A French diplomat lashes out an Israeli soldier in an unprovoked attack. The Israeli soldier did not respond.
* While praising President Rouhani, the New York Times fails to report that Rouhani attended a military event calling for Israel’s destruction just before leaving for his UN visit.
* The Economist magazine’s cover story: “The deal over Syria’s chemical weapons marks a low for those who cherish freedom.”
* The father of a Palestinian man who murdered a young Israeli last weekend says of his son “He’s no hero. He’s a coward,” while “moderate” Palestinian Authority leaders praise the killing in Arabic.
* “Like Arafat before him, Abbas does not issue written guidelines. He has used winks and nods from the right quarters to generate a permissive climate for terrorist action.”
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Angry protests by Israel, after French diplomat punches Israeli soldier
2. France: Record number of evictions of Roma
3. Worth watching: anatomy of a war crime
4. Apple’s new Operating System separates Jerusalem from Israel
5. 25 Palestinian women murdered in honor crimes so far this year
6. Father of Palestinian who murdered young Israeli says he would kill son
7. By contrast, Palestinian Authority officials refuse to condemn murders of Israelis
8. Seven Israeli ministers call on Netanyahu to end prisoner releases
9. One killed after rocket attack in Ankara
10. A Linked-in spoof profile of President Rouhani
11. Egypt outlaws Muslim Brotherhood, which moves its HQ to London
12. Cairo warns Hamas it may hit it hard militarily
13. Amid a rising tide of xenophobia in Egypt, a Frenchman is the latest to be beaten to death
14. “He’s Just Not That Into You” (Wall Street Journal editorial, Sept. 25, 2013)
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
ANGRY PROTESTS BY ISRAEL AFTER FRENCH DIPLOMAT PUNCHES ISRAELI SOLDIER
Tensions between Israel and the European Union have increased after a French diplomat -- sheltering behind her diplomatic immunity -- hit a young Israeli soldier in an unprovoked attack.
The French diplomat Marion Castaing can be seen striking an Israeli soldier in this video:
The Israeli soldier did not respond and maintained his calm.
The incident occurred after a group of European diplomats (some of which Israel says behave more like anti-Israel activists than like diplomats) interfered with an Israeli attempt to dismantle an illegally built Bedouin encampment. The encampment was ordered to be dismantled after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the structures were built without permits and were dangerously constructed.
Israel’s foreign ministry said it was incensed after the EU’s High Commissioner Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Georgieva stood by the French diplomat despite her act of violence.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Diplomats are sent by their governments to be a bridge and not act as provocateurs. The European diplomats and their governments owe an explanation to this blatant violation of diplomatic codes of conduct. Israel has already made it clear that it will not accept this misconduct. Israel’s response will reflect the seriousness of these violations.”
FRANCE: RECORD NUMBER OF EVICTIONS OF ROMA
In a press release yesterday titled “France: Record number of evictions of Roma,” Amnesty International, said:
“The French government has failed to end the vicious circle of repeated forced evictions of Roma which have now reached record numbers, Amnesty International said in a report published today. The organization is calling for a ban on all forced evictions. More than 10,000 Roma were evicted from informal settlements during the first half of 2013. Roma people are condemned to a life of constant insecurity, and forced to wander from one of makeshift camp to another.”
Tom Gross adds: Almost all the Roma in question are European Union citizens and yet most French and EU diplomats have not raised a peep in protest.
WORTH WATCHING: ANATOMY OF A WAR CRIME
In one of many massacres of men, women and children by the Assad regime in Syria, in May 2013 at least 169 people, including many women and children, were killed in the Syrian town of al-Bayda.
Britain’s Channel 4 news has now produced a detailed investigative news report on this massacre and I think it is well worth watching when you have time:
Referring to a separate massacre ordered by Bashar Assad, The Economist magazine’s cover story this week notes that: “The deal over Syria’s chemical weapons marks a low for those who cherish freedom.”
In any case, it is doubtful that the deal will even be signed and then properly implemented. Bickering between the United States and Russia is delaying the passing of a Security Council resolution backing-up the plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The actual mission of gathering the weapons would be carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but it cannot begin the process until the Security Council agrees. An OPCW meeting planned for this week is now expected to be postponed.
