Saturday, 19 September 2015

France's Civilising Mission in Syria and the Evil Russian Bear

'... the message that Vladimir Putin has been sending out as he prepares to take the stage at the UN general assembly later this month: let’s all ally ourselves with Bashar al-Assad – the Syrian president may be a murderous thug, but we shouldn’t let that stand in our way'.
Natalie Nougayrède urges 'the West', as supremely represented by France and its civilising mission at home and abroad not to play Putin's cynical power game in Syria after he intervened to supply Damascus with weapons and Russian military personnel, as well as strengthening air bases on the Eastern Mediterranean.
On the contrary, the West should have taken the moral high ground by bombing Assad's state and military in 2013 and so enable ISIS to roam freely across Damascus and murdering hundreds of thousands of Alawites and Christians because, when France acts, it does so for the loftiest of all intentions.
While claiming Putin's diplomatic intervention in 2013 allowed Obama to "wriggle out of commitment to air strikes" against Assad, after a chemical weapons attack that has not been conclusively proved as the work of Syrian state forces, Nougayrède then sententiously cautions and chides the reading public,
'...let’s put aside naive and wishful thinking. There is no credible sign that Putin is ready to overthrow or replace Assad. Nor was there ever a serious Russian intention to do so, at any point. In the summer of 2012, when the big powers met in Geneva to discuss a Syrian national unity government, Russia made sure that this would not entail Assad’s departure. Russia has consistently shielded the Syrian president – not out of any love for him, but because, after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, he represents Russia’s last foothold in the Middle East: and its best chance to demonstrate western fickleness'.
Western 'lack of resolve' and 'Syria fatigue' may well be surprising. Since 2012 President Hollande seems to have had a remarkable amount of energy in clinching lucrative arms deals with Qatar as a way of ingratiating himself with the gas rich emirate, securing LNG supplies, investments in French housing and infrastructure.
The French embrace of the Gulf state that has, along with Saudi Arabia bankrolled Sunni jihadists, as they butcher and crucify their way through Syria, may not be clear as a humanitarian stance before rest of the world. After all, the call 'Assad must go' was led by Qatar and France in the 2012 Friends of Syria Group.
Convened by Nicolas Sarkozy, a would-be new Napoleon, the 'Friends of Syria' was backed by other states whose record of 'democracy promotion' is not so apparent, most notably Saudi Arabia whose Wahhabi state is a decadent version of the ferocious and militant 'Islamic State' emerging in Syria and Iraq.
The idea that Russia's attempt to shore up Assad is causing the Gulf states to fund groups such as Al Nusra and groups affiliated to Al Qaida is not borne out by facts. The Gulf states and France had geopolitical agendas of their own in demanding 'Assad must go', such as the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline.
Russia's decision to prop up Assad has no comparisons to Kissinger's use of the Khmer Rouge as a “counterweight” to North Vietnam. If anything, it has more in common with Turkey's President Erdogan's tacit and covert help for ISIS, the Islamist version of Pol Pot's revolutionaries, as a counterweight to the PKK Kurds.
But, of course, Nougayrède's selective moral outrage against Russia and Assad ignores what Turkey has been getting up to because it does not fit what can only be called a propaganda mould, in which Putin and Russia are clear evil and France stands out as a potential beacon of "our values" in the world.
For, after all, Turkey is also in NATO and another 'Friend of Syria'. So Erdogan's shady role in Syria has to be downplayed or ignored and put into the Orwellian memory hole while Russia's attempt to bolster Assad is regarded as the height of cynical Kissinger style, Cold War realpolitik.
This is convenient when the aim is to pretend that there is a New Cold War that Russia has started so as to use the moral impetus of the NATO and Western cause against totalitarianism as part of an uplifting propaganda drive that screens out all mention of Western energy geopolitics and interests.
Either the Qatari or the Iranian pipeline would have traversed Iraq and then Syria; it is not just who would get one built but the need to block the other in getting one and so both asserting their regional influence from the Persian Gulf through to the Eastern Mediterranean.
No war, not least a conflict as complicated as Syria's war, is ever only about just one thing such as oil or pipelines. But the geopolitics of energy flows is absolutely crucial in  understanding the stakes in Syria as far as the interests of the competing regional and global powers are actually concerned.
The jihadi movements are effectively funded by dysfunctional Gulf states as they turn a blind eye to it and so give their tacit assent to it. Geopolitical interests aside, for Saudi Arabia in particular it is ever more important to divert internal discontent with a rentier regime outwards towards the Shi'ites and Iran.
The difficulty is that, apart from antagonising Shia Saudis living in some of the main oil producing regions towards the borders with Bahrain, it conjures up the competition from ISIS which is going to exploit Sunni Shi'ite enmities to ratchet up their apocalyptic end-time jihad across the region.
However, religious identity politics is connected to regional power political rivalries between Iran and the Gulf states as well as with Turkey as Erdogan attempts to play 'diaspora politics' in using Sunni Arabs and Turkic peoples in Central Asia and Western China as counters in a geopolitical great game.
The pursuit of power is interconnected with the control of energy flows and pipeline routes not only because of worldwide rapid industrialisation in developing nations. It is also one formidable tool in coercing adversaries diplomatically by threatening their economies if they grow too assertive.
Prating gasbags such as Edward Lucas, in his abysmal The New Cold War, are always ready lambast Russia for doing this, as it indeed does. Yet it is not only Russia but the US and Western powers that are prepared to 'wield the oil weapon' as a form of reconfiguring Great Power relations for their own benefit.
Naturally French politicians and columnists for Le Monde would identify their cause to overthrow evil autocrats with that of all humanity because 'we are the world' and France's identity is bound up with the liberation of certain worthy oppressed peoples everywhere where there exist much coveted resources.
But, in reality, France operates as a state much like many others with pretensions to global power such as Russia, especially in being at the forefront of vying for lucrative bilateral arms ties that enhance their respective spheres of influence in the Middle East where once it rivaled Britain for influence.
Consequently, windbag columnists are apt to project onto other powers such as Russia all the evils that their own state is engaged in doing constantly because it makes them feel good and because they are willingly blind to what France does as a 'Global Player' as they want to believe it is 'better' than Russia.
Hypocrisy is probably an unavoidable part of global power politics. Yet there comes a time when the inability to look in the mirror and see that what France has done is not greatly different from Russia with its constant rival vying for arms deals with General Sisi in Egypt and supporting his new 'war on terror'.
So, despite Nougayrède's earnest entreaties to not play Putin's Great Game in Syria, France is already playing that game in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and Levant as no less of a player itself. Putin's move is just one more in a general geostrategic game of chess on the regional and global chessboard.
France's geopolitical ambitions in bombing ISIS and removing Assad to expedite a reassertion of its power in its former mandate land of Syria are apiece with the solid backing for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in using lethally destructive air power to crush the Shi'ite Houthis in neignbouring Yemen.
The reason, apart from oil and weapons deals, is preventing the prospect that Iran could assert decisive influence over the strategic chokepoint of Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Suez Canal ( and the new one supported by France ) with the Persian Gulf, in addition to the Straits of Hormuz.
However, the Saudi air strikes are killing thousands of civilians and involve the use of cluster munitions which are a savage way of killing civilians that very much rival Assad's deadly barrel bombs in Syria. However, Nougayrède appears to have been curiously very silent about these atrocities for some reason.
In May 2015, Hollande jetted into Riyadh to sign a $7 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia as part of its utmost commitment to a renewed 'war on terror'. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei made plain that Paris had a special and mutually beneficial partnership with the Saudis against the Iranian threat.
“We have common views with regard to the challenges in the region today with Syria, Yemen, Iraq, terrorism ‎and of course Iran’s nuclear program, and there are very large commercial and military ties between our two countries.”
At the Summit between France and Saudi Arabia, where transport, energy and military sales were all up for grabs, France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, chimed “We sense the new [Saudi] team’s desire to move quickly.......We’re working on 20 projects, which may represent several billion euros.”

