More on the Middle East Morass

By way of follow up to In the morass that is the Middle East, Kyle Orton has a piece at UK Media Watch that attempts to unravel what was presented by the Daily Mail:

…The Daily Mail reported, after embedding with Israeli commandos, on Jerusalem’s ongoing effort to treat casualties of Syria’s horrific war. The Mail, however, put a spin on this story that not only reflected badly on the Jewish State, but feeds into a narrative cast by Iran and its allies to the effect that Israel is supporting Salafi militancy in Syria, specifically al-Qaeda, a propaganda campaign that has already had deadly consequences.

Read it all, here.

In the morass that is the Middle East

I wish I knew what to make of this:


For whatever reason, Israel is performing humanitarian work that nobody else will or can. Objectively, it’s fair to say Israel is doing the right thing. Objectively, it’s also fair to say there must be a reason this is being publicized. But does it matter? The reason won’t matter to those being treated, for sure. Note this observation:

‘I wouldn’t say that Israel is doing this for nothing,’ said Chris Doyle, Director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. ‘If so, it wouldn’t be publicising it.

‘There is an element of wanting to improve the country’s brand and image abroad, when all the opinion polls show that Israel doesn’t have the greatest reputation. £8.7million [reported cost to date of this humanitarian aid] is a large price to pay for PR, but Israel’s powers-that-be have realised that it has to invest in its image.’

Grudging? I think that is a marketing version of saying whatever Israel does, it is up to no good. They are evil, I tell you. Evil…

Not so incidentally:

An Israeli Government spokesman rejected these claims as ‘absurd’.

‘Israel is a world leader in providing humanitarian assistance, both in the Middle East and around the world,’ he said. He also pointed out that this is not the first time the Jewish State has given medical care to those bent on its destruction and their families.

Read the whole piece here.

Behind the curtain

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague (dealing with the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri) has been going on in the background, largely ignored.

The Jerusalem Post has an interim report as to evidence from Marwan Hamade in the case about Syria’s interference in Lebanon’s affairs, to the extent of barring it from making (or talking) peace with Israel.

Hamade is described as “a Lebanese parliament member, former minister, and close ally of assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri…”

To amplify the point about Syrian interference in Lebanon’s affairs, especially with Israel, Hamade had other things to say:

Related to his statements about Israel, Hamade said that while Hariri and his block wished to normalize and demilitarize Lebanon after Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and Syria wanted the opposite.

He said that Hezbollah did not accept Israel’s withdrawal and claimed a small portion of land called the Shebaa farms was still occupied.

He added that Syria also made some indications that the “Shebaa farms is Lebanese territory,” but that both claims were merely “to give Hezbollah an argument for keeping up armed resistance.”

However, Hamade said that when some in Lebanon asked Syria to give a formal statement to the UN that it renounced its well-known claims to the Shebaa farms as Syrian territory, Syria declined.

This, said Hamade, proved his point that Syria actually still claimed Shebaa farms for itself, but made enough indirect support for Hezbollah’s claims on the land to help Hezbollah keep its arms.

In short: the Syrians lied. You can read the whole Post piece, here.

The whole picture emerging is confirmation of what most observers thought what was going on behind the Assad curtain.

I don’t see anybody predicting surprise disclosures coming from the Special Tribunal, but I am intrigued as to what the consequences might be. It remains one of the (few) positive developments to put a brake on, or shine a light on, Syria’s nefarious activities that stretch back long before the current civil war. A war, let’s not forget, where the bloodletting and indiscriminate killing has been treated as if it is some kind of provincial bull fight that got out of control, but can be ignored. Efforts to deal with the situation are not efforts; they are tokenism on the international scale. I don’t suggest there are easy solutions lying around to pick up, but refuse to accept it is beyond the capacity of a willing world to do something better. So the conclusion I reach is that the world is not willing.


