Monday, 23 February 2015

Libya: A Somalia-on-the-Mediterranean and Lethal Proxy War Playground

"We came, we saw, he died"-Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, on hearing news of Colonel Gaddafi's murder.

"Do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe's southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies, as well as for the people of Libya?'-David Cameron, British Prime Minister 2011

“Do I regret that Britain played our role in getting rid of Gaddafi and coming to the aid of that nation when Gaddafi was going to murder his own citizens in Benghazi? No, I don’t".-David Cameron, British Prime Minister 2015.

The news of the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian by ISIS in Libya comes just four months after ISIS in November 2014 declared Derna had become part of the new caliphate centred on Raqqa in Syria but spreading across the Middle East, Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa as though an unstoppable wildfire.

Britain's special envoy in Libya, Jonathan Powell, has called for an immediate diplomatic resolution among the warring factions in Libya. This is to prevent ISIS capitalising on the failure to create a functioning state in Libya in the three years after the NATO military intervention assisted the rebels in overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi.

Powell referred to a "Somalia-on-the-Mediterranean" in the making, a place from which refugees from Africa, who had been kept from fleeing to Italy by Gaddafi, were trying to escape by boats and riven with conflicts. The idea his expertise could bring together the opposed sides in Libya as in Northern Ireland is questionable.

Libya is as remote from Northern Ireland as it is possible for any land to be. The opposing sides in the Second Civil War are not divided by religious sectarianism. The 'Operation Dawn' militias are backed by Qatar and Turkey in what became a lethal proxy war against the Egyptian and Saudi supported militias of 'Operation Dignity' in 2014.

Libya also contains huge reserves of oil and gas. This raises the stakes in a new geopolitical conflict between contending regional powers vying for access to and control over these resources. Qatar and Turkey are aligned against Egypt which would have every interest in drawing on Libyan gas as do France and Italy as Mediterranean powers.

The Latin states of Western Europe have wanted to diversify their gas supplies away from depending upon Russia while keeping on good terms with Qatar which supplies Italy with most of its 8% of imported LNG. Neither Qatar nor Turkey have any interest in Libya returning to peak production if their interests are not served.

Libya: Failed Transition-Qatar Leads the West into a War of Liberation.

Finding a peaceful diplomatic solution for Libya's Second Civil War is set to be difficult. The NATO intervention has, in John Gray's words, created an 'anarchic hell hole'; again Western leaders were unwilling to accept, as with Iraq, that in destroying a secular dictatorship they unleashed forces fighting for an popular Islamist theocracy.

The first post-Gaddafi elections saw the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist parties led by Sami al-Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj do badly compared to Mahmoud Jibril, a westernised technocrat who had defected from the Gaddafi regime. But the prospects for a peaceful transition to democracy were doomed by the circumstances of its birth.

The Libyan uprising was never peaceful but armed and violent from the start; there was no evidence the Libyan leader targeted civilians or resorted to indiscriminate force. That was a claim put out by the rebels and used by NATO as a pretext for assisting insurgent groups funded, armed and trained by Qatar to overthrow Gaddafi.

The claim that Gaddafi was a genocidal tyrant ready to slaughter up to 20,000 people in Benghazi was not true. Initial press claims of "more than 2,000 deaths" in Benghazi during the first days of the uprising were increased by a factor of ten; Human Rights Watch put the figure at 233 for all Libyan cities in that period.

The aim of NATO was not to protect civilians. The objective was to pursue 'regime change' in association with Islamist militia groups. Qatar had guaranteed the western states they were not associated with Al Qaida and had been vetted by clerics and middle men between Tripoli and Doha such as Sheikh Ali al-Salabi.

Qatar's use of covert proxy forces against Gaddafi favoured those in the east of Libya in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica which became the focal point for the uprising against Tripoli. It was part of a strategy by Emir al-Thani to help the West be rid of Gaddafi, to align with democratic Islamic forces elsewhere and contain Iran's regional influence.

The Western powers wanted to prevent Iran from gaining the upper hand in both Iraq and Syria after 2011 but also from gaining influence in Bahrain. There protesters threatened the state as well but they were the wrong sort of rebels,Shi'ite Muslims regarded by the Gulf States as fifth columnists who could end up destabilising the region.

The NATO military intervention would remove Gaddafi, unite the Gulf States under the aegis of the West, demonstrate and advertise the use of western air fighter jets to their clients and make it easier for Saudi Arabia to roll the tanks in to crush protests in Bahrain while its government arrested, tortured and killed protesters in Manama.

There was little if any unity among the Gulf Powers as to what would come next in Libya. As Egypt was also undergoing a revolt against Mubarrak in 2011, the GCC states were most concerned about holding on to their privileges and power against the threat of the 'Arab Spring'. The West wanted to help them while securing resource interests.

By promoting democracy in Libya, the West would be able to make up for the catastrophe of the invasion of Iraq back in 2003. It would fend off the sort of claims made on Qatar's Al Jazeera influential news channel that it had double standards in prating about democracy while having a history of backing dictatorships such as in Egypt.

While Gaddafi had opened up to the West after 2003, in scrapping his WMDs in return for sanctions being dropped, he had started to annoy the West by flirting with other global powers interested in gaining oil concessions such as China, a power that had started to compete with the West for favour in the Middle East and Africa.

Even if China's inroads in the region were hardly the reason why NATO intervened in Libya, when taken together with the fact it looked as though Gaddafi had lost control of Libya anyway, he had become an expendable pawn in a much wider Great Game being played by the West in partnership with gas rich Qatar.

Having been prepared to back jihadists as forces useful  in overthrowing regimes that blocked Western resource interests in the post-Cold War world after 1991, the threat of terrorist blowback, as exemplified on 9/11 and 7/7, would be minimised if Qatar helped to 'deradicalise' and redeploy jihadists once more as assets.

Qatar since has played a shadowy game in Libya and the region. It claims it has tamed the radicals yet on the other hand it is alleged to be implicated in using jihadists to prevent any assertion of control by the Tripoli government. Qatar both supplied weapons to the NTC but also to the Libya Islamic Fighting Group led by Belhaj.

Rebranded the Libyan Islamic Movement after Gaddafi's savage death-at the hands of revenge crazed Islamist militias unable to contain their blood lusts- it and associated jihadists were infuriated that the official government was made up of former exiles living in the West and secularist stooges backed by other outside powers.

All rival claimants to be the legitimate party representing the will of the people have had to pose as protectors of Islam, advocating such things as sharia law to distinguish themselves from Gaddafi. Within Libya there are 30 rival militia groups fighting to grab control of Libya's oil and gas and two main rival governments ranged against each other.

Islamist militias from Mistrata, which played a leading role in overthrowing Gaddadi were instrumental in also ousting the officially recognised government in Tripoli in August 2014; the government fled to the eastern city of Bayda while the parliament retreated to the easternmost city of Tobruk near the Egyptian border.

The Western powers, having enthusiastically backed Qatari financed insurgents against Gaddafi, had already swung against them as a consequence of the murder of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in September, 2012. They started to favour militias opposed to the Islamists under the CIA-backed ex-Gaddafi General Haftar.

The Western powers condemned the 'outside interference' in Libya which came in August when the UAE and Egypt bombed weapons depots belonging to the Qatar-backed militias of Misrata. However, it was clear this was a pretence as these Arab League members had backed the NATO military mission in 2011.

The air attacks were followed in early January 2015 with more attacks on Derna ( killing two Greeks after a tanker was hit ). There had been no comment previously from the Western powers and no strident humanitarian calls for a No Fly Zone as there had been when Gaddafi rhetorically threatened to use his air force on the people of Benghazi.

What had changed is that the Western powers were prepared to drop their forthright support for democracy in the hope that Haftar's use of Gaddafi era Soviet MIGs, in collusion with Egypt, would pacify the Islamist hotheads on behalf of the "internationally recognised" government in Tobruk, despite civilian casualties in all air operations.

Whereas between 2011 and 2013 Qatar had held the upper hand, the Egyptian coup and the failure of the Sunni jihadists in Syria to remove Assad had assured not only that the plans to democratise the Middle East had failed but that there was a need for 'strong men' such as General Sisi to help roll back the threat of ISIS in the region.

While Qatar had been willing to back Sunni Islamist militias in Syria and Libya, the threat of ISIS required the façade of a united front among the members of the Arab League as the Western powers started to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Qatar had publicly distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists by late 2014.