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Russian Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean and the War in Syria

News that Russia's Vladimir Putin has sent military personnel and hardware to shore up President Assad in Syria has been met with concern by Western leaders. Russian ships laden with arms have passed through the Bosphorus and aircraft with humanitarian supplies have been flown out to Syria.

Putin is increasing his power in the Eastern Mediterranean and interposing himself as a potential third force between the Western states and the states of a region that has seen a scramble for gas since 2010. Needless to say, in Western 'public diplomacy' the energy agenda is seldom even mentioned as a factor.
Both Iran and Russia have a vital interest in propping up Assad to thwart one real aim of the geostrategy behind the Western and Syria National Council demand that 'Assad must go': to remove his and Russia's control over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves in a deal clinched by Putin in December 2013.
The deal infuriated by the Syrian National Council, Turkey and the oily 'Friends of Syria' ( with friends like Saudi Arabia and Qatar pumping millions into the coffers of militant Sunni jihadists it is difficult to see how Syria would need enemies with friends like this ). They had hoped Assad would go quickly after 2011.
The idea Assad could be overthrown as Gaddafi was always unlikely. Syria, like Ukraine, occupies a strategic east-west gas and oil pipeline route. Russia would not want as a supply route linking the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean as this would undermine its use of control over energy flow to the EU.
Whereas in Libya neither China nor Russia nor Iran had vital interests if Gaddafi were toppled that could not be subsequently asserted under another ruler, in Syria if either Qatar or Iran built rival pipelines instead of the other they would enhance their power and status in the region and globally at each other's expense.
By helping Assad consolidate his rule of the regions abutting Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Russia and Iran could block off Qatar and Turkey's rival plans while they enhance their exports of gas via routes not exclusively under the control or complete influence of the West.
Evidently, for Iran these export routes are via the international maritime water ways from around the Persian Gulf via Egypt and the Suez Canal, routes it shares with the Gulf states. However, a pipeline overland linking the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean would vastly undermine Iran's power.
Iran controls part of the Straits of Hormuz already and could always close it and therefore throttle the global economy if it were pushed. This 'strategic trump card' is the one hard hand it holds still in place of nuclear weapons and would be greatly diminished had Assad been removed as the West anticipated.
The nuclear deal went ahead not due to the supposed nuclear threat Iran could have posed. It reflected Washington's acceptance that Iranian cooperation is needed so as to keep ISIS at bay in central Iraq. The possibility of Assad really 'going', as once anticipated by the West is also not on the cards in the short term.
Putin is now rubbing that in by giving Assad military assistance in much the same way Washington, and ferociously anti-Russian states like Poland, are giving Ukraine military help in the Donbass; except that everybody claims to hate ISIS while globally many states are not especially pro-Kiev.
After all, ISIS threatens global oil supplies not only to many Western economies present and future but also the East Asian economies, most obviously China's. ISIS has consolidated its hold over eastern Syria where most of its oil lies and in north west Iraq. The Western allies also have contradictory ambitions.
Russia's move to shore up Assad is part of his 'public diplomacy' in putting himself at the head of a counter terrorism drive against energy rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of whom undeniably can be said to sponsor 'terrorists' in the shape of jihadi militants. At the same time it increases his standing in Egypt.
Russia's arms export markets are one reason. The other his strategy to expose Western prating and double standards over Syria, as they had no problem in tacitly accepting Sisi as leader in Cairo after the 2013 coup and so, logically, there should be no reason not to accept Assad as a counter terrorist leader.
Russia wants to enhance its standing in Cyprus; fears of Turkey's belligerence over gas drilling is has ked Putin to emphasise Russia's role as an honest broker as Greece and Turkey, NATO members both, shift apart once more over Cyprus and Athens rebels against Germany over the euro and austerity policies.
The simple fact is the Cold War alliances are slowly disintegrating and becoming more complicated by the revival of older historical antagonisms; ethnic-sectarian enmities, nationalism and the revived role of religious allegiances as the two successor states created out of the Ottoman Empire-Iraq and Syria-crumble.
The reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria were troubling, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. “I am concerned about reports about increased Russian military presence in Syria,” Stoltenberg said. “That will not contribute to solving the conflict.”
What Stoltenberg means is that Russia's backing for Assad would not solve the conflict in the way NATO representatives such as himself would like in so far as he means the the 'right' rebels of Division 30 and others being shoved on the grand chessboard as counters to Russian influence in Syria.
The absurdity of NATO's position is clear; Putin is attacked for backing Assad while Turkey's Erdogan is backing Sunni jihadists in ever more desperate attempts to remove Assad'. Putin is denounced as a vile warmonger for backing the Donbass militias against Kiev, but not Erdogan's policy on Syria.
