With all the drama and tragedy of recent days it is easy to forget that the Middle East is melting down, not (yet) because of Iranian nukes and not just because we had been suffering from a 40°C heatwave. The Middle East is sizzling as Debka reports that “Armed US drones over Baghdad, Saudi, Jordanian tanks deploy”:
The Obama administration announced Friday, June 27, that unmanned aerial vehicles flying over Baghdad would henceforth be armed in order to defend the US Embassy in the Green Zone. […] Today, the armed drones overhead are reduced to holding back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its local Sunni allies from overrunning the Green Zone and seizing the embassy, most of whose 5,000 staff were evacuated as a precaution.
President Barack Obama has again decreed that no US soldiers will take part in combat in Iraq. Therefore, American military personnel on the ground will be there to guide the drones to their targets.
US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jordan Friday laid out another piece of the Iraq-Syria imbroglio. He estimated that the Syrian rebel recruits enlisted from among the nearly one million Syrian refugees sheltering in Jordan could be deployed in Iraq for fighting ISIS.
His words were accompanied by the Obama administration’s application to Congress for half a billion dollars to arm and train such a force.
President Obama is therefore in the midst of yet another U-turn on the Syrian-Iraqi war scene – this one involving Israel too.
Kerry’s latest statement gave this bunker-command a new war focus and diverted Jordan-based Syrian rebel forces from their mission south of Damascus to contesting the rapidly-advancing Sunni Islamists in Iraq.
Our military sources note that these forces – albeit with full US-Jordanian-Israeli intelligence and logistical back-up – were not an outstanding success in their Syrian mission and should not be expected to do much better in Iraq.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Lebanese army and Hizballah militia are bracing against the latest round of ISIS-engineered suicide bombing attacks, which was in fact launched last week with two explosions in Beirut – one by a female bomber.
To the south of Lebanon, Israel’s unusually mild military retaliation against “terrorist targets” in Gaza for the swelling hail of rockets aimed day by day at Ashkelon, Hof Ashkelon and the Eshkol District , points to a decision by Israel’s government military leaders to avoid being dragged into the cauldron boiling up around its borders.
I’m not so sure that this is still relevant given the ever-increasing hail of rockets and the calls for an Israeli counter-offensive (as I mentioned in a previous post). The DebkaFile article concludes:
Three months after Israel’s National Intelligence Estimate judged the prospect of a conventional war close to nil, Al Qaeda’s cohorts are grabbing wide stretches of Iraq and knocking on the doors of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Iran, Hizballah – and now ISIS – must be wondering what makes Israel tick in view of this behavior. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s jihadis are fighting under the flag of the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant. For them, the Levant is not just Syria and Lebanon and Jordan, but also “Palestine” i.e. Israel.
Jerusalem had better wake up fast. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have deployed tank divisions on their borders against ISIS encroachments. The two kingdoms are Israel’s eastern and southern next door neighbors.
I don’t think Jerusalem is actually asleep on the watch regarding the dangers of ISIS. Yaacov Amidror, former security adviser recommends that Israel should bolster Jordan in its fight agaisnt ISIS:
“If Jordan asks for assistance, we should help,” Amidror told Army Radio. “We need to help with whatever they may need in order to overcome the problems developing on their eastern borders.”
According to Israeli officials, Israel has not changed its military deployment on its border with Jordan, but is closely watching ISIL’s activities in both Iraq and Syria.
The Daily Beast quoted one of the Senate staff members who attended the briefing as saying that, according to the administration officials, if Jordan were to face a military onslaught from ISIL, it would “ask Israel and the United States for as much help as they can get.”
Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.
Senior Israeli officials, quoted by Channel 2 TV Saturday, said Israel was “not too troubled at this stage” by ISIL, but that Israeli Military Intelligence had been monitoring what they said was a 10,000-strong organization for more than two years.
Yadlin told Channel 2 that all countries have an interest in stopping ISIL, but the US was being highly cautious. It had lost 4,000 soldiers, spent a trillion dollars and had no interest in being drawn deeply back into Iraq.
By contrast, he said, the US and Israel would come to Jordan’s aid, if needed, more quickly than to Iraq’s. The US already had forces in Jordan helping the Syrian opposition, he noted.
Overall, Israel anticipates that the Jordanian military, which this week bombed ISIL targets across the border in Iraq, will prove capable of countering ISIL, the TV report said, though Israel does anticipate a possibility that Jordan may benefit from Israeli intelligence assistance.
Despite the dramatic headlines and speculation in the international media that ISIL will invade Jordan and take up residence on Israel’s eastern border, the thinking in Israel is that the spread of global jihad beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria will not be so simple, and that there are signs ISIL’s advances are stalling.
The greatest impact, however, could be on the broader international jihadist movement, in particular on the future of al-Qaeda.