APPLE’S NEW OPERATING SYSTEM SEPARATES JERUSALEM FROM ISRAEL
The “world clock” on Apple’s newly released iOS 7 operating system shows Jerusalem as a stateless city, removing any references to Israel.
The move has already led many to protest to Apple.
All other cities in the world (apart from Taipei), including dozens of contested cities, are listed with their country.
Others have also tried to claim that Jerusalem isn’t in Israel. Last year, the official website of the London 2012 Olympics published country profiles showing Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, but listed no capital for Israel. The Olympic website subsequently corrected the error. (See the graphic here for more.)
And last year, the Guardian newspaper “corrected” its caption which had listed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that the paper meant to say Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem has, of course, been the capital of the modern state of Israel since its independence in 1948, and the capital of the land of Israel for over 3000 years. Tel Aviv has never been the capital of Israel except in the minds of some staff at The Guardian and elsewhere.
In 2000, CNN.com was criticized for listing on its weather map Jerusalem without a country designation. CNN corrected the error and today lists Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
25 PALESTINIAN WOMEN MURDERED IN HONOR CRIMES SO FAR THIS YEAR
The Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling this week said that 25 Palestinian women have been killed by family member so far this year in the West Bank, a significant increase over 2012, when 13 women were murdered in honor killings, and 2011, when four women were killed. (The figures do not include Gaza.)
The latest victim, Thamar Zeidan, was found strangled on Saturday in a village near Tulkarem, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Her father has confessed to the murder.
The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported that Thamar was forcibly married when she was aged 15, and wanted to get divorced.
FATHER OF PALESTINIAN WHO MURDERED YOUNG ISRAELI SAYS HE WOULD KILL SON
The father of a Palestinian man who confessed to kidnapping and killing an unarmed off-duty Israeli soldier last weekend expressed anger over his son’s actions, saying he would even kill his son if he could.
“He’s no hero. He’s a coward,” said Abdullah Amar of his son Nidal, 42, who killed Tomer Hazan, 20, and planned to use the corpse to extort his brother’s release.
Nidal Amar admits luring Tomer Hazan away from the Israeli seaside town of Bat Yam (where both worked in a restaurant and where Hazan lived) to the Palestinian village of Beit Amin, and then killing Hazan. Amar said he planned to use his body as a bargaining chip for the release of his brother, who is a convicted terrorist, serving time in an Israeli jail for helping to murder several Israelis.
The Amar family compound is only about 35 meters from the West Bank security barrier and Amar had asked Hazan for a ride home from work. Hazan’s girlfriend said that Amar had attempted to lure other Israelis to the territories in the past.
“He didn’t mark out Tomer immediately. He tried to abduct other people first, but it seems that Tomer was taken in because he’s naive,” she said.
Abdullah Amar, the killer’s father, said: “I and all my family, from the youngest to the eldest, condemn the murder of a man who came here without a weapon.”
“My son killed a man for no reason. This is no act of heroism. If an Israeli kills an unarmed Palestinian, would we call him a hero? And if a Palestinian who murdered an Israeli citizen was killed, would we say he’s a hero? I see nothing heroic about this.”
The killer has a wife and eight children.
BY CONTRAST, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY OFFICIALS REFUSE TO CONDEMN MURDERS OF ISRAELIS
Taking a different approach from the killer’s father, senior officials from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” ruling Fatah party refused to condemn the murder of Tomer Hazan, or the murder on Sunday of another young Israeli soldier Gal Gabriel Kobi, also aged 20 (from the Western Galilee town of Tirat Hacarmel) – who was shot by a Palestinian sniper.
Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki was among those who justified the shooting. And a Hamas parliament member in Gaza, Mushir al-Masri, praised the killings in Facebook comments on Monday, Israel Radio reported.
Palestinian President Abbas – Israel’s supposed peace partner – also refused to condemn either of the murders in Arabic but finally did so in New York on Monday, when he attended a dinner hosted for him by Jewish and left-wing leaders and was specifically asked to condemn the murders by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright. The U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace negotiations Martin Indyk was also at the dinner.
