Beyond the Cusp

September 10, 2013

Are the Syrian Christians Next?

With the capture of the Syrian Christian town of Ma’alula, a town of approximately five thousand just north of Damascus bodes ill for yet another ancient Christian community. The residents of Ma’alula actually still speak Aramaic just as they had when they took to Christianity as some of its first converts. The town holds numerous ancient churches, monasteries and shrines from the earliest years of Christianity and there are many who fear these irreplaceable relics of history could end up being destroyed or altered into Mosques. The people are also possibly in danger similar to the situation the Coptic Christians find themselves facing in Egypt. Ma’alula was captured after five days of fighting falling to the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that has sworn allegiance to al-Qaida, the conservative Islamist rebel group Ahrar al Sham and the more mainstream Farouk Brigade. The one fortunate occurrence thus far is that the Syrian military had fought for the town with the rebel forces in the area for five days but retreated from Ma’alula before it had sustained serious damage to its ancient buildings. The question now is what will come as time unfolds, is it possible that the Islamists will allow these Christians to continue to reside in peace only requiring they pay the Jizya and accept Dhimmi restrictions.

 

There is another result which may be born of this situation which can also be applied to any other location within the areas where there is Arab uprisings resulting from the Arab Winter. The Obama administration has been hovering between striking in Syria as a response to the utilization of chemical weapons on the population and the battlefield by Bashir al-Assad and finding some justification for backing off the red line threat. President Obama has been wavering between these two positions often turning on a dime seeming to be searching for the one unarguable justification which would unite everyone either giving him the moral backing to either act or the perfect reason for walking away. Despite the fact that should the Syrian military decides to try and retake Ma’alula from the occupying rebel forces there would be a definite probability that there would be collateral damage destroying the ancient and irreplaceable buildings. Add to that the human casualties which President Obama could use as a further reason to enter the Syrian conflict. Since there have been strong indications which side President Obama has chosen as there have been atrocities committed by both sides yet only the Syrian military has been held to any standard by the President.

 

But then, by using the possible slaughter of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world to reinforce President Obama’s argument and having not even mentioned the similarly ancient Coptic Christians who are facing horrific evil in Egypt would be being duplicitous, and even more so as there have not been demands the United States intervene if the Egyptian government refuses to protect them. Such an argument using the expectation that in order to be considered a civilized force that is accepted by the rest of the world, all sides in the Arab conflicts which have spread across much of the Middle East and North Africa need to protect all peoples equally, be they Muslim or be they Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sheikh, Bahá’í, Jewish, Taoist or any other religious system or belief system and end the unjustifiable persecution of any non-Muslim religion. By making this the stated position for acceptance in the world community President Obama could finally have acted in a manner justifying his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize simply because he won the election for President. Obviously the Nobel Committee had reasoned that President Obama was destined to act in some manner so as to commit the pinnacle act which would be transformational making the entirety of Earth a far better and more unified and accepting place where everybody has value and can expect equal treatment and opportunity. Having President Obama actually live up to the expectations which so many different people, institutions, and both governmental and nongovernmental organizations had expressed they were expecting to emanate from his Presidency would make his entire Presidency truly inspirational and transformational making Barack Obama far more than just the first American President of color but one of the truly great Presidents placing beside Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Kennedy. Should he make such a stand and use everything at his command including uniting the majority of the world behind such a noble cause using or separate from the United Nations, then the time will have come to get the hammers and chisels into motion adding one more head on Mount Rushmore; he would have earned such a placing. Hey, just because I have had my differences with a number of President Obama’s policies, that does not mean I cannot also hold out great hopes.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

August 2, 2013

Syrian Kurds Another Victim of Hate

Just as the Kurds in Iraq were considered as the others and left pretty much on the side of the Sunni-Shiite debate, they were not accepted by either group. They were the perennial outsiders as under Saddam Hussein they were a victimized minority and now under the Iranian aligned Shiites they are those others in the far north. In many ways the Kurds in Iraq are the fortunate amongst the various Kurdish populations as they have successfully carved out their own little fiefdom and have won for themselves a near absolute autonomous region. In Iraq the Kurdish population has the protection of well-armed and well-trained militias and has gained a relative secure and peaceful region with little to fear from either the Sunnis or the Shiites of central and southern Iraq. There only trouble spot has been the occasions when Turkish military executed incursions into northern Iraq in efforts to presumably eradicate Kurdish guerrilla units which were terrorizing Eastern Turkey’s Kurdish regions. The Kurdish areas of Iraq closest to Syria have been providing refuge for Syrian Kurds who have fled the violence of the Syrian conflict.