Egypt's Renewed War on Terror: Libya as a Western Front Against ISIS.

Egypt's decision to launch air raids on ISIS positions in Libya, in retaliation for the beheadings, is about repositioning Cairo as the indispensable keystone power between the Middle East and the Maghreb against rival Qatar and its ally Turkey. By so doing, it is posing as the alternative to the chaos offered by the rise of ISIS in Syria and in Sinai.

Since the 2013 coup Egypt has fought an insurgency that flared up in its wake. The Muslim Brotherhood had been backed by Doha and Ankara as a means to check rival Israeli energy ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean the better to advance its own hegemony over east-west energy pipeline and transit routes.

Egypt made plain in 2013 the choice was the army or anarchy. By banning the Muslim Brotherhood and escalating the conflict with the radical fringes of the movement into a full scale counter insurgency war it was able to persuade Washington to unfreeze the military aid that had been withheld in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

Egypt's air raid on ISIS reflects the opening up in Libya of a second western front in their attempt to revive what was called the War on Terror during the era of the Bush administration in the US. Egypt's 'deep state' was inevitably hostile to Qatar and Turkey's promotion of Islamist opponents in their land and regards them as 'enemies within'.

In pursuing this policy abroad in Libya, General Sisi aims to deny jihadi-Islamists driven out of Egypt any haven from which they could then storm back into Egypt. The comparison is with what ISIS did in Iraq after having been driven out by Baghdad into Syria where they then exploited the chaos created by the civil war to set up their 'state'.

With US led bombing raids on ISIS in Syria and Iraq effectively strengthening Assad, Sisi was apt to make clear he was prepared to take upon himself the burden of the 'War on Terror' in north Africa, something already praised by UN special envoy Tony Blair who termed Sisi a guarantor of 'stability' for crushing Islamists in Egypt.

The irony, of course, is that it was Blair who tried to bring Gaddafi back as a player acceptable to the 'international community' by having him participate as a player in the US-British led War on Terror after 2001. In early 2015 the full extent of Blair's collusion with Gaddafi and Britain in abducting and torturing his Islamist opponent was revealed.

It was hardly surprising that Libyan Islamists such as Belhaj or al-Saadi would have no long term loyalty to the West. Britain had been complicit in the programme of 'extraordinary rendition' that had seen them rounded up from Asia and transported back to Libya. Nor that Qatar was supplying him with C-17 freight loads of arms.

Belhaj is Haftar's main rival and regarded as an enemy by the Libyan Air Force which, loyal to Heftar, accused Sudan as being in league with Qatar in shipping weapons through to Mitiga International Airport across its south-eastern border. Qatar backs the Sudanese Islamist government in Khartoum.

General Haftar is backed by Egypt. He clearly fancies himself as a secular strong man who could re-impose order and stability on Libya. While oil prices are low in 2015 as a consequence of the US shale boom and US-Saudi collusion in ratcheting prices down, certain EU powers appear to have every interest in stable oil and gas flows.

The prospect of ISIS capturing major Libyan oil fields would be disastrous. In January 2015 ISIS temporarily captured the al-Mabruk field. It threatened Omar al-Hassi, leader of the GNC, launched the Corinthia Hotel attack that killed an American and a Frenchman and also decapitated journalists in Derna.

A US defense official spelt out the danger of ISIS spreading out from beyond the Caliphate-“Particularly concerning has been the spread of ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq. With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas.”

The ISIS beheadings, which took place on a Mediterranean beach, were also intended to convey that the enemy of the West was 'on the doorstep of Europe' and 'just south of Rome', the spiritual centre of Christendom. Fears grew that ISIS operatives could also slip into migrant groups fleeing the chaos in Libya and pitching up on Italian shores.

General Haftar and Western Reinterventions.

With the West's Gulf allies divided over their military contribution to be made in Syria and Iraq, fearing domestic unpopularity in being seen too keen to be attacking jihadists they had funded and backed as part of a cosmic war against the Shi'ites backed by Iran, it was left to President Obama to broaden his War Powers bill

This act allows the US President to ratchet up the struggle against ISIS further afield than Syria and Iraq into north Africa or beyond into Yemen or Sub-Saharan Africa where the fight could be taken to ISIS or Al Qaida affiliates. The ISIS beheadings, just five days after Obama requested these powers from Congress, were its response.

Italy certainly was immediately willing to use the ISIS threat as to call for another NATO intervention, one that was much toned down within hours when it became clear that might in fact be precisely what ISIS would want in pitting the 'Western Crusader' states against those advancing the Islamist caliphate.

France and Italy are reported already to be assisting al-Thinni’s government in Tobruk, providing Haftar with intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR). France used the Egyptian decision to launch air strikes as an opportunity to clinch a lucrative 5.2 billion-euro deal to supply 25 Rafale fighter jets to Cairo.

The deal, as President Hollande put it, "will allow Egypt to increase its security and play a full role in providing regional stability". To prove that France was reported to have pushed for the further sale of 36 Rafale jets to Qatar which is, of course, Egypt's main rival in the region and said to be arming Operation Dawn against General Haftar.

While Qatar has emphasised in it not backing the Islamist insurgents in Libya, it was accused in 2013 of having backed jihadists in Mali. After the African state was destabilised by the movement south out of Libya of Tuareg militias, heavily armed with Gaddafi's weapon stocks, France intervened militarily to protect it from chaos.

France's intervention to roll back northern Mali separatists and jihadists was as much about reasserting French power in its ex-colonial lands in West Africa as about securing access to uranium deposits and prevent its oil reserves falling into the wrong hands. It doing so, it was hampered by Qatar's rivalry with Algeria and Egypt.

France denied accusations of Qatari involvement in backing jihadism as it remains an important supplier of LNG to the French energy market and huge investor in France's ailing economy. While Qatar has tried to mend relations with Algeria, and as Algiers aligns closer with Cairo in the war to defeat terrorism in the desert, dangers remain.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, jihadists have gained ground and access to weapons from southern Libya through to Mali and into northern Nigeria. In early January 2015 Hollande declared France was 'ready' to bomb jihadi weapon supply networks in the Sahel. This was stated to be about 'containing' terrorists.

Resource interests are at stake for France in a broad swathe of increasingly lawless territory in West-Central Africa menaced by AQIM and ISIS affiliated Boko Haram.While France has specific uranium mining concerns in Niger to protect, the entire region is one drawing France and the US in to use drones and advisers to stem jihadist advances.

The destabilisation of Sub-Saharan Africa and the chaos in Libya would also appear to be exacerbating the huge movements of migrants northwards towards the Mediterranean. That in turn, made the problem of ethnic hatreds against black in Libya get worse as African mercenaries led blacks to be seen as Gaddafi collaborators.

With chaos threatening to spill further across the Mediterranean as migrants fled to Sicily and Lampedusa, restoring state authority in Libya, in effect, has meant the West colluding with Haftar's National Salvation Front. In June 2014 the US increased troop numbers in Sicily to deal with Al Qaida and evacuate US personnel from Libya.

Haftar attempted the first of two coups, alleged to have CIA backing. In 2015 he embarked on a military campaign to wipe out ISIS' stronghold in Derna. As Haftar put it to a US journalist “We will use all the means at our disposal to exterminate them...There will be no dialogue...we will fight until it’s defeated, and we have purified the country.”

US government officials have strenuously denied Haftar is aligned with them. Haftar's supporters in Libya have accused Obama of plotting since 2009, when he called for a new beginning for the US and the Muslim world, to use the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the Middle East. Similar conspiracy theories are popular in Egypt too.

Haftar's rhetoric is pitched to those wanting stability, even at the cost of bloodshed and who fear that a chaos in Libya that is worse than dictatorship, even Gaddafi's. Even if the US has not openly sided with Haftar, not wanting to be seen as against democratic Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, he has his uses-especially to Italy.

As Haftar has avowed quite explicitly, he is the only power who can protect Europe.“I fight against terrorists like Ansar al-Sharia and ISIS, if they take the power here the threat will come to your cities. How many Italians are aware that in front of their houses, in Derna, the recently proclaimed Caliphate carries on decapitations?”

Protecting the EU's Southern Underbelly: Italy, Libya and the Mediterranean.

