Israel’s Syria Strike: Is it trying to Help al-Qaeda vs. Hizbullah & Iran?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

There are several questions around the Israeli helicopter gunship strike on Mazari` al-Amal in Syria’s Quneitra Province, which killed Hizbullah personnel and an Iranian general. First, what were the latter doing there? Second, why did Israel strike them?

The Israeli cover story, that Hizbullah was planning attacks inside Syria from Quneitra, does not make any sense to me. Hizbullah does not control the Syrian territory abutting Israel. Rather, the Golan and much of Quneitra province have fallen to the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and a patchwork of other rebels, including some moderates. The Syrian army and its Lebanese and Iranian allies have been pushed northeast toward Damascus, and their counter-offensive this winter failed miserably. Hizbullah does control territory on the Lebanon-Israel border. So if the strike was out of fear of Hizbullah machinations against Israel, why hit them relatively deep in Syrian territory where they couldn’t do anything to Israel, rather than on the Lebanese border where they could?

Two explanations for the Israeli strike on Mazari` al-Amal occur to me:

1. It was merely opportunistic. The Israeli government has a vendetta with the Mughniya family, which Israeli forces pushed out of their farms in what is now northern Israel in 1948 (there were 7 Shiite villages that were erased in northern Israel). Imad Mughniya was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus, likely by Israeli intelligence, after a career as a sanguinary guerrilla who fought the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon 1982-2000. His son Jihad had recently emerged as a capable Hizbullah commander and was among those killed on Sunday. Hizbullah is notoriously penetrated by moles for Israel, and if one of them specified Mughniya’s location and that of an Iranian general, the Israelis may have felt that the opportunity was too good to pass up.

2. The Israelis are deliberately trying to throw the war to al-Qaeda by weakening Syrian defenses southwest of Damascus and helping the radical Support Front take territory nearer Damascus. Why they would want to do this is not clear (you’d think they’d be upset to have al-Qaeda as their direct neighbor in Golan, as they do now. They are always complaining about having Hamas-controlled Gaza as a neighbor but they aren’t fazed by having al-Qaeda as one?)

So personally I think the explanation that they just had an opportunity to take out people they saw as dangerous to them or to their goals in the long term is the more likely one. But they have at least to be all right with the likely outcome that al-Qaeda has been strengthened on their borders.

The Christian-owned Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar asks the essential question, of what in the world Hizbullah commanders and a general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were up to in Quneitra Province (southwest of Damascus) near the Syrian part of the Golan Heights (part of Golan has been occupied by Israel since 1967).

The answer is that they were trying to roll back advances by al-Qaeda/Support Front and its radical and moderate de facto allies, southwest of the capital and near the border with Israel. As a result, an-Nahar reports, the rebel forces said they welcomed any strike on Hizbullah, from no matter where it originated (i.e. even if it was from their common enemy, Israel). A leader of the moderate Brigades of the Sword of Syria said the foreign Lebanese Hizbullah had come into Syria to help the al-Assad regime massacre the Syrian people.

A Syria Press bureau reporter and the Syrian activist Maher al-Hamdan told An-Nahar that Mazari` al-Amal, where the Lebanese and Iranians were located, is between the districts of al-Mashati and Hadar to the north, Tel al-Ahmar and `Ain al-Nuriya to the south, rebel-held Taranja to the west, and Nab` al-Fawwar and `Ain al-Nuriya to the east. It is a fertile agricultural region, inhabited by only about 100 persons. (Quneitra is a province southwest of the capital of Damascus, the southern 80% of which has fallen to al-Qaeda and the northeastern 20% of which is still in regime hands).

The area has a Syrian government military barricade belonging to the 220th unit of military security. Al-Hamdan said that the weapons there are machine guns and heavy artillery, and the Israeli strike targeted these Syrian forces, which are the first line of defense for the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The Israeli raid, then, was not limited to hitting Hizbullah, since this area is considered a target rich environment for Israel. Al-Hamdan remarked that the area had military equipment of Russian provenance to spot drones, as well as Russian advisers, a Hizbullah military unit, and Iranian Revolutionary Guards tasked with protecting the Russian advisers.

In the past 6 months, the regime had lost 80% of Quneitra province as well as the entirety of the Syrian-held portion of the Golan Heights, to al-Qaeda/Support Front and its allies. And then last October rebels took al-Hara and its strategic hilltop, Tel al-Hara. At the same time, the rebels captured modern Russian military equipment there. The al-Assad government then sent troops into the region in a counter-offensive.