The Times of Israel reports:

Plundered Syrian Torah scrolls said held by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels

Looters demand the release of prisoners held by Assad in return for Judaica stolen from ancient Damascus synagogue

Mystifying. It’s not a surprise that valuable Judaica has been stolen. Nor is it a surprise that the thieves are offering to trade their ill gotten gains. But how do you join the dots so that the offer to trade with Assad for prisoners makes sense? The baddies get their bad guys back. Assad gets Torah scrolls? This may be a sign that I am relatively new to this part of the world, but it makes no sense to me. What’s in it for Assad? Good PR?

It’s worth mentioning this snippet from the report:

The source said that Qatar may become involved in negotiating the release of the items as part of its diplomatic bid “to play both sides” and demonstrate negotiating capabilities with the Assad regime. Members of the expatriate Syrian-Jewish community are also reportedly involved in the talks.

The mention of the expatriate Syrian-Jewish community sort of makes it more likely something might happen. But what can Qatar or the ex-pats give Assad that makes such a deal a possibility?

Check out the full report, here.

Syria, the nun, and the media

From Cranmer:

Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib is a Melkite Catholic nun who has lived and worked in Syria for 20 years. She is Mother Superior of St James’ Monastery in Qara, and has compiled a comprehensive, compelling and persuasive report into the photographs and videos coming out of Syria being used by President Obama, David Cameron and François Hollande to justify punitive action against President Assad and his forces for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Read the report for yourself, and make up your own mind: what follows here is mere summary. She evidences photographs and video footage which are being circulated as proof that the Syrian President used sarin gas on his own people. No one doubts that a lot of children died, yet only Mother Agnes appears to have asked why there are only piles of dead children. Where are all their parents? And why do the same bodies in the same clothes keep on cropping up in different locations?

There is more:

But leave aside the politicking and powerplay, and listen to the nun, for she is concerned only with the truth. As Assad continues to deny – quite vehemently – that his regime was responsible for the gas attack, Mother Agnes highlights the hypocrisy, deception and double standards among Western governments and the Western media. On August 5th, for example, Western-backed insurgents went on a murderous rampage in several Alawite villages, killing more than 500 innocent civilians. Western governments pretended it did not happen, and the MSM obliged their governments in a conspiracy of silence.

I warn you, it does not make easy reading. But still, do read the whole thing, here.

Back to Syria

Does this strike a chord with you:

If you have a bumper sticker that says “No Blood For Oil,” it had better be on your bike.

If so, you will get a lot out of the whole article – by Sebastian Junger – available, here.

As Norman Geras points out in his blog (where I first saw it):

…this bit hits the nail on the head in identifying the way the term ‘antiwar’ has been appropriated by people who are not much exercised either about war in general or about a lot of specific wars:

“I cannot think of any moral definition of “antiwar” that includes simply ignoring the slaughter of civilians overseas.”

Much of the so-called antiwar movement seems only to protest against wars waged by the US, Britain and Israel; wars waged by dictatorial regimes, whether externally, or internally against sections of their own population, don’t spur it to the same oppositional passion or mobilization.

Or, to put it another way, the so-called antiwar movement is not against war, but only some wars.

Analysis on Syria

Although framed from Israel’s perspective, the analysis in today’s Jerusalem Post by Ariel Ben Solomon is fairly even handed:

While the Assad regime is linked to Iran and Hezbollah, some experts say most of the groups opposing him are in one way or another close in ideology to either al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood.

What is Israel’s interest in Syria and the possibility of a US-led attack? Israel’s current policy seems to be to stay out of it unless any redlines are crossed, at which point it would act covertly to deal with the threat.

A key reason for the ambivalence of Israeli experts and policy makers is that there is no clear path to take – both Syrian president Bashar Assad’s regime, which is allied with Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, and the Islamist-dominated opposition forces are distasteful.

There are no good choices.

Robert Kaplan, the chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, wrote in a recent article that a stalemate and continuation of the conflict may be the best outcome. He cited the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) as an example of a conflict that benefited the Reagan administration.

