faction, worried about losing its grassroots support given Abdul Wahid's long exile in France, announced its readiness to unite with the other armed movements in Darfur and, equally important, emphasized its willingness to reunite with Minni Minawi. Indeed, in mid-May Abdul Wahid and Minni Minawi announced their alliance and vowed to strive together to establish a democratic regime in Sudan.[6] In the same month, a breakaway faction of the LJM and SLA/MM signed a coordination agreement to unify their armed resistance,[7] and a number of SLA splinter groups such as SLA/Juba Unity and SLA/Mother reunited with SLA/AW.[8] A final significant development was the integration of an Arab group, the Revolutionary Democratic Forces Front (RDFF) with SLA/AW in May.[9] All these developments indicate that the Darfur movements are not only reorganizing among themselves, they are also integrating other anti-government factions, including Arabs, against Khartoum.

In order to weaken the Darfur armed groups, the northern Sudanese government made two major decisions. The first was the "New Darfur Strategy," approved by the government in July 2010, which sought to end the Darfur conflict through a skillful use of sticks and carrots: heavy strikes against rebel forces accompanied by economic incentives for the civilian population. To this end, Khartoum has announced a large number of investments and initiatives in the region, some of which have been actualized while others remained dormant.[10]

The second and most recent government initiative was the creation of two new states—Central and East Darfur—in addition to the three existing ones in the north, south and west. According to the 2006 Darfur peace agreement, the government will hold a referendum on the permanent status of Darfur, in which Darfurians will be given two choices: 1) retention of the status quo, in which the three existing states will continue to be directly responsible to the central government; 2) creation of a Darfur region composed of the three states under the Darfur Regional Authority which will be responsible to the government.

The government is in favor of the first option as it consolidates its control over the states[11] and, further, facilitates creation of two more states. Khartoum argues that increasing the number of states will give local leaders the ability to develop closer relations with their constituents, and the internecine disputes will be more effectively resolved. According to the government, peace can only be achieved from the grassroots up. Hence President Bashir held meetings with Darfur leaders in an attempt to reach a common understanding on this matter,[12] and the National Council of Ministers endorsed the creation of East and Central Darfur in early May.[13]

However, these moves failed to impress the rebels. Darfur armed movements demanded that Darfur become one region, which could give them an advantage over the central government as they expect to be supported by the majority of Darfurians. That is to say, they could exert more pressure on the government and potentially succeed in future elections.[14] Against this backdrop, Minawi's SLA/MM accused Khartoum of using divide and rule tactics. At the same time, the JEM charged the government with seeking to divide Darfurians along tribal lines and favoring certain tribes over others, so that the government could share power with the tribes it favors in the new two states (in Central Darfur, the Fur tribe, and in East Darfur, Arab tribes such as the Reizegat).[15] They believe the government is seeking ways to weaken the rebel groups and prevent Darfur from following in the footsteps of South Sudan.[16] After all, the region had been an independent sultanate of the Fur tribe until 1916.[17] SLA leader Abdul Wahid makes clear that he does not want secession for Darfur, but he adds that he cannot prevent others considering the possibility under the current circumstances.[18]

While the armed groups and the government have been strategically, militarily, and politically positioning themselves, the local population has been the ultimate victim of the ongoing and violent clashes. The hotspots include Jabal Marra, Shangil Tobaya, and Dar al-Salam in north Darfur, Kor Abeche in south Darfur, and Jebel Marra in the center of the province. Government air strikes throughout February 2011 resulted in the deaths of many civilians and the destruction of residential areas in Kabkabiya, Wadi Murra, and Sortony in north Darfur.[19] In May, the intensified SAF airstrikes hit villages in Kutum, Kabkabiya, El Fasher in north Darfur and Shaeria, Nyala in south Darfur in a bid to eradicate rebel movements.[20] Yet despite its absolute air superiority, the Sudan Armed Forces have thus far only been partially successful in taking full control of rebel strongholds, and the real victims of the airstrikes have been civilians.

