Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Déjà Vu: “Peace in Our Time”

From Isi Leibler, May 14, 2013:

“Peace in Our Time” was proclaimed by Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in defense of his disastrous Munich Agreement with Hitler. History testifies that his policy of appeasement and failure to confront the aggressive Nazi barbarians virtually made World War II inevitable.
It was in August 1993, just 20 years ago, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, strongly pressured by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, embarked on what he described as a “gamble for peace” and consummated the Oslo Accords with the PLO, an act which bitterly divided the nation.
Passionate debates ensued, but in our desperate yearning for peace, until recently many of us deluded ourselves that we were engaged in an “irreversible” peace process. Some of us even mesmerized ourselves into believing that Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas were genuine peace partners, despite clear evidence from their own statements that in referring to peace, they did so with forked tongues and that their real objective was to end Jewish sovereignty.
In recent years the vast majority of us reluctantly concluded that the “gamble for peace” was a failure and that, in the absence of a Palestinian leadership genuinely committed to coexistence, any prospect for a genuine peace was a mirage. This has become especially obvious as Palestinian leaders even refuse to engage in negotiations without preconditions.
Yet, the vast majority of Israelis would still now endorse major concessions to the Palestinians if they were convinced that this would lead to a genuine peace.
Sadly, many - including some of our friends - fail to appreciate this and continue urging Israel to be more forthcoming about the peace process.
President Obama reversed his former confrontationist stance towards Israel and now even publicly endorses Israel’s right to take preemptive military action to defend itself. Nevertheless, an Alice in Wonderland atmosphere still dominates US Middle East policy.
Thus, Secretary of State John Kerry waxes eloquent over an allegedly revised and improved version of the so-called Arab League Peace Initiative.
The imperative of placating the US obligates our government not to outrightly reject this initiative which “agrees” to accept minor territorial swaps from the 1949 armistice lines yet still incorporates the right of return of Arab refugees which would result in an end to the Jewish state.
Moreover, the genocidal Hamas - with whom the PA seeks to merge - has condemned the scheme and adamantly reiterated that it would never countenance any compromise.
No Israeli government could conceivably contemplate acquiescing to a formula in which the opening benchmark in negotiations required acceptance of the 1949 armistice lines. This would entail East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, as well as the major settlement blocs effectively becoming Palestinian territory until an agreement to engage in swaps is consummated. Precedents indicate that it is highly unlikely that agreement on swaps could be achieved with the current intransigent Palestinian leaders.
In this context, we must not ignore the reality that both Arafat and Abbas refused - and even failed to respond with a counter offer - when Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered them 97% of the territories over the green line.
Nor can we dismiss the criminal character of Palestinian society and the fact that the PA, no less than Hamas, inculcate children from primary school to kill Jews and become “martyrs” and publicly sanctify mass murderers and allocate state pensions to families of suicide bombers and terrorists in Israeli jails.
Indeed, even “respectable” Palestinian websites such as spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi’s Miftach, recently published an article reviving medieval blood libels, explicitly accusing Jews of drinking Gentile blood on Passover.
The Palestinian state-sponsored anti-Semitic brainwashing in the media, mosques and schools is in fact as lethal as the Nazi propaganda which transformed Germans into willing accomplices of mass murder.
It is thus not surprising that recent polls show that Palestinians are globally the most supportive Moslem nation favoring suicide bombings, with over 40% justifying them.
Those promoting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a “peace partner” or “moderate” would be hard pressed to quote a single positive statement by him about Israel to his own people. He may tactically have reached the conclusion that diplomacy is more effective for promoting Palestinian goals than terror. But while he consistently stresses that this is a pragmatic strategic approach, his Fatah subsidiary continues engaging in acts of terror and the PA continuously threatens to revert to the “armed struggle” if it fails to achieve its objectives by diplomatic means.
According to Palestine Media Watch, only this month Sultan Abu Al-Einem, a senior PLO official, “saluted the heroic fighter” who had stabbed an Israeli civilian to death. At the same time Jibril Rajoub, co-signer to the Oslo Accords and Deputy Secretary to the Fatah Central Committee, stated that “popular resistance – with all it entails - remains on our agenda” and that “if we had a nuke we’d have used it [against Israel] this morning”.
Despite the fact that Abbas has breached the Oslo accords by unilaterally obtaining UN diplomatic recognition and is now constantly threatening to charge Israel with war crimes at the International Court of Justice, the world continues today to pressure us to maintain the manifestly false charade of engaging with a nonexistent peace partner.
Moreover, the “peaceniks” and their Western supporters, including some misguided Jews and Israelis, still demand that the Israeli government be more forthcoming with concessions.
We are called upon to engage in further “confidence building” measures and release terrorists, many of whom are likely to resume their activities; make further territorial concessions despite our disastrous experience after the unilateral withdrawal in Gaza; freeze building of new settlements despite the fact that we did this for 10 months and failed to even get the Palestinians to join us at the negotiating table.
We are urged to specify our desired borders, as if this can be done in isolation from security and other factors. Besides, every time the possibility of another concession is even hinted, the Palestinians insist that it represent a new opening benchmark for future negotiations.
We have made major concessions but there has been no reciprocity because clearly the PA will not and cannot concede anything. We face a calculated strategy to destroy Israel in stages in which our adversaries seek to obtain and absorb concessions without reciprocity and will continue to demand more and more until they exhaust us.
We should firmly restate to our friends our readiness and desire to separate from the Palestinians. But we must not again jeopardize our security and lives by engaging in yet another “gamble for peace” with the odds stacked against us.
Were we to have a genuine peace partner we could achieve a peace treaty and grounds for long-term coexistence in a matter of days. But until then our friends should not seek to impose upon us a Chamberlain style “Peace in our Time” formula.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Free Syrian Army rebels are defecting to Islamist group