One commentator said: “Like Arafat before him, Abbas does not issue written guidelines. He has used winks and nods from the right quarters to generate a permissive climate for terrorist action.”
SEVEN ISRAELI MINISTERS CALL ON NETANYAHU TO END PRISONER RELEASES
Following the latest murders of Israelis – both carried out by Fatah members with the seeming approval of the Fatah leadership – seven Israeli cabinet ministers, led by Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider halting the policy of releasing terrorists as part of ongoing U.S.-led peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
“We must get rid of the impression that killers can suddenly be released one day,” Bennett said.
Under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama, Netanyahu ordered the release of 104 convicted terrorists in several stages, and last week it was reported that the government is considering letting another 250 out of jail.
See here for more:
ONE KILLED AFTER ROCKET ATTACK IN ANKARA
Turkish authorities on Sunday killed a suspected assailant and injured another after a rocket attack on two police buildings in the capital Ankara.
The state-run Anadoglu news agency said the rockets, fired on Friday night, damaged one of the buildings but did not cause injuries. An official said it was “a miracle” that no one was hurt in the attack.
Over 5,000 police officers participated in the hunt for the attackers, who fled the scene on foot. Authorities believe that the attackers were members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, a far-left group that is internationally condemned as a terrorist organization.
A LINKED-IN SPOOF PROFILE OF PRESIDENT ROUHANI
Here is the latest satire (mimicking the internet site Linked-In) to make fun of the Iranian regime’s new “moderate president”:
President Hassan Rouhani was denounced for playing the “victim card” again yesterday, after he claimed to the United Nations General Assembly that Iran is being persecuted by the international community. In fact Iran is the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism, and is also directing and participating in some of the most extreme violence in Syria and other places.
Rouhani’s propagation of extremist positions is much more subtle than that of his predecessor, President Ahmadinejad.
For example, when asked “Was the Holocaust real?” he reportedly replied: “I am not a historian.”
Ha’aretz also reports today that Rouhani attended an event calling for Israel’s destruction just before leaving for his UN visit.
EGYPT OUTLAWS MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, WHICH MOVES ITS HQ TO LONDON
In a move that may lead to renewed violence, an Egyptian court has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and seized all its assets, including those of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. The order is being appealed.
Such a move may drive the Muslim Brotherhood underground and lead to increased acts of terrorism.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it will relocate its headquarters to the British capital, London.
CAIRO WARNS HAMAS IT MAY HIT IT HARD MILITARILY
The Egyptian army has also warned Hamas in Gaza that it will strike against it militarily if it violates Egyptian security by assisting the Islamist groups in their continuing acts of terror in the northern Sinai.
A spokesman in Cairo warned Hamas that any action by the Egyptian militarily will make previous Israeli actions against Hamas “seem like a tea party”.
AMID A RISING TIDE OF XENOPHOBIA IN EGYPT, A FRENCHMAN IS THE LATEST TO BE BEATEN TO DEATH
Eric Lang, a French schoolteacher who has lived in Egypt for many years, was beaten to death by inmates in a Cairo police station. Lang, 49, was arrested by police on September 6 after failing to produce a residency paper when he was out walking in the street. Police then placed him in a cell with hardened criminals, who beat him to death. (The news was reported in the Arabic and some western media but, surprisingly, received almost no press coverage in France, my French correspondents tell me.)
Several other Westerners have also been detained and are presently being held in Cairo jails.
Some Egyptian TV chat show hosts have fanned the flames of violence on a nightly basis, vilifying western governments and people for failing to give wholesale approval to the army’s crackdown against the ousted Muslim Brotherhood government.
I attach the editorial from today’s Wall Street Journal below.
-- Tom Gross
IRAN’S “MODERATE” PRESIDENT CAN’T EVEN FIND A WAY TO SHAKE AN EAGER OBAMA’S HAND
He’s Just Not That Into You
Iran’s president can’t even find a way to shake an eager Obama’s hand.