“By tying down two large and radical states in the heart of the Middle East, the war severely reduced the trouble that each on its own would certainly have caused the region for almost a decade,” Kaplan wrote.

There may be a sliver of hope.

The debate in the US and in the media has recently focused on the identity of the Syrian opposition and if there could be some secular or Western-friendly elements that could be supported in the case that Assad falls.

However, note the prerequisite: Assad must fall. Given how well he has held out to date, probably amid fears of a genocidal reprisal against the Alawites, that’s not looking so straightforward. Apart from anything else, superpower support from Russia and China is unlikely to be easy to counter or remove.

However, with that background:

In Congress, US Senator John McCain made the case that the opposition is not as radical as many have been saying, citing a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, who argued that Islamic radicals are not dominating the rebel forces.

“Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote.

Many analysts were surprised by O’Bagy’s assertion, and information has recently come to light demonstrating that O’Bagy is not a neutral observer. According to an interview with The Daily Caller website, she admitted that she also serves as a paid adviser to a pro-rebel lobby group in the US.

She serves as the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group lobbying in the US on behalf of the Syrian rebels.

Actually, it may be worse than that. According to some, this promoter of a secular opposition has ties to some dodgy extremists. (See here.)

So, credit to the author for this caution:

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a former president of Tel Aviv University and a past ambassador to the US who participated in peace negotiations with Syria in the 1990s, told The Jerusalem Post that “no one can tell you what the balance of forces is between jihadists and secular opposition groups.”

However, Rabinovich has more:

He argues that the secular opposition cannot be written off completely, and it is “not necessarily true that Islamists would come to power if Assad falls.”

Read the whole article, here.

Economic reality

Warning: understatement on the way.

The situation in Egypt and Syria is not good.

Behind the political and factional moves in Egypt there is a simple economic reality: the country is bust, has awful infrastructure, and depends on external aid for its survival. No matter whether Morsi holds on to power, or a more or less jihad inclined person takes over, it’s unlikely there will be any meaningful improvement until the economic situation is tackled. And that won’t be easy.

Behind the civil war in Syria, there is the strong beating heart of religious hatred: Sunni v Shia. Syria’s economic problems are probably not quite as bad as those of Egypt – it did make an attempt to modernize its agriculture – but the differences are probably moot if you are a starving citizen. So, finding a solution to the insoluble civil war would not end the problems in Syria. Arming one side, or the other, or imposing a no-fly zone, seems a bit like shuffling chairs around on the Titanic.

What to do?

I wish I had a solution. I don’t. But I do have a suggestion that people in positions of power and much more talented than me, might consider: focus on the end result that would deliver the best for these failed states. Ignore the politics. Tackle the economics.

What do the people want? A roof over their heads, food to eat, and education for their children would be a good start. Employment would be more than helpful. How can these be delivered? By economic solutions. Aid may play a part, but it will (arguably) be wasted unless it is tied into real change. Not so much political change, but economic change. Maybe they need to ditch their currency. Maybe they need to slash bureaucracy (a classic home for corruption). Maybe they need to start again.

In other words, take a different perspective.

I’m an optimist. We have on this planet immense resources of invention and ingenuity. I believe that somewhere out there, there is an economic driven initiative that can help work towards improving the situation in these places. And with real improvements, the political benefits – or possibilities – will be for the common good. Ok; I’m a naive optimist. But isn’t it worth a try?

If you want some background reading on the matter, I commend this piece by Spengler (aka David P Goldman). He may not share my optimism, but he does highlight – authoritatively – the economic issues.

Poor bloody Syria

Lest we forget. An infographic from Ariel Zinger:

Syria? You mean something is happening in Syria?

One question being asked:

Is the blood of Syrian citizens blood cheaper?

I hear no answer.

As BDS Gone Bad puts it:

“How come there was so much international intervention in a mere 8 days of war while not half of the resources spent on High-profile Gaza, was dedicated to heavily distressed Syria?”

[A tip of the hat to BDS gone bad.]