8 May 2013, by and

The flag of the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra flies over the main square of the city of Raqqa

The flag of the Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra flying over the main square of the city of Raqqa in Syria. Photograph: Reuters

Evidence of the growing strength of al-Nusra, gathered from Guardian interviews with FSA commanders across Syria, underlines the dilemma for the US, Britain and other governments as they ponder the question of arming anti-Assad rebels.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said that if negotiations went ahead between the Syrian government and the opposition – as the US and Russia proposed on Tuesday – "then hopefully [arming the Syrian rebels] would not be necessary".
The agreement between Washington and Moscow creates a problem for the UK and France, which have proposed lifting or amending the EU arms embargo on Syria to help anti-Assad forces. The Foreign Office welcomed the agreement as a "potential step forward" but insisted: "Assad and his close associates have lost all legitimacy. They have no place in the future of Syria." Opposition leaders were sceptical about prospects for talks if Assad remained in power.
Illustrating their plight, FSA commanders say that entire units have gone over to al-Nusra while others have lost a quarter or more of their strength to them recently.
"Fighters feel proud to join al-Nusra because that means power and influence," said Abu Ahmed, a former teacher from Deir Hafer who now commands an FSA brigade in the countryside near Aleppo. "Al-Nusra fighters rarely withdraw for shortage of ammunition or fighters and they leave their target only after liberating it," he added. "They compete to carry out martyrdom [suicide] operations."
Abu Ahmed and others say the FSA has lost fighters to al-Nusra in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Deir al-Zor and the Damascus region. Ala'a al-Basha, commander of the Sayyida Aisha brigade, warned the FSA chief of staff, General Salim Idriss, about the issue last month. Basha said 3,000 FSA men have joined al-Nusra in the last few months, mainly because of a lack of weapons and ammunition. FSA fighters in the Banias area were threatening to leave because they did not have the firepower to stop the massacre in Bayda, he said.
The FSA's Ahrar al-Shimal brigade joined al-Nusra en masse while the Sufiyan al-Thawri brigade in Idlib lost 65 of its fighters to al-Nusra a few months ago for lack of weapons. According to one estimate the FSA has lost a quarter of all its fighters.
Al-Nusra has members serving undercover with FSA units so they can spot potential recruits, according to Abu Hassan of the FSA's al-Tawhid Lions brigade.
Ideology is another powerful factor. "Fighters are heading to al-Nusra because of its Islamic doctrine, sincerity, good funding and advanced weapons," said Abu Islam of the FSA's al-Tawhid brigade in Aleppo. "My colleague who was fighting with the FSA's Ahrar Suriya asked me: 'I'm fighting with Ahrar Suriya brigade, but I want to know if I get killed in a battle, am I going to be considered as a martyr or not?' It did not take him long to quit FSA and join al-Nusra. He asked for a sniper rifle and got one immediately."
FSA commanders say they have suffered from the sporadic nature of arms supplies. FSA fighter Adham al-Bazi told the Guardian from Hama: "Our main problem is that what we get from abroad is like a tap. Sometimes it's turned on, which means weapons are coming and we are advancing, then, all of a sudden, the tap dries up, and we stop fighting or even pull out of our positions."
The US, which has outlawed al-Nusra as a terrorist group, has hesitated to arm the FSA, while the western and Gulf-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition has tried to assuage concerns by promising strict control over weapons...
Syria's government has capitalised successfully on US and European divisions over the weapons embargo by emphasising the "jihadi narrative" – as it has since the start of largely peaceful protests in March 2011. Assad himself claimed in a recent interview: "There is no FSA, only al-Qaida." Syrian state media has played up the recent pledge of loyalty by Jabhat al-Nusra to al-Qaida in Iraq.
...Jabhat al-Nusra is winning support in Deir al-Zor, according to Abu Hudaifa, another FSA defector. "They are protecting people and helping them financially. Al-Nusra is in control of most of the oil wells in the city." The Jabhat al-Nusra media, with songs about jihad and martyrdom, is extremely influential.
Abu Zeid used to command the FSA's Syria Mujahideen brigade in the Damascus region and led all its 420 fighters to al-Nusra. "Since we joined I and my men are getting everything we need to keep us fighting to liberate Syria and to cover our families' expenses, though fighting with al-Nusra is governed by very strict rules issued by the operations command or foreign fighters," he said. "There is no freedom at all but you do get everything you want." ...

