MIDEAST MIRROR 10.07.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1- A welcome truce
-Last of the stable republic
3-A limited intervention
4-The West’s failure to understand ISIS
1- A welcome truce
The UN sponsored truce offers the best hopes for all parties to put a final end to the tragedy in Yemen, says 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on today’s pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
The truce announced by UN Yemen Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad last night (Thursday) and that will last till the end of Ramadan, is in the interest of all parties, with the possible exception of certain terrorist groups and unruly tribes, maintains the editor-in-chief of a pan-Arab online daily. Most importantly, it is also in Saudi Arabia's interest, given the vast price the kingdom' is paying in terms of its image, reputation, and finances.
RARE GOOD NEWS: "Good news are rare for Yemen these days, a country once known as Arabia Felix," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on Friday's pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
But the five-day truce announced by the UN last night may offer a ray of hope to over 25-million Yemenis, the overwhelming majority of whom are in need of vital humanitarian aid, according to the UN's assessments.
Since Operation Decisive Storm's air raids began more than one-hundred days ago and in which some 175 warplanes are officially taking part within the framework of a pro-forma ‘Arab coalition’ led by Saudi Arabia, the Yemenis have been facing extremely difficult conditions. There is no water, electricity, medicine, or food. Over and above all that, diseases and epidemics are spreading, especially, dengue fever that is stealing people’s lives due to the absence of the necessary medication and a deterioration in the level of the already miserable medical services.
The decision to accept the truce did not issue from [fugitive Saudi-based] President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He is a mere front man. It came from the Saudi leadership in compliance with a demand from the UN and as a result of international and regional pressures. This is because the continued aimless bombardment is yielding the exact opposite results, and is having a negative impact on Saudi Arabia itself, its reputation, security, and stability.
These international pressures peaked after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded an immediate ceasefire, and stressed that the number of deaths now stands at 2800, most of them civilians, while the number of wounded has reached around 13000.
UN Yemen Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmad brought these figures together with a general international mood calling on the Saudi leadership in Riyadh to put an end to this war. The latter has realized that 'obstinacy' is futile and there is no alternative to a truce that alleviates the Yemenis' suffering over the last ten days of Ramadan as a prelude to [end of Ramadan feast] 'Id al-Fitr.
The truce is unconditional and unilateral. In other words, it was the Saudi side, which is largely in charge of the choice of war or peace that took the decision. But its success depends on all parties' commitment to it, especially the Houthi/Saleh coalition that has welcomed it.
Many parties in Yemen are beyond control, such as ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and various unruly tribal militias. It is in the interest of them all, collectively or separately for the bloody anarchy, security breakdown and absence of a central authority to continue.
The prevailing but mistaken impression before the first [Saudi] air raid and missile were launched, was that it would come without any cost and that if there were any dangers – as is normal in all wars – they would be minimal because of the imbalance of power between the two main parties, Saudi Arabia and the Houthi/Saleh coalition. But the hundred days of conflict have demonstrated how wrong that impression was. And this means that all parties now find themselves in a difficult predicament, facing a bottomless abyss.
The response to the [Saudi] carpet-bombing especially in the main Houthi-held provinces of Sa'da and 'Omran, took the form of a ground war of attrition along the Saudi/Yemeni borders. In this war, Katyusha, Scud, and modified Grad missiles were fired at southern Saudi cities such as Jizan and Najran, and other villages in the 'Assir area, killing, wounding and forcefully displacing their inhabitants, as well as shutting down schools and government departments.
The war also came at the wrong time, at least economically and financially, with the collapse in the price of oil to less than half its previous level. The price of one barrel has dropped from $118 to $46. In recent days, it has rallied a little reaching $64; but it may drop again if the ban on Iranian oil exports is lifted as a result of the awaited nuclear agreement.
The cost of the Saudi war on Yemen is very high in material, human, and security terms. Anyone claiming the contrary would be deluding themselves. For the Saudi budget deficit currently stands at over 20% of the GNP. The Kingdom’s national income is expected to reach 715-billion Riyals (around 191-billion dollars) with deficit of some 145-billion Riyals (around 39-billion dollars). The American economic agency Bloomberg has published a report saying that the Kingdom may be forced to issue local currency (riyal) bonds to cover this deficit by the end of the year.