Turkey was less interested in ISIS losing than with the Kurdish PKK gaining ground in northern Syria ( Rojava ) and the Kurdish cause of independence setting off irredentist momentum within south-east Turkey. Increasingly paranoid about this he took a fatal gamble in starting to bomb PKK positions in Syria.
Erdogan's brinkmanship was about rallying Turkey behind him against domestic opponents, including the HPD, which backs more Kurdish autonomy after elections failed to give him a clear majority in the Turkish Parliament. A NATO state is backing forces in Syria that other members are actually fighting against.
NATO would seem no longer fit for purpose and Turkey is clearly no longer worthy of being a NATO member if were really were about 'democracy promotion' and defending 'the West' or 'our values'. A military organised to fight the Cold War has morphed into an organisation dedicated to advancing other goals.
One of the most important ambitions is energy security, though this is usually put out in 'public diplomacy' terms as a sort of interesting sideline NATO may well have to factor is as opposed to an essential geopolitical goal it had during its 'nation building' ventures in Kosovo and Afghanistan
Just as Erdogan is posing as neo-Ottoman champion of Sunni Muslims to project prestige and power in regions where pipeline ambitions are a vital influence, so too now is Putin championing the rights of diaspora Russians and Christian Orthodox believers in Syria. 50,000 Syrian Christians applied for asylum in Russia.
A report has revealed that Putin was praised in a letter sent to the Kremlin that called him a “powerful factor for global peace and stability”. The West was rounded on, apparently, for supporting terrorists whose aim is “to eliminate our presence in our homeland.” This has barely been mentioned in the West.

The Lost Opportunity of 2012-The Syrian War

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012”
The news that Russia wanted a diplomatic solution and for Assad to step down as part of a negotiated transition in 2012 is no surprise any more than its being ignored by the Western Powers, especially Britain and France. Both powers had aligned very closely back then with Qatar's policy of backing Sunni rebels.
The Guardian reported today,
'On 22 February 2012 he was sent to meet the missions of the permanent five nations (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) at UN headquarters in New York by The Elders, a group of former world leaders advocating peace and human rights that has included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan 
“The most intriguing was the meeting I had with Vitaly Churkin because I know this guy,” Ahtisaari recalled. “We don’t necessarily agree on many issues but we can talk candidly. I explained what I was doing there and he said: ‘Martti, sit down and I’ll tell you what we should do.’“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”
The reason was back then, far more than it is in 2015, a product of Britain and France seeking to pose as champions of Sunni democracy against dictatorship and to clinch lucrative arms deals and gas deals with Qatar. Both Qatar and Turkey had planned for Assad 'to go' when he rejected their gas pipeline plan.
A gas pipeline that linked the Persian Gulf with the Eastern Mediterranean and hence Qatari gas directly via a land route to Europe would have vastly reduced energy dependence upon Russia. It would have removed the potential threat Iran poses to the oil and gas tanker routes that go via the Straits of Hormuz too.
Russia is bound to defend Assad and shore up a consolidated state in and around Damascus and Latakia and Assad's home territory along the Eastern Mediterranean. On the geopolitical chessboard concerning energy, Russia would retain the offshore gas drilling concession granted in December 2013.
While Assad's forces were brutal in trying to crush protests and armed opposition, the Sunni opposition had by 2012 been hijacked by Sunni jihadists bankrolled by the Gulf states. But the US had planned on destabilising and overthrowing Assad long before as revealed by Wikileaks cables released in 2011.
Whether Russia could have prevailed upon Assad to step down is unclear. What is clear is neither the US nor Britain or France were interested, especially not the old colonial mandate powers whose leaders, Cameron, Sarkozy and Hollande, have regarded the Middle East as a region where they shall determine events.
Syria was becoming increasingly unstable for many reasons leading up to 2011: overpopulation, a succession of years of drought and water shortage as a consequence of climate change depleting oil reserves and high fuel prices and an ineffectual autocratic government.
However, the reason it has collapsed into anarchic chaos and bloodshed is due to regional and global power political players vying for influence and control over a crucial geopolitical east-west position between Iraq and the Gulf region and the Eastern Mediterranean. Peace is difficult as no side wants to back down.
Britain and France would not want to antagonise Qatar by engaging in any diplomacy in which the demand 'Assad must go' is not central, even if they have included the six month stay on provision. Britain has bound itself closely in mutual military and security establishment ties to Qatar.
Qatar, as late as March 2015, was trying to use its money and funneling of weapons into detaching Al Nusra from Al Qaida. Before they had been prepared to support any effective Sunni militant group in opposition to Shia militias backed by Iran. Yet Al Nusra has committed numerous atrocities against civilians in Syria.
Thousands of Syrian civilians are set to continue dying or leaving as refugees or as migrants from camps in neighbouring lands as Turkey and Lebanon travelling westwards. A large part of the blame lies with the Gulf powers and with Britain and France in failing to forcefully push for diplomacy with Russia and Iran.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Egypt's War on Terror : Resource Wars, the Security State and the Savage Threat of ISIS.

