Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Insights: The EU and the Middle East

(Note: This analyst speaks some Arabic and prefers the term “Daesh” for referring to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Other outlets use ISIL or ISIS or even the term “caliphate.”)
It seemed like only a few months ago that the EU leader's military agenda was more about Scandinavian concerns with Russian military jets in their airspace or Russian involvement in the Ukraine. Russia was being accused of shooting down a civilian airliner. Today EU leaders are laser-focused on the Middle East. This analyst really doesn’t see mainland China invading Taiwan or Japan. Venezuela and Colombia are not likely to go to war soon. Filipino Islamic militants still hold Canadian hostages but that is not all-out war. So the conflict in the Middle East remains the hotspot of greatest concern. But this conflict with Daesh (essentially an extreme Wahhabi sect) is actually being fought in many places around the world.

Blue Angels over Annapolis 32535

The waves of refugees pouring into Europe are mostly the result of ongoing war in the Levant, which includes Syria, Lebanon and Iraq among other regions. This everyone understands. Yes, some Albanians and others are on the move, mostly in hopes of a better job or any job. Some Afghanis have every right to claim refugee status, part of their nation also suffers under the strict hand of the Taliban. Too many of the refugees hold Syrian passports, whether valid or excellent forgeries of Syrian passports. The refugee problem calls for greater military and diplomatic efforts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Without a doubt war has arrived back in Europe. The tragic events in Paris this year (January and November) are not simply crimes committed with knives or small arms. The AK-47 is an assault rifle and should not be in the hands of civilians. U.S. public schools have understood this for years but a Republican-controlled Congress still tolerates the needless slaughter there. The U.S. public will probably not even demand a change in the status of assault weapons after Daesh fighters make their presence known at some U.S. public forum. Actually, The two that opened fire at Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas appear to have been Daesh-inspired Islamic militants. North America or U.S. interests aboard will remain targets, there can be no doubt about that. Unfortunately there is a method to this madness.

The vests worn by suicide bombers are also military weapons, not some self-defense tactic. There are apparently instructions for making these devices all over our beloved Internet. Add in the way certain young Muslims are enticed by slick social media campaigns and you have a recipe for “Acts of war” anywhere in the world.

The existence or easy manufacture of these weapons only facilitates the process and raises the body counts. If you read detailed histories of the World Wars, Vietnam or even the Civil War, you see improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are not new ideas. Train derailments, poisonous gases and incendiary devices were also commonly used. These are tough asynchronous attacks to defend against.

There are other patterns in these tragic attacks. Extremists including Daesh do have sympathizers in the U.S., there's no doubting that. But just like al Qaeda's early attacks in Africa, U.S. interests abroad provide softer, more accessible targets. I will still be traveling abroad, but like always, I will stay alert for sudden changes. I tend to avoid large crowds but that's no assurance as we can see in the Paris assaults.

An Ounce of Prevention

Paris France 1493046

Prevention of attacks by fanatics requires the use of multiple strategies. Limiting easy access to assault rifles is a start but those guns are not freely sold in Europe, like they are in the southern U.S. states. Even in gun-loving Switzerland there are many steps required before one can obtain an assault rifle. No matter, weapons that can be used to kill hundreds in minutes must be severely restricted. Hunters do not require the functions of an assault rifle. Peace-loving people know this and there are many more of us than gun fanatics.

We must also understand the root causes that lead certain young people to join violent movements or engage in violence. Identifying the reasons and providing a steady stream of alternative outlets for the energy of youth is probably a better investment than trying to get gun laws changed. We need to know more about and get better at identifying disturbed people like the killers in Norway, Virginia Tech and Newtown, Connecticut. These killers were not really inspired by so called "religious" motives. Of course we will never stop every one but stopping five or ten of them is still worth the effort and expense.

France was aware that some of the attackers in 2015 were “radicalized” but what could be done? If you lock-up these types along with known violent criminals you are simply running a terrorism training center. It is better to sit them down with psychologists or educated parents or community leaders. These are all long-term solutions but there is no better time to start the effort than now.

Pundag, Purulia District 00025

Parts of India still experience train bombings and attacks by radicals. I lived for a time in Bihar and West Bengal and watched how these movements grow and spread. Entire communities of poorly-educated farmers were quickly turned into machete-wielding mobs by a few cunning leaders. Some of the violence was a result of land seizures. Intense police and military efforts seem to have limited results, except perhaps for the widespread use of metal detectors. Public buildings in Calcutta, Patna and Ranchi all had security guards with a metal detectors. Trains with a very visible security presence were perhaps attacked less, it is difficult to measure success rates. You don’t know about the cases where the extremist decided to go home, dismantle the bomb and go back to working in the paddy. In any event, India, in particular Bihar, still suffers from the occasional attack by internal extremists.

Purulia District R1_00031

It would probably help to hold a conference of the best anti-terror police and intelligence people from India, Israel, the Philippines, and other places that frequently experience such attacks. Sharing tactics might result in an overall improvement in the rate of detection and prevention.