Yet no one is speaking of the cost of the Saudi air raids on Yemen. Or, rather, it is forbidden to mention this issue. It is true that the Saudi defense budget stands at $57-billion, making it the fourth largest defense budget in the world; but the rise in the cost of war will swallow this budget up in just a few months' time. This is especially clear if we realize that the war had cost around $30-billion up to mid-April, and may have doubled by now.
We hope that the latest truce will stand its ground and will not be violated by any party. This is in everyone’s interest. The only exceptions are those who want the war to continue, together with the suffering of the poor and destitute, but proud, and dignified Yemeni nation.
It is the Yemenis' right to enjoy security and stability and to emerge from the difficult conditions they are currently facing with twenty-million of them on the threshold of starvation if not already in the midst of it, as UN Envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmad has said.
Yes, it is a truce for only five days; but it is capable of being extended for weeks, months, and perhaps years. And it can be exploited in the pursuit of serious negotiations with no preconditions in order to reach the hoped-for political solution that would take Yemen out of the crisis.
"We hope that our optimism is not misplaced," concludes 'Atwan.
2-Last of the stable republics
After sectarian strife between Arabs and Amazigh, Algeria may be the last stable republic to succumb to the fires of the Arab Spring, says Nadia Shehadeh in today's Lebanese al-Bina'
This week’s ethnic/confessional disturbances in Ghardaia Province in Algeria pitting Maliki Sunni Arabs against Ibadi Amazigh (Berber) youths, threaten the unity and stability of the last Arab republic that has still not been shaken by the Arab Spring, maintains a commentator in a pro-Damascus Lebanese daily. The question now is whether the Algerian authorities can prevent the country from descending into chaos that may lead to its partition.
THE TERRORISTS’ OPPORTUNITY: "It is now clear that the so-called 'Arab Spring' revolutions have provided the terrorist organizations with a full opportunity to rearrange their cards and pursue new strategies in the region," writes Nadia Shehadeh in Friday's pro-Damascus Lebanese daily al-Bina'.
The targeted states have become important centers for all sorts of terrorist organizations. For after the fall of regimes and state establishments, especially their security institutions, the terrorist groups have proliferated and have sought to implement externally driven agendas. These groups have been deploying every available means in pursuit of this aim, including the confessional and sectarian sedition that was ignited in our Arab world in order to strike at the security and stability of these states and their neighboring countries.
The security incidents that we are witnessing in Northern Africa– from Mali to Libya to Tunisia – are in fact no more than a prelude to striking the national state in Algeria. For the Arab Spring did not reach or set this country alight. But there are many signs that igniting the fire in Algeria is imminent, beginning with a sedition that may lead to civil war.
The security incidents in the cities of Bryan and al-Qarara in Ghardaia Province in southern Algeria, took a sectarian character between Arab and Amazigh citizens. According to security sources, 25 people were killed in and more than 50 were wounded, amidst violence, sabotage, and the burning of shops and homes.
Observers stress that these incidents, that broke out early this week, are the worst for years in this disturbed area in which tensions have been escalating between the Arab Chaanba of the Maliki Muslim school, and the Berbers of M'zab who are Amazigh and belong to the Ibadi school of Islam in North Africa.
These incidents were not the first of their kind. Sectarian confrontations in Ghardaia began in December 2008. Confrontations were renewed in April 2009, and were then seen as the most violent and serious incidents that Algeria has witnessed between Arabs and Amazigh. They resulted in two deaths and over 25 wounded, in the first confrontations of an ethnic and confessional character that the country witnessed since independence.
Since December 2013, Gharadaia Province has been the scene of intermittent acts of sectarian violence between Maliki Arabs and Ibadi Amazigh, resulting in tens of killed and hundreds wounded, and the widespread destruction of private property. These confrontations have taken on the form of repeated skirmishes between youths before expanding into wide scale acts of violence. The authorities have failed to stop the sectarian confrontations despite the presence of over 8000 policemen in the province whose total inhabitants number no more than 380,000, and despite repeated visits by officials to the area.
But the acts of violence that have escalated recently have raised the specter that Algeria is being dragged towards anarchy and sectarian war, something that the majority of imams in Ghardaia Province reject and see as their main job to prevent. But the fact that there have been victims on both sides has complicated their mission and has left the situation more dangerous than before.
What we are witnessing are not mere street confrontations, but terrorism. For this reason, Algerian President 'Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed a military commander on Wednesday to restore security to the province for fear that the situation may lead to a scenario whereby Algeria would be divided along confessional and sectarian lines. In this regard, the president had earlier warned the Arabs and Muslims against conspiracies that aim to fan sectarian and confessional flames and sow focal points of confessional tension in the region.
