Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 13 Oct 2015 06:22:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbors Tue, 13 Oct 2015 05:37:35 +0000 By Alpaslan Ozerdem | (The Conversation) | – –

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another bloody massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history, and the culmination of a dreadful wave of violence. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey nowadays without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s dreadfully bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way that various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, south east Turkey has endured dreadful vioence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s bad leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its bad neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes’ incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem, Chair in Peace-Building, Co-Director of Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Turkey mourns victims of Ankara bombing which killed at least 95 – BBC News

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Global Warming: See the Extreme Ice Changes Near the Antarctic Peninsula Tue, 13 Oct 2015 05:06:30 +0000 James Balog | The National Geographic (Video Report) | – –

“Join the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team on an expedition to South Georgia Island near the Antarctic Peninsula. This trip adds the Southern Hemisphere to a network of 43 time-lapse cameras placed worldwide on 24 glaciers. Capturing one photo per hour of daylight, the cameras placed on South Georgia will document the story of the island’s melting glaciers.”

National Geographic: “See the Extreme Ice Changes Near the Antarctic Peninsula”

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Can Russia afford Its Syria Campaign? Tue, 13 Oct 2015 04:49:34 +0000 By Charles Recknagel | ( RFE/ RL )

Rough estimates suggest that Moscow has spent at least $87 million for air and cruise-missile strikes in the first two weeks of its bombing campaign in Syria that began September 30.

With that relatively modest investment, the Kremlin has made itself a player that cannot be ignored in the Syrian conflict as it backs ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bid to remain in power. The strikes also have enabled Syrian government forces to make significant gains against the rebels, with advances reported on October 11 in the northwestern province of Idlib and the neighboring province of Hama.

But perhaps just as importantly, the strikes have enabled Moscow to renew its claim to be a superpower as Russia defies Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine, which, along with low oil prices, have crippled its economy.

“These strikes were the final move to claim the status of a great power,” says Igor Sutyagin, senior research fellow for Russian studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). “Now Russia has finished its replication of all the attributes a great power like the United States has.”

He says the air campaign, and above all its use of cruise missiles, deliberately demonstrated that Moscow can launch strikes remotely on targets of its choice and without risk to its own troops. Russia also showed it is ready to act without waiting for permission from the international community and in the face of Western, Turkish, and Arab criticism of its actions.

Just how much Moscow’s assertive air campaign costs is difficult to calculate with complete accuracy. One reason is that the Russian military is highly secretive about its expenditures.

But Sutyagin, who follows the Russian military closely, estimates that the air strikes by conventional fighter jets cost at least some $2.5 million per day.
An image taken from footage made available by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show air strikes carried out by the Russian Air Force on what Russia says was an Islamic State training camp in Idlib Province.
An image taken from footage made available by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show air strikes carried out by the Russian Air Force on what Russia says was an Islamic State training camp in Idlib Province.

That figure covers maintenance of a force of 34 airplanes and deploying them on daily bombing runs against targets across the country. It also covers the costs of the some 2,000 specialist Russian troops who make up the expeditionary force and of providing logistics support — including ammunition and fuel — by military transport planes and ships from Russia.

Add to that another $52 million to cover the $2 million apiece cost of the 26 cruise missiles Russian ships in the Caspian fired on October 7, and the total comes to $87 million in 14 days. The amount does not include the cost of the original transport of the planes and troops to Syria.

The analyst call the estimate “conservative,” saying it “might be between $1 million and $4 million more (per day) depending on the actual amount of precision guided munitions which they used.”

Easily Affordable — For Now

Russian officials say the cost of Russia’s Syrian campaign is easily affordable for Moscow, which regards it as a small-scale military operation.

But the Syrian campaign does place an additional burden on the Defense Ministry’s budget at a time when it is already badly taxed by what analysts say is the far higher cost of Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine and of ramped-up military exercises amid tensions with NATO.
Syrian President Bashar al-AssadSyrian President Bashar al-Assad

The Russian armed forces conducted around 4,000 military exercises in the first nine months of this year, 500 drills more than in 2014, according to the Defense Ministry. The largest of the drills took place last month in the center of Russia and involved nearly 100,000 troops from every branch of the armed forces, plus troops from other ex-Soviet states. The exercises simulated combat operations that also involved naval ships and up to 170 military aircraft.