 

But there are those Kurds who decided to remain in Syria and fight to hold and protect their areas and allow their fellow Kurds to remain in their homes and communities. These Kurds had ably cleared and protected their northeastern communities and were content to hold on to their areas where the majority of the Kurdish population resided and leave the civil war to the other groups and al-Assad’s military. For the most part the Free Syrian Army, the secular militia, had respected the Kurds leaving them to care for their own and was almost uniquely concentrating on the overthrow of Bashir al-Assad. For much of the two years the Syrian Civil War had raged, the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Front were both concentrating all of their efforts against the Syrian Military and had occasionally coordinated their efforts when it suited both in clearing or liberating a critical area. This has changed over the recent past as the al-Nusra Front merged with al-Qaeda and other Sunni Jihadists who have now decided to impose a Sharia compliant area over which they claim autonomy. This has led to their declaring their intent to fight the Free Syrian Army as well as Bashir al-Assad as both are now considered to be enemies of their ideals for a Sharia state. This has obviously led to a three way civil war with the three separate combatant groups being the Syrian military loyal to al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army, and the al-Nusra Front which has aligned with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) with the new alliance assuming the new title of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). As the Free Syrian Army has slowly but inexorably been losing manpower, the ISIS has reached the decision that they no longer pose either a sizeable threat nor do they offer much in the way as an ally assisting in the war against the Syrian military so ISIS has declared hostilities against the Free Syrian Army as well as their efforts against al-Assad.

 

That leads us to the Kurdish militias and their held area in the northeast of Syria. With recent setbacks for ISIS and gains for the Syrian military, the ISIS found themselves pushed back northward and coming into contact with the Kurdish areas. This quickly became a problem as the ISIS jihadists declared the region to be part of their Sharia state which was opposed by the Kurdish forces. There has been some nasty firefights in the past week with little actual gains by either side. Late Tuesday the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) issued a “victory message”, celebrating the liberation’ of Ras al-Ain, in northern Syria. During the fighting between the two groups over the past weeks has actually spilled over the border with Turkey and into the nearby town of Ceylanpinar where a seventeen-year-old Turkish boy was killed and two other people were wounded. That may be about to change as the ISIS jihadists abducted two-hundred Kurdish civilians and is holding them as hostages. The jihadists after taking Tall Aren, a village in Aleppo province, are now laying siege to another village nearby named Tall Hassel. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that the Jihadists have taken two-hundred civilian hostages from the two villages and are demanding the Kurdish forces surrender the area and cease their resistance and comply with their demands. This has led to a call by YPG in a statement quoted by Al Arabiya requesting, “We call on the Kurdish people… to step forward… anyone fit to bear arms should join the ranks of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) and to face the assaults of these (jihadist) armed groups.”

 

A well-known Kurdish politician, Isa Huso, was killed in Qamishli near his place of residence. Commenting on the situation, a Kurdish spokesperson had decried that “Despite our repeated calls to the National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) command… to date these parties have failed to take a clear position. It said it was clear that FSA battalions, Al-Nusra Front and ISIS in particular, were coordinating with jihadist groups, adding that these groups and the FSA “have become one side in attacking the Kurdish people.” This grabbing of civilian hostages is presenting a threat to escalate the conflict into a new and unthinkable area. Should these likely terrified Kurdish noncombatants, which includes women and children, be tortured, murdered or otherwise come to harm an international denouncing would be in order. This might be an appropriate time to repair one of the most grievous oversights committed after World War I when the Ottoman Empire was being sliced up into nations replacing the colonial demarcations and no state was set aside for the Kurdish populations which lived mostly in one region which included southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran. Perhaps the time for establishing a Kurdish state has arrived. Should such a state be cut from the areas of Kurdish populations, it could be minimized at the eastern and western extremes thus minimizing the amounts of land requested from Turkey and Iran in order to form Kurdistan. The advantage to Turkey and Iran would be an end to the low level but consistent problems ruling over their Kurdish minorities and the friction due to the Kurds being denied a homeland would be resolved and the Kurds would need to surrender any claims to lands beyond the agreeable borders resulting from deliberations. If the world can go to such extents in order to force the formation of a state for the make-believe Palestinian people, then there certainly should be an effort to form a Kurdish state as we know that there was a long and proud Kurdish history. This is obvious as history tells of a commander of one of the most formidable Islamic armies of all time who was a Kurdish man named Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, more famously known by his westernized name, Saladin. Certainly the descendants of the tribe of Saladin deserve a rightful place within the Islamic lands if any group is found so deserving. On the other hand, after being so unceremoniously ejected from the Holy Lands by Saladin’s army, it is no surprise that European powers would deny his descendants their rightful heritage. Talk about revenge being served cold.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