Egypt's New War on Terror

Egypt has branded itself as a staunch leader in a second 'war on terror'. This one followed on the from the failure of the 2011 "Arab Spring", a chain of uprisings throughout the MENA states against old Cold War era nationalist autocracies that could no longer cope with economic problems and high food prices.

A full scale insurgency led by ISIS exists in the east of Egypt in Sinai and to the West in Libya. But the war in Egypt is also a longer term consequence of the economic problems caused by overpopulation, increased fuel prices, Bedouin anger and the crushing of a shaky democracy by the military 'deep state' in 2013.

Sisi's coup was deemed necessary by those like Tony Blair in order to preserve the "stability" as the Morsi government proved itself too bungling and incompetent to do anything immediate to overcome Egypt's economic problems or deliver the security needed to a simmering revolt in Sinai.

Truly the 2011 "Arab Spring" was the turning point at which history failed to turn. The fall of Mubarak was regarded as giving Arab democracy a chance. But the Egyptian deep state and the Muslim Brotherhood both saw it as a chance to make it a brutal power contest between them which only the army could win.

As a consequence of coup against Morsi 'stability' by 2015 means arbitrary imprisonment, executing Muslim Brotherhood leaders and suppressing journalism and 'collateral damage' through the heavy handed use of US made Apache helicopters shooting up villages in Sinai where radical Muslim Brothers fled.

The Egyptian junta wants to stop journalists covering the war in the east so as not to frighten off tourists who were again targeted by Islamist militant at ancient sites such as Luxor. Egyptian security forces are working flat out to prevent the insurgents bombing Red Sea resorts near Sinai.

But also the true scale of the war and violence being ratcheted up is a danger to global investor confidence in Egypt as insurgents have acted to blow up gas and oil pipelines. Media outlets in the West have only in 2015 started asking if there is a full blown insurgency but the reality has existed since 2014.

The Egyptian generals took a tremendous risk in overthrowing Morsi's government and crushing the protests of 2013 with such bloodshed, the better to have a real decisive battle with Islamists once and for all. It has scotched the chances of coopting Islamists into a democratic framework.

What remains is a grim battle between the Egyptian state and the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood which the Western states have complained about publicly but not ceased to tacitly accepted behind closed doors as the price to be paid for preserving key interests from lucrative arms deals to gas.

Resource Conflicts: Egypt, Israel and Hamas as Partners for Peace Through War on ISIS.
The EU's quest for energy diversification is an important reason for mealy mouthed waffle from European worthies about the junta's approach to a 'war on terror'. While 'engaging' with the MENA by accepting the need for migrants, EU leaders are, at the same time, are stoking up anger and bitterness in the region.

This is not only true with the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, backed in Turkey by Erdogan's government and having prominent supporters among the Muslim diaspora in the West, but also with Hamas, an extreme jihadist paramilitary and political movement which rule's in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

As the insurgency has developed into a full scale war in Sinai, with F 15 bombers being used to bomb jihadist positions in North Sina just as they have in Libya, only Egypt's decision to try and seal the border between Sinai and Gaza has prevented ISIS gaining further ground in a new war against Hamas.

The Egyptian strategy of sealing in Gaza after the coup removed Morsi, who was sympathetic towards the cause of Hamas,however was originally intended as part of a co-operative plan to secure Israel's borders against Bedouin attacks from the Negev desert and to assist in Israel's air,land and sea blockade of Gaza.

Containing Gaza was not merely about Israel's 'war on terror' in the sense of Hamas's rocket attacks into the Jewish state but also about two other things. The first is to push it into a position of such intransigent fanatical hatred against Israel that it could never be regarded anywhere as a partner for peace.

Unless Hamas demilitarised in response to Israeli military assault in the three wars since it won the elections in 2007 it could be expected to play no part in benefiting from Gaza Marine gas alongside the Fatah led West Bank which is recognised as a peace player in regional and global diplomacy.