General Haftar's posture as a strongman in the mould of General Sisi has been accompanied by statements about his role too as a bulwark protecting Italy, in a way similar to Gaddafi, against the barbarians at the gates. As he puts it “ISIS will invade Europe....If I fall, a multitude of migrants will invade Italy”.

Italy has aligned ever closer to Sisi in Egypt as a Mediterranean partner. On 21st February 2014 Italian energy giant ENI's CEO Claudio Descalzi was quick to offer condolences over the ISIS beheadings in a meeting attended by Italian Ambassador in Cairo Maurizio Massari. They expressed fears about terrorism in the region.

ENI and the Italian government fear that if ISIS spreads it would affect Italy's oil and gas supplies Libya's National Oil company claimed attacks on oil workers would lead to oil production being shut down if the Libyan authorities fail to offer protection. Italy gets about 21 % of its oil and 10 % of its natural gas from Libya.

The threat to Italian energy security posed by Islamist militias and jihadists would have been sufficient for it to advocate military intervention; Interior Minister Angelino Alfano in an interview with La Republica urged NATO to intervene "for the future of the Western world. ISIS is at the door. There is no time to waste."

One reason Italian Premier Matteo Renzi went out of his way to dismiss overreaction was to avert playing into the hands of jihadists. In fact, the heir to the Libyan monarchy, deposed in 1951, Idris Al-Senussi, claimed that foreign military intervention, especially by the old colonial power Italy would be a "a potential disaster"

In the world the Western Powers of the EU inhabit only bad old Russia under Putin is imperialist: so sanctions are to be placed on him for his role in fomenting trouble and instability in eastern Ukraine. NATO's military intervention in Libya, however, was not about advancing or protecting its interests but about promoting human rights.

That Egypt has intervened in Libya at the behest of a government that is only recognised by the West ( i.e. the "international community") is tacitly accepted even though it puts the Western Powers in a quandary as they could hardly lambast Putin for violating Ukraine's sovereignty if Italy or other European powers did so openly in Libya.

Naturally, sanctions do not apply towards Egypt as regards French arms deals despite the fact, as NATO member Turkey insists, Sisi's government is illegitimate because of the coup. Egypt's ever greater backing for Israeli energy cooperation plans in the eastern Mediterranean have infuriated Ankara which is excluded.

General Sisi both in Egypt and in Libya promises to secure oil and gas reserves and transit routes in a way that for the Mediterranean powers in particular are vital interests. Italy would not want to depend more on Russia if the Greenstream gas pipeline was attacked or gas supplies halted, as they were in 2013, after protests by Libyan Berbers.

The only alternative for Italy apart from Russian and Azerbaijani gas via the cancelled Southstream pipeline and Libya would by a huge gas pipeline from Israel through Cyprus and on to Italy through Greece. Turkey's threat to use military force if Greek Cyprus goes ahead in drilling without it being included would make that dangerous.

The 2011 NATO interventions came on the centenary of the Italian invasion and air campaign against Libya in 1911 when the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes. In 2015, a hundred years after Italy entered the First World War, the Mediterranean region once more is beset with conflicts in Ottoman successor states created by the 1920s.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Tony Blair : A Man of Permanent Energy and Stability.

'We have gone through these periodic crises in Gaza over the last few years. We have never managed to put in place a long term plan in place for Gaza. This time, when hopefully soon we will get an end to the violence, we've then got to use the same energy that we have brought to try to end the violence, to bring some energy to try to create the right long term solution for Gaza. Cos otherwise we'll be back in this situation again and many innocent people will lose their lives"-Tony Blair 'Progress' Talk on Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of his election as Labour Party Leader, 2014.

Tony Blair, the UN Special Envoy to the Quartet was out and about in Gaza a few days ago for the first time since it was pummelled in the Third Israeli-Gaza War in the summer of 2014. He met some Palestinian dignitaries, an UNRWA school where he met some homeless Gazans and businessmen. After a few selfies he left.

In an interview with an Israeli journalist he later became revolutionary "Terror comes out of Gaza, and the question is what can be done to stop it: Do you open Gaza up or shut it down? Israel has faced this dilemma for a long time, and now Egypt is going through the same process. I say - let's change the reality completely."

General Sisi has clearly been working on changing the reality on the ground in Egypt since the 2013 coup as more domestic opponents associated with the Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise conveniently disappear. Embarking on a War on Terror through arbitrary imprisonments, torture and executions is part of a process of peace.

Blair outlines the need to rehabilitate energy infrastructure and for Israel "to create a partnership with countries in the region - Saudi Arabia, for example, and the Gulf states." That is, as Blair understands, Israel's policy already and for both it and Blair it is clear 'The blockage is the Palestinian problem'.

Critics in Israel have lamented Blair's tendency to waffle but on the whole he is popular enough to get awarded fulsome praise. On winning the Dan David Prize for leadership, he was said to have showed exactly how "a state may do within its borders that justify intervention even if the actions do not directly threaten another nation's interests."

That would be clearly the case with the three wars Israel has fought against Gaza since Blair assumed his role as a man of peace. Since then it has become increasingly clear that Israel has more at stake than preventing Hamas from launching rocket attacks, not least since the Iron Dome system has made them ineffective and obsolete.

Gaza Marine gas, discovered in 1999, has remained in limbo while the security situation with Gaza remained unresolved and with Hamas being at odds with the PA, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, which negotiated a deal in which it would have 10% ownership. This gas is now going to be tapped and piped to Jordan.

Blair was cool about the Arab Spring in 2011 and the overthrow of Mubarak with whom he enjoyed a good relationship. Democracy was regarded a potential danger to the stability of the peace treaty with Israel as well, as it turned out when Israel's gas supply was switched off by 2012 as attacks on gas pipelines to it and Jordan spiked.

The Second Gaza War later in 2012 contributed towards the demilitarisation of Hamas and the threat it poses to gas infrastructures and hence Israel and it's partner's energy security. The coup in Egypt, however, was another 'game changer' which meant Gaza and Hamas could be sealed off from the outside world.

Blair is valued as a statesman who was 'tough on terror' but also 'tough on the causes of terror'. The guiding idea behind this profound approach is that first terrorist must learn that violence would never bring victory while, secondly, holding out the prospect of some sort of economic benefits that would tempt the terrorist to renounce terror.

Blair appears to have thought of himself as a progressive version of Margaret Thatcher, combining her refusal to do deals with the IRA with a commitment in Northern Ireland to devolution and to a similar economic development as Eire had as part of the European Union. Apparently, his experience there is meant to be useful to Israel and Palestine.

The problem is that Northern Ireland is nothing like the Middle East. Nor is Blair even remotely respected by most Palestinians, many of whom have accused him of being a toady towards Israel and responsible for the bloodshed in Iraq. Backing Sisi and acting as his adviser is hardly a help either. Blair is actually loathed in the region.

Christopher Phillips, associate fellow at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, said “One of the reasons Blair is so unpopular in the Middle East is that he has no particular expertise in the region. It seems he was given the position based on his experience of invading Iraq and holding some quite strong views on the area".

Phillips made it clear that Blair has no knowledge of the region and so his calls for 'intervention' are actually a form of ego projection which ministers to his deranged self belief that really is still a global actor who never left  10 Downing Street. Whereas George Bush sank quietly into retirement, Blair is still living with the idea he can 'make a difference'.

Phillips went on,
“On Egypt, he has spoken in favour of the military coup, which didn’t help either side.For people opposed to the coup, it reinforces their view that it was planned by the West against a legitimate government. For those in favour, it seems to play into fears that it was a Western-initiated coup...Similarly in Syria, he has called for intervention but has no power to intervene. All he is doing is raising the expectations of one side and infuriating the other.”
However, Blair can only be regarded as a failure if his job is regarded as being one concerned with peace. If his role is seen as an advocate for Israel's attempt to compel a peace on Gaza on its terms, that is, through military action to crush Hamas and use Gaza Marine gas for its own security purposes, Blair is not doing a bad job.

Blair's career since stepping down as Prime Minister in 2007 has followed the trajectory he pursued while in office and, in fact, since the 1990s. He tried to copy Thatcher's conviction politics; terror was as an evil that had to be rooted out and destroyed globally. In Gaza, that clearly means there could never be any deals with Hamas.

Blair regards the global terror threat as part of a joined up unified pattern. Getting to grips with the ideology and its spread is a task akin to a new Cold War against communism or even the war against fascist totalitarianism. Islamism is a new third totalitarian threat with planetary power ambitions that requires war on all fronts to defeat.