Terrorist incidents have recently begun to appear in North Africa. The old sedition in Ghardaia Province has been revived. The head of the Movement of Society for Peace, 'Abderrazzaq Maqari, has warned of the effect that the civil strife in the province’s cities may have on the country's stability and unity, urging the authorities to intervene urgently so as to put an end to the acts of sectarian violence. Meanwhile, dignitaries from both communities are urging the Algerian authorities to act in order to extinguish the fire of sedition and sectarian conflict, promote reconciliation, and consolidate the culture of peaceful coexistence. They have been warning against the threat that these conflicts pose to social unity, as well as against the danger that foreign parties may exploit such incidents and confessional divisions to harm Algeria.
"All of which leads us to the question: What awaits Algeria, the last of stable republics in the region?" asks Shehadeh in conclusion.
3-A limited intervention
Ankara is unlikely to go beyond a certain point in seeking to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish entity on its southern borders says Hussein 'Abdelaziz in today's pan-Arab al-Hayat
Turkey is most likely to refrain from any large-scale military intervention in Syria, even though it is determined to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish entity along its southern borders, suggests an Arab commentator in a Saudi-owned daily. Any Turkish intervention is likely to be limited and confined to specific locations that would prevent the emergence of geographically contiguous Kurdish entity.
BROAD DEBATE: "Ankara is witnessing a broad debate over the military operation that the Turkish government plans to carry out in northern Syrian so as to prevent the establishment of a strong and independent Kurdish entity along its southern border, as happened with Kurdistan Province in Iraq," writes Hussein 'Abdelaziz in Friday's Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat
Ankara was unable to affect the situation in northern Iraq at the time because of the different geographical situation and the strength of the American presence there. Today, however, can intervene and alter the situation in Syria, now that the Kurds have become a clear force in the Syrian north after taking control of Tal Abyad, which constitutes a bridge between 'Ain al-Arab (Kobani) in the Syrian northeast and 'Afrin in the Syrian northwest.
Turkey's supreme national fears stem from the fact that, if this entity stabilizes in northern Syria, it may offer strategic depth to the Kurds in southern Turkey. In that case, it would become the reservoir for human and military supplies for any future moves by Turkey's Kurds. This is especially likely if we take into account the fact that the Kurdish project in Syria is being pursued under the supervision of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) the Syrian branch of the [Turkish] Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
In light of this, Ankara will not accept the establishment of such an entity, which may be acceptable to both Washington and Damascus. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated this openly when he emphasized that his country would never permit the establishment of a Kurdish state.
But a Turkish military operation is no easy matter. It requires significant military capabilities on grounds that are disputed by conflicting military forces and numerous regional and international interventions. Turkey’s military intervention could therefore turn into a nightmare that sucks Turkey into the Syrian quagmire. It may find itself in a confrontation, not only with regional parties, but with international allies such as the U.S. whose political agenda in Syria is totally different from the Turkish agenda. PM Ahmet Davutoglu expressed this complex situation a few days ago when he said that his government would not implicate Turkey in an uncalculated risky adventure.
The U.S.'s primary aim is to fight ISIS, with all the alliances this has required that conflict with those of its traditional allies in the region, such as Ankara and Riyadh. For this reason, Washington has recently provided the PYD with notable military support. This has emerged clearly from the nature of the international [anti-ISIS] coalition’s air raids. Statistics show that around 1200 out of 1800 raids over the past ten months have served the PYD to enable it on the ground. It is as if Washington is punishing Ankara for its refusal to join the coalition.
In light of this, any military operation against the Kurds or one that aims at establishing a buffer zone may have a negative impact on the fight against ISIS. It would place Ankara in direct confrontation with Washington. The statement by the U.S. secretary of state that Washington has no evidence of Turkey's intention to establish a buffer zone may best be understood as an expression of American opposition to the establishment of such a zone, rather than a rejection of military intervention as a matter of principle.
Washington may in fact accept a Turkish military intervention in northern Syria and blocking the establishment of a Kurdish entity provided that would ultimately serve the international coalition's aim of fighting ISIS. This could occur once Washington comes to the conviction that winning the battle against ISIS cannot be achieved without a ground military intervention by Turkey, or without permission for international ground forces to act from Turkish territories.