Wall Street Journal (editorial)
September 25, 2013
As diplomatic humiliations go, Hassan Rouhani’s refusal to accept President Obama’s offer of an informal “encounter” and historic photo-op at Tuesday’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly may not be the most consequential. But it is among the most telling.
This isn’t the first time an Iranian president has left his U.S. counterpart cooling his heels at Turtle Bay. In 2000, Bill Clinton sought a meeting at a U.N. luncheon with then-Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, another reputed moderate, who also declined the opportunity of an American handshake.
Back then, the explanation for Mr. Khatami’s refusal was that internal Iranian politics would not have allowed it. On Tuesday, a senior Obama Administration official peddled a similar line after the Rouhani snub, telling reporters that Iranians “have an internal dynamic that they have to manage.”
That’s one way of putting it. Another way is that Iran’s ruling clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps remain ideologically incapable of reconciling themselves to the Great Satan. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who reviews the 34-year-history of Iranian rebuffs to American diplomatic overtures, which makes the U.S. embarrassment on Tuesday all the more acute.
For days before the U.N. conclave, White House aides had broadcast the President’s desire to shake Mr. Rouhani’s hand. By Monday, the press was overflowing with leaked accounts of where and how it would happen. Having thus turned down the lights and turned up the mood music, it made the snub that followed especially potent. What the Administration is trying to spin as a function of complex Iranian politics was, in blunt fact, an expression of lordly contempt for what Iranian leaders consider to be an overeager suitor from an unworthy nation.
The contempt showed even more strongly in Mr. Rouhani’s speech. That came a few hours after Mr. Obama’s morning speech, in which the American promised Iran that “we are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”
To that olive branch, Mr. Rouhani responded by denouncing international sanctions as “violence, pure and simple,” warning against the influence of “warmongering pressure groups” (no mystery as to who he has in mind there), and offering “time-bound” negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. As Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has pointed out, the offer that talks should be “time-bound” makes no sense if Iran is sincere about never developing nuclear weapons. But Iran’s record over three decades is that it is not sincere.
In his speech, Mr. Obama reiterated that “we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.” It could not have been lost on the Iranians that Mr. Obama is in the process of tolerating exactly that in Syria. Mr. Obama also said that it is “in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition” against the use of chemical weapons. But the lack of meaningful enforcement has been the President’s policy for nearly a year.
Politics in the normal sense doesn’t exist in Tehran, where the rules are set and the players chosen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who is accountable to nobody. What Iran’s leaders do understand is how to humiliate adversaries they consider to be weak. We hope Mr. Obama appreciates how he has been schooled.
* At the request of the Kenyan government “Israeli special forces now operating to try and end Nairobi Mall siege”.
* Among those killed yesterday in the siege was a Canadian diplomat, the Kenyan president’s nephew and his fiancée, and Ghana’s leading poet. Three British, two French, one Australian and one Chinese citizen are also confirmed dead.
* British and American citizens said to be among the gunmen.
Kenyan soldiers take up positions outside the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi
A child runs to safety across the shopping mall
People scramble for safety as the terrorists open fire
AN UPLIFTING VIDEO
[Note by Tom Gross]
Since these “Middle East dispatches” often include depressing news, I try to send some more positive items too, sometimes unconnected to the Middle East.
This three minute advertisement produced on behalf of a Thai telecommunications company, titled “Giving,” tells the story of a man unexpectedly rewarded for a lifetime of good deeds he performed without expecting anything in return.
It is worth watching, here:
‘KENYA CALLS IN ISRAELI SPECIAL FORCES TO HELP END MALL SIEGE’
According to Agence France Presse (AFP), at the request of the Kenyan government, Israeli Special Forces are now helping Kenyan forces try to end the on-going terrorist siege at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, where Islamist gunmen (and one gunwoman) have been holed up for over 24 hours with about 30 hostages.
A Kenyan security source told AFP that Israeli forces have now entered the mall, at the request of their Kenyan counterparts to help rescue the hostages and bring out the injured.
Reuters differs from AFP, reporting that Israeli anti-terrorism experts were helping in negotiations, but would not participate in operations.