The problem with some of Blair's opponents is that in accusing Blair of being 'corrupt' or a 'liar' they appear as embittered and marginal when compared to Blair's 'success'. The fact his prominent enemies in Britain who want him sacked are demagogues such as George Galloway who extol Hamas makes it easier for them to be dismissed.

It allows Blair to play the old trick of triangulating away his enemies as 'extremists' who are 'out of touch' and 'not normal'. Blair is normal and a man of 'the centre'. So those against him would be those against him anyway for having won the 1997 election by being 'where the people are' and rejecting 'extremists'.

The Evil of Banality.

Blair has carried these manufactured 'convictions' with him throughout his career as leader of New Labour. Most people everywhere are not interested in politics when they are happy with the economy and have better things to do. That lesson was taught to Blair in the 1980s when Labour was divided by ideological quarrels.

It's Blair's foreign policy that makes him unpopular; the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and subsequently events in the Middle East, including the rise of ISIS, are quite rightly seen as a consequence of that policy of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. But Blair was hardly alone in advocating 'regime change'.

Irrespective of the issue of weapons of mass destruction, Blair insists what he did was a 'judgement call'. Had the post-war situation not been destroyed by evil 'extremists' then Iraq would have been a content land where the oil wealth was used for both the mutually beneficial interests of the West and the people of Iraq.

To that extent his thinking on Iraq was in line with most of the Westminster political elites at the time who regarded control over its oil as something vital if a post-Saddam state was to flourish. Christopher Hitchens dismissed the 'war for oil' claim as one of no importance as it would be good if more people did benefit from the oil wealth.

Blair's vision was a militantly progressive one and he adheres to the same worldview in 2015 in dealing with the Middle east 'peace process' between Israel and Gaza. By renegotiating BG's role in developing Gaza Marine gas in 2007, what he calls 'the wider region' would benefit from energy security and 'stability'.

Blair regards himself as a short term realist with long term idealist vision of the globe as a nexus of harmonious lands interconnected by airports and shopping malls; benign consumerism gives the people everywhere of all races and cultures 'peace' and caters to their desire for happiness and normality.

In reality, Blair is not actually really a diplomat entrusted with resolving Israel-Palestine conflict. Most of his work involved using his behind-the-scenes 'diplomacy' to get the 'best deal' for the Palestinians by developing the Mediterranean gas reserves and getting corporations to invest in the PA administered territories.

In Blair's cosseted world, historical antagonisms would be forgotten when 'stability' is assured. If this means short term emergency measures-such as a military coup in Egypt in 2013 or Israel's attempt to 'demilitarise' Hamas in the Gaza Strip by using overwhelming military force and bombing-then that's frankly regrettable yet inevitable.

Blair's entire outlook in this sense is consistent. In 1996 he lauded the authoritarian model of Singapore as a beacon of 'good governance'. Hamas and terrorism are simply 'reactionary forces' that cannot compete in the 21st century with the will of the masses in the Middle East to have a society like that in the UAE.

Blair represents something quite strikingly creepy, as though out of a JG Ballard novel- the 'evil of banality'. Blair was the first PM to tap into the dreams and wishes of 'the people' and to base his regime on 'what the people really want'. He has extended this rather sinister outlook into global affairs with catastrophic zeal.

Blair's 'vision thing' for the Middle East is essentially Israel's but one he firmly 'believes' is 'right'. His job is to advocate energy policies that will shore up Israel's security and those of Egypt and Jordan, as well as the PA as the effects of Mediterranean gas 'trickle down' to the people out of the grasp of 'extremist' hands.

When Blair's job is seen in plain view, it could be said he is doing a good job. His aim is to back energy policies which benefit Britain and the region; the use of Mediterranean gas to provide stability and growth shall 'deliver'. So the people of Gaza will demand to have their part in it too once they stop voting for Hamas.

Blair regards Israel then as having a world historical purpose in defeating Islamic fascism, being itself  a state borne out of the need for a homeland to protect the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. The secular Arab Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein is apiece with the totalitarian threat posed by Hamas or ISIS or Al Qaida.

Ultimately, this is why Blair regards civilian casualties in Gaza as consequences of Hamas terror. As with German victims of Britain's wartime bombing, the force of morality and the morality of force are unquestionable; the evil arises out of not out of the disproportionate Israeli use of force but out of the fact they needed to use it.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Copenhagen Attacks February 2015: Public Diplomacy and the Uses of Terror.

"We feel certain now that it's a politically motivated attack, and thereby it is a terrorist attack"-Prime Minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmitt

Little is yet known about Omar El-Hussein, the Copenhagen killer responsible for two murders. It was clearly a criminal hate crime through its choice of targets, first a film maker at a free speech talk at the Krudttønden café and then later into the night a Jewish man near the Krystalgade Synagogue.

It is possible the gunman was a returning jihadist from Syria, all of whom were allowed to return by the Danish government so long as they agreed to undergo counselling and therapy.They were also rewarded by Denmark with welfare provision and jobs to help them integrate once more and so mollify them.

Until the facts are known, it is foolish to compare the murder of three Muslims in the state of North Carolina US, said by some to be a hate crime, with the Copenhagen shootings; it plays into the narrative put out by Qatar and Saudi Arabia that this too was a 'terrorist act'.  A vulgar global competition for victimhood began.

The Danish Prime Minister Thorning-Schmitt was unwise in immediately proclaiming the Copenhagen attacks an act of 'terrorism'' This was in line with the response to the Paris attacks of January 2015 which were also depicted in some quarters as either 'terrorism' or else even an 'act of war'.

Thorning-Schmitt later called it a 'cynical act of terror'. Yet it remains to be seen whether calling the Copenhagen attacks an act of 'terrorism' so readily is not in itself a cynical attempt at collusion with the sort of rhetoric ISIS and Al Qaida put out about there being a cosmic 'war' between the West and Islam.

Thorning-Schmitt's claim of terrorism pre-supposes she knew what the intention was. The difference between a hate crime and a terrorist act is one of intent and purpose. As no video or official statement came out to accompany the killings, a criminal hate crime should not have been conveniently elevated into an act of terrorism.

It is clear Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu regards any attack on European Jews as proof they are no longer safe from Islamists; in his view 'ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS'. So any act indulging the cause of the Palestinians of Gaza is thereby being weak towards terrorists because Palestinians vote Hamas.

Netanyahu had his own power agenda and needs to pose as the protector of Jews worldwide, just as Qatar and Turkey are doing with European Muslims. He is claiming that the Israeli state is always only concerned with protecting Jewish lives even in wars, such as those on Gaza in 2014, and nothing else aside ( e.g. Gaza Marine gas reserves).

Netanyahu did not even bother with the distinction between 'Islamic' and 'Islamist' when forthrightly calling the Copenhagen murders 'Islamic terrorism'. Consequently, 'mass immigration' from Europe to Israel was the only way Jews could be protected, it is implied, from the other mass immigration to Europe by Muslims.

Denmark's attempt to give its backing to the Palestinian right to have a recognised state and condemnation of Israel's 'disproportionate' use of force in the Gaza War means, for Netanyahu, that it cannot protect Jews from Muslim anti-Semitic hate crimes and terror: it is 'appeasing' terrorists in its midst.

So those claiming it is 'obvious' it is a 'terrorist' attack need to think more about the claim which, unless the killings have stated political aims and objectives, should be questioned. It is not 100% clear, especially before a police investigation gets under way, that it must be what politicians, perhaps with their own agenda, want to claim it is.

It needs to be recalled with the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that the two gunmen there were killed and there was no explanation from them in a posthumously released video or even from ISIS or Al Qaida claiming responsibility. The exact links the Kouachi brothers had to either AQ or ISIS remain unclear.

In fact, it seems to have disappeared as an important issue in the media and as one that still requires investigation. The same is true of the Copenhagen killer. It would matter if he had been involved in Sunni jihadist groups fighting in Syria, whether ISIS or any movement aligned to it that until 2013 were supported by allies of the West.

