Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Syrian Crisis Revisited - Analysis and Possibilities for Action

The Roles and Responsibilities of Syria, Israel, US, Europe, Turkey, Iran, Russia and the Gulf States

Robert Simons
By Robert Simons
Robert Simons, a former correspondent in the Middle East, attended the last Golfgroep meeting on Syria. The appeal from the group to do something rather than just analyse and listen, prompted him to write about the current situation and the possibilities of action. 
As the political and military situation in and around Syria becomes complexer by the day there are quite a few means at our disposal in which public advocacy can work.

First of all we have to identify the players and the alliances in the Middle Eastern region in order to alert governments, parliaments, international organisations and public opinion.

Awareness should be raised through the media to put public pressure at work.

THE PLAYERS AND THE ALLIANCES

Syria, Iran and Russia
The Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is being supported by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.
While the Syrian army with the support of Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters is fighting opposition forces mostly in the west and south of the country, the Russian air bombardments target mostly the Free Syrian Army and other moderate rebel groups.
It is remarkable, that Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu flew to Moscow immediately after the Russian announcement about its participation in the Syrian war on the side of Assad. The Russian and Israeli leaders agreed not to attack each other. Apart from preventing attacks against each others air forces Putin agreed not to attack the Israeli occupied Golan heights, while Bibi promised not to attack Syrian troops. 

NATO
On the other side the western alliance formed by the US, France, the UK and smaller countries like The Netherlands has from the beginning been supporting the so-called Free Syrian Army.
While the Americans have mostly been targeting ISIS, they have also trained fighters in Jordan, who after completion of their training often joined ISIS. 
Allied, Russian and Syrian bombardments have led to hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians being killed or injured, while millions of Syrians fled to neighbouring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. 
From the last two countries many refugees tried to reach Europe. However, the Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) kept their borders closed for  Syrian refugees.

The awkward situation of Palestinian refugees
It is not widely known, that Palestinian refugees in Syria have nowhere to go. Before the civil war there were for instance some 300.000 Palestinian refugees living in the Yarmouk Camp near Damascus. 
Israel was the first country, which refused to let these Palestinians cross over to the Israeli occupied West Bank. 
As these Palestinians do not hold a  passport, they were also refused entry to Jordan and the European Union.

The Gulf States
The oil rich Gulf States Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have their own proxies in the Syrian war. 
S.A. while fighting a bitter war against the Houthis in Jemen, is allied with Al Nusra. Qatar is supporting groups, which are ideologically and religiously close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
As there are nowadays more than 90 different opposition groups fighting in Syria, alliances are not always clear. 
Politically, militarily and economically Saudi Arabia is closely linked to the USA, which is supplying the country with an abundance of weapons and military aircraft.
Saudi Arabia is in the Middle East also allied with the military dictatorship of Egyptian president Sissi and not so surprisingly with Israel. 
The Wahhabi monarchy, Qatar and the Jewish State have common strategic interests,  business and security links.

The responsibility of Israel
Israel bears to a great extent responsibility for the crisis situation in Irak and Syria. 
On the basis of false information about weapons of mass destruction in Irak supplied by the Israeli intelligence and security services to then American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz the Bush administration decided  in 2003 to invade Irak. The American occupation of Irak led to the instalment of a sectarian Shiite government,  the dismemberment of the Iraqi military and security forces, and to the exclusion of the Sunni population in government and in the newly established armed forces. On the basis of the dismissed and unemployed Sunni military in Irak  ISIS came into being.
The extremist nationalistic - religious government of Netanyahu is a clear winner during the  fighting and bloodshed in its neighbouring country. 
The victims of Israeli policies are - as always - the Palestinians who see more land taken, more Jewish settlements built, more Palestinian houses and villages on the West Bank destroyed, while the ongoing Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population is continued on an ever increasing scale. 
The situation in the Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million Palestinians are living under an Israeli blockade, is approaching an explosive humanitarian disaster.
All these Israeli war crimes are being perpetuated,while Palestinian rights are even more severely violated, and more Palestinians are either being killed by the Israeli army and Jewish settlers or imprisoned. 
While Israel is committing all these crimes against the Palestinian people, governments and most politicians look the other way, giving Bibi a free hand to execute his policies against the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories. Strangely enough Israel is practically working together with rebel groups like Al Nusra, which has established positions on the Syrian side of the cease fire line on the Golan heights. 
A 400 bed hospital is operating in northern Israel to treat injured rebels from Syria. 