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The Damascus regime rushed to build military posts in Tel al-Sha`ar and Tellat Ahmar, as well as forward operating bases in Mazari` al-Amal and nearby places. Some 24 Syrian garrisons were reinforced in this way after the fall of Tel al-Hara, and the regime made an attempt to recover its lost territory in the area, supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizbullah.

The counter-offensive failed, so the regime adopted a defensive posture in the area to protect the 20% of Quneitra province that had not fallen. Hizbullah commander Jihad Mughniya was in charge of this defensive effort.

An-Nahar’s sources allege that in addition to the 5 Hizbullah personnel and the one Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander killed, One Russian expert was lightly wounded, and 13 Hizbullah and IRGC personnel were wounded.

There had been no battles in Quneitra for about 20 days between the regime and al-Qaeda and other rebel forces, after the al-Assad loyalists had failed to take the town of al-Baath. The al-Assad forces had occasionally shelled al-Qaeda positions.

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Related video:

Reuters: “Thousands attend funeral for Hezbollah figure killed in air strike”

Israeli PM Netanyahu Campaigns to Discredit, Defund Int’l Criminal Court

By Alexandra Halaby – (IMEMC & Agencies)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the ICC announcement by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to initiate a preliminary investigation into Israel for possible war crimes committed in Gaza was “absurd” and a “perversion of justice.” Mr. Netanyahu went on to say that decision by the ICC was “the height of hypocrisy,” and the “opposite of justice.”

Netanyahu is said to have recently met with security officials and international law experts to sort out ways to discredit the ICC. Echoing remarks by the U.S. State Department that the Palestinian Authority is not a state, Israel is preparing to use the strategy of Palestinian statelessness to object to its accession to the ICC. The State of Palestine is recognized by more than 130 countries and holds non-Member Observer State status at the United Nations.

“The decision by the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court to begin an inquiry against the State of Israel is the height of hypocrisy and the opposite of justice,” Netanyahu said at the Cabinet meeting Sunday. “I have already encountered such phenomena during my years of public service representing the State of Israel both as ambassador to the UN and as prime minister, but this decision by the prosecutor is in a category of its own. It gives legitimacy to international terrorism.”

After invoking the Holocaust, Netanyahu went on to accuse the Palestinian Authority of “manipulating the ICC to deny the Jewish state the right to defend itself against the very war crimes and the very terror that the court was established to prevent.”

The Prime Minister has said he will use all methods available to interrupt the ICC investigation. There is already a full-scale propaganda campaign in place that is known as hasbara. This technique of information disruption and selling a favorable image of Israel in the international media has been used for a number of years when Israel has been viewed negatively.

During the meeting Netanyahu continued to discuss the easing of restrictions on “immigration of Jews from France, Europe and wherever they may be.” Many in the international community have seen Israel’s facilitation of Jewish immigration from France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks as an exploitation of the tragedy.

Also on Sunday, Fateh Central Committee member, Jamal Muheissen, told Palestinian news agencies that the Palestinian Authority plans to request an ICC probe into the death of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

“This file will be presented to the International Criminal Court,” said Muheissen. “We want to bring the Israeli occupation to trial for every crime it committed against our people.”

Via IMEMC News

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Israel to ask key members to stop funding ICC”

Why solar power is spreading so fast in Africa

The Economist | —

“Africans have been waiting for decades for the mains electricity which the rich world takes for granted. Sub-Saharan Africa’s 910m people consume less electricity each year than the 4.8m people of Alabama. Many more who are on the grid suffer brown-outs and dangerous surges in current. But a solar revolution is afoot.

In 2009 just 1% of sub-Saharan Africans used solar lighting. Now it is nearly 5% or 11m people. The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based government think-tank, reckons that 500m more people will have solar electricity by 2030,

Why is solar power spreading so fast in Africa? There are three main reasons.

First, solar panel technology has improved. Efficiency gains and mass production mean that modern photovoltaic panels have plunged in price per watt – to around 30 cents.

Second, low-energy bulbs have got better and cheaper. Modern solar lamps cost as little as $8—they charge by day and give light by night. They replace costly and dangerous alternatives – Africans waste $10 billion a year on kerosene. Even worse are candles, open fires—or darkness, which hurts productivity and encourages crime.