Consequently, camps for internally displaced people, such as the Zam Zam camp in north Darfur, were overloaded with civilians fleeing from air strikes and armed clashes on the ground. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 66,000 civilians have been internally displaced since January 2011 as they fled their homes to camps in north and south Darfur.[21] Yet even this desperate move brought little relief to the hapless refugees as the government, viewing the camps as safe havens for the rebels, cracked down on the camps, both militarily and economically by imposing an economic blockade on the supply of basic commodities and fuel (notably in the Zam Zam camp in early April 2011).[22]

Primed to Explode

In addition to Darfur, the referendum results have rekindled other problems between Juba and Khartoum for which the Bashir government will feel increasing heat in the coming months.

Among these issues is the status of the Abyei area in south Kordofan, which is particularly important for the governments of both northern and South Sudan because of its rich oil reserves and fertile lands and has become a focal point for violent conflict. According to the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement, the referendum on the future of South Sudan was to be followed by a referendum on Abyei's status to decide whether it should become part of South Sudan or remain in the south Kordofan region of northern Sudan.[23] However, thus far the referendum has not taken place as the issue of eligibility to vote on Abyei's future has not been resolved. Ethnically, Abyei is populated by the Christian Dinka Ngok, who consider themselves part of South Sudan and are supported by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. According to the peace agreement, only the Dinka were supposed to vote. However, with a view to diluting the region's heavily African identity by injecting an Arab population, Khartoum settled thousands of nomadic Arab Muslims, the Misseriya, who travel to Abyei regularly during the dry season to graze their cattle. Given Bashir's declaration in late March 2011 that the referendum would only be held with Misseriya participation,[24] it is clear that the north will continue to fight for the territory from which it derives substantial oil revenues.

Consequently, the South Sudan government has accused the north of arming the Misseriya and using its paramilitary Popular Defense Forces for raids in Abyei villages. According to U.N. reports, attacks against the Dinka led 20,000-25,000 people to flee to the south. U.N. civilian protection officials assert that by March 16, 2011, clashes between rival communities had claimed more than one hundred lives in Abyei.[25] While the Sudan People's Liberation Movement held Khartoum responsible for the tensions, the northern government argued that the clashes are due to the south's internal problems. The Misseriya, on the other hand, argued that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) deployed forces disguised as police in Abyei and that these forces attacked them and blocked their migration route.[26] Indeed, the combatant indicators evinced a further increase in the spiral of violence in the territory as recent satellite imagery showed a military buildup in the area. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative warned that Khartoum was deploying extra security forces in Abyei.[27] By the same token, the commander of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, Maj. Gen. Moses Obi, announced that both the north and south had deployed forces with heavy weapons to the region.[28] Juba and Khartoum agreed to resolve the issue before the south's official independence in July, and Misseriya and Dinka Ngok tribes signed the Kadugli agreement in mid-January to stop the fighting.[29] Yet, these initiatives were not fruitful. Consequently, May 2011 witnessed clashes in Abyei resulting in the deaths of fourteen people followed by SPLM's ambush of a convoy of northern troops and U.N. peacekeepers in which twenty-two SAF soldiers died and which led to the occupation of the area by heavily armed northern troops.[30] According to U.N. officials, nearly 100,000 people, most of them Dinka Ngoks, had to flee from their homes as a result.[31]

The Abyei crisis is only a part of a bigger dispute between the south and the north over the oil-producing state of south Kordofan. Similar to the developments in Abyei, the tension in the region was building. Several incidents created further strains, such as SPLM's allegations against Bashir's National Congress Party of fraud in the southern Kordofan gubernatorial elections and Khartoum's June 1, 2011 ultimatum to SPLA forces to leave the region and the Blue Nile. Consequently, the increase in violence in and around the state capital Kadugli[32] forced an estimated 40,000 people to flee.[33]