Muslim leadership throughout the world should be speaking up loud and clear against these acts by “believers” but that seems too much to hope for. Instead too many leaders in Muslim nations and communities seem to enjoy inciting only more hatred between Sunnis and Shiites or between Muslims, Jews and Christians. One extremist Muslim leader is “too many.” The definition of “extremist” must also be widened. We have no choice if we want to go out and enjoy a football match or an evening with friends at a café.

Do not overlook the Daesh bombings in Beirut or Daesh-inspired attacks in many other locations. A Hezbollah area of Beirut was attacked precisely because of Hezbollah fighter presence in the Syrian front lines against Daesh. Did Israel intelligence know this bombing was going to happen?

A similar reason likely led to the bomb, probably triggered by a change in barometric pressure, on the Metrojet Flight 9268. The Daesh diaspora is showing a penchant for the bringing the slaughter back to the sources of the bombs falling on their heads. Daesh leaders seem intent on moving the fight out of Syria and Iraq, at least until they are killed or jailed.

There are few military historians who will deny that the seeds of the al Qaeda and Taliban movements were planted by the U.S. support of the mujahideen. We needed the mujahideen in our perceived fight against Soviet expansion in South Asia. We went a little overboard in providing the mujahideen with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The hardware and the training were thrown back at us when we went after al Qaeda in 2001.

Many observers will go so far as to state that Western nations continued support for oppressive regimes in the Middle East remains a causal factor today for the acts of Daesh and al Qaeda. Without the military hardware and training, several governments would probably not have lasted as long as they have. We essentially wanted stability in the lands where cheap oil was to be found.

We did not rush in to support Egypt, Libya or Tunisia during the Arab Spring uprisings. Egypt and Tunisia simply do not have the oil, though both do hold massive investments from Western nations. Not the least being the Suez Canal. Libya’s oil field production was apparently not worth supporting the unpalatable regime of Muammar Gaddaffi.

Time to Recognize Kurdistan? 

Today, in 2015, the West needs the PKK and other Kurdish forces in our fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq. We also need militants to keep pressure on the oppressive Syrian government. At the same time we cannot guarantee that the Kurds or militants will not turn around and use the training or weapons we give them now against Iraqi or even Turkish government forces in the years ahead. We limit the assistance we provide to the all groups for exactly this reason.

We have learned a lesson, sort of.

I don’t believe there are any plans to equip the Kurds with SAMs, tanks, attack helicopters or fighter jets. Our support for the plethora of groups fighting Assad seems to vary from month to month. Unfortunately this also reduces their effectiveness in the current struggle.

Complicating this situation are legitimate Russian concerns for the future of their only Mediterranean naval base, in Syria. They would prefer that some type of central government persist in Damascus, if only to assure the future of that navy base.

Turkey certainly does not want the Kurds and their Peshmerga fighters to grow any stronger. The government in Istanbul also does not want Daesh forces rolling across their southern border.

On the other hand, Israel remains at least economically involved in Kurdistan, though you will seldom hear much about these transactions. Israel likes having a friendly partner located close to Iran. The Kurds currently control and pump oil from some very large oil fields. Israel, with few real friends in the region, finds support for Kurdish leaders and businesses palatable. So do I. The Kurdish kingdoms extend far back in history and deserve the right to be recognized. They are certainly earning respect right now in the fight against Daesh.

While the EU remains Israel’s largest trading partner, Israeli business leaders know they need to diversify. Some Europeans are pushing for divestment of Israeli assets. There is also a growing effort to boycott goods made in the West Bank and Golan Heights. This may be counter-productive insofar as Israeli businesses there do employ young Palestinians, likely keeping some away from the extremists. This sorely needed income flows into West Bank towns that do need more consumers. This generates other jobs. It is a tough triangle to ignore. Recently a rule requiring labeling of certain imports from the Occupied Territories was passed by the EU leadership. That legislation is hard to ignore. Standing in a Paris food market, I could not help but see all the Israel labels on the fruit boxes. Building ties with a growing Kurdistan, though not yet a nation, fills the bill in many ways for Tel Aviv.

Iran Moving Forward 

The last region we will take a glance at today is Persia. Iran seems to be preparing to meet the requirements of the recent treaty. Hard-line leaders may have little choice but to comply, given the desire of the Tehran business community to have sanctions lifted. Tourism may not increase dramatically, Shiites have continued to visit for various reasons all these years. Trade with Asian nations really never disappeared. But the need for Western technology in Iranian oil and gas fields, in aviation, and investment in manufacturing is great. Iran wants open access to the world’s financial markets, as well as the ability to use the funds in certain frozen bank accounts. Despite certain doubts held by Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Iran probably will comply with the treaty, at least for a few years.

This leaves us with some interesting conclusions. Knowledge-sharing can help with reducing the total number of incidents. State-sponsored violence, on any scale, seems to be reduced by inclusion, not exclusion. When young people can freely express themselves, obtain jobs, when societies thrive economically, and when families struggle less, there will probably be fewer people drawn to extremism. Usama bin Ladin came from one of the wealthiest families in the world, but the majority of young Muslims headed for jihad do not.


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