My word: Watch out! There’s a new year coming

In Syria, Assad might be the devil the West knows but it doesn’t make him less satanic.

Syrian President Bashar Assad waves to supporters in Damascus (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian President Bashar Assad waves to supporters in Damascus
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, as most of the Western world was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, I noticed a curious news story.
Headlines, as we all know, can be deceiving but this one – “Families of ISIS fighters to leave Damascus in UN deal” – made me do a double-take. The short Reuters report that followed said: “Hundreds of families of Islamic State militants and some injured fighters are expected to leave rebel-held areas of southern Damascus under a UN-brokered deal, a monitoring group said on Thursday.
“Safe passage would be given from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk on the outskirts of [the] Syrian capital and neighboring Hajar al-Aswad, said Rami Abdulraham, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The families and some fighters will be taken to Raqqa in northern Syria, the stronghold of the militant Sunni Islamist group, and other IS-controlled areas over several months, eventually ending the group’s presence near Damascus.
“Islamic State has had a significant foothold in Hajar al-Aswad, just a few kilometers from President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
“Syria’s minister for national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, told Reuters that efforts were under way to get militants out of the Yarmuk camp but gave no details.
“A UN spokesman told reporters in New York: ‘The UN is an observer to the agreement concerning Yarmuk, but not part of it, which we understand should come into effect in the coming few days.’” The UN clarification notwithstanding, the news item pretty much sums up the state of the world on the eve of 2016.
In some versions of the report, the members of the vicious jihadist organization that takes pride in spreading a Sunni religious philosophy based on that of the Middle Ages and promoting terror through slick social media videos are referred to as “militants” and in other stories as “gunmen” – possibly an insult for terrorists whose image is based on very public beheadings.
In any case, it seems extraordinary – or should seem extraordinary – that the UN is in any way facilitating the safe passage of Islamic State members (whatever you want to call them) not only because, dare I say it, these are the bad guys when it comes to the principles that the UN is meant to defend but also because the move seems to be aimed at protecting the regime of President Assad. Assad, in case you need reminding, is the butcher who thinks nothing of using chemical weapons to murder his own people (although apparently not enough to make US President Barack Obama act on his vows concerning the crossing of redlines).
Assad might be the devil the West knows but it doesn’t make him less satanic.
Is this the way of the future, I wondered: If the Allied forces succeed in further routing ISIS from its strongholds (like this week’s Iraqi forces’ apparent success in Ramadi), will the UN get increasingly involved in safeguarding the terrorists and their families, shuffling them each time to safer spots? Nothing can be ruled out.
As Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed wrote in Asharq Alawsat on November 28 (translated by The Media Line): “It is simply unbelievable that the Syrian conflict evolved from a civil war within Syria to a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and, now, to a confrontation between Russia and Turkey. The downing of the Russian fighter jet by Turkey is a monumental event. It is likely to introduce new tensions into an already anxious region; ones we have not witnessed in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.”
The spark with which frustrated Tunisian vendor Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire five years ago lit a blazing inferno whose effects are being felt around the globe.
Felt but not always seen. Keeping your eyes closed does that.
Despite the painful wake-up calls of terrorist attacks in Europe, the US and elsewhere this year, many people are in a state of denial.
When the migrant-refugees from the Middle East began flooding European shores, Europe finally realized that this was a new era. Strangely, the arrival of masses of migrants from Africa did not have the same effect, although according to the International Organization for Migration, about 3,000 migrants died trying to make the three-day sea crossing from Libya (i.e. Africa) into Italy this year.
Altogether, I fear that the focus on Syria and Iraq (or what remains of them) is distracting the world’s leaders from where an even bigger story is taking place. Africa and Asia are both being hit by the same type of Islamist terrorism.
Born from al-Qaida, ISIS is less likely to be defeated than it is to morph into something even more sinister. Its ideology won’t die overnight even if it were militarily defeated.
And, as we have all seen over and over again, it doesn’t take an Islamic army to cause death and destruction, just a relatively few terrorists fueled with a warped ideology and the promise of a shahidi paradise.
The Royal Jordanian Army, for example, could easily withstand an ISIS onslaught on Jordan’s borders, but, like the Egyptian example in Sinai, will find it much harder to stanch the terrorism that is already being fostered within those borders.
As many have noted, the current situation offers positive possibilities as well as dangers. The interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia are more aligned than in the past. But that does not make the Riyadh regime “moderate.” There’s a reason why the Sunni refugees aren’t heading for the Arabian shores. Make that two reasons. Firstly, the ordinary Syrian trying to escape the stringencies of the ISIS does not see Saudi Wahhabism as a good alternative, and secondly, Saudi Arabia does not want to risk admitting either covert ISIS members or – more threatening from its viewpoint – normal people who might demand political change and religious moderation; the sort of people who see nothing wrong in their wives driving a car.
Similarly, regarding Iran, a done deal does not mean the story is over. Iran is not, yet, a nuclear power but it is very, very close to having nuclear capabilities (and the missiles to use them) and it definitely sees itself as a power. Just as a year ago the chances of Turkey and Russia clashing were so small they didn’t appear on the world’s radar, the consequences of the struggle between the Saudis and the Iranians in Yemen are too often overlooked.
Like Saudi Arabia, Iran’s human rights abuses continue.
Moderate Shi’ites aren’t fighting for a chance to live there either.
And yet there is an even greater threat than that presented by a nuclear Iran: nuclear-armed terrorists.
While a sovereign state is usually subject to some internal checks and balances, terrorists are not, and this is particularly true today in the era of small terror cells and so-called lone wolves. And there are a lot of nonconventional weapons out there (I bet Bashar Assad would smile were the UN to ask him as they helped remove his rivals).
Earlier this week, a Russian ship left Iran reportedly carrying almost all of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, part of the JCPOA deal signed in July.
As The New York Times put it: “For President Obama, the peaceful removal of the fuel from Iran is one of the biggest achievements in his foreign policy record, the culmination of a seven-year effort that at various times involved sanctions, cybersabotage of Iran’s main nuclear facility and repeated Israeli threats to bomb the country’s facilities.”
Well, I’m sure someone feels safer now that Vladimir Putin is in charge, but I can’t for the life of me see why that someone should be Obama.
What does 2016 hold? Who knows? Billed as the world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympic Games are scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
Israel has painful associations with the Games since Palestinian terrorists massacred 11 Israeli team members in Munich in 1972.
Right now, there is pressure on the government of Brazil to continue to reject the appointment of Dani Dayan as Israel’s ambassador because he is “a settler” and a former head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria. (His predecessor as envoy was Druse-Israeli Reda Mansour.) This shows the pernicious nature of the BDS movement. While the European Union is content, for now, with merely labeling products “from the Palestinian territories,” the advocates of the boycott movement are labeling people, Jews.
BDS supporters also pressed for the cancellation of a contract to an Israeli company to oversee security at the games.
Yet again we see not only the strange double standards and singling out of Israel but also how boycotting Israel makes the world less safe, not a better place.
May 2016 be the year when the international community realizes that Israel is part of the solution, not the problem.