But the problem stems from the fact that Ankara is not interested in opening two fronts in Syria – with the Kurds on the one hand, and ISIS on the other. Such a battle would be extremely costly. And this is to say nothing of the Syrian regime's exploitation of this intervention to fire its missiles against the Turkish army in an attempt to reshuffle the cards.
For this reason, the situation seems to be heading towards a limited Turkish military intervention that achieves its intended aims without becoming involved in large-scale battles in Syria for the following reasons:
- A military intervention within a limited geographical area would allow Ankara to establish small Turkish military zones that separate the constituent areas of the Kurdish entity from each other. It would also prevent a direct and open confrontation with the Kurds. The city of Jarablus and the area of 'Afrin are the two best venues for such intervention.
- Such limited intervention would not anger the Kurds in Turkey; nor would it threaten the peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurds, now that the latter have become a political force as manifest by the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) performance in the recent June elections.
- Such intervention would forestall the Turkish military establishment's refusal to become directly involved in the Syrian conflict without international cover from the UN or NATO. This is what the Turkish Chief of Joint Staffs General Necdet Ozal has demanded.
-Turkey’s opposition parties, such as the Republican People's Party (CHP) are against Turkish intervention, especially since this will take place during the consultations to form a coalition government, which could have a negative effect on them. Moreover, any operation of this nature would conflict with the political protocol that prevents any strategic steps from being taken during the term of a caretaker government.
- The chances of success for such a limited military operation would be high. Therefore, all Turks apart from the Kurdish constituent would back it.
"In that case, it could be exploited electorally if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) decides to head to early elections," concludes 'Abdelaziz.
4-The West’s failure to understand ISIS
The West continues to misunderstand the origins and character of ISIS, as well as the best means to defeat it, says Mohammad 'Akif Jamal in today's Emirates’ al-Bayan
The West has failed to address the phenomenon of ISIS in a manner that deals with this organization effectively and that can win the war against it, maintains an Iraqi commentator in a Gulf daily. For one thing, it has failed to take into account the difference between the conditions in which ISIS emerged from those in which al-Qa’ida flourished, continuing to deal with the former in the same manner as it has dealt with the latter.
ROAMING FREE: "After ISIS has succeeded in establishing itself firmly in Iraq, Syria, then in Libya, it has begun to roam freely, sowing death in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait's mosques, Tunisian tourist resorts, and the French city of Lyon, and then moved on to fight a war against the Egyptian army in northern Sinai," writes Mohammad 'Akif Jamal in Friday's UAE daily al-Bayan.
It is also not unlikely to declare its presence in some other places in the future. For it seems that nowhere is truly immune against hosting this organization.
Although the media has reported all the above mentioned attacks under the rubric of 'ISIS', some of these acts may not in fact be the work of the organization itself, but of parties that temporarily hide under ISIS's mantle for their own security reasons.
This series of terrorist attacks has elicited immediate reactions whose character is closer to that of propaganda or posturing. The Arab League and Arab Parliament have both held urgent meetings to study the repercussions of these terrorist attacks, and Tunisia has declared a state of emergency. The alarm bells have been sounded, yet terrorist attacks around the world have witnessed a steady and notable rise with the expansion of ISIS's attacks in Iraq and Syria.
But it is impossible to understand the motives behind these terrorist attacks and the other inevitable ones in the coming days, in isolation of the ongoing cultural conflict around the entire world. On the other hand, these motives cannot be isolated from the social, economic, and political conditions in the societies where ISIS is nesting.
It is true that ISIS's attacks can occur in numerous areas but their true homeland is the Arab world. The founders of this organization and most of its members come from Arab countries; and its main arenas are in these countries, so much so, that this phase has come to represent a phase of conflict with these terrorist organizations within the Arab world.
There are difficulties reading the ISIS file in a realistic manner or in predicting the course of the war against it because the group's birth and rapid rise allow numerous states in the region, which are riddled with sectarian sedition, to exploit its attacks for their own purposes.
The war on ISIS and on the terrorist groups in general will not be short; nor will it be decided by military means alone. There is need for international and regional political means for dealing with this problem. At the international level, and despite their importance, Russia and China are still far from being preoccupied with this issue. At the regional level, there are some states which, given their current leaders or the policies they are pursuing, cannot be in intellectual, political and military harmony with the international community in the war on these terrorist groups.
The Western circles specializing in this issue have been accustomed to deeming the terrorist phenomenon as the work of jihadi organizations that share a single ideological outlook. This is why they have dealt with these organizations as they have previously dealt with al-Qa’ida, without taking into consideration the differences in thought and practice or in the political circumstances from which the two groups [al-Qa’ida and ISIS] have emerged. In fact, ISIS has displaced al-Qa’ida from people's minds, having gone far beyond the latter in its actions.