Simon Tisdall, in the Guardian, was on the right lines when he criticised Britain's PM David Cameron  for his attempts at condemning the Copenhagen attacks as ones upon free speech by drawing attention to the fact that politicians would be better off defending their values in taking a look at failed foreign policies.
'They might be more usefully employed in acknowledging that many current problems can be traced back to the Anglo-American destabilisation of post-2003 Iraq, and to the west’s connivance in the suppression of Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings'.
However, it is clear that the Western powers were rash to have thought that democracy was on the march in Libya and Syria where it suited their geopolitical interests. The NATO military intervention, in Libya in 2011, forthrightly supported by Thorning-Schmidt, has led not to a democracy but a failed state where ISIS is gaining ground.

Making out that the killer is a straightforwardly a terrorist is useful if the Danish military involvement in the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq is to be fought and rationalised as one that must be won to protect citizens in Europe rather than, say, oil supplies and the Gulf states which bankrolled jihadi groups in Syria.

The Gulf states are sensitive to this. By portraying the criminal murder of Muslims in the USA as "terrorism", Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular could remind Sunni militants that they are staunch protectors of the global umma as well as reminding the West that it had better not go too far in criticising the Gulf states.

Qatar in particular would appear to be mobilising protesters to counter and deflect attention away from their having supported Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq. By projecting resentment outwards towards Western nations, they hope to expose 'Western double standards' and 'Islamophobia' as being factors in any domestic turmoil.

ISIS is a clear evil in the Middle East. Yet it has its uses in the cynical power game going on. People need to be aware of how oily spin doctors and PR sociopaths everywhere are vying to manipulate public opinion through social media and so, by the power of mass suggestion, help in the creation of the 'correct' way of seeing things.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Causes and Consequences of a Third Lebanon War in 2015.

The reported surge of Hezbollah through southern Syria, backed by fighters from Iran and President's Assad government, has further rolled back what is said to be left of the 'moderate' Sunni militias ranged against Damascus just south-west of the capital in the region close to the Golan Heights border with Israel.

With the FSA largely defeated as a 'third force' between Assad and his allies and ISIS, the victories of Hezbollah are bound to start causing problems between the US and Israel. The US would appear to have at least given advanced notice of where the USAF is going to target and bomb ISIS in their war against it.

This has led to speculation about Assad making a comeback from being a vile global pariah, whose immediate removal was demanded by the West, ( 'Assad must go') to being recycled as a bulwark against ISIS. With Assad's regime no longer having 'to go', Israel, which had been willing to have him stay, seems to be growing hostile.

Israel had every interest in Assad staying if he was able to secure the Golan Heights border region taken by it after the Six Day War of 1967. As Iran expanded its regional influence through a Shi'ite dominated Iraq and with Obama depending on that to keep ISIS at bay instead of US troops, outright Shi'ite ascendency in Syria is a fear.

The reason Israel's PM Netanyahu is at odds with President Obama over his entire Middle East strategy because Washington would appear to be actually putting US foreign policy interests before Israel's in dealing diplomatically with Iran. This is why Netanyahu has been consistently trying to sabotage the nuclear deal.

Netanyahu's trip to Washington, the second addressing Congress, is partly about his re-election campaign and being seen to have America on his side if not the Democrats and Obama. He wants Republicans to increase the sanctions on Iran. This would prevent the nuclear deal he claims to want to 'ensure the survival' of Israel.

By consistently painting Iran as a theocratic fascist tyranny bent of eliminating Israel from the face of the earth, Netanyahu would be better positioned to launch a war on Hezbollah after winning the Israeli election in March. That seems already to have an air of inevitability hanging over it after a Hezbollah attack killed 2 IDF soldiers.

Israel, in fact, initiated the tit-for-tat killings by attacking a Hezbollah convoy in Quneitra near the border, killing Jihad Mughniyeh, a party commander, as well as an Iranian general who was in the convoy. This followed on from months of Israeli air incursions into Syria to destroy Iranian missiles destined for an attack on Israel.

Israel is a regional Great Power actor ,as is Iran; both are at odds with each other geopolitically. Obama sees Iran more as part of a region-wide diplomatic attempt to defuse tensions while Israel, a nuclear armed state, has no interest in that happening. Hezbollah in Lebanon is depicted as a proxy of Iran which is seeking to destroy Israel.

In fact the Iranian threat is useful in justifying the staunch support for Saudi Arabia which, in turn, backs Sunni jihadist proxy forces as a check on Iranian regional influence. That's useful in order to advance geo-strategies believed to improve Israel's national energy security, including supporting Kurdish independence in Iraq.

The oil rich autonomous Kurdish region sold its first tanker of oil to Israel in June 2014. The oil from an independent pipeline routed from Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan and was transported to Ashkelon port. This circumvented Iraq's federal pipeline system and contravened US policy.

Israeli backing for Kurdish independence would also provide a buffer state on the western frontier of Iran. One reason is Netanyahu accuses Obama, who he detests, of having potentially destabilised the region by having withdrawn US troops from Iraq too early in 2011 so as to refocus US military attention towards Asia.

The US opposes a Kurdish state as destabilising to Iraq and to Turkey, a NATO state in geopolitical rivalry to Israel in the game for control over and access to the huge gas wealth of the Eastern Mediterranean. From the region around Gaza and Egypt in the south, to Cyprus in the north and between Israel and Lebanon, tensions are rising.

Flashpoint One. The Game is Nearly Up for Hamas.

Israel's foreign policy has contradicted Washington's at several points. The ruthless bombardment of the Third Gaza War of 2014 was conceived in concern with a post-coup Egypt to seal in the canton and use war as a mean to compel Hamas to submit out of all proportion to the actual threat they posed to Israeli citizens.

True, the 'game changer' was the Iron Dome anti-missile system which made Hamas; existing strategy of targeting Israeli cities and towns in the south largely obsolete. But the other factor was that, apart from Egypt being determined to work with Israel, Iran had largely neglected supplying Hamas with arms.

The reason was Syria's civil-sectarian war after 2011-12 had led to a rift between Sunni Hamas and Shi'ite Hezbollah. Israel's approach was initially 'regime change'. But as the war got more savage and groups such as ISIS emerged, Israeli strategists seemed to have thought Assad staying was the least worst option.

Israel wants neither side to win and both to lose; the more Hezbollah is distracted eastwards and Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs pitted against each other the better it is for them. Israel seem less concerned with ISIS in Syria as with Hamas and with ISIS in Egypt as it started developing a presence in the Sinai jihadi insurgency against Cairo.

Energy security is seen as vital for Israel and interconnected with national security. As a consequence, the tapping and piping of Gaza Marine gas for use in the Israeli market and to supply client states such as Egypt, Jordan and, it is expected, the PA, is a cornerstone of a wider regional security architecture.

This is effectively what UN envoy to the Quartet Tony Blair is getting at when he speaks on the 'long term plan' for Gaza. His spokesman Ariel Ezrahi has made plain the interest there is in a geostrategic version of a 'peace process', one enforced by the Israeli military where necessary, and which would help avert an energy crisis in the region.

Contrary to being a 'diplomat' or 'peace envoy', Blair is most entrusted with advocating the Israeli security aims for 'the wider region' through economic development, much of it hinging on the fate of the Gaza Marine reserves, 60% of which belong to the British BG corporation. Only Hamas remains as a potential security threat.

The strategy is to present Hamas with an a fait accompli: the gas is going to be used and if the armed struggle does not stop, then the rest of the region is going to go on without Gaza-until such time as the decision to face up to the fact it has lost is accepted. This is implicit in everything Blair says on Gaza, though the word 'gas' is never used.

Israel's strategy for Gaza, if not its exact execution, is shared by Washington though the way that Blair went about openly enthusiastically backing the Egyptian coup in 2013 was regarded as an embarrassment. It showed disapproval at the civilian deaths in 2014 as a diplomatic necessity to placate other allies-like Turkey

Turkey's hostility towards Israel is only minimised in proportion to Erdogan's hatred for Assad which is why Israel has a free hand in 2015 after subduing Hamas to now deal with Hezbollah through air strikes or a ground assault in southern Lebanon as it starts to destroy the FSA militias in southern Syria.

Turkey's ally Qatar has temporarily dropped Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood, partly through realising the game in Egypt is over and that, as  ISIS threatens all Sunni Gulf States, there is a need for at least a façade of unity with the others, including Saudi Arabia, which are sheltering behind the US  dominated military effort.

Flashpoint Two: Time to Deal with Hezbollah-Nasrallah's Last Throw of the Dice.