The third, crucial development is in storage, as lamps are needed at night and solar power is collected in the daytime. Old nickel cadmium batteries wore out after 500 recharges; lithium-based ones can manage 2,000 and store much more electricity

Additionally, solar power is increasingly well-financed in Africa. Aid donors are sponsoring more ambitious projects – specially designed fridges and televisions, for example. Bigger solar systems can run a school or clinic, a grain mill or irrigation pump, or even a whole village.

Some dismiss solar as a second-best solution. But conventional, centralised electrical grids have proved unreliable and inefficient in the past — and solar is much better than nothing.”

The Economist: “Why solar power is spreading so fast in Africa”

Why Martin Luther King would support Pres. Obama’s Tax on Super-Rich

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

In one of his last speeches, at Grosse Point, MI., the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., laid out his next campaign, the one he died pursuing. It was not about civil rights for minorities but economic rights for “the other America” (the title of a book by Michael Harrington that influence Pres. Johnson to launch the war on poverty).

King said at Grosse Point:

“…I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country ha s this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one. There are two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunli ght of opportunity.

But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that tr ansforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in vermin-filled, distressing housing conditions where they do not have the privilege of having wa ll-to-wall carpeting, but all too often, they end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. Almost forty percent of the Negro families of America live in sub-standard housing conditions.

In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportuni ty to get an adequate education. Every year thousands finish high sc hool reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have th e native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out. Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic probl em. There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs ar e so devoid of quality. And so in th is other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality.

King saw African-American unemployment as key to their being stuck in the Other America:

“The unemployment rate on the basis of statistics from the labor department is about 8.8 per cent in the black community. But these statistics only take under consideration indi viduals who were once in the labor market, or individuals who go to employment o ffices to seek employment. But they do not take under consideration the thousands of people who have given up, who have lost motivation, the thousands of people who have had so many doors closed in their faces that they feel def eated and they no longer go out and look for jobs, the thousands who’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. These people are considered the discouraged and when you add the disc ouraged to the individuals who can’t be calculated through statistics in the unemployment category, the unemploym ent rate in the negro community probably goes to 16 or 17 percent. And among black youth, it is in some communities as high as 40 and 45 percent.

If anything the African-American real unemployment statistics are higher today than they were then. Here is a graph:

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Martin Luther King died while in Memphis campaigning for better wages for sanitation workers.

Obama’s proposals to raise capital gains taxes (from unearned income via investing) back to 28%, The top 1% have monopolized most of the new wealth created in recent years, whereas the wages of most salary earners have been flat for the past decade and a half. There is a relationship between the way the wealthy have received the benefits of the recovery and the way that workers have not.

King was cut down before he could make his plea. It is for progressives to continue the dream.

Amazing Green Cars at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

I caught the Detroit Auto Show on Saturday afternoon. As always, it was great to see the concept cars of the future. But if you know me, you know I was there for news about electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids. This is mostly just window shopping — most of the EV concept cars there are beyond a middle class budget. But then window shopping is fun, and there are some models that are becoming affordable.

Electric vehicles are best paired with rooftop solar panels, both for price reasons and to reduce hydrocarbon use (the combination typically pays for itself in 6 years, after which the free fuel is cream). I know everyone can’t afford an EV, though they are coming down fast in price, and nor can everyone put solar panels on their roof — even assuming that they are homeowners. But for those who can, it is really important to make this switch as quickly as possible. And better, it is a quite pleasurable switch that saves a lot of money, in my experience.

This is Chevrolet’s 2016 Volt, which gets 50 miles on an electric charge and has been redesigned very pleasingly. It has the longest range of any plug-in hybrid (it goes to gasoline when the battery runs down). You can now fit 5 in the car, something families with 3 children had been asking for. I have the older model and I think it is a dream car– and much more affordable, with the dealer price drop the Federal tax break, than is commonly believed. I love the way it handles on the road, and the new version is even better.

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And here is Chevrolet’s sporty little electric Bolt concept car, which will go 200 miles on a charge and will cost $30,000 after rebates.

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Ford has a good position as you enter the hall, so this model caught my eye first– the Fusion Energi:

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The innovative thing here is that you can choose among 3 modes in which to drive, including electric-only. This is an in-city commuter car, getting about 19 miles on electricity, after which it runs like an ordinary non-EV gasoline hybrid. It says it gets 88 m/gallon equivalent when operating in the joint EV/ gasoline motor mode.