That suited Israel's ambitions to become a regional energy hegemon because it could use Gaza Marine gas to pipe towards its two regional security partners in both Egypt and Jordan, both of which have been threatened with a looming energy crisis, power black outs and rising Islamist militancy.

The second aspect of Israel's war against Gaza, energy geopolitics, is seldom mentioned in western media commentary of the conflict, which tends to reduce it to a long standing ethnic conflict as opposed to one now made even more protracted and intractable by the resource that could make Gaza rich.

The recent discovery in August 2015 of huge Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves in addition to Israel's could well change the balance away from Israel leading the way on energy exports westwards but it it also could lead Israel to be more determined to secure its gas field from Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks

The Israeli navy has not only been beefed up with naval frigates and the development of a 'maritime iron dome' it has started  training exercises designed to deal with ISIS or Hamas attacks on gas rig infrastructure. To the north, Hezbollah's Yakont missiles are considered a major threat to energy security

A war with Hezbollah could be imminent as Israel seeks to strike in order to demilitarise Hezbollah as well as try to permanently remove its usefulness to Iran now that the nuclear deal with Iran might not be overturned in 2016 even with a Republican administration in Washington.

Iran could soon be exporting gas to Western states and elsewhere in the near future as could Egypt should the EU make any more whiny complaints about human rights, something that could of course upgrade Israel's importance as a gas rich democracy that energy hungry Germany values as strategic partner.

Germany under Merkel desperately wants to reduce the sort of trend towards more dependence upon Russian gas as signified by the Nord stream pipeline that was cliched as an energy deal by former Chancellor Schroeder when Putin was seen as a strategic partner for peace and prosperity himself.

Germany has ramped up its arms deals with both Sisi in Egypt and with Israel, with its engineers working with the Israeli navy to protect its natural drilling sites in the Eastern Mediterranean. Germany has pledged itself to defending a state loathed by the Muslim migrants it sees as a handy migrant force.

With Turkey at logger heads with Egypt over both the coup of 2013, the Gaza War in 2014 and a proposed 'peace pipeline' that could include Israel but exclude Turkey, Erdogan could use diapora politics to stir up trouble in Germany by lambasting "Islamophobia" and its deals with Israel and Egypt.

There are rumours afoot of an Aphrodite-Egypt pipeline and new startling revelations to come that could make Ankara very anxious if it starts to get its interests nudged aside by Egypt, especially as both are engaged in a shady proxy power struggle over Libya and its resources.

Hamas Remakes itself as a Strategic Partner for Peace 

Throughout 2015 ISIS has proved able to gain ground in Libya and exploit the proxy war there as in Syria and the Egyptian 'war on terror' in Sinai as well as make inroads into Gaza where Hamas is regarded by ISIS operatives as weak in an area still devastated by the 2014 war and lack of rebuilding.

Hamas has found itself in the summer of 2015 face with a decaying Gaza and having to resist the threat of ISIS which has started to carry out attacks against Hamas officials it reviled as 'tyrants' and so attempted to kill through car bomb attacks after it beheading Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk in Syria.

Hamas has had to bizarrely in 2015 tried to reposition itself as a responsible counter terrorism force in Gaza against ISIS which has continued to gain recruits despite claims to the contrary by its spokesmen who want to prove they rule Gaza while ISIS aims to prove that it cannot in fact do that.

The grim irony is that Israel in the summer of 2014 reduced whole areas of Gaza to rubble as part of its ongoing 'war on terror' against Hamas whom Netanyahu declared is 'the same' as ISIS. Now Israeli strategists are talking of having Hamas as a form of 'moderate' rebels to keep ISIS in check.

Hamas basically had nowhere to turn to because Qatar abandoned it after the 2013 coup in Egypt and growing sectarian war across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, meant Iran started to drop its support for a Sunni jihadist insurgent group and party by 2014. 

So Hamas could well now face accusations that Hamas is really in league with Israel, an accusation to be countered by the one that posits ISIS as a creation of Israel because Israel is so incredibly clever in getting lots of presumably less clever people to commit stupid actions on its behalf. 

It could well be that Meshal's recent not so secret behind the doors diplomacy with the well known man of peace, Tony Blair, is about trying to resurrect Hamas as a force for stability and partner for peace with Israel should ISIS really become a substantial rival threat to both itself in Gaza and so Israel.

The Spillover of Conflict Westwards from the Syrian War

What is disturbing, in the context of the 'migrant' or refugee crisis, is the way the Western Powers Britain and France, but also Germany, are using it, along with humanitarian advocates, to claim the 'West must do more to help' Syria. France and Britain stress drone strikes against ISIS; Germany taking more migrants.

Typical was this claim, in the Guardian, from one humanitarian working in Lebanon that 'People fleeing death at the hands of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and Islamic State are dying needlessly because of the west’s indifference and inertia'. Yet the Western states have not been indifferent.

The assertion would appear to suggest people are dying in Syria because 'the West' is not doing enough to 'stop the war'. Either that or there are many refugees dying in Lebanon because the West is not taking enough. If the West is to be criticised it should be for what it has actually done not what it has not.

The idea that the West must 'do something' was one of the main reasons Britain and France went into Libya in 2011 and the demanded 'Assad must go'. The role of France and Britain has been very shabby over Syria because they aligned so firmly with the Gulf powers instead of trying to rein in their funding of jihadists.