The turmoil in south Kordofan poses a new security threat in Sudan as it may expand the battleground from the Darfur conflict, owing to the activities of certain rebel groups in both regions. JEM, whose agenda has always been nationwide and who has close relations with SPLM, has increased activity in the region. Further, JEM is said to be recruiting Arab Misseriya youth unhappy with the government.[34] In the past, the group played an active role in several attacks, such as in Hamrat al-Sheikh in north Kordofan in July 2006, in Wad Banda in west Kordofan in August 2007, against Chinese oil operations in south Kordofan (October and December 2007), and most recently, against an airport used by Chinese oil companies in Heglieg in June 2011.[35] Consequently, JEM's agenda seems to be the integration of anti-government forces in Darfur and south Kordofan—regardless of their ethnic background—and fighting against Khartoum nationwide.

Despite the gloomy picture and Bashir's threats not to recognize the south's independence if it persists in claiming rights over Abyei,[36] the separation of South Sudan took place on July 9, 2011. From the northern perspective, the south's independence will have a constructive impact on Bashir's government in the international arena because of his positive approach to the referendum and his acceptance of the results. From the southern perspective, the south will not risk its independence at this stage by engaging in all-out war with the north.[37] Nevertheless, the level of violence between southern and northern forces as well as their proxies is highly likely to escalate in the contentious areas of southern Kordofan and Darfur in the coming days.

War by Proxy and Border Wars

In an attempt to gain leverage, the leaders of both South and northern Sudan hurled accusations at each other of using proxies to further destabilize their respective governments. Khartoum has continuously warned Juba not to support the Darfur movements, which in turn means escalation of violence in the region and further instability for northern Sudan in general.

On the other hand, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement claims to have evidence that Khartoum supplied southern rebels with weapons, so as to enable them to remove the new southern government from power before the official declaration of independence.[38] Since the January referendum, several SPLM defectors, such as Gen. George Athor, Col. Matthew Puol Jang, and most recently Gen. Peter Gadet have been fighting against the Sudan People's Liberation Army.[39] Given the region's poor infrastructure, the heavily armed population, fast spawning SPLA defectors, and the weak government, South Sudan is in danger of being dragged into a civil war especially if the opposing groups receive external support.

Another outstanding issue brought to the fore by the southern secession is that of border demarcation between the north and the south. According to the 2005 peace agreement, a precise demarcation of this border in line with the January 1, 1956 frontier of Sudan's independence day should be agreed upon between the parties. However, the Technical Border Committee established to resolve the issue could not solve all of the border problems between the two parties. Unsatisfied with the current arrangement, the southerners argue that the River Kiir/Bahr al-Arab should constitute the border between the two countries, requiring the north to make territorial concessions. The south has also argued that the mineral-rich Kafia Kingi area, in the horn of southern Darfur, historically belonged to South Sudan. The other contentious border disputes between the northerners and the southerners are between the Sudanese states of the Upper Nile and the White Nile and between the Upper Nile and south Kordofan. These issues are likely to contribute to further armed clashes in the near future unless a flexible solution, such as the recognition of soft borders between the two states, is rapidly implemented.


The January 2011 referendum has rekindled old conflicts and created new bones of contention. Khartoum will have to deal with the rebel movements in both Darfur and south Kordofan, which are both likely to continue supporting each other against their mutual adversary. Khartoum will also have to establish a working relationship with the independent government of South Sudan despite the existence of several unresolved issues. Any retaliatory measures by the northern government are liable to produce further instability, not only for its adversaries but also for northern Sudan. More than ever before, the Sudanese government is confronted with a string of ticking time bombs, ready to explode at the first available opportunity.