Syrian conflict heading for even greater sectarian violence

From The National (United Arab Emirates), 9 May 2013, by Michael Young, opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut:

There is seemingly no light at the end of Syria's tunnel... The massacres of civilians in two locations last week were particularly alarming, telling us something about the dismal direction of events in the country...
The massacres in the predominantly Sunni city of Baniyas and the nearby town of Bayda came after a relatively rare outbreak of fighting in the coastal region, the stronghold of the Alawite community. The coast is where Alawites may decide to fall back to and set up a mini-state if the regime of President Bashar Al Assad were to flee Damascus.
To grasp just what happened in Baniyas and Bayda, consider the context of the regime's continuing offensive in and around Homs and Qusayr, in conjunction with Lebanon's Hizbollah.
From the start of the fighting, the regime has regarded control over Homs and its surrounding area as a matter of strategic importance.
  • Homs lies on the main communications line between Damascus and the coast. It is a vital passage to and from the capital for a regime that needs to reinforce the city militarily so as not to lose ground to the rebels; and
  • it is an escape route if Mr Al Assad and his acolytes decide to withdraw to the coast.
  • Homs is also on the motorway to Aleppo, along which troops there can be reinforced.
Homs serves two other vital purposes.
  • It is the route through which Alawites along the coast can maintain secure land communications with predominantly Shia districts in Lebanon's northern Beqaa Valley.
  • And it provides a door to the coast that can be opened and closed at will to cut off Sunni communities there.
The former Syrian vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, a prominent foe of Mr Al Assad, comes from Baniyas, and this may have been an exacerbating factor in the massacre, carried out by pro-regime militias.
If the Alawites ever decide to create a rump state, one of their objectives will be to ensure that Sunnis do not challenge this plan. That means Sunnis must either be terrorised into silence or, in the worst case, forced out of coastal areas. The Baniyas and Bayda killings, while extraordinarily brutal, seemed primarily designed to achieve the first aim. Thousands of Sunnis reportedly left the city in fear, but appeared to be heading toward other coastal cities, namely Tartous, south of Baniyas, and Jableh, to its north.
However, the massacres were a reminder that worse may come, especially if the regime makes headway in Homs and Qusayr, allowing it to seal a major Sunni evacuation route. Sunnis in the north-east increasingly feel isolated from their brethren elsewhere in Syria. That is how the regime wants it. The Sunnis' sense of vulnerability will make them more reluctant to side with the rebellion, and their presence as potential hostages will make Mr Al Assad's enemies think twice before mounting military operations in coastal areas.
This may be the best the Assad regime can hope to achieve, since wholesale ethnic cleansing would be a major endeavour. There is still a significant Sunni population in coastal cities such as Tartous and Latakiya, and in the latter, Sunnis form a majority. Even if they were driven out for some reason, the consequences could be disastrous for the city itself, which would lose not only a large portion of its population, but many of its most dynamic economic actors.
Perhaps Mr Al Assad can learn from his Lebanese Druze antagonist, Walid Jumblatt. In 1983 his community routed Christian militias in the Aley and Shouf mountain districts, expelling most Christians. Victory was complete, but it was also double-edged because the economy of the areas died. This Mr Jumblatt had to seriously consider since his Druze community is small, mostly rural and relatively poor. When the Lebanese war ended in 1990, he organised the return of Christians to the mountains, a natural facet of post-war reconciliation, but also an economic necessity for the Druze.
Sectarian cleansing is traumatic, but it can also be more damaging to the perpetrators than expected. In Bosnia and Kosovo, the Serbs have yet to recover from their reputation as architects of ethnic cleansing, to the extent that the fate of fellow Serbs pushed out from the Krajina district by the Croats in 1995 has been mostly ignored internationally. Syria's Alawites could not forever live in autarky, and appear to realise that it is better to keep Sunnis in a state of fear rather than to carry out a policy of mass eviction that may ultimately turn against the Alawites.
The Israeli attacks against Syria last week were based partly on worries that the Assad regime, if it carves out an Alawite territory, would collaborate with Hizbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon, under the guiding hand of Iran. This could allow for a transfer of advanced Syrian weapons to the Lebanese party, which may use them against Israel.
Moreover, an opening from the Beqaa Valley towards the Syrian coast would permit Hizbollah to be rearmed by Iran during any conflict with Israel if Lebanese ports and Beirut airport were blockaded.
Mr Al Assad has no plans to abandon Damascus. However, we are witnessing a consolidation of the Alawite statehood option as a fallback position. The Syrian conflict is entering a new phase, where long-term territorial plans and alliances are taking shape. And the ensuing violence can only increase as the stakes become higher.