Ford also displayed a purely electric Focus, which is still only a concept car and apparently won’t be on the road very soon:

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Of course, they had a Tesla S:

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It goes an average 209 miles on a charge but starts at like $80,000. Tesla is putting in free fast-charge stations around the country. Dan Sparks recently wrote about his experiences with this dream car.

They also had the Model S P85D, with its dual motor and 3.2 second acceleration from 0 to 60. This electric automobile can give a sports car a run for its money.

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The Tesla Model 3, scheduled for 2017, will cost $35,000 and that will come down to $27,500 with the Federal tax break. I want one.

Mercedes Benz weighed in with the C350 Plug-in Hybrid

Gizmag explains:

“The C350 Plug-In Hybrid is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor, producing 211 hp (155 kW) and 350 Nm (258 lb.ft) of torque – slightly more than the base C200’s engine produces. Supplementing the petrol engine is an electric motor, which draws its power from a 6.2 kw/h lithium-ion battery mounted under the rear axle. Mercedes says this battery can be charged directly from a wall socket in just under two hours.

When fully charged, the C-Class’ battery pack will allow drivers to travel up to 31 km (19 mi) without help from the petrol engine, perfect for people who commute short distances around the city on a daily basis. As with plenty of other modern hybrids, the electric motor can also provide a handy power boost to the petrol engine when you want to pick up the pace.”

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Here’s a BMW i8 plug-in hybrid with the DeLorean wing doors (not visible in this picture):

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An all-electric Nissan Leaf with a range of around 80 miles, though the next generation will get 200 miles on a full charge so as to compete with the Chevy Bolt (due in 2017):

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And here is a Volkswagon concept car, a mid-size plug-in hybrid SUV, the Cross Coupe, with four wheel drive. It will get 20 miles running just on electricity:

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Personally I doubt very many people will be buying gasoline cars ten years from now. With the fall in prices of EVs and more efficient batteries (something Tesla’s gigafactory will probably accelerate), it will make more sense to go electric. And, as solar and wind energy become dominant, the fuel will be virtually free in EV’s. Why pay for gas?

The US produces 5.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. It is causing dangerous global warming. That needs to become zero as soon as humanly possible. Automobiles are one of the major polluters, and a quick move to EVs is essential. People are always alleging to me that it is better to have everyone move downtown in a city and use public transport. This is true, but it isn’t going to happen or at least not quickly. But, the number of EVs on the road can increase exponentially and if they are fueled from renewables, we can cut a billion or two tons of our CO2 production this way. We should.

PS: For the cavilers, here is a piece that has some links showing that, yes, over their lifetime electric cars do have a low carbon footprint. This includes their manufacture and their own on-road performance. The Nissan Leaf has the very lowest carbon footprint at the moment. Estimates of how green a car is by which state it operates in (some states are high-coal at the moment) ignore the ability of the owner and municipalities to put up solar panels and sidestep the coal. Also, new EPA rules are likely to close most coal plants soon. As for the making of the car, note that it will also become less carbon intensive, as factories are driven by solar power, as new materials such as perovskites are deployed. Even steel-making might be made more green soon.

French Pres. Hollande: Anti-Muslimism is as bad as Antisemitism: Muslims Must be Protected

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

French President Francois Hollande addressed the Institute of the Arab World on Friday, in a bid to reassure French Muslims, who fear being the victims of a collective guilt campaign or reprisals after the attack of radicals on Charlie Hebdo.

Hollande said:

“It is the Muslims who are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance…

We must remember that . . . Islam is compatible with democracy, and that we must reject lumping everyone together or mixing them up with one another, and must have in France French of Muslim faith who have the same rights and the same duties as all citizens.

They must be protected. Secularism helps in this regard since it respects all religions… Anti-Muslim actions, like Antisemitism, must be denounced and severely punished…

France was formed by movements of population and the flux of immigration. It is constituted by the diversity of what is in France. A number of my compatriots have attachments in the ARab world, coming from North Africa or the Near East. They might be Jews, Muslims, Christians, they might be believers or no. But they have a link to the Arab world and they have contributed, generation after generation, to the history of France.

In contrast to the racist discourse of the National Front, which paints Muslims as alien and dangerous and non-Muslim French as monochrome, Hollande adopted an almost American diction of celebration of immigrant communities.