The costs of the exercises are kept secret by Russia’s military, as are the costs of intervening in eastern Ukraine. Western officials have accused Moscow of sending troops, armor, and air-defense systems into Ukraine to support separatist rebels against Kyiv.

Sutyagin says that the Defense Ministry’s budget is being spent this year faster than scheduled as a result of its multiple priorities.

“In the first eight months of this year, the military had already spent 82 percent of its budget,” he says. That suggests the military could exceed its budget, forcing the government to dig into national reserves to cover costs at a time when the Russian economy is reeling from low oil prices and Western sanctions.

Russian military analysts say that so long as the Syrian campaign remains at its current level, Moscow will be able to afford it without difficulty. But if it escalates, it could pose tough budgetary choices.
Bombs are dropped by a Russian warplane during an air strike near Idlib on October 5.Bombs are dropped by a Russian warplane during an air strike near Idlib on October 5.

“The military budget can support this operation so long as it has modest limits,” says Aleksandr Goltz, an independent military expert in Moscow. “We can support one air force regiment on Syrian soil, but not, of course, a large-scale ground operation.”

Russian officials have said they will not send ground troops to Syria and that the air campaign will be of just a few months’ duration.

But if Russia does get dragged deeper into the Syrian conflict, the political benefits Moscow has reaped inexpensively with its first 10 days of air strikes might not appear to be such a bargain.

The Soviet Union was very much a superpower when it sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 to support a Moscow-tied government there.

However, by 1989, Soviet troops withdrew in defeat after a conflict that cost billions of dollars and helped speed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “Russia’s air strikes hit 63 ISIL targets in Syria”

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Palestinians want West Bank & Gaza to be put under UN protection Tue, 13 Oct 2015 04:30:56 +0000 By Samer B. Jaber | (Ma’an News Agency) | – –

We, a group of professional and trade union figures, intellectuals, and political activists, appeal to the Palestinian leadership within the Palestine Liberation Organization and outside of it, to call on the United Nation and the permanent members of the Security Council to put the Palestine territory occupied by Israel in 1967 under the international protection of the United Nations.

This call is coming after two decades of negotiations between the leadership of the PLO and successive Israeli occupation governments. These negotiations have not been able to achieve the rights of the Palestinian people to return to the homes from which they were displaced and to self-determination. The goal of this initiative is to provide an exit strategy from the arrangement in which the balance of power is tipped entirely in favor of the occupying state, thereby giving it the opportunity to impose its policy of fait accompli.

The exit strategy from this reality at this stage aims to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and enable the rebuilding of a national strategy aimed at resolving the conflict through the realization of the historical rights of the Palestinian people.

The maintenance of the status quo helps perpetuate the occupation rather than end it, thereby providing cover for continued establishment and expansion of colonies in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank, as well as Israel’s plans to further isolate the West Bank and maintain control over its resources, as Israel is able to continue blockading the Gaza Strip and controlling its resources. Furthermore, it leaves the burden and costs of administering daily life under occupation to the Palestinians, making the occupation a profitable project for Israel.

The mandate to UN forces to provide protection is to include all of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967; the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute the geo-political unit that would be subject to this mandate. The duration and implementation mechanisms of the protection force would be determined by agreement between the PLO and the UN General Assembly. The primary mission of the international protection force would be to prevent violations of international humanitarian law in the treatment of the Palestinian population living under occupation, in addition to preventing the occupation authorities from exploiting Palestinian natural resources including groundwater, as well as to prevent the acquisition of land and its annexation to the State of Israel under Israel’s Jewish settlement policy.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) would continue its work, as stipulated in its UN mandate until the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, to provide for the basic necessities of the refugees, from water and food, to housing, work, and basic education.

Settlers remaining in the areas subject to the international protection mechanism would be subject to the laws in force in the occupied Palestinian territory, and they would not enjoy any ethnic privileges; they will be dealt with equally under the law without prejudicing the rights of the indigenous population of the land. But in terms of the general framework of the conflict, the Jewish settlers living in the colonies would still be viewed under the lens of international law.