[1] Julie Flint, "Darfur's Armed Movements," in Alex de Waal, ed., War in Darfur and the Search for Peace (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 148, 160.
[2] Agence France-Presse, Nov. 13, 2010; Bloomberg News, Jan. 5, 2011.
[3] Agence France-Presse, Mar. 23, 2011.
[4] Radio Dabanga (Darfur), Mar. 22, 23, 2011.
[5] Ibid., Mar. 24, 2011.
[6] Sudan Tribune (Paris), May 16, 2011.
[7] (Sudan Justice and Equality Movement), Mar. 28, 2011.
[8] Sudan Tribune, May 10, 2011.
[9] Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C.), June 2, 2011.
[10] Sudan Tribune, July 31, 2010.
[11] Ibid., May 5, 2011.
[12] Sudan Vision Daily (Khartoum), Mar. 24, 2011.
[13] Agence France-Presse, May 5, 2011.
[14] Reuters, Apr. 24, 2011.
[15] Sudan Tribune, May 5, 2011.
[16] Sudan Vision Daily, Mar. 24, 2011; The Independent (London), Mar. 18, 2011.
[17] Edward Thomas, The Kafia Kingi Enclave (London: Rift Valley Institute, 2010), p. 28.
[18] Terrorism Monitor, June 2, 2011.
[19] Sudan Tribune, Mar. 9, 2011.
[20] Agence France-Presse, May 18, 2011.
[21] U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks via COMTEX, Mar. 16, 2011.
[22] Radio Dabanga, Apr. 5, 2011.
[23] Sudan Tribune, Apr. 1, 2011.
[24] Ibid., Mar. 31, 2011.
[25] Ibid., Apr. 4, 2011; Associated Press, Mar. 23, 2011; U.N. News Center, New York, Mar. 16, 2011.
[26] Sudan Tribune, Feb. 28, 2011.
[27] Agence France-Presse, Mar. 23, 2011.
[28] Reuters, Mar. 30, 2011.
[29] Sudan Tribune, Jan. 29, 2011.
[30] Agence France-Presse, May 3, 2011; Reuters, May 30, 2011.
[31] Agence France-Presse, June 12, 2011.
[32] Ibid., June 5, 2011.
[33] Ibid., June 12, 2011.
[34] Small Arms Survey (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva), June 4, 2011.
[35] Jerome Tubiana, "Renouncing the Rebels: Local and Regional Dimensions of Chad–Sudan Rapprochement," Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mar. 2011, p. 61; Sudan Tribune, June 14, 2011.
[36] BBC, Apr. 28, 2011.
[37] Reuters, May 26, 2011.
[38] Radio Miraya (U.N. Mission in Sudan and Swiss NGO Fondation Hirondelle, Juba and Khartoum), Mar. 23, 2011.
[39] Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), Mar. 31, 2011; Agence France-Presse, May 21, 2011.

Damla Aras is post-doctoral research associate in war studies at King's College London, currently serving with African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). Any views or opinions presented in this essay are solely those of the author and do not represent those of UNAMID.


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Thursday, November 3, 2011

UK Speeding up Planning for Potential US-led Iran Attack

by Yaakov Lappin and Jpost.Com Staff

The British military is accelerating planning for its part in a potential US-led attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, The Guardian reported on Wednesday, days after the UK's military chief visited Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is currently in London on a state visit, where he met with senior officials, including British National Security Advisor Sir Peter Ricketts.

The Iranian nuclear threat is believed to be at the top of the agenda of talks between Barak and British officials.

According to the Guardian report, the UK Ministry of Defense believes the US may have intensified plans for targeted missile strikes of Iranian nuclear targets.

The newspaper quoted British officials as saying that the UK would assist the US in such a mission. Britain is reportedly examining locations for mobilizing its Royal Navy ships and submarines to assist a possible American aerial and naval campaign against Iran.

Washington could also ask London for permission to use the British island of Diego Gacria, in the Indian ocean, as a base of operations.

Meanwhile, an army source told The Jerusalem Post that British military chief Sir David Richards visited Israel this week.

Richards was a guest of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the source said.

He arrived as "part of an annual visit" aimed at maintaining international cooperation, the source said. The source did not disclose the content of talks held by Richards and Israeli officials.