He made the argument that it isn’t importing religion into government (as many states in the Middle East unfortunately do) that guarantees minority rights but rather secular government, which tolerates all religions equally. He is being a little idealistic about actual French secularism as it is enshrined in law and practice, but the general principle is correct. Secular government can neutralize religious competition for the state of the sort we have seen in post-Bush Iraq, with all its disasters.

Hollande surely made waves when he put anti-Muslimism on exactly the same level as Antisemitism, and pledged to be as vigorous in combating the one as the other. I haven’t heard any other Western leader go so far as to equate these two.

Otherwise, his acceptance of the Muslim French as full French citizens is extremely important in the hothouse atmosphere of European politics today, where many right wing parties determinedly “other” the European Muslims.

Hollande underlined that France has always received immigrants (otherwise the French would be speaking Celtic languages like Breton (which some 200,000 still do in Brittany in the north). The country is named for a German tribe that immigrated in amongst the Celts, and it speaks an imported language descended from the Latin of Roman conquerors and settlers. It is made up of distinct culture regions, not only Britanny but also Provencale, the Basque country and Alsace-Lorraine. For all residents of France to speak French was an accomplishment of the Bourbons and then the Republic during the past two and a half centuries.

Modern France has actually seen many waves of labor migration– Italians in the nineteenth century, Poles in the early twentieth, North Africans after WW II. Its modern history in this regard has been much more like that of the United States than is commonly relized. In the nineteenth century, France was an early industrializer but underwent a demographic transition so that it had relatively low population growth. Focus-Migration France writes,

In order to alleviate this, France concluded labour recruitment agreements with Italy (1904, 1906, 1919), Belgium (1906), Poland (1906) and Czechoslovakia (1920). At the beginning of the 1930s, France was the second most important country in the world for immigration after the USA by absolute numbers. At that time there were about 2.7 million immigrants living in France (6.6% of the total population).

After the Second World War and during the economic upturn of the 1950s and 1960s, France once again recruited (predominantly male) workers from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Russia. At the same time, immigration from the former colonies increased due to wars of liberation and the process of decolonisation. As a result of the Algerian War (1954–62) and the subsequent independence of Algeria in 1962, a large number of French settlers and pro-French Algerians moved to France.

In saying that “France was formed by movements of population and the flux of immigration. It is constituted by the diversity of what is in France…” Hollande is presenting an image of France as diverse and dynamic because of its diversity, rather than as closed, racial or culturally exclusive (and thus stagnant). It is a hard case to make given the current atmosphere, and it may well lose the next election. But it is the only healthy way forward. Narrow ethnic nationalism, aside from being built on falsehoods, is a recipe for exclusion and discrimination and vast social pathologies.

related video:

AJ+ “French Muslims Respond To Paris Attack”

Top 7 Things to know about Belgium anti-terror Op that left 2 Dead

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Belgian police launched a counter-terrorism operation on Thursday in the eastern city of Verviers (pop. 56,000) near the German border. Verviers is one of the towns in Belgium that has a large number of Muslims, with many of the young men in that community being unemployed. Belgium is a country of roughly 11 million and has about half a million Muslims.

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Here’s what we know so far:

1. The operation was the result of surveillance that began well before the Paris attacks and seems unconnected to them. Belgian police developed information that a cell in Verviers was planning a major terrorist attack, and went in to forestall it. As they approached the apartment, which was above a bakery, they started receiving semi-automatic and handgun fire. Explosives also went off, though the sequence is not clear. The police killed two members of the cell and captured a third. Previous to the raid, Belgian police went into the Brussels suburb of Zaventem and arrested two suspected radical vigilantes.

2. After the three assailants were neutralized, police found 4 Kalashnikov machine guns, bomb-making equipment and police uniforms in the apartment.

3. The BBC learned from Mark Eeckhaut, a Belgian journalist, that the cell had been planning to attack a police station. (Presumably the uniforms in their apartment were intended to allow them into the building under a false flag).

4. The police also launched operations late on Thursday in the capital of Brussels and in nearby towns such as Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Anderlecht and Schaerbeek.

5. The cell and its planned attack on police appear to have been a homegrown Belgian operation and for the moment no ties are suspected between it and the Kouashi Bros. cell in Paris.

6. Some members of the cell are said to have been returnees from fighting in Syria. About 310 Belgian Muslim young men appear to have gone to fight in Syria, with 40 having been killed there and 170 still in the field. About 100 have returned to Belgium.