Palestinians will continue in the administration of their lives in coordination with the Office of the International Protection Force. This self-administration would differ from the existing Palestinian Authority in that it would refrain from providing any form of security services to the occupying power. The international agreements that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority are to be considered expired by virtue of their content text as well as practice, and by virtue of the parties’ abandonment of them. Thus the security services will be disbanded and its members referred to retirement with the rights and benefits provided for public sector employees.

In this appeal, we affirm the following:

Any settlement must satisfy the right of return and self-determination over the whole of mandatory Palestine.

We do not claim that this step will end the Israeli occupation. However, it is an exit strategy from the current arrangement and burdens and towards the reconstruction of our national project on the basis of effective struggle.

The occupying power will remain primarily responsible for the security of Palestinian citizens and the security of public property as provided for under international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, and international norms.

The Gaza Strip is occupied territory and will be included in the international protection arrangement in a manner that is commensurate with its specific needs and situation. This appeal should not be interpreted so as to allow for the redeployment of occupation forces in the Gaza Strip.

The Protecting Power will control the international border crossings to enable the Palestinians control of exports, imports and the balance of payments, as happened in Kosovo. This will reduce the dependency and economic annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories to the economy of the Israeli occupation authorities.

The sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people is the PLO. We look forward to it getting the internal Palestinian house in order on the basis of democracy built on the broadest possible popular representation of all Palestinians wherever they may reside.

Affirm that all methods of struggle are legitimate as stipulated in international conventions and norms; and that we use the appropriate strategies of struggle in order to defend ourselves and achieve our rights, according to the specificity of each historical period and the residence of the Palestinians in Palestine and the Diaspora.

As for the reaction of some parties with this appeal:

We should not expect Palestinian parties that have benefited and continue to benefit from the situation and the existing political structure and that built its future plans on profiting from what exists, to support this direction; they may resort to resisting it in a variety of ways.

Israel will seek to oppose this move as it will put the international community in confrontation with the occupation authority. The presence of an international protection force is a practical means by which to disturb the occupation instead of reducing its expenses through international aid and promoting the illusion of normalization.

The United States will work to oppose any effort to end the occupation in a way that does not satisfy Israel. But Israel will find itself and the international community confronting a complex situation in the event that the self-rule authority (the Palestinian Authority) is dissolved and the legal cover that it had been granted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization lifted. Palestinians are capable of managing their daily affairs as they did before the existence of the Palestinian Authority through local administrations that do not provide a cover for the continuation of the occupation, as happened in the municipal elections of 1976.

This means that the struggle to end the occupation is ongoing and will not end until refugees return home and self-determination is realized. We expect the international community to live up to their duty to support putting the occupied Palestinian territories under international protection in order to get out of the cycle of negotiations that have only worked to consolidate the occupation. In terms of international popular opinion, we expect there to be general support for providing international protection to the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, in addition to support for the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Samer B. Jaber is the chosen spokesperson for a group of professional and trade union figures, intellectuals, and political activists who have come together to deliver a message during the current wave of upheaval across Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Via Ma’an News agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Palestinian foreign minister: Israel ‘wants third intifida'”

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Syria: Will US arming of Kurdish-led Northeast Rebels Provoke Turkey? Tue, 13 Oct 2015 04:28:37 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The intrepid Anne Barnard and Karim Shoumali at the NYT have a piece on how Saudi-supplied TOW anti-tank weapons to rebels in Hama and Idlib are creating a US-Russian proxy struggle in northwest Syria (the CIA is actually the source of the weapons, with Saudi intelligence acting as the pass-through agency).

But there is another development in the past couple of days, this time in the northeast. A new coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters has been formed there, including the YPG or People’s Protection Units. Since the YPG is technically an affiliate of the PKK or Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey and the US consider a terrorist organization, Turkey is very nervous about the de facto US alliance with it. That alliance just got stronger.

The Syrian Arab Coalition is some 3200 Arab fighters in the northeast. They have joined together with the Kurdish YPG as the Democratic Forces of Syria.

But let’s face it, this way of putting the matter (common in the news reports) obscures an important reality: the YPG is the important, large and effective element in this Democratic Forces of Syria. The 3200 Arab fighters are junior partners, and though more than window dressing, couldn’t dream of taking on Raqqa themselves. It was the YPG that pushed back Daesh this summer, and came within 40 miles of the capital of the phony caliphate. The YPG and its smaller Arab allies are being rebranded as the DFS because an Arab conquest of Raqqa looks more acceptable than a leftist Kurdish such victory.