The visit was not announced earlier because it is standard practice in Britain to refrain from publicizing such visits while they occur.

The army source confirmed that "no announcement was released" during Richards' arrival.

"The IDF has a system of international cooperation which sees foreign figures visit Israel," the source added.

Yaakov Lappin and Jpost.Com Staff


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Arab Spring Risks Bearing Islamist Fruit, CHP Warns

by AK Group

Turkey's main opposition party has raised concerns that the wave of revolt across the Arab world could give way to the rise of Islamist movements and result in new authoritarian regimes.

"We are questioning whether the Arab Spring may turn into an Islamic Spring and that the new administrations in these countries may evolve into authoritarian regimes," Umut Oran, a deputy from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Daily News Monday.

Oran backed Turkey as a model in the Middle East, but questioned "which Turkey" the Arabs should be looking at. He charged that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had eroded the standards of Turkish democracy and the rule of law and "made secularism the subject of controversy."

"Turkey is definitely a model, but Republican Turkey and the AKP's Turkey are very much different," he said. "It is Republican Turkey that should serve as a model for the Middle East."

Kılıçdaroğlu met with a German delegation including Michael Link and Johannes Vogel of the Free Democratic Party, or FDP, Alexander Lambsdorff of the European Parliament and a representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Kılıçdaroğlu questioned whether "moderate Islam could shift to authoritarian regimes, suspend democracy and then move to a rule based on sharia law," party sources said.

Kılıçdaroğlu decried increasing government control of the judiciary and the imprisonment of journalists, lawmakers and students under the AKP, casting doubt on how the ruling party could be an inspiration for others in the region.

"The vision that the AKP is promoting does not [reflect] the secular, democratic and social state based on the rule of law," he was quoted as saying. "Yes, Turkey should be a model. But it should be the Republican Turkey and not the AKP's Turkey."

In a related development, a delegation of female members of the CHP crossed into unrest-hit Syria over the weekend for a visit to observe the situation on the ground. They were invited by Syrian women's organizations. The team, led by CHP deputy chairwoman Birgül Ayman Güler, is scheduled to return home Wednesday.

AK Group


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Israel and Just-War Theory

by Herbert I. London

Now that a trade of more than one thousand convicted terrorists for one Israeli soldier has been transacted, it should be clear to any of the skeptics which side in the Middle East puts the greatest premium on life. Similarly, it should be noted from this trade which side adheres to the principles of "just war."

Nevertheless, when Judge Richard Goldstone wrote his report about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Force in the Gazan Cast Lead operation, he indicated in several places that Israeli troops acted irresponsibly, leading to unnecessary deaths in the civilian population. Although Goldstone later recanted, the damage was done. His report became a propaganda weapon against the Israeli government from Europe to Africa, and from Academia to the United Nations.

The problem with the report is that Goldstone relied on the reflections of officials in Gaza instead of films provided by the Israeli forces. Seeing is not always believing; doctored pictures have a notorious history. Nonetheless, if you view the films, they seem to offer incontrovertible evidence that Israeli troops did whatever they could to control collateral damage.

There were even times when the Israeli soldiers put their own lives at risk to avoid killing an innocent person. Time after time a known terrorist hiding behind "human shields" in an apartment complex was spared to avoid the death of people who were innocent. Rockets launched from a school roof remained untouched until children had left the premises. In the heat of battle Israeli forces maintained a level of moral behavior that was exemplary.

A recent chat with a base commander about the behavior of his troops in battle was revealing: "Our troops are trained to put life ahead of personal safety." The Israeli army officials contend that unnecessary shelling is not acceptable. Fire power is related directly to the force used against Israel.

Many commentators on this subject point to an Arab boy of about fifteen crying as he approached a checkpoint. Soldiers on the scene went into high alert. It seemed clear that this distraught youngster was recruited to be a suicide bomber. One Israeli soldier, recognizing the boy's agitation, called out to him, "Brother" in Arabic. He could not be sure when or whether the boy would set himself ablaze. Nonetheless, the IDF soldier continued to walk to the boy, took him in his arms and disarmed the explosive device around his waist -- all the while knowing that often the Palestinians use a remote control device to explode suicide bombers. The episode also tells a great deal about the Israeli military psychology.