A Third Lebanon War in 2015 would suit Netanyahu so as to destroy Hezbollah's military infrastructure. It would counter Obama's strategy of engaging with Iran on terms he disagrees with. Obama's decision to step up the military effort against ISIS shows he has to achieve decisive results on the ground within a limited time span.

Israel has no interest in the Shi'ite militias gaining ground in Syria if it would mean the pressure is taken off Hezbollah, no matter what impact that would have in the defeat of ISIS. It could mean Hezbollah swing east again. It might feel emboldened enough to take on Israel so as to restore its credibility among Palestinians.

It was shown in a Pew opinion poll of Palestinians that while in 2011, 61% viewed the Lebanese militant group “favorably,” this has declined substantially to 43% in 2013. It's anti-Israeli stance is a currency with less and less purchasing power over the minds of Palestinians as Assad slaughters Sunnis in Syria.

With Hamas and Gaza taking a crushing blow in 2014, it's left to Hezbollah to raise the standard of armed resistance to Israel. Fortune would also favour Israel to smash a decisive blow against Hezbollah before Assad regains complete control over the south of Syria and ISIS gets degraded further in the north.

Within Lebanon, Hezbollah is facing a crisis of popular legitimacy. Its decision to get involved in the sectarian struggle in Syria has threatened to cause blowback into Lebanon itself. This has alienated not only its larger Christian, Druze and Sunni population who are terrified of ISIS getting a foothold there, but Shi'ites too

If Israel picks a fight at the time of its choosing it could well add to Hezbollah's unpopularity. While not doing much for Israel's image in Lebanon ( not that its leaders care ) Hezbollah would be weakened by a fight on two fronts. Nasrallah might calculate, though, that his militia has one use left to Lebanon

The disputed maritime waters between Israel and Lebanon are rich in hydrocarbons and have not been resolved through a peace treaty. Washington, which wants to shore up Lebanon as a functioning Arab democracy, would oppose an unilateral action by Israel to grab the gas of Block 9 in contested waters but Israel has a history of that to the south.

The Noa gas reserves down towards Gaza lies partially in its maritime waters and yet Israel permitted Noble energy to drill and tap it. In August 2014 Hamas was still trying to fire rockets at gas platforms in this offshore region which is why the Israel has invested not only in a maritime iron dome but also in building up its navy.

In 2011 Israel redrew the maritime boundary when it faced threats to its energy security in Egypt as jihadists started to try to blow up gas pipeline infrastructure. Netanyahu is hostile towards Obama for trying to play a balancing role between Israel and Cyprus on the one side and Turkey and Lebanon on the other.

As Washington has come to accept Israel's unilateral dominance over the Gaza Marine reserves and in providing gas to the EU through a pipeline intended to link up with Cyprus and then Greece, Hezbollah MPs in Lebanon in late 2014 were making claims that Israel had been 'stealing' Lebanese oil for 7 years.

Hezbollah's Nabih Berri, the parliamentary speaker, claimed “The Israeli enemy had started drilling for oil more than seven years ago...It is the duty of the government to make it a top priority to preserve Lebanon’s oil resources.” If the Lebanese state could not do that, then it's clear Hezbollah's state within a state military might well try.

Lebanon has a high level of government debt and an energy crisis with Turkey stepping in to keep the country from blackouts by providing power ships off the coast to provide electricity. It is not just Hezbollah backing the Lebanese maritime claims but that did not stop Israel's Moshe Ya'alon claiming this was an Iranian plot.

Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister made plain -"We signed an agreement with Cyprus that is in keeping with its agreement with Lebanon...When we announced our gas drilling, the Iranians and Hezbollah decided that it would be a good excuse for conflict with us." It's good pretext for Israel too

The fact, both the Lebanese government and the US agree the maritime border does not lie to the north as Israel insists, irrespective of Hezbollah's attempt to exploit the dispute for its own political reason. Netanyahu effectively asserted that Israel's 'understanding' was different and needed understanding.
"The maritime border that Lebanon submitted to the United Nations is significantly further south of the border, as Israel understands it. The Lebanese line runs contrary to Israel's border agreements with Cyprus, and Lebanon's own border agreements with Cyprus. We are working towards the demarcation of the border as per international maritime law."
Ultimately, the demarcation line had not been formally agreed upon between Israel and Lebanon because officially a state of war existed still between the two countries because of Hezbollah. Israel has determined it is prepared to use military force to protect its economic exclusion zone ( EEZ) if it is attacked.

As Lebanon would be deemed conveniently 'responsible' for any war effort by Hezbollah in a war with Israel, a conflict would provide the pretext to unilaterally seize the hydrocarbons in the disputed waters as part of Israel's 'security strategy' against having a state hosting a terrorist group benefit from the resources.

So events in Syria are bound to have an impact on Lebanon as Israel waits for the time to pounce. For Hezbollah would pose a threat from southern Lebanon should it emerge victorious in southern Syria would be to use its better stocked armoury of missiles against Israeli gas rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As reported by the Israeli business journal Globes, the skirmish with Hezbollah forces in January 2015 was regarded by Israel as part of an emerging threat to its energy security. The encounter in fact came just days later after threats from Hezbollah as regards Israel's threat to Lebanon's natural resources,
'Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that in any future conflict with Israel he would unleash a new "tie-breaker" weapon in his organization's possession, and would conquer parts of the Galilee. In previous threats, made from the depths of the bunker in which he has hidden since the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah has mentioned the natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean as legitimate targets for his organization. The IDF's working assumption is that Hezbollah received the weapons in question, such as Yakhont shore-to-sea missiles that can cause extensive damage to the platforms and to Israeli vessels, as well as to ports and other vital installations, years ago from Syria'
Hezbollah is not as contained as Hamas is in Gaza and has access to Russian Yakhont missiles which could be used on Israeli gas rigs well within range as well as C-802 anti-ship missiles made in Iran from Chinese designs. Provoking Hezbollah at the right time for Israel would thus achieve a war that would suit it.

A Third Lebanon War would allow Israel to both smash Hezbollah's tunnels and rocket stocks as in Gaza. But it would also enhance the security of gas and oil rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean and so increase investor confidence both in the parts of the EEZ clearly in Israeli coastal waters as well as Lebanon's.

A Third Lebanon War would also be 'well timed' by Netanyahu if it set back Obama's attempts to use diplomacy with Iran to lessen the proxy conflicts across the Middle East where that would work against exclusive Israeli strategic resource interests from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

What a Third Lebanon War would do, if it were anything like the 2006 war, is set back Lebanon's economic recovery and further antagonise Turkey should Israel invariably go beyond air strikes in southern Syria and Lebanon. It would increase Turkey's determination to side with Beirut over disputed maritime waters with Israel.

In turn, a Third Lebanon War would scale up tensions over the unresolved status of Turkish Cyprus between Ankara and Nicosia. This has seen Turkey reject any attempt to drill for gas without taking into account Turkey as a regional partner and Turkey sending an exploration vessel to waters south of Cyprus flanked with warships.

Greece for its part has aligned firmly behind Nicosia in wanting an Israeli-Cypriot-Greek pipeline. Though Greece's ruling party is Syriza, a leftist formation, it is in alliance with a right wing nationalist party and the Greek Foreign Minister, Panos Kammenos, announced plans for joint naval exercises with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt.

Kammenos told reporters on an official visit to Nicosia that “We want peace but we are also ready to respond to any attempt against the national sovereignty or territorial integrity of the broader defense area of Greece and Cyprus, if necessary.” Clearly, that was aimed at Turkey, against which Greece would align with Israel.

The Eastern Mediterranean is boiling over with potential conflicts. If Israel overplays its hand and wades into a war with Hezbollah. it could have destabilising effects and unforeseen consequences across the region. So it is unsurprising Obama is said to be promoting alternatives in Israel to Netanyahu for the Israeli elections.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

ISIS Degraded but Undefeated: How the West's Allies Fell Out.

The online burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS was intended, as are all its savage actions against hostages, to 'sharpen contradictions' in the Middle East and abroad. They knew the killing would make global news and so reveal to the public in Jordan that their air force was a participant in a 'western crusade'.

The US wants the Gulf states to play a role to show that the war against ISIS is supported by its Arab allies in the region. Yet few of them wish to be associated with it for the obvious reason that until 2014 states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding and supporting Sunni militants in Syria against Assad.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at odds with each other since the 'Arab Spring' of 2011 when gas rich Qatar swung its support behind the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt and Islamist forces ranged against Gaddafi in Libya. Britain and France in particular aligned with that for several reasons.