The announcement comes as Amnesty International charged the YPG with demolishing homes of Arab and Turkmen families in villages reconquered from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), whom they accused of having been collaborators.

The Syrian Arab Coalition say they have been promised substantial arms supplies by the United States, which obviously will also go to their YPG colleagues. The arms and ammunition is intended to enable a major assault on Raqqa, the capital in Syria of Daesh.

On Monday, the US airdropped 45 tons of weapons and ammunition in the northeast for the new Syrian Arab Coalition.

When the Turkish Air Force entered the fray in Syria and Iraq this summer, promising the US they would at last try to curb Daesh, instead they mostly bombed PKK positions over the border in Iraq. The Syrian Kurds alleged that they also bombarded the YPG— i.e. they struck at de facto US allies.

Ibrahim Karagol at the Turkish daily Yeni Safak complained recently [via BBC Monitoring]:

“US State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said that the YPG [People’s Defence Units] is a “friend” and “partner” of the United States. When we add to this reported comments by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the effect that “Turkey must stop its air operations…”

Karagol went on to allege,

“Ankara should never forget that the YPG is a Trojan Horse for both the West and Russia and Iran that is used against Turkey and the region. If you look carefully, you can see that Turkey is being attacked directly through the PKK/YPG. Again, it is this terrorist organization that is the most important partner of the Russian-Iranian intervention in Syria. In this aspect, the threat has reached our doorsteps. Then we need to seek ways to push this threat beyond our borders.”

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and CIA director John Brennan know about this sort of paranoid discourse on the Muslim and nationalist right in Turkey, and they have decided to risk the confrontation. Ankara’s uselessness in the struggle against Daesh may have made Washington rethink its moment of distancing from the YPG.

So not only is US supply of TOWs and other weapons to rebels (many allied with al-Qaeda) in the northwest in danger of fueling a proxy war with the Russian Federation, but Washington’s supply of weaponry to the Democratic Forces of Syria (which includes the YPG Kurds) sets up a proxy struggle with its own NATO ally, Turkey.


Related video:

Wochit World: “US Shifts Syrian Strategy, Drops Ammunition”

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Does Obama have a Syria Strategy? Putin Does. Mon, 12 Oct 2015 04:38:18 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday President Obama made some remarks on Syria, but do they add up to a policy?

Obama said:

1. He is giving up on a Pentagon plan to train thousands of “moderate” Syrian fighters to take on Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). He admits that the rebels only really want to fight al-Assad and his regime. Obama did not admit that there are very few moderates left who hold any substantial territory. The most effective fighters have been the extremists, Daesh and its rival, al-Qaeda in Syria (the Support Front). Many former Free Syria Army units, who really were moderate, have by now joined or allied with these two.

2. He will continue to bomb Daesh targets in Syria, even though these aerial raids appear to have produced no results.

3. He will not escalate the US military involvement in Syria.

4. His hope is to give enough support to the “moderate rebels” that they can in turn put pressure on the regime and Putin to make Bashar al-Assad step down. (But since he’s not training rebels any more and is just bombing Daesh, how would this result be achieved).

I have long held that Obama is simply trying to contain Daesh in Syria and Iraq, but that nothing he is doing will have the effect of rolling it back. Since Daesh is an enemy of the al-Assad regime, for Obama to contain and weaken it willy-nilly helps al-Assad. This outcome is not the one Obama says he wants, but it is an outcome impossible to avoid.

The place the rebels allied with al-Qaeda have made the big advances in recent months is the north west province of Idlib. Most of the province fell to the “Army of Conquest,” which groups hard line Salafis like the Freemen of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham) with the Support Front al-Qaeda forces. The Support Front reports directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the US. With Idlib, the “Army of Conquest” can hope to move against Latakia to its west, Syria’s major port, on which the regime depends for survival.

I think that Obama can’t decently get involved in Idlib precisely because the victorious forces there are essentially al-Qaeda-led. (There are also remnants of small FSA groups in Idlib but frankly each just has a few villages and in the aggregate they don’t amount to all that much.) So the US is irrelevant to the major military development on the ground in Syria in the past year!