Arab attempts to paint a different picture of the IDF have been successful. Many in the Arab world see these well-trained and disciplined troops as amoral. That, however, is far from the truth. These Israeli eighteen and nineteen year olds are told from the first day of national service that they carry the banner of a civilization that puts a premium on life. Their job is to protect and defend. They are given a green light to kill only when other methods to stop an enemy fail.

At a training session for IDF entrants at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, teenagers drafted into military service discuss the roots of war, the conflict in the Middle East, the history of this new nation. But most significantly, they study just-war theory and a moral stance for fighting those who rely on terror methods. Of course, no system is foolproof; occasionally a soldier will act improperly. This, however, is the exception. Israel is in a daily struggle. After all, 250 million Arabs in 22 Arab and Muslim countries want to destroy this nation. But Israeli leaders do not modify their moral code one iota. As the commander of this training center noted, "If we altered our approach, what effect would it have on soldiers when they leave military service?" One fights not only to save a nation, but to save values.

Herbert I. London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).


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The Syrian Impasse

by Frank Crimi

The Obama administration’s recall of the US ambassador from Syria signals the latest diplomatic impasse between the United States and Syria. Despite eight months of diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions, Syrian President Bashar Assad shows no signs of moving aside.

Citing “credible threats” against his personal safety, the United States recalled Robert Ford from his post as US ambassador to Syria. The State Department​ said Ford’s return to Damascus would be contingent upon an “assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.” The reaction by the Syrian government to the decision was to immediately recall its own ambassador from Washington.

Ford’s security has been in growing jeopardy since July 2011 when he visited the Syrian city of Hama and was greeted warmly by anti-government protesters. Ford’s welcome prompted Syrian authorities to incite hundreds of pro-government sympathizers to attack the US embassy in Damascus, where they smashed windows and spray-painted obscenities on the walls.

From that point on, Ford has been the subject of several incidents of intimidation by pro-Assad supporters, including one in which he was pelted with eggs and tomatoes while going to a mosque in Damascus.

While the Obama administration was quick to point out that Ford’s recall was not a formal breakdown in relations with Syria, the move underscores the failure to date of diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions to either dislodge Assad from power or force him to enter into negotiations with Syrian dissidents.

The latest efforts against the Syrian regime include a new series of economic sanctions — on top of the ones already levied on Syria’s banking and oil sectors — by the European Union. They also include diplomatic efforts by the Arab League to host talks between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition, an effort which has been rejected by both sides.

This latter rejection certainly makes sense given that Syrian President Bashar has steadfastly maintained that the uprising against his government, which began in March, has been fomented by “armed terrorists groups” carrying out a “foreign agenda,” resulting in the deaths of over 1,100 Syrian army and police personnel.

For its part, the Syrian National Transition Council, formed in early October as the leading voice of the Syrian protest movement, won’t negotiate until Assad stops his murderous assault against Syria’s civilian protesters, assaults which to date have produced an estimated 3,000 deaths and over 10,000 wounded.

Unfortunately, Assad continues to have his security forces ratchet up the violence to new and disturbing levels, with the latest deadly killings coming when Syrian tank forces killed at least 25 people in the Syrian city of Homs.

Syrian security forces have also been accused of arresting an estimated 250 doctors and pharmacists treating wounded anti-government protesters since the start of the uprising. In one case, Human Rights Watch said Syrian security forces “forcibly removed” patients from a hospital and prevented doctors from reaching the wounded during a military siege in Homs.

Even escaping Syria can’t guaranteed one’s safety as reports have surfaced of Syrian refugees and activists in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan being kidnapped by Syrian intelligence agents and forced back into Syria.