The danger is now the Western Powers will take more migrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq while also taking steps to ratchet up the war without stressing the primacy of political solutions that do not make Assad's departure the precondition for negotiations. The consequences of that could be lethal.

The problem is that no attempt at good deeds might ever be forgiven while the Western Powers drone on in Syria and Iraq. Syrian emigres will surely demand in the West 'something is done' but they might not like it if the war intensifies and drags in the Western Powers further using further air power.

The assumed cowardice of trying to win wars using remote control drones and closely aligning with Saudi Arabia and Qatar could well breed politico-religious discontent among certain sections of 'the Muslim community in the West'. The conflict shows every possibility of spilling over into Lebanon and Turkey.

With a burgeoning population swelled by refugees, Lebanon's own social system is set to be put under greater strain. As in the 1970s and with the Palestinian diaspora being kept in refugee camps, there is potential for militants jihadists to indoctrinate and recruit in Lebanon and Turkey and elsewhere.

The spectre of Lebanon's delicate peace since 1990s fracturing along sectarian lines is quite possible, not least as the series of heatwaves, in the years running up to the Syrian uprising and civil war in 2011, saw record temperatures, drought and water shortages. Food insecurity and power black outs are growing.

While Turkey and Lebanon control their water, the PKK under Ocalan was aligned in the 1980s with Assad as a way of counter balancing and threatening Turkey's control of the Taurus mountain region from which water flows down into the Euphrates river. Conflicts over water are raising tensions.

The PKK has affirmed it could attack dam construction sites in the region in revenge for Erdogan's decision to use the 'war on terror' against ISIS as a pretext to degrade the PKK in Syria fighting ISIS through air strikes. A full scale civil war in south-east Turkey is yet another spillover effect of the Syria War.

In turn this makes the job of the Western states over Syria ever more fraught with danger. With large Kurdish and Turkish diaspora communities already demanding the German government takes a stand on or with Turkey on terms they regard as right, ready to condemn Berlin for not doing so, violence is in the air.

There is one certainty: if the Western states seek to make all the world's problems their own through mass migration in the context of wars they hold a responsibility for having made worse, or, in the case of Iraq in 2003, having started, a new epoch of intensified violence and terrorism could become very real.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Looming Crisis on the Arabian Peninsula

The root of this trouble is an ongoing failure to define a “war on terror”. Calling an embryo caliphate “an existential threat to Britain’s national security”, as has Cameron, is not just an absurdity. It implies a government with no confidence in the resilience of the British state against a genuine military threat. -Simon Jenkins
The root of the reason that the "war on terror" cannot be defined is precisely because has not been not primarily only "war on terror". The "war on terror" is pretext for justifying intervening and scaling up the drone and air power wars in lands where strategic resource interests are at stake.
This is as true of Syria as it was in the decision back in 2003 to invade Iraq. Just as in 2003, in 2015 there are real concerns about the stability of Saudi Arabia, not least as ISIS has started showing an growing ability to menace not only Yemen but, increasingly, Saudi Arabian oil production plants.
The Saudi war against Houthi led Yemen is not only part of a strategy to roll back Shi'ite forces, backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah and covertly by Iran, but also to reaffirm Riyadh's preeminent position as the defender of Sunni Arab Islam. It is a means to divert discontent onto an 'existential enemy'.
Saudi Arabia reaffirmed also in August 2015 that 'there is no place for Assad in the future of Syria,” a position echoed by Hollande yesterday when he blamed only Assad for the chaos in Syria. This despite the fact the Saudis are still pumping petro dollars into the coffers of jihadists attacked by their US ally.
This insane contradiction can only be explained by resource interests. While Saudi Arabia wants to check the extension of Iranian influence westward in Syria by whatever means possible, the Western powers are more interested in keeping oil flowing to help lower oil prices and kick start the global economy.
Just as it was only the surge of ISIS into Iraq in 2014 and the threat it posed to Iraqi oil reserves that got Obama to take it seriously, the effective control over Syrian oil reserves has meant both Assad and the other rebel groups are now having to pay ISIS for oil vital for running generators and farming.
With the catastrophic impact of recurrent droughts, a consequence of the full impact of global heating starting to take effect, ISIS have managed to thrive in the chaos as the survival of the most ruthless force allows in what has been called 'combat darwinism' in a land wracked by brutal struggles over resources.
Saudi Arabia has needed higher oil revenues to buy land in places such as Ethiopia simply to secure its food supply, it flooded the global market with oil, partly to compete with US shale oil but also as part of a strategy backed by the US of driving oil prices low and so destroying the Russian economy.
As well as punishing Russia for backing Assad, Saudi Arabia had wanted to put pressure on Iran which, until the nuclear deal, was set to remain under sanctions. But fearing the US was no longer dedicated to staunchly defending its interests, it has grown increasingly paranoid, with reason, about its security.
If oil prices do not rise again then a major source of its ability to buy off internal dissent is destined to vanish and so it is frantically trying to push an ever risky strategy of ratcheting up its proxy war against Iraq as well as bankrolling jihadists in Syria and Iraq as well as invading Yemen.
The impact of the financial crisis and economic slowdown in China and the cost of the war in Yemen means the kingdom’s foreign exchange earnings could be wiped out within four years and this could lead to food insecurity causing the same sort of political turmoil as happened elsewhere in the MENA states in 2011.
That included Yemen where drone strikes have been used by the US in a way that also killed civilians and swelled the jihadi recruitment base. There is a danger of them carrying their war into the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia where most Saudi Shi'ites live.
The huge Ghawar oil field lies in the Eastern Provincehome to 'an aggrieved Shia minority' that could rise up should Saudi Arabia's economy start to tank substantially. Saudi Hezbollah remains a threat and a greater risk should the Yemen War be the Saudi version of Iraq.
The potential for an ever widening conflagration across the Greater Middle East makes fears and concerns of 'mission creep' seem footling. There is the chance not only of greater military involvement in Syria but also full scale crisis in a nation crucial for the global economy.
The failure to use Western influence long ago to advise Riyadh to reform and the insane attempt to align with its strategy on Syria, which made an uprising into a brutal geopolitical conflict over east-west pipeline routes, was determined by short sighted energy geopolitics.
This is why the Western powers are still hedging their bets on the removal of Assad and the destruction of ISIS using technological means and air power. The nuclear deal with Iran was itself partly based on the realisation that another secure energy source might be needed.
The Western Powers hope they can hem in ISIS while aligning with Turkey so as to preserve the possibility of reducing dependence on Russia for oil and gas, getting other supplies gaining eventual pipelines from the Persian Gulf supplying oil in future and Kurdish oil via Turkey.
Yet the Western powers also realise at present that Kurdish oil running via Turkey could fracture the Iraqi state and empower ISIS. While Turkey is as concerned to 'wipe out' the PKK in Syria after it joined in airstrikes against ISIS in a way that has benefited ISIS.
Unless the ever more dangerous global great game for energy security is understood, then there is no chance of grasping why Western policy has been so contradictory and blundering and why the Western Powers are being sucked into conflicts that seem far away.
“As powers continue to play the Great Game 2.0, natural resources sit at the heart of everything. Every negotiation, every war, every battle of words unfolding in the world, oil and gas have been the one common denominator. Everything else is pretty much fairy dust” .