In contrast, Putin knows what he wants and has an idea about how to achieve it.

He is giving air support with helicopter gunships and SU-35 fighter jets to the Syrian Arab Army, Hizbullah guerrillas who have joined the fight in northern Hama and southern Idlib, and Iranian special ops forces.

And, there are glimmers of some success. The Syrian Arab Army has taken back several villages north of Hama, with an eye toward an eventual campaign to expel Daesh from Idlib.

The combination of aerial support and local on the ground forces worked for NATO in the former Yugoslava (Clinton got the Serbs to leave the Kosovars alone that way). It also worked for the US in Afghanistan. In the long run Russia may be getting itself into a quagmire. In the short term, they area already containing the western Salafi and al-Qaeda forces from taking Latakia, and perhaps even planning to roll them back. That would be a concrete achievement for Moscow of a sort Obama is lacking.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Sky News: “Russia’s foray into Syria draws concerns from Saudis”

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3 Memes: Twitter debates as Russian support for Syria intervention Doubles Mon, 12 Oct 2015 04:29:30 +0000 By Anna Shamanska | ( RFE/RL) | – –

Support among Russians for military intervention in Syria has more than doubled, to 31 percent in early October from 14 percent in September, according to independent pollster Levada Center.

The increase comes with coverage of air strikes filling Russian state airwaves, press, and the Internet, and social-media salvoes fired from both sides of the debate.

Via social media: Pro-Kremlin Twitter satirist Lev Sharansky published this cartoon lampooning the idea of a moderate Syrian opposition.

On social networks like Twitter, expressions of support for Moscow's air raids appear to fit into three distinct categories: perceived cultural and historical affinities between Syria and Russia; purported Western helplessness in the face of the continuing Syrian crisis; and the conflation of any armed forces opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime under the "terrorist" banner.

1. #SyriaIsOurs

The hashtag #СирияНаша (#SyriaIsOurs) has become a polemical football, kicked back and forth by Kremlin fans and the opposition alike.

For supporters of Russia's actions in Syria, it's an appeal for concern about the fate of that country based on perceived common religious and cultural foundations. Lawmaker Semyon Bagdasarov articulated this line of reasoning best when he declared on late-night television that Syria was much closer to Russia than many people believe. "Without Syria, without [the ancient city of] Antioch, there would be no Orthodoxy and there would be no Rus. This is our land!" Bagdasarov said. 

” Syria is our Land!”

For Russia's political opposition, the phrase is an ironic allusion to the "Crimea is ours" slogan that emerged following Russia's unrecognized annexation of that Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 and thus an indictment of Putin's adventurism in foreign policy.

Maria Katasonova, an aide to Russian presidential advisory-board member Yevgeny Fyodorov, used the hashtag with a photo of herself at a rally next to the Syrian Embassy in Moscow. In the photo, Katasonova is holding a portrait of embattled Russian ally Assad. 

"#SyriaIsOurs" has also appeared alongside photos of purported Syrian activists thanking Russia (and whoever else was cropped out of this photo, by the way) for its support for Assad. 

2. "Let's outdo the West"

Syria's civil war erupted in 2011 after Assad's forces brutally dispersed peaceful antigovernment protests, setting off a spiral of violence and armed opposition. The militant Islamic State (IS) group subsequently declared a caliphate — a state ruled by strict Islamic law — and began claiming territory in mid-2014. Kremlin supporters accuse the West of fecklessness in its attempts to resolve either crisis. It has therefore fallen to Russia, President Vladimir Putin and his supporters argue, to stop the radicals and bring peace to Syria.

This narrative depicts U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in distress, at a loss over what to do about IS. Putin, smiling at the helm of a fighter jet, suggests trying a MiG, which this meme claims is a great cure for headaches. 

Other Russians echo Putin's accusation of U.S. "meddling" in the world as the cause of the conflict.

"American democracy, Syria before and after," reads this tweet: 

Russian conspiracy theories are particularly rampant. Some accuse the West of secretly supporting terrorists, presumably reflecting speculation in some corners that Washington was involved in creating IS or alluding to overt U.S. support for some of the armed forces fighting to dislodge Assad's government.

"We do not negotiate with terrorists," says Obama in this meme. "We just sponsor them." 