June 9, 2013

The War Whose Name Must Not be Spoken

The war in Syria has been labeled with many names all of which avoid the actual underlying root of the conflict currently being fought. The Syrian conflict has been called by some a civil war yet a large number of the combatants are from places other than Syria. Others refer to Syria as a war between a nationalist dictator against Islamic Jihadists yet there are Jihadists from al-Qaeda on one side and Jihadists of Hezballah on the other as well as the Syrian Army remaining loyal to President Bashir al-Assad, a nationalist dictator, fighting the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary which also claims to be a nationalist oriented group. Another difficulty is the lack of unity on the side of the rebels as the nationalists and the Jihadists do not coordinate and often have separate goals. Their inability to work as a single entity may prove to be their undoing because it allows for them to be picked off individually and divides their numbers and efforts. As the Syrian conflict has continued there have been two themes, one internal and one external. The internal theme playing out on the ground in Syria is the age old Islamic struggle between Sunni and Shiite and which will be dominant. The external conflict is also a familiar one that recalls the struggles of the Cold War with one side being the Iranians and their Arab allies backed by Russia against the other side featuring the United States with NATO and the Gulf Oil Kingdoms being led by Saudi Arabia. If we look back and remember the old Cold War lines of the Middle East we would discover the old symmetry with Russia backing one side and the United States backing the other in any skirmish or small war which broke out. When the Unite States backed Iraq and Saddam Hussein the Russians backed Iran and the Ayatollahs. Go back even further when the United States backed Iran and the Shah then the Russians were the best friends with Iraq. The one country which has always been close to Russia though has been Syria while the United States kept ties through making one Arab nation a member of NATO, that being Turkey.

 

The future of the Syrian conflict appeared like it could be settled quickly in its early stages as the conflict had all the markings of what has already occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The one trend which made the difference is easily seen looking back at the progressions and noting the differences. The overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali happened with great rapidity and minimal external influence encouraging events. Not too far behind came the resignation by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak which required a significantly longer stretch of demonstrations, considerably more violence than had occurred in Tunisia. This was followed by a number of events in the Gulf Regions where eventually Yemen was the sole government overthrown which again took external Western pressure and considerable violence which has yet to subside completely. The continued violence consists of tribal conflicts plus al-Qaeda forces also vying for control of much of the country. There had been some serious contentions and threats in Bahrain which was subsequently squelched by Saudi Arabian intervention. Also almost completely overlooked was the display by the Saudi Arabian government forces which pretty much prevented the fomenting of any honest threat or resistance to the Royal Family’s rule. The next major government to be overthrown was Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a full-fledged Civil War lasting several months and requiring quite an amount of foreign intervention. NATO forces, consisting primarily of French, British and United States air power, were used to impose a No-Fly Zone over all of Libya and eventually even providing air support sorties aiding the rebel forces in their ground assaults. There were many rumors of NATO troops on the ground but such reports were more often denied, especially by the United States White House and President Obama. The Syrian conflict has lasted well over two years now and any possibilities of an early end are forgotten. There was no intervention by the United States or NATO as the Russians and Chinese blocked any United Nations Chapter 7 Resolutions which are required for the use of force. Refusing to allow a Chapter 7 Resolution has proven to be sufficient to prevent United States President Obama from taking actions as it has appeared that President Obama values any United Nations approval as necessary for him to act. Some have claimed that President Obama is more concerned with and subservient to the United Nations than he is the United States Congress. Without participation from the United States, even leading from behind style support like in Libya, there was absolutely no possibility of the rest of NATO or the European Union taking action by themselves. Thus no outside interventions have led to longer conflicts as time progressed, which also brought more vicious fighting and far higher casualties both among combatants and the innocent civilians. Further proof of this is the oft ignored fact that the fighting has yet to completely end in Libya as the different tribes are still contesting control of the more remote areas far from the major cities.