7. Note that 310 volunteers for Syria out of some 500,000 Muslims is not very many, contrary to what some press reports imply. It is a fraction of a percent. You can get 300 people to believe almost anything (e.g. Heaven’s Gate ). Moreover, there are all kinds of rebel groups fighting the government in Syria, and you can’t just assume that the 100 returnees all served with al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS or ISIL). Several of the major rebel groups in Syria that they would have joined are extremist. The Support Front or Jabhat al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda affiliate. Daesh controls much of eastern Syria now. The Saudi-backed Islamic Front in Aleppo has become more and more extreme. However, in the past 4 years or so there have been moderate and even secular-minded rebel groups, so that they are returnees does not necessarily mean they are al-Qaeda. It would matter with which group they fought. There is lots of evidence that many young men come back from Syria to Europe, having been deeply disappointed with the mindless violence and corruption of the al-Qaeda offshoots.

8. That fringe of Belgian Muslims which admire the Support Front or kindred groups are likely especially angered that Belgian F-16s have flown several missions against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

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Related video:

AFP: “Two dead in Belgium raid on ‘Syria terror group'”

Will France intervene in Yemen after its al-Qaeda Claims Paris Attacks?

By Juan Cole | —

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in south Yemen, claimed on Wednesday to have been behind the attacks in Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week.

Said and Sharif Kouashi are known to have visited Yemen in 2011 for weapons training, assisted by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born terrorist later killed by a US drone strike. It is now alleged that Said also visited, in 2009, and was connected to the Yemeni extremist Abd al-Majid Zindani.

Peter Weber at The Week wonders if France will intervene militarily in Yemen and advises against it.

It is impossible to judge whether AQAP is just being opportunistic or whether, as it says, it plotted the Paris attacks over a period of 4 years and funded Sharif Kouashi to carry them out. At the very least, it is likely to have set the attacks in motion through suggestions.

AQAP has been weakened by three developments. It was militarily defeated in Abyan Province in cities like Zinjibar by the Yemeni army in 2011. It now faces a fierce rivalry from Daesh (ISIS or ISIL), which to over eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq and may drain off volunteers and monetary contributions from AQAP.

And, third, Yemen is in the midst of a low-level undeclared civil war that has also weakened AQAP. The Shiite Houthi movement among tribes in the north swept into the capital in September and by now has claimed most of the north of Yemen. It has even taken over largely Sunni cities and has subordinated the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to itself.

One of the groups most fiercely opposed to the rise of the Houthis is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), said to be headquartered in Maarib. It is a small organization, with anywhere from a thousand to a few thousand fighters. But it has repeatedly clashed with the Houthis. It is the al-Qaeda affiliate most interested in pulling off an operation in the West, and was behind the 2009 underwear bombing plot over Detroit.

AQAP may have hoped that its waning fortunes would be reversed if it became known as the perpetrator of the butchery in Paris. But that they have a lot to gain should also make us suspicious of the claim.

As for the French reaction if Paris finds the AQAP assertions credibile, it will likely reply with intelligence work and covert operations– in ways we may never really figure out. France has a recent history of sending expeditionary forces to places like the Central African Republic and Mali. But that is an unlikely step in Yemen. One obvious step for enemies of al-Qaeda is to attempt to strengthen the civil Yemen Military and it government. You could imagine a Western subtle alliance with the Houthis, as well.

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Related video:

CBS This Morning: “Al Qaeda leader in Yemen claims responsibility for Paris terror attack”

In aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, German Chancellor Merkel says Islam Belongs to Germany

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The thinly veiled hate group PEGIDA, which says it is against the “Islamization” of Germany (by which it means it wants German to be Muslimrein or purified of Muslims), staged a demonstration of 18,000 in the eastern city of Dresden on Monday, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Some of those who marched dressed up like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but in a Muslim scarf. (PEGIDA was not able to get very many people out except in Dresden, suggesting that they are primarily a regional movement resentful of the imperfect integration of the formerly Communist east into the new Germany.) About 4,000 in Dresden joined a counter-demonstration.

Monday’s was the second big demonstration in Dresden sponsored by PEGIDA. DeutscheWelle reported on the unease of Dresden Muslims (2.5% of the city) in the aftermath of the first demo:

DW: “Dresden’s Muslims on PEGIDA”

The right wing Alternative for Germany party has aligned itself with the PEGIDA movement.