Of course, Bashar Assad​’s continued resistance to stepping down from power may have been stiffened by the video images of Muammar Gadhafi being dragged out of a drainage ditch and summarily executed, his corpse dragged through the streets before it was buried in an unmarked grave deep in the Libyan Desert.

So, in an effort to spare himself a similar fate, Assad in a recent interview gave a pointed warning as to the costs of a NATO-led military intervention against his regime, saying, “Syria is the fault line, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake. Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?”

While some have dismissed those comments by Assad as simply “playing up to the fears of the West at the moment,” the reality is that launching a military strike against Syria would entail a far more dangerous risk than the one launched against Libya. For starters, unlike Libya, Syria has a host of powerful allies that won’t sit idly by and watch Assad go under, chief among them Iran, Russia and China.

Russia and China already feel they were burned by the United States, France and Britain for overstepping the mandate of UN resolution 1973, which called for the introduction of a UN no-fly zone over Libya designed to protect Libyan civilians.

That mission, however, quickly morphed into an exercise of regime change, one in which NATO helped topple Gadhafi’s regime by launching more than 26,000 airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi forces.

So, when France in early October pushed a similar UN resolution that called for the UN Security Council to take “responsibilities” and sanction the “bloody repression” in Syria, both Russia and China, believing it would be a pretext for an attack on their Syrian ally, vetoed the resolution

For his part, Assad has already indicated that he won’t be content to simply wait for outside help to save his regime. Assad, along with Syria’s proxy terrorist organization Hezbollah, has reportedly pledged to launch its huge arsenal of rockets and missiles at Israel if Syria is attacked, a prospect that would all but guarantee the beginning of a large scale regional war.

Therefore, it is understandable that NATO is much more hesitant this time to invoke the military option, evidenced by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who told reporters in Libya that he could “completely rule out” a NATO-led strike on Syria.

Yet, while NATO may be ruling out a possible military strike on Syria, some still cling to that hope. That view was voiced by Senator John McCain​, who days ago said, “Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria.”

While McCain’s views may not represent the best answer to the Syrian situation, at least he’s not alone. Jordan’s King Abdullah recently said, “I am one of the most optimistic people you’ll meet in the Middle East, but…I don’t think there’s anybody in the region or outside who knows how to tackle the Syria issue.”

With no end in sight to Bashar Assad’s rule and Syria drifting ever closer toward full scale sectarian civil war, finding an answer to the Syrian problem grows more elusive and imperative by the day.

Frank Crimi


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Italy Faces Up to the Evil Within

by Bruce Bawer

There is no question that anti-Semitism in Europe has been on the rise during the last few years. The European left, for a range of reasons, has gotten into the habit of viewing Israel, and by extension all Jews, as the foremost challenge to peace on earth and goodwill toward men. As Europe’s Islamic communities have expanded, moreover, and their members grown less and less shy about expressing – and acting upon – their opinions, the articulation of anti-Semitic sentiments and the commission of anti-Semitic acts by young Muslim men has increased accordingly.

While all this has been going on, a number of European governments have chosen to look the other way. Many political leaders in Europe, indeed, have fueled anti-Semitism by word and deed. The Italian government, however, has been an exception.

It was in October 2009 that two committees of the Italian Parliament voted to commission an in-depth study of anti-Semitism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. They established a sub-committee to perform the inquiry, and put the Jewish writer and parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein (whom I profiled here recently) in charge. Now the sub-committee’s report has been released, and its findings are well worth attending to.

The report acknowledges “a strong resurgence of anti-Semitism in European societies” in recent years – a new kind of anti-Semitism that is “less overtly racist, and therefore more subtle and insidious,” than previous varieties, and that is being spread especially through online social networks. As a consequence of this new brand of anti-Semitism, “Jewish communities in various Western countries have had to deal for the first time with a new atmosphere of insecurity” and “a new cultural climate.” Though Italy is nowhere near as severely plagued with anti-Semitism as many other European countries, recent years have nonetheless seen a rise in anti-Semitism on the Italian far left, which, like its counterparts elsewhere in the West, has come to view Israel as “a state based on apartheid against the Palestinians,” takes the view that “the victims of the past have become today’s executioners,” and relativizes the Shoah by essentially equating it to what is routinely, and absurdly, depicted as a “Palestinian Holocaust.”