 

As the war continues to grind on the main fight has evolved to where there are now five main forces vying for control. There are still the two rebel groups where the nationalist forces have been unable to refresh their troops as the fighting has taken its toll while the Jihadists, who have declared their complete allegiance with al-Qaeda, have been drawing in support from Sunni Jihadists throughout the Arab World and have become the stronger force amongst the rebels. On the other side are the forces supporting the continued rule by al-Assad. Even here there are two main groups; one being Syrian military forces who have remained loyal to al-Assad largely because they are, like him, Alawite Shiites facing likely death should he lose, and the other group being loyal to Iranian interests and who will continue to fight even should al-Assad fall from power as using Syria as a base and staging area as well as a vital link in the Iranian Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. The two parts of the Iranian forces are the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) who are actual Iranian trained military troops specializing in foreign interventions and terror support and Hezballah which is the Iranian proxy government in Lebanon where they have replaced the Lebanese government through voter intimidation and assassinations in order to form a favorable coalition. These Iranian forces in Syria pose the greatest threat to the lives of civilians as they have little compunction when it comes to slaughtering civilians or anybody else who may be considered an obstacle or simply in the wrong place at an inconvenient time. Should the fighting continue long enough the Syrian Civil War will mostly be fought between forces which are not Syrian in their origins, they will be al-Qaeda fighting against the IRGC and Hezballah. As far as anybody intervening, the only country likely to take such measures as things stand now are the Russians, but for the time being they will most likely simply supply munitions and other material in support of al-Assad. The one significant introduction the Russians are currently planning is the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems which they have stated will not arrive before some time in 2014. Of course, should any NATO, European Union or United States forces enter in support of the rebels, then the Russians would likely send the S-300 missile systems immediately and possibly provide their own air support or whatever forces would be required to counter such measures.

 

It is in the possibilities that Syria could spread beyond its own borders that possess the greatest threat. The possibility of Russian intervention is currently not a significant threat and would remain insignificant for as long as al-Assad is not in dire threat of being dethroned. The other possible situation where Russia would enter the conflict would be in response to the United States, NATO, European Union, or possibly even Turkey or Israel were to enter on the side of the rebels against al-Assad. The other threat that exists is al-Assad taking the option of expanding the war which could be accomplished in four ways, by attacking Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, or Israel or any combination of these nations. We can very easily rule out Iraq as they have become an extension of Iran and are almost completely under Iranian influence. Al-Assad would have to completely lose his senses to open a front with Turkey as the Turkish military is vastly better equipped and trained than is the Syrian military. Opening a front with Jordan might be an option but doing such would not likely be to any advantage for al-Assad and his allies, so that is also unlikely. Attacking Israel is an entirely different scenario. It is a distinct possibility that al-Assad might believe that should the Israelis once again use their air power to destroy armaments or other supplies for any reason, such being transferred into Lebanon for Hezballah to use at their convenience against Israel being the most probable reason as such has already occurred, that by retaliating against the Israelis and declaring an Arab Holy War, a Jihad, for the annihilation of every Jew and the liberation of all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a genocidal war of conquest, that such an act would gather the entirety of the Arab World to fight by his side against the common enemy. The one problem with such a plan is that should nobody join in his declared Holy War, then he would be facing Israel alone. Facing Israeli Defense Forces would definitely tip the balance of power away from al-Assad, but it would also not be beneficial to the IRGC forces or to the Hezballah forces as Israel would very likely do whatever it took to eliminate their presence as long as they were in the neighborhood. The only reason such a suicidal attack by Syrian Military on Israel might be taken would be in the hopes that once Israel retaliated and was earnestly engaged that Russia might be persuaded that this was actually an Israeli initiative and thus have Russian troops enter in order to rescue al-Assad and the rest of the Russian supported forces. After all, Russia has a number of clients’ forces currently operating within Syria with al-Assad, and old and loyal client, Iran, also a long time client, and Hezballah.

 

Whatever the future holds, the conflict in Syria will continue to take its toll in life and property all because when supporting the rebels might have resulted in a definitive and quick war with the nationalists likely to prevail, there was nobody willing to step up and provide the necessary support. That has brought the world to the point where Russia has cast their dye into the waters promising to act should anybody interfere in Syria against al-Assad. Meanwhile, it appears that John McCain and President Obama are about to repeat the same dance they performed which led to the United States with French and British assistance provided air-cover and support for the rebel forces in Libya. This could prove to be the first domino falling that starts the torrent of dominoes rippling across the face of the globe. Russian promises are best not tempted, but somehow I doubt the President Obama believes the Russians are serious or would dare to oppose him. President Obama possesses sufficient hubris that it just might be that he believes that he can stand toe-to-toe and force Russian President Putin to blink. The only question is will President Putin need to take off his shirt before the staring contest begins because there is no question that Putin does not know how to blink.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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