Some commentators admit that the West has been unable to defeat this organization's ideas so far, and that it may be simply unable to understand them. For this organization can still attract certain sectors of Western society to its ranks. According to last February’s testimony by the Director of the American National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas Rasmussen before the U.S. House of Representatives' National Security Committee, more than 20 thousand armed elements from 90 countries have actually joined such organizations.
Perhaps one of the most important mistakes committed by specialists in dealing with terrorism is to deem ISIS as no more than a collection of psychologically disturbed individuals who find in rebellion against the existing regimes and perpetration of the strangest and most savage acts of killing a means of easing the tension in their pathological personalities. But these specialists have failed to scrutinize the intellectual roots that have led this organization to adopt the denunciation of everyone else as a kafir as its creed, and to espouse unprecedented forms of terrorism as its tools.
Moreover, these specialists have not paid sufficient heed to this organization’s mode of operations that make it attractive to certain sectors of Western society. The war that the international coalition has been waging on ISIS in Iraq so far has been confined to targeting the group’s leaders based on precise intelligence effort, and to hemorrhaging its strength by means of a modest number of air raids. But there are no gains on the ground that are commensurate with the size of a coalition that includes sixty states.
"Finally, the spread of the phenomenon of terrorism in the Arab world has exposed the absence of specialized non-government centers devoted to strategic studies, and that can play an important role in drafting policies or adjusting their course," concludes Jamal.
Israel is seeking to break Hamas’s will by offering to alleviate Gaza’s economic plight in return for an extended truce, says Randa Haidar in today’s Lebanese an-Nahar
One year after the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israel continues to raise obstacles to the reconstruction of Gaza and persists with its blockade on the Strip, notes a Lebanese commentator on Palestinian affairs. The aim is to domesticate the Gazans and tame Hamas, forcing it into secret negotiations that would produce a long-term truce.
THIRD WAR IN NINE YEARS: "At around this time one year ago, Israel launched a new military operation against the Gaza Strip that lasted for 50 days during which the Palestinians suffered the hell of war for the third time in nine years since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Strip," notes Randa Haidar in Friday's Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
More than 2000 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians, including a large number of children, while thousands of others were wounded, and tens of thousands were displaced because their homes were turned into ruins.
Exactly a year afterwards, the scene in Gaza's streets has not changed. On the contrary, despair and frustration have intensified, and the people's economic and human hardships have worsened, all in the shadow of an ongoing blockade imposed on the Strip by both Israel and Egypt.
Gaza's 1.8-million inhabitants are living in a large prison. All the doors have been slammed shut in their faces. Students are forbidden from leaving the Strip to pursue their studies abroad. The sick are unable to receive treatment. The level of unemployment stands at 50%. The inhabitants of the homes destroyed by last summer's war are still living amid the ruins. And the monies promised by the donor states are only arriving in dribs and drabs.
It seems clear today that Israel's determined efforts to obstruct Gaza's reconstruction and the return of normal life to the Strip are primarily intended to exploit the results of its latest destructive war in order to break Hamas’ will, as it has done to the PA. Israel’s blackmail of Hamas by tightening the noose around civilian necks and transforming their lives into a living hell are clearly designed to drive Hamas into secretly negotiating with it and agreeing to a long-term truce, in return for economic returns and the facilitation of daily life.
It is worth noting in this regard that it is the Israeli army in particular (the very same force that destroyed Gaza and killed its people last July) that is today advising its government to alleviate the Gazans' humanitarian suffering and is encouraging secret negotiations with Hamas so as to safeguard what the army refers to as the 'achievements' of Operation Protective Edge.
The policy that Israel is pursuing towards Hamas is very similar to that that it previously pursued against the inhabitants of the West Bank after the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield that aimed at suppressing the second Palestinian intifada. That operation had a destructive impact on West Bank society and destroyed the possibility of a new intifada there, opening the door to security understandings between the PA and Israel and ongoing security cooperation between them.
The policy of destruction and excessive use of military force against the Palestinians is part of what the Israelis refer to as 'searing the Palestinians' consciousness' – that is to say, breaking the civilian populations’ will and deterring them from any peaceful or armed popular protest.
"Will Israel succeed in domesticating the Gazans and taming Hamas?" asks Haidar in conclusion.
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