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Germany, the Migrant Crisis and the Pivot Eastwards

The Syria crisis in 2015 has conclusively spilt over into Europe in the summer of 2015 with migrants, mostly from Syria, spilling out of trains waived through from Keleti station in Budapest directly into Austria and then Germany where PM Merkel had said she would welcome migrants 'unconditionally'.

Orban's offloading of migrants into Germany, after Merkel proclaimed she was willing to take a large number of Syrian migrants, as she had already taken so many from a region ravaged by wars, was part of a strategy to undermine the German approach or get stronger fortified borders to the south.

Arguments have raged as to whether call the people entering Europe 'migrants' or refugees or asylum seekers given that so many fleeing the war in Syria have first passed through Turkey, then Greece, undergoing an economic crisis of its own, through Serbia and Hungary on to Germany.

The difference between Merkel and Orban is that the latter holds to a nationalist view of national sovereignty. Germany, however, seems to have embarked on a non-violent yet tacit form of 'emotional blackmail' to get other EU states to share a burden few of them apart from Sweden seem to want.

Germany's New Hard-Soft Power Role

Germany's guilt for World War Two and being the representative of that is nasty and evil during the Third Reich has led to it forthrightly declaring itself on a global mission to save the world. The idea of Germany representing the entire world and the progress of all 'humanity' has deep roots in its culture.

The trend towards solving the world's problems through determined humanitarian state policy human rights has offered one rationale for the extension of Western power into the Greater Middle East and post-Soviet space. Apart from US 'hard power', it is also a very European and German project.

Since the 1990s Germany started to take part militarily in 'nation building' work carried out by the West in Afghanistan. The taboo on mentioning resources or the geopolitical benefits of the TAPI pipeline was broken by one politicians who was promptly sacked for suggesting it was, in fact, a rationale for war.

Partly this is to do with Germany's huge and central economic role as the Great Power in the EU with a 'soft power' agenda to promote universal human rights and liberties everywhere from Ukraine to Syria that conceals harder headed realpolitik calculations and the geopolitics of east-west energy flows

Germany was also fairly keen that  'Assad must go' at the outset of the Syrian War in 2011 but  played a weak role. However, the Ukrainian crisis and outbreak of civil war in 2014, itself partly a failed attempt to draw Ukraine and Crimean gas into the EU's sphere of control, has made Turkey all the more vital.

Germany tends to hope it would be respected if regarded as a benevolent power by taking migrants, as if that would save it from any enmity directed against it from those always ready to point the finger accusing 'the West' of being completely to blame for state collapse and violence-with some reason.

In particular, the chaos and carnage in Syria is being laid at the feet of the Western Powers who from the outset of the crisis swung behind Turkey and Qatar as 'Friends of Syria' determined to overthrow Assad without thought that the consequences would turn out be be as disastrous as in Iraq.

The problem is the EU power's  foreign policy is based on a fatal and ultimately weak mixture of greed for resources, needed to underpin the high octane consumerism, and guilt at the consequences that has had through the tacit acquiescence with autocratic regimes needed to uphold geopolitical interests.

This is not so much of a problem for a state such as Orban's Hungary which has aligned closely with Putin's Russia over energy ties, not least because his attempt to use Russia's diaspora to exert political influence is emulated by Orban, especially with Ukrainian paramilitary threats to ethnic Hungarians

Germany Pivots East.