3. "They are all terrorists"

The broad and fractured opposition to Assad's regime controls some Syrian territory, including stretches in the hands of extremist groups like IS and Al-Qaeda's Al-Nusra Front and others in the hands of relative moderates like the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council. A major fear in Washington and Ankara amid Russia's buildup ahead of the current bombardment campaign centered on Moscow's unqualified support for Assad and its related policy of labeling all anti-Assad forces as extremists. The United States and others have contended that Russia's air strikes have targeted not IS, as Moscow claims, but other forces opposed to Assad's government.

Putin's Internet defenders have argued there is no "moderate opposition" to Assad in Syria — only Assad's legitimate regime and terrorists.

The Russian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates tweeted a cartoon aimed at proving that point. 

Pro-Kremlin Twitter satirist Lev Sharansky published a cartoon similarly lampooning the idea of a moderate Syrian opposition:  [above]

That argument isn't limited to pro-Kremlin hacks, by the way. Anton Nosik, a prominent Kremlin critic whom some describe as the "founder of the Russian Internet," shocked many liberals when he wrote on LiveJournal that "whoever bombs Syria today, I very much welcome it. And if [Syria] is erased from the face of the earth, I wouldn't be disappointed at all, I would only say thanks."

Little wonder, then, that Russian pilots flying sorties over Syria are being hailed by some as Hollywood superstars from the movie Top Gun (which, incidentally, prompted a surge in young men joining the U.S. Navy). 


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Palestine: Of course, it is an intifada: This is what you must know Mon, 12 Oct 2015 04:23:19 +0000 By: Ramzy Baroud | (Ma’an News Agency) | – –

When my book ‘Searching Jenin’ was published soon after the Israeli massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, I was quizzed repeatedly by the media and many readers for conferring the word ‘massacre’ on what Israel has depicted as a legitimate battle against camp-based ‘terrorists.’

The interrogative questions were aimed at relocating the narrative from a discussion regarding possible war crimes into a technical dispute over the application of language. For them, the evidence of Israel’s violations of human rights mattered little.

This kind of reductionism has often served as the prelude to any discussion concerning the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict: events are depicted and defined using polarizing terminology that pay little heed to facts and contexts, and focus primarily on perceptions and interpretations.
Hence, it should also matter little to those same individuals whether or not Palestinian youth such as Isra’ Abed, 28, shot repeatedly on October 9 in Affula – and Fadi Samir, 19, killed by Israeli police a few days earlier, were, in fact, knife-wielding Palestinians who were in a state of self-defense and shot by the police. Even when video evidence emerges countering the official Israeli narrative and revealing, as in most other cases, that the murdered youth posed no threat, the official Israeli narrative will always be accepted as facts, by some. Isra’, Fadi, and all the rest are ‘terrorists’ who endangered the safety of Israeli citizens and, alas, had to be eliminated as a result.

The same logic has been used throughout the last century, when the current so-called Israeli Defense Forces were still operating as armed militias and organized gangs in Palestine, before it was ethnically-cleansed to become Israel. Since then, this logic has applied in every possible context in which Israel has found itself, allegedly: compelled to use force against Palestinian and Arab ‘terrorists’, potential ‘terrorists’ along with their ‘terror infrastructure.’

It is not at all about the type of weapons that Palestinians use, if any at all. Israeli violence largely pertains to Israel’s own perception of its self-tailored reality: that of Israel being a beleaguered country, whose very existence is under constant threat by Palestinians, whether they are resisting by use of arms, or children playing at the beach in Gaza. There has never been a deviation from the norm in the historiography of the official Israeli discourse which explains, justifies or celebrates the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians throughout the years: the Israelis are never at fault, and no context for Palestinian ‘violence’ is ever required.

Much of our current discussion regarding the protests in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and as of late at the Gaza border is centered on Israeli priorities, not Palestinian rights, which is clearly prejudiced. Once more, Israel is speaking of ‘unrest’ and ‘attacks’ originating from the ‘territories’, as if the priority is guaranteeing the safety of the armed occupiers – soldiers and extremist settlers, alike.