As we have seen in recent days, one of the few successful opponents of ISIS are the Kurds. Israel is now openly supporting the creation of a Kurdish state and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Secretary of State John Kerry that an independent Kurdistan is a foregone conclusion:
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the emergence of an independent Kurdish state was a “foregone conclusion,” while Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters in Washington that the “de-facto” state Kurds have created is democratic, Reuters reported.
The public endorsements come only days after Kurdish oil tanker SCF Altai was unloaded in Israel’s Ashkelon Port after having been shunned by the U.S. and Morocco to not upset the embattled Iraqi regime in Baghdad, which opposes the Kurds using their own pipeline network to Turkey to export their crude.
In Paris, Lieberman’s spokesman quoted the foreign minister as telling Kerry: ”Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.”
The stupid Americans still insist that the retention of Iraqi territorial “integrity” (as if it were not an artificial construct) is more important than Kurdish autonomy. Luckily Shimon Peres, despite his often delusional optimism has his feet on the ground on this issue:
On Tuesday, Kerry had visited Iraqi Kurdish leaders and urged them to seek deeper political integration with Baghdad.
On Wednesday, Peres said he had told U.S. President Barack Obama that he did not see unifying Iraq as possible without “massive” foreign military intervention, with Kurdish separation from the Shi’ite Muslim majority and Sunni Arab minority being beneficial.
“The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women,” Peres told reporters in Washington, adding that neighboring Turkey appeared to accept the Kurds’ status as it was helping them export oil.
Senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad on Tuesday told Army Radio that Israel has downplayed its ties to the Kurds for their benefit. He said, “Our silence – in public, at least – is best. Any unnecessary utterance on our part can only harm them.”
Cooperation has allegedly included Israel providing military training for Kurds in northern Iraq, in return for their help in smuggling out Jews, as well as in spying on Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad and, more recently, on Iran.
Reuters cited retired Mossad station chief in Kurdish northern Iraq Eliezer Tsafrir who said the relations were kept secret at the request of the Kurds.
“We’d love it to be out in the open, to have an embassy there, to have normal relations,” he told Reuters. ”But we keep it clandestine because that’s what they want.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu too stated openly that he supports Kurdish independence:
In a move that placed him at odds with US policy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday took his first public stand in support of Kurdish independence.
Throughout a speech in Tel Aviv to the Institute for National Security Studies on the regional threats facing Israel, Netanyahu explained that recent events have shown the dangers of a security strategy that is overly dependent on Western powers.
It is important to build a regional axis of cooperation with moderate forces in the Middle East, Netanyahu said, explaining why he supports Kurdish independence.
“With respect to the Kurds, they are a warrior nation that is politically moderate, has proven they can be politically committed, and is worthy of statehood,” Netanyahu said.
However Netanyahu was not about to let anyone forget the greatest danger of all to Western civilization – Iran:
But Netanyahu split with Washington on the issue of Kurdish independence even as he urged the US to adopt Israel’s position on Iran and strip Tehran of its ability to enrich uranium when the P5+1 countries begin another round of nuclear talks this week.
Netanyahu also used this opportunity to stress the need for Israel to retain the Jordan Valley:
“Who knows what will happen tomorrow. The ISIS might attack Jordan within in a very short period of time. So we have to be prepared to stop the fanaticism and the terrorism that might infiltrate us from the east along the Jordan so that it won’t reach the Tel Aviv suburbs,” Netanyahu said.
His statements were the clearest he has made to date about the possible danger to Israel from the al-Qaida splinter group, which stunned the world with the speed by which it has taken control of large swaths of Iraq in the last month.
…“The first thing we need to do is to build a security fence on our eastern border to build it gradually from Eilat all the way to join the security barrier we have been building on the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu.
Such a barrier won’t stop missiles from flying overhead or attempts to dig tunnels underneath, he said, but it would make it much for difficult for terrorist groups to infiltrate into Israel.
“Imagine what would have happened with the Jihad forces in Sinai if we had not created that security barrier on the Egyptian border,” he said.
The threat from ISIS and the events of the last month have shown Israel that it must maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley in any future final-status agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, Netanyahu said.
“No one can guarantee the security of the state of Israel except the IDF,” Netanyahu said as he dismissed the possibility of a western force or a western-trained force as an alternative.
The history of the US in Iraq has shown that at some point the western forces leave, the prime minister said.
“We can no longer trust that local forces trained by the West will curb and stop the Islamic penetration,” he said.
Therefore, he said, “in any future settlement with the Palestinians, Israel will have to continue controlling from a security point of view the territory from the Jordan River.”