Germany contains a very large and prominent Turkish and Kurdish diaspora population as well as an increasing number of Syrians. The willingness to stand up for Syrian migrants has as much to do with a compassionate state policy as with the supposed need for migrants to prop up an ageing population.

The assumption would appear that Germany's population needs fresh blood where the drive to survive is no longer expressed itself such radical actions as reproducing children. Indeed, the whole business of procreation is to be left to those in poorer lands such as Syria where civilisation is sadly collapsing.

In none of this is there any real sense that the Syrian catastrophe is, in part, caused by climate change and the impact of richer nations enjoying high octane consumer lifestyles that involve jetting to Tuscany driving SUVs or having holidays on the beaches where dead migrants get washed up. 

Climate change caused disastrous droughts in Syria in the run up to the 2011 uprising. The migrant issue is the first stage in an unfolding crisis of civilisation caused by over-dependence upon oil and gas and so increasingly pathological proxy struggles over oil and gas transit routes.

Whether it was wise for Merkel to encourage Syrian migrants to risk getting to Germany, despite the risks of dying at sea on flimsy boats and no common EU policy on dealing with them is questionable. But there are, paradoxically, still echoes of the German's imperial past within the humanitarian quest.

Germany in the run up to the 1914 war had grand geopolitical ambitions to be a power in the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire crumbled and Germany required larger export markets and access to the oil of what was back then the Ottoman province of Mesopotamia via the 'Baghdad Railway'.

A century later the disintegration of the two successor states created by Britain and France after the defeat of Imperial Germany in 1918 has once more opened up the possibility of Germany and Turkey aligning closer as part of a strategy to reconfigure the Greater Middle East for resource interests.

While Germany has expressed displeasure at Erdogan using the war against ISIS as a pretext to bomb the PKK Kurdish militias, it has cautiously backed Erdogan's Turkey for absorbing most of the migrants as well as identifying its regional power ambitions as an alternative route to Russia for gas.

Until the Syrian uprising in 2011 went wrong, Germany, as with other EU powers, had hoped for the possibility of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline via Syria which would connect the Persian Gulf with the Eastern Mediterranean until the country descended into utter carnage and ISIS arose as a force by 2014

This has already led to mounting ethnic and sectarian tensions in Berlin between German- Turkish Kurds and others demanding both greater support for Erdogan and other sympathetic to the ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood, also big Sunni movement pitched against Assad in Syria.

If Germany supports Erdogan too much it runs the risk of seriously annoying PKK supporters whose organisation is technically classified as a 'terrorist' group. If it does nothing to help Syrian Sunni Muslims, it stands to be berated by groups sympathising with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Germany's Role in Egypt.

“Political Islam is not the same as radical Islamism.”-Guido Westerwelle 

Merkel's shift towards courting the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany after 2011 was a result of its apparent shift towards the idea of accepting democracy and the strategy of aligning with Qatar, set to be a source of LNG imports, and to win favour with Muslims in the MENA states.

This followed on from the fears of Islamist terror plots being hatched on German soil and directed against the US and European allies and the geographical impact that the Schengen area agreements had on effectively extending Germany's borders down towards the Mediterranean coast.

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle had worked with Erdogan in Turkey to help define what Muslim Brotherhood politic during the Arab Spring should, in theory, mean; namely,“to abstain from violence, and to profess democracy, the rule of law, pluralism just like peace at home and abroad.”

Unfortunately for Germany's attempts to reach out to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, as in Syria, the tenacity of the old regime and national security states fought back against the Muslim Brothers with a degree of consent from the population which feared it was too domineering and dangerous.

The Egyptian coup of 2013 and the machine gunning dead of Muslim Brotherhood protesters with only token condemnation was bound to lead to a backlash against what Islamists in the region and in Europe loathe more than anything else: the hypocrisy and the double standards of  'the Western other'.

Germany has effectively colluded with state repression and the killing of civilians in selling weapons to Sisi's military junta and Saudi Arabia which Merkel is on record as insisting on calling a 'vital and legitimate tool" of Germany's foreign policy. The Muslim Brothers worldwide would disagree.

Even so, Germany's special relationship with Israel, a consequence it is thought of Holocaust guilt alone, also is deeply interconnected to its arms ties with Tel Aviv and search for another source of pi gas from a 'peace pipeline' from Israel's untapped huge gas reserves running via Cyprus.

Professor Dr Friedberg Fluger, an energy security expert and former Deputy Defence Minister in Merkel's first government, regards a pipeline running from Cyprus via Turkey, and linking up with an oil oil and gas network that would link Turkey with Azerbaijan's and Iraqi Kurdistan's pipelines west.

The Prospect of Blowback 

There is no reason to suppose Syrian or Iraqi migrants would not be at first grateful to get their human right to migrate to a place where they deserve to get a slice of the global pie of wealth denied them. But it is also highly questionable they have any especial reason to be permanently grateful to Germany

In both Iraq and Syria weakness tends to be despised in lands only ever held together by physical force of arms an a security apparatus. Removing the dictatorship, as in Iraq or Syria, has led to a rise in ethnic hatreds and sectarian conflicts instead of secular democracy, harmony and compromise.

The failure to hold Israel to account for war crimes in Gaza, itself partly a consequence of a strategy to prevent Hamas threatening the tapping and piping of Gaza Marine gas, is bound to rouse anger and the prospect of 'transferable grievances' across the Muslim World being channeled back West.