The report offers its share of sobering statistics. It references a 2010 study showing a steady rise in Italian anti-Semitism between 2001 and 2009, and another study indicating that “44 percent of Italians express attitudes and opinions in some way hostile to Jews and 12 percent are fully-fledged anti-Semites.” Fully 22% of Italians between the ages of 18 and 29 were hostile to Jews, and the figure was even higher among males in northern Italy. One-fourth of Italians surveyed agreed with the statement: “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.” (In other European countries the figure was even higher: 35% in Germany and Britain, 41% in the Netherlands, 48% in Portugal, and no less than 55% in Poland.) One-third of Italians regard Jews as “not very nice,” and one-fourth don’t consider them “fully Italian.” Among Italians between the ages of 18 and 34, 22% were anti-Semitic, even though 71% of them “had never had any direct contact with Jews.” Of Italians in this age group, 51% balked at the idea of their daughter being in a relationship with a Jew, 38% didn’t want a Jewish boss, and 25% didn’t care for the idea of having Jewish neighbors.

The Italian sub-committee interviewed a long line of experts. Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini spoke of “a new insidious form of anti-Semitism…based on apathy and uncritical acquiescence to claims asserting Jewish ‘control’ over politics, the media and the economy.” Renzo Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, suggested that anti-Semitism “is being fuelled today by anti-Israeli arguments, encouraged by various media that are prejudiced against the Jewish State and hostile to it.” And Rabbi Benedetto Carucci of the Rome Jewish School expressed concern “that events focusing solely on remembrance of the Shoah might create the impression that Judaism was all about extermination.”

Admirably, the role of European Muslims was not obscured (as is so often the case): “Incidents of anti-Semitic intolerance are spreading in the Islamic communities in Europe, with murders and physical attacks on Jews….In Sweden, which has one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe, the Jewish communities spend 25 per cent of their funds on security measures.” Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Rome Jewish Community, noted “the close connection which exists between certain Muslim organisations and neo-Nazi groups and which underpins attacks on Jewish communities, synagogues, schools and cemeteries and also underlies the boycotts of sports events.” Professor Dina Porat, director of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, spoke to the sub-committee about the emergence in Europe in recent years of “an Islamist form of anti-Semitism” that is marked “by a tendency to attack Jewish communities outside Israel because of their association with that country.” And Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Steering Committee of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) “emphasised the risks of an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency which might have dangerous repercussions for Jews.”

The report makes certain recommendations, most of them about beefing up education at all levels about Judaism, Israel, and Jewish life and history. This solution may seem self-evident, but on a continent where schools are increasingly timid about teaching about (for example) the Holocaust for fear of arousing Muslims pupils’ wrath, it counts as pretty gutsy.

To be sure, for those of us who have been noticing the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe for years, nothing in the Italian report really qualifies as headline news. But it’s encouraging nonetheless that a leading Western European government considered this subject important enough to commission a major inquiry into it. In Norway, where breathtakingly ugly public expressions of anti-Semitism by leading members of the cultural elite are well-nigh routine, one can hardly imagine the government ordering such a study. (If it did, the resulting report would almost certainly blame European anti-Semitism mostly on actions by Israel, including its treatment of the Palestinians.) That the government of Italy, where anti-Semitism is considerably less virulent than in many other Western European countries, saw fit to address this issue head-on, and to produce a genuinely honest and searching report, is immensely admirable. Hats off to the Berlusconi government. And may every other country in Europe learn a lesson from this: get some cojones, face up to the evil within, and do what’s right before it’s too late.

Bruce Bawer


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