The special case of Turkey
Turkey under president Erdogan is a very special case. As a member of NATO it is supposed to be part of the American led alliance. 
On the other hand Turkey is waging a brutal war against its own  Kurdish citizens and the PKK in the east of the country as well as against the Kurdish population in northern  Syria. 
In its fight against the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria Turkey is clearly allied with ISIS. As a fierce opponent of the Assad regime Turkey is also  closely cooperating with ISIS by facilitating its operations. 
ISIS derives a large part of its income  by selling Syrian oil via Turkey. While professing to fight ISIS, weapons for its fighters enter Syria mostly via Turkey. 
And tens of thousands of foreign jihadi’s join ISIS via the Turkish border.
The loose alliance between ISIS and Turkey might be explained by one remark from Erdogan, who not long ago said, that he was dreaming about a resurgence of the Ottoman Empire, which should be directed against the shiites.

A role for China in the Middle East?
As a powerful political bystander China should not be disregarded in the Middle East turmoil. Chinese involvement in negotiations to solve the Syrian quagmire should seriously be considered. 
Obtaining its position as the second economic power of the world  China has during the last eight years become increasingly nationalistic and  self conscious.  
The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping is clearly looking for opportunities to ascertain itself - also politically - on the world stage. 
Without elaborating, President Xi in January 2016 declared, that China should play a greater role in the Middle East. 

Since the end of January 2016 a fragile pause in hostilities has been agreed among most sides in the Syrian war. It remains to be seen whether this pause will lead to a more permanent cease fire among the parties.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

- Being opposed to the senseless bombardments by the American led coalition, the Russians and the Syrians, it is first and foremost necessary to declare and enforce a no fly zone over Syria to protect the civilian population.
- No deals should be made with Turkey nor money transferred to the Erdogan government before the Turkish authorities close their border for jihadi’s on their way to join ISIS and ISIS shipments of oil and weapons
- NATO should not allow Turkey to establish a so-called security zone along its border in northern Syria to restrict the areas under control of the Kurds and other opposition groups.
- Turkey should not be allowed to attack Kurdish forces in Irak and Syria allied with the American led coalition.
- A weapons embargo should  be declared against Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states participating in or supporting the fighting in Syria.
- The Gulf States and first of all Saudi Arabia should be pressured to take their share of the refugees from Syria including Palestinian refugees.
- The EU should not make a distinction between Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Syria.
- Pressure should be put on Israel to let Palestinian refugees from Syria enter the Israeli occupied territories to join their Palestinian brethren.
- The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip should be lifted under effective EU pressure.
- The EU should forbid the import of all produce from Israeli settlements from the occupied Palestinian territories.
- The Netherlands should forbid the export of dogs to the Israeli army. 
These dogs are being used against Palestinian civilians, like the Germans used dogs against Jewish deportees and prisoners during World War II. 
By allowing the export of these dogs The Netherlands is condoning a flagrant violation of the right to protection of the civilian Palestinian population.
- The EU should suspend indefinitely its association agreements with Israel, while it is continuing to expand Jewish settlements, expropriate Palestinian land and in general violate the rights of Palestinians.
- Economic sanctions should be issued by the EU against Israel, if it continues to refuse to end completely settlement building in the occupied territories, and continues with its policies of  expropriation of Palestinian land, ethnic cleansing etc. 
Those sanctions should also be applied, if Israel continuous to block the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, severely destroyed again in 2014 by Israeli bombardments.
- Bilateral and multilateral dialogues should be started with ISIS and organisations like HAMAS, Hezbollah and the PKK in order to find political solutions for the Middle Eastern conflicts.
- In view of the necessity to formulate alternative and long term solutions for all the conflicts in the Middle East the 4 to 1 state solution *) should be promoted and after its implementation be expanded.
- As the most populous country in the world and as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations the Chinese government should be engaged as a neutral and unbiased power broker in future negotiations in the Middle East.

*) The 4 to 1 state solution is an idea developed by me as a long-term solution to various problems concerning Israel, Palestine and its neighbours. For decennia western governments have continued to pay lip-service to the 2 state solution for the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. This solution has become outdated and unrealistic by Israeli sabotage through land expropriation, building of Jewish settlements as well as the destruction of Palestinian villages and houses. Offering alternatives to the common thinking pattern a breakthrough in the non-existing negotiating process can be accomplished. By enlarging the territorial scale and by uniting Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories into one state most humanitarian and political problems in this region can be solved.