The first was the withdrawal of the US from Iraq and the rise of Sunni democratic Islamists-'the moderates'- presented a chance to reshape the Middle East to suit EU energy diversification agendas and buy good will from the Islamic World. After the bad image caused by Iraq and the 'war on terror' this was deemed imperative.

Turkey's plan for a gas pipeline between Qatar in the Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean was also attractive which is precisely why Iran was intent on backing Assad and why Russia had every interest in blocking that possibility. It also goes towards explaining Western politicians monomania that 'Assad must go'.

This geo-strategy was opposed, however, by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Israel because the prospect of Arab democracy was considered 'destabilising' and would interfere with their rival plans for the strategic control of the region. In particular, Qatari support for Hamas could threaten the goal of tapping Gaza Marine gas reserves.

The coup in Egypt in 2013 restored 'stability' according to those backing it such as the now UN Quartet 'peace envoy' Tony Blair. Unfortunately, it triggered off a backlash among the more radical elements supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and that melded with a nascent uprising in the Sinai Peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen.

The divisions among the Arab states over both Libya and Egypt had an impact on Syria because both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were funding rival jihadi groups against each other as well as in opposition to Assad and the common enemy Iran. This meant ISIS was able to exploit that to gain ground in Syria as the main Sunni force.

While the Gulf states realigned against a threat to all of them surging deeper into Iraq in the summer of 2014, they remain at odds over Libya. Qatar is alleged to be funding Islamist militias while Saudi Arabia is supporting the officially recognised government that is backed by Egypt and contains remnants of Gaddafi's regime.

The brutal fact is that West's allies are not allied with each other which is why they are as wary of ISIS losing just as they are of it winning. Saudi Arabia wants Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria rolled back as much as it does ISIS. But Qatar and Turkey in opposition to Egypt, which they both hate, still want Assad 'to go'.

However, Egypt, Jordan and Israel actually want Assad to stay. For none of these powers have any interest in Turkey or Qatar expanding its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and opposing Israel's strategy to exploit the gas fields in partnership with those of Cyprus for their own mutually beneficial interest.

Turkey, moreover, is hostile to ISIS being defeated because in practice it fears the threat of Kurdish irredentism taking hold in northern Syria and eventually giving traction to demands for a Greater Kurdistan. Israel, on the other hand, has backed the calls for Kurdish independence from Iraq as a buffer against Iranian influence.

Across the Middle East from the Eastern Mediterranean through to the Persian Gulf new geopolitical rivalries and enmities are arising as a consequence of religious based sectarianism, geopolitical struggles over energy resources and supply routes as well as radical opposition to oppressive autocratic regimes.

ISIS: Energy Geopolitics and the Terror Threat

The news today that the US was to scale up its military effort against ISIS reflected partly the public outrage in the US directed against it for having murdered captured aid worker Kayla Mueller. It has come after it became increasingly clear that the West's allies in the region are increasingly unwilling to use their Western bought weaponry in the struggle.

ISIS' public burning alive of its captured Jordanian pilot was intended, as all its savage actions against hostages are, to 'sharpen contradictions' in the Middle East and abroad. They knew the killing would make global news and so reveal to the public in Jordan that their air force was a participant in a 'western crusade'.

The murder had some effect in galvanising the necessary reaction of hatred in Jordan-the two prisoners that wanted in exchange were executed and the rhetoric was ratcheted up in Egypt as well. However, the longed for over-reaction would be unlikely to lead to the Sunni Gulf states committing more of their military to defeating ISIS.

The Power of Oil and Money: ISIS Demands 'Respect' as an Oil State.

Clearly, the US wanted the Gulf states to play a role to show that the war against ISIS is supported by its Arab allies in the region. Yet few of them wish to be associated with it for the obvious reason that until 2013 states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding and supporting Sunni militants in Syria against Assad.

Having ramped up the forces of jihad against Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar fear that in contributing too much towards fighting ISIS they would be portrayed as Hypocrites by those sympathetic to the idea of a holy war against Iran, something used to divert discontent with autocracy outwards.

In ISIS's worldview, the Caliphate they have created is the only true successor to the role abandoned by Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and to the usurper Wahhabi state based in Riyadh that occupies the Holy Lands of Islam in partnership with the Infidel Powers from outside such as the US and Britain.

Despite the evident and inherent stupidity of this messianic conception of the world, it appeals to a number of semi-educated Muslims across the region and in the deracinated cities of the West who are able to regard the suffering and oppression of the one true umma as entirely the consequence of a sinister and evil imperialism.

Like most simplified ideologies, ISIS offers a toxic brand of ideas through which those hating the West and regimes in the region can rationalise those hatreds and act upon them. In this, they are being much helped by the way the Western powers appear to have been almost schizophrenic in their foreign policies in the Middle East.

While the 'War on Terror' was a response to Al Qaida's attack on New York on September 11th 2001, one used by President Bush's administration to launch the war against Iraq in 2003, the War on Extremism in 2015 is a response to a movement which grew out of the catastrophic chaos caused by the Iraq War and the collapse of Syria after 2011.

ISIS was not even considered a major factor in global power politics until it surged deep into Iraq in the summer of 2014 towards Baghdad and so threatened global oil supplies from Shi'ite and Kurdish regions. Republicans in the US and Israel blamed this on Obama wanting to leave Iraq too soon in order to secure his election victory in 2012.

However, ISIS was created far more as the deadly consequence of the invasion of Iraq having brought Sunni and Shi'ite militias into conflict across the Middle East as Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states embarked on a ruthless proxy war with each other. It is not so clear that ISIS does not have its uses to certain regional players.

Any strategy to deal with global jihadi terrorism from the West, especially one based on a military response, was always doomed because the prime source of jihadist funding came not from Iran but from Saudi Arabia. Even with the exploitation of domestic shale oil, Saudi Arabian oil remained an important source of US imports.

Trying to combat ISIS while Saudi Arabia is continually pumping out millions of dollars into 'charities' and organisations promoting an intolerant Wahhabi form of Islam across the world means it is a fight in which the West has one arm tied behind its back. ISIS ideology is actually similar in many respects to the Saudi creed.

Reducing dependence on Saudi oil has changed little in what Michael Klare called the America's 'lethal embrace' of the KSA. The alliance, if anything has been strengthened because the US and Saudis have colluded to keep oil prices low as a means to reduce ISIS revenue from oil sales as well as to use the oil price as a tool of coercive diplomacy

By plunging oil prices low the US and Saudi Arabia hope to use this as a form of economic warfare through also ratcheting up the power of sanctions to damage Russia for its role in opposing Western designs in Ukraine ( and in Syria by backing Assad ) as well as compelling Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

While using oil as a weapon as opposed to going to war to secure oil reserves-as was clear in Iraq-is a more sophisticated way of preserving US global hegemony, the dangers that come from both the developed nations remaining dependent upon Middle Eastern oil has unfortunately in no way abated since the shale oil revolution..

The geopolitics of energy has over-determined Western foreign policies since the 1970s and as the Middle East has become increasingly destabilised by revolutions, coups and wars so too have the Western Powers attempted to react in blundering ways that were powerless to affect the outcome but for which they got the blame for making worse.

In fact, most of the West's allies in the Gulf are absolutist monarchies which are relatively enlightened and open to the world, as in the UAE and Oman, or harshly repressive of any political dissent such as Saudi Arabia or else, as in Bahrain, a constitution monarchy with limited democracy but repressive towards Shi'ite Muslims.

Qatar, the loose canon of the Arab Peninsula, is an absolutist monarchy in which a constitutional referendum in 2003 promised elections by 2013. Instead, Qatar preferred to use its Al Jazeera global news network and finance to promote democracy in other Arab lands first as a way of building a good partnership with the West.

This was much needed. The West after 9/11 Europe had been on the receiving end of some aggressive terrorist acts from European Muslims descended from immigrant populations.They had learnt to detest it viscerally in supporting democracy for Israel, as it oppressed Palestinians, and by supporting secular dictatorships.

ISIS propaganda exploits the 'hypocritical' role of the Western Powers, making much of the fact they appear only 'really' concerned with oil. So ISIS pretends to stands up for 'true Muslims' who want to take the fight to the hypocrites and who demand 'respect' as a state which is based on oil just as much as Saudi Arabia is.