On Monday, in response to PEGIDA, Merkel affirmed that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

Some 57% of Germans say in polls that they feel threatened by Islam. A country of 80 million, Germany has 4 million Muslims, 2/3s of them Turks. About half of these Turks of Muslim heritage, however, hail from the Alevi Shiite minority in Turkey, and many Alevi families became secular leftists in the 1960s and 1970s. So most Turkish Muslims are not interested in Sunni fundamentalism. Moreover, only about half of resident Muslims are citizens, so they are not in a position to ‘Islamize’ anything, even if they wanted to– which most do not. In polling, Germans give unrealistically high estimates of how many Muslims they think there are in the country.

Germans have very small family size and the country is projected to fall from 80 million to only 60 million by 2050, thus falling behind France, which is growing through immigration. Merkel’s government appears to favor emulating the French policy, encouraging immigration, to avoid Germany losing its economic and demographic leadership role in Europe.

Reuters said, “In 2013, Germany saw net immigration of 437,000 people, its highest level in 20 years. It also welcomed close to 200,000 asylum seekers last year, many from war-torn Syria.”

But growing through immigration involves becoming a truly multicultural society. And Merkel had earlier opposed multiculturalism, declaring that experiment dead. She now, however, seems to be changing her mind about that, impelled by a desire to distinguish her center-right Christian Democrats from anti-immigrant and intolerant political forces much to her right.

On Tuesday, the cosmopolitan city of Berlin, the country’s capital, replied with a massive demonstration in favor of tolerance. Similar pro-tolerance rallies throughout the country were joined by 100,000 persons.

German Muslims widely joined these demonstrations, denouncing the extremists in Paris.

Remarkably, Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the Berlin rally. Not only that, but she had unambiguously affirmed that Islam belongs to Germany.

RP Online explains that in October of 2010, Christian Democrat president Christian Wulff had said, “Christianity belongs without any doubt to Germany. Judaism belongs without any doubt to Germany. But Islam in the meantime also belongs to Germany.

Wulff’s successor as president, Joachim Gauck, in 2012 walked back Wulff’s pronouncement. He said, “It isn’t Islam that belongs to Germany or forms part of our Western culture; but the Muslims, who live here, do belong to it.”

Gauck thus seemed to want to draw a distinction between Islam, which he saw as alien to German traditions, and German Muslim citizens, who, he admitted, formed part of the German nation. This sounds to me like the people who say it is all right to be gay as long as one doesn’t practice it. Gayness would be rejected, but gays accepted as people. That’s the kind of distinction Gauck seemed to be drawing between the alienness of Islam and the belongingness of German Muslims.

Merkel seems to have been closer to Wulff’s view than to Gauck’s. She said in Sept. 2012, “to say that Islam does not belong to Germany– I find it surely false.” So, she was asked, “if Islam forms part of us.” She replied, “I find, yes.” On Monday, she made it clear that she did agree with Wulff.

Wolfgang Bosch, a Rhein-Bergisch Christian Democrat MP, objected. “Which Islam is meant? Does that apply to Islamist and Salafi movements?” He added, “Also the Sharia does not at all belong to Germany.

At the Berlin rally, Merkel spoke for tolerance:

“To exclude groups of people because of their faith, this isn’t worthy of the free state in which we live. It isn’t compatible with our essential values. And its humanly reprehensible. Xenophobia, racism, extremism have no place here.”

President Joachim Gauck added, “Germany has become more diverse through immigration – religiously, culturally and mentally. This diversity has made our country successful, interesting and likeable.” Gauck is a former East German dissident and Protestant pastor.

One leader of AFG, Bernd Lucke, insisted, “If we’re honest about it, Islam is foreign to Germany,” according to Reuters.

Just as a historical note, the Habsburg Empire that ruled Spain, Portugal and parts of northern and central Europe, including some of what is now Germany in the 1500s and 1600s, ruled over many Muslim subjects, including in Morocco and West Africa. The unified German state of the late 19th and early 20th century ruled over Muslims in what is now Tanzania. Goethe paid homage to the Iranian Persian poet, Hafez, in his “East-West Divan.” Germany has produced some of the greatest modern scholars of Islam. The heritage of Islam in historical Germany is not inconsiderable.

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Related video:

RT: “Merkel joins hundreds at tolerance march in Berlin”