And finally, Amotz Asa-El brings his always perceptive intelligence to the chaotic situation prevailing in the Middle East, summing it all up in Obama’s Middle East – an autopsy:
Half a decade on, Obama’s vision is in shambles. US interests in the Middle East are imperiled as they have not been for half a century. Disrespect of America is rife among those Obama set out to appease, while America’s allies mistrust Obama. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of Americans – including Democrats – have lost faith in his foreign policy, according to a New York Times/CBS poll published this week.
Quoting the Koran, he preached the merits of truth, apologized to Iran for a US-aided coup in 1953, vowed to close the Guantanamo prison, assured Muslims that America is not “a self-interested empire,” cried “Islam is part of America,” derided governments “dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” hailed democracy while equivocating that “no system of government can or should be imposed on one nation by another,” insinuated that the Holocaust was the reason for Israel’s existence, compared the Palestinian plight to that of the American slaves, and, to audience applause, demanded an immediate cessation of settlement building in the West Bank.
Obama’s move was already attacked at the time, most notably by Lebanese- born, Middle East expert Fouad Ajami, who incidentally passed away this week.
Still, at the time the damage of Obama’s speech seemed to be mainly to his image, which came across as frivolous. Critics noted that no plan of action was associated with his lecture, no prior coordination occurred with local allies, and no experts were consulted about the likely results of such high-profile rhetoric in societies unaccustomed to American-style public debate.
Now, with events making a mockery of his vow to help Baghdad build its army and “support and secure a united Iraq,” a consensus is emerging in the West that US strategic interests have been seriously damaged, that American diplomacy fell victim to ignorance, arrogance and naivete, and that policy overhaul is imperative – if not for the sake of America’s interests, then at least for the sake of worldwide diplomatic stature.
THE FAILURE of Obama’s diplomacy is climaxing now in Iraq, but his strategic losses began in Egypt.
Having previously sided with Egypt’s Islamists, and responded to their ouster by suspending aid to the interim government of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Obama’s emissary this week arrived in Sisi’s chambers and sheepishly restored that aid.
It was a belated recognition that the florid rhetoric of the Cairo Speech had little to do with reality, which is embodied in the elevation of Sisi to president of Egypt. And as has happened repeatedly because of his Middle East hyperactivity, Obama ended up buying the damaged goods and paying double the price.
As it were, Obama’s treatment of Mubarak resulted in Egypt turning to Russia, which gladly agreed to sell Sisi advanced aircraft and missiles.
This failure to understand the most elementary laws of power-play was repeated in Syria, although in a different way. At stake there was not loyalty and alliance, but enforcement. It would have been one thing for Washington to say that it is neutral on Syria, or to remain mum while President Bashar Assad gassed his people. However, to vow to use force and then fail to deliver on the threat indicates that Obama did not merely play the game poorly – he didn’t even know the rules.
Such conduct calls for bad guys throughout the world to do as they please – which is indeed what they did. The first to test Obama was North Korea, when it violated agreements with the US and conducted a nuclear test, incidentally or not, the week before the Cairo Speech. Obama’s failure to respond to such a drastic provocation was registered by autocrats worldwide, from then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who helped Iran survive sanctions, to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who later prowled Ukraine.
The diplomatic inconsistency displayed in Syria was compounded by the ideological inconsistency displayed to its south.
THE TROUNCING of Iraq’s American-built army by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s armed forces would have been avoided had Washington thought historically, and acted creatively.
The underlying assumptions of Obama’s policy in Iraq were that international borders are sacred, its army is reliable and its democracy is viable. Yet any student of Middle Eastern history would have told him that Iraq, like Syria and Lebanon, is an artificial country that European colonialists imposed on rival minorities and faiths.
Americans, who by definition superimpose their citizenship on their religious and ethnic backgrounds, find the Iraqis’ inversion of these priorities difficult to understand.
Yet that is the norm in this part of the world, and this mentality is in fact now reshaping Syria, Lebanon and Libya. To distance himself from the colonialist legacy he decried in Cairo, Obama could have embraced Iraq’s organic divides, and supported their building a future around its three major communities’ well-known identities.
Instead, he enshrined the colonialists’ untenable legacy.
America has only one enemy in the world, and it is not autocracy – it is Radical Islam. Rulers like Putin, Sisi or Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah are bad for their people, but they don’t target America.
It follows that in the Mideast, the US should play with those who are strong and pragmatic, and focus on confronting the fanatics – be they Sunnis in Mosul and Gaza, or Shi’ites in Beirut and Tehran.
Judging by its acceptance of Sisi, the White House is now beginning to understand this.
The next logical step is therefore to accept Iraq’s and Syria’s dissolution, cultivate the Kurdish Regional Government, accept the emergence of a Shi’ite state in southern Iraq, and help Jordan and Turkey shape a Sunni state between western Iraq and eastern Syria.
It remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration, with its team of incompetents and fools, can gather their wits together enough to take heed of Amotz Asa-el’s wise words.