The Chaos of Regime Change and Terrorist Blowback.

As crazy as it appears in retrospect many advocating the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 saw both as part of a revival of the Western tradition of bringing liberal democracy and freedom to other lands; it had done after World War Two and in winning the Cold War and vanquishing global communism.

The invasion of Iraq was meant to knock out Saddam Hussein, allow the 'de-Baathification' of Iraq and install a democracy which would trigger off a domino effect that would destabilise the two neighbouring regimes, the similar Syrian dictatorship to the west and the oppressive 'theocratic tyranny' to the east in Iran.

Nothing of the sort happened. More than that the 'War on Terror' had emboldened Israel to launch its version against the Palestinians as another front on the war against Islamist totalitarianism with the tacit endorsement of President Bush and British PM Tony Blair. That and the Iraq War only radicalised a fraction of Western Muslims even further.

After the London Bombings of 7/7 2005, Britain's 9/11, Blair adamantly insisted that the 'rules of the game were changing'; there would be a 'War on Terror' at home as well as abroad. The implied meaning of there actually having been a game with rules beforehand largely went unchallenged at the time.

At one level, Blair's statement was about trying to use 7/7 as a pretext to ram through Parliament counter-terrorist legislation and build up the security state he wanted. However, at another level it was about the rules of 'engaging' with 'Islamism' as an ideology which could act to 'radicalise' Muslims at home and abroad.

Counter-terrorist laws aside, the rules of 'engaging' with 'the community' in Britain have gone through various revisions according to changing geopolitical circumstances and the rules have been changing ever since 2005. In fact, after Blair departed from Downing Street the rules changed as the 'War on Terror' was dropped as a slogan.

This, and the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008, led to a determination, as yet unsuccessful, to close Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where 'terrorist suspects' on battlefield earth had been abducted and sent to for 'questioning' and 'coercive interrogation'. Including those from countries such Libya.

In 2003, Blair used the 'War on Terror and invasion of Iraq as a means to persuade Gaddafi to relinquish his WMD. In return, the Libyan leader was rebranded as a force for stability who would re-enter the international community as one who would clamp down on Islamists and open up his oil reserves to BP.

Gaddafi's usefulness between 2008 and 2011 was questionable. He would appear to have believed the US and Britain trusted him because of the assistance he had provided in jailing and torturing jihadists who were deemed a global security threat. But Gaddafi's attempts to play off rival powers vying for oil concessions sealed his doom.

Indeed, Blair's collusion with Gaddafi and his repressive state only ensured that the backlash against the Libyan dictator would break out just as he tried to 'liberalise' the regime. His reward was to end up even worse off than Saddam who at least had a trial and was hanged rather than being bludgeoned to death by a baying mob.

The Arab Uprisings of 2011 appeared to gave momentum behind them. The Western Powers decided that, where it suited their strategic resource interests against Russia and Chinese competition, they would support Sunni Islamist democrats as a way of removing dictatorships and so lessening the regional and global support for jihadi terrorists.

This promising new dawn lasted only two years. While Gaddafi was rebranded back into a genocidal tyrant as part of a NATO backed war to oust him and empower 'moderate' Islamists and democrats, Assad proved more resilient in the face of the 'moderate' rebels of the Free Syria Army in Syria as he was able to call on foreign support.

Unlike Gaddafi, Assad ruled over a society that was divided between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims with ethnically distinct non-Arabic Sunni Kurds in the north, Druze, Christians and Yazidis. As the civil war became more savage and the FSA far more ruthless and sectarian, Assad was able to rally those who feared it more than him.

The result in Syria and Libya has been deepening civil war. One of the most important reasons that links both is firstly that where there is a collapsed state and oil up for grabs, Islamist militias dedicated to violence, brutalised by war and opposed to secular dictators are as likely to fight with the West as against it wherever beneficial.

The Western Powers learnt nothing from Iraq when it came to Libya. Where it used military force to help liberate a land with little history of democracy from a dictator, the result was not going to be a functioning democracy but a chaos that was even worse than a dictatorship. Where a state is weak and fractured, democracy means one of two things.

In Iraq it meant sectarian parties and factions and conflict backed by outside powers. The same happened in Libya even though it is completely a Sunni Muslim land. However, by empowering Islamist forces with no history of democratic politics to overthrow Gaddafi, it unleashed militia violence and racial attacks on ethnic minorities.

With the Egyptian coup of 2013, Egypt has pushed out jihadists into Libya where it is continuing a war against them on behalf of the beleaguered government which itself is made up from former exiles chosen by outside powers and remnants of the Gaddafi regime who had defected when they saw Gaddafi was losing control.

Though Sunni majority parts of Syria and Iraq remain the core of the ISIS caliphate, the appeal of the brand seems to have been spreading into regions of lawless anarchy where resentment against the 'usurper' governments is burning. In December 2014  jihadists declared Derna the first town in Libya to officially join ISIS.

As with Syria and Iraq, Libya has become the cockpit of a vicious proxy war between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, all members of the very Arab League that had supported NATO military intervention when the African Union had opposed it and which bear much of the responsibility for the chaos in Syria.

The financial support given by the Gulf states to Sunni militants opposed to Assad not only created the material and recruitment base for ISIS when they switched allegiance after breaking away in the summer of 2013 from the FSA and started to score successes on the battlefield that encouraged others to defect

Prior to that the FSA and ISIS had actually been aligned in fighting the Kurds as ethnic enemies despite the FSA being portrayed as 'moderate' and representing an 'inclusive' democratic ethos. The Kurdish militias accused Turkey of backing ISIS. Turkish officials claimed Assad was backing it against the FSA.

When ISIS rolled into Mosul and an the Western powers started to portray ISIS as a global threat, British Prime Minister Cameron tried to portray Assad as still to blame for funding ISIS as they built their Caliphate on the Mediterranean.  This was largely a lie because ISIS owed far more to Gulf state funding of jihadists.

Assad is alleged to have bought oil from ISIS go-betweens. Yet nothing in that at all detracts from the scale of the aid given to jihadists from the Gulf states in continuity with the funding they had once given the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1990s in their struggle against the Godless Soviet Union and the Afghan communists.

When William Hague accused Assad of "direct responsibility for creating the conditions in which this terrorism can thrive" he was telling a deliberate untruth. Assad's military was brutal and barbaric in its conduct of the war but so too was the FSA which had been previously fighting with ISIS and similar jihadi groups.

ISIS is a direct consequence of blowback from the foreign policy of the Western powers military interventions and the backing given to Sunni jihadists by the West's Gulf allies in their proxy wars from Syria to Iraq. It has spread into Libya where yet another lethal proxy war has taken hold, where the state has collapsed and where oil is the spoil of war.

Moderate and Extremists : The Rules of the Game Change ( Again ).

As for Saudi and Qatari funding it should be pointed out that Washington was, at least, trying to put pressure on both to stop this funding. Both states claimed to have stopped private donors doing so in 2014 when these rather embarrassing facts started to came out more in the media as ISIS started surging into Iraq.

The problem is that defections from rival Sunni militant groups into ISIS appear to have continued up until late 2014, partly as a consequence of the US led bombings. On the other hand, there were reports of defections back then from ISIS, especially of those jihadists from outside Syria who saw ISIS was on a losing streak.

So it is possible that jihadists who had aligned with ISIS and defected could then be recycled as FSA 'assets' once more depending on which forces are gaining the upper hand and in accordance with the geopolitical dictates of the game being played by the regional and global powers. At the moment, it's not clear if Assad 'must go'.

Jihadists who make themselves useful in this game are 'moderate' insurgents and those who are not are 'extremists'; the sliding scale between the two would appear to depend on an ever changing border line and so upon whether a particular Islamist group advances or retards a given set of geopolitical goals.

None of this, of course, is ever going to be admitted as being the case by Western governments. But it quite clear that the potential for plans to 'crack down' on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain are interconnected to the fact the 2013 coup in Egypt made them no longer a useful force and even a potential 'enemy within'.

Qatar has effectively created a lobby group in Britain to rival that of Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood helps disseminate the Sunni democratic 'moderate' worldview. However as its supporters, those like Anas Altikriti would insinuate the sort of reaction Britain gets from 'the Muslim world' depends on not being complicit in repression.