Rationally, it follows that the opposite state of ‘unrest’, that of ‘quiet’ and ‘lull’, are when millions of Palestinians agree to being subdued, humiliated, occupied, besieged and habitually killed or, in some cases, lynched by Israeli Jewish mobs or burned alive, while embracing their miserable fate and carrying on with life as usual.

The return to ‘normalcy’ is thus achieved; obviously, at the high price of blood and violence, which Israel has a monopoly on, while its actions are rarely questioned, Palestinians can then assume the role of the perpetual victim, and their Israeli masters can continue manning military checkpoints, robbing land and building yet more illegal settlements in violation of international law.

The question, now, ought not to be basic queries about whether some of the murdered Palestinians wielded knives or not, or truly posed a threat to the safety of the soldiers and armed settlers. Rather, it should be centered principally on the very violent act of military occupation and illegal settlements in Palestinian land in the first place.

From this perspective then, wielding a knife is, in fact, an act of self-defense; arguing about the disproportionate, or otherwise, Israeli response to the Palestinian ‘violence’ is, altogether moot.

Cornering oneself with technical definitions is dehumanizing to the collective Palestinian experience.

“How many Palestinians would have to be killed to make a case for using the term ‘massacre’?” was my answer to those who questioned my use of the term. Similarly, how many would have to be killed, how many protests would have to be mobilized and for how long before the current ‘unrest’, ‘upheaval’ or ‘clashes’ between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army become an ‘Intifada’?

And why should it even be called a ‘Third Intifada’?

Mazin Qumsiyeh describes what is happening in Palestine as the ‘14th Intifada’. He should know best, for he authored the outstanding book, Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment. However, I would go even further and suggest that there have been many more intifadas, if one is to use definitions that are relevant to the popular discourse of the Palestinians themselves. Intifadas – shaking off – become such when Palestinian communities mobilize across Palestine, unifying beyond factional and political agendas and carry out a sustained campaign of protests, civil disobedience and other forms of grassroots resistance.

They do so when they have reached a breaking point, the process of which is not declared through press releases or televised conferences, but is unspoken, yet everlasting.
Some, although well-intentioned, argue that Palestinians are not yet ready for a third intifada, as if Palestinian uprisings are a calculated process, carried out after much deliberation and strategic haggling. Nothing can be further from the truth.

An example is the 1936 Intifada against British and Zionist colonialism in Palestine. It was initially organized by Palestinian Arab parties, which were mostly sanctioned by the British Mandate government itself. But when the fellahin, the poor and largely uneducated peasants, began sensing that their leadership was being co-opted – as is the case today – they operated outside the confines of politics, launching and sustaining a rebellion that lasted for three years.

The fellahin then, as has always been the case, carried the brunt of the British and Zionist violence, as they fell in droves. Those unlucky enough to be caught, were tortured and executed: Farhan al-Sadi, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, Mohammed Jamjoom, Fuad Hijazi are among the many leaders of that generation.

These scenarios have been in constant replay since, and with each intifada, the price paid in blood seems to be constantly increasing. Yet more intifadas are inevitable, whether they last a week, three or seven years, since the collective injustices experienced by Palestinians remain the common denominator among the successive generations of fellahin and their descendants of refugees.

What is happening today is an Intifada, but it is unnecessary to assign a number to it, since popular mobilization does not always follow a neat rationale required by some of us. Most of those leading the current Intifada were either children, or not even born when the Intifada al-Aqsa started in 2000; they were certainly not living when the Stone Intifada exploded in 1987. In fact, many might be oblivious of the details of the original Intifada of 1936.

This generation grew up oppressed, confined and subjugated, at complete odds with the misleading ‘peace process’ lexicon that has prolonged a strange paradox between fantasy and reality. They are protesting because they experience daily humiliation and have to endure the unrelenting violence of occupation.

Moreover, they feel a total sense of betrayal by their leadership, which is corrupt and co-opted. So they rebel, and attempt to mobilize and sustain their rebellion for as long as they can, because they have no horizon of hope outside their own action.

Let us not get bogged down by details, self-imposed definitions and numbers. This is a Palestinian Intifada, even if it ends today. What truly matters is how we respond to the pleas of this oppressed generation; will we continue to assign greater importance to the safety of the armed occupier than to the rights of a burdened and oppressed nation?

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.

Via Ma’an News Agency

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Death toll mounts in Israel and the Palestinian territories”

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