At least 62 people were killed and 175 injured yesterday in the coordinated attack by the Somali al-Shabab movement. Those escaping said the terrorists first separated Muslims from non-Muslims before beginning to execute the non-Muslims. Men, women and children were shot if they could not recite the Koran or name the Prophet Mohammed’s mother. Among those killed was a Canadian diplomat, the Kenyan president’s nephew and his fiancé, and Ghana’s leading poet.
Al Shabab claimed that two British men from London, Liban Adam, 23, and Ahmed Nasir Shirdoon, 24, were among the ‘holy warriors’ participating in the attack. The gunmen are said to be highly organized, with large amounts of ammunition as well as night vision equipment. They have destroyed CCTV cameras inside the shopping mall, meaning they cannot be watched.
There are about 4,000 Kenyan troops in the south of Somalia, where they have been fighting Islamic militants since 2011.
KENYA AND ISRAEL HAVE DECADES OLD SECURITY RELATIONSHIP
Tom Gross adds:
Kenya and Israel have long enjoyed close relations, particularly in the security sphere. Kenya assisted Israel with refueling and in other ways during the daring Israeli raid in 1976 to free Israeli and Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda (in which the current Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brother was killed).
Last month, Kenya asked Mossad agents (together with American ones) to investigate whether the massive fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi was a terrorist attack.
In 2002, terrorists in Mombasa blew up an Israeli-owned hotel and tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane as it was taking off. I covered the aftermath of those attacks in several dispatches, including this one.
A security worker takes a child to safety, left, while, right, paramedics help an injured victim at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi yesterday
A crowd of people hold their arms out to catch a woman as she jumps out from the air vent where she had been hiding from the gunmen
Please "like" these dispatches on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia.
Other dispatches in this video series can be seen here:
Abandoned by his parents in Gaza and by the Palestinian government, 3-year-old Mohammed al-Farra has been at Tel Hashomer Hospital (near Tel Aviv) all his life
* Above all, they don’t want anyone to know the names of their Syrian patients
* An Israeli organization operating anonymously in Syria, providing food and medical supplies for those who need them, relies on secrecy to protect both its local contacts and its own practitioners. Its website identifies no directors or staff but carries a defiant slogan: “Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives.”
* AP: “In his short life, Palestinian toddler Mohammed al-Farra has known just one home: the yellow-painted children’s ward in Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital. Born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease, Mohammed’s hands and feet were amputated because of complications from his condition, and the 3½-year-old carts about in a tiny red wheelchair. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government won’t pay for his care, so he lives at the hospital with his grandfather.”
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. “We do not ask permission to save lives”
2. “Israel’s secret doctors” (By Robert Fulford, National Post, Canada)
3. Video by CNN
4. “Disabled Gaza toddler lives at Israeli hospital” (By Diaa Hadid, Associated Press)
“WE DO NOT ASK PERMISSION TO SAVE LIVES”
[Note by Tom Gross]
Tens of thousands of people have viewed this video on my website (Syrian refugees: “May God bless Israel”) and many journalists have now written about it, including staff at The Economist who subscribe to this list.
The Economist points out that in Deraa alone, the southern city where the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011, Israelis have distributed 300,000 meals of dried food to Syrians, as well as medication, and other life-saving and life-aiding equipment, including satellite phones and chemical suits.
Members of the Israeli government who subscribe to this list have confirmed to me that although the volunteers behind this humanitarian aid are operating independently, the government approves of their work and in certain cases offers behind-the-scenes assistance: dozens of particularly badly wounded Syrian civilians have been taken back into Israel for treatment when the hastily-built temporary Israeli field hospitals inside Syria could not cope.
I am grateful to journalists, such as Robert Fulford, for linking to my work in his article in Canada’s largest nationwide paper The National Post, attached below.
After his article is another video, from CNN – this time about badly wounded Syrians being treated inside Israel.
Hospitals across northern Israel are treating significant numbers of Syrians. As reporter Jim Clancy CNN comments that in the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed (named after a member of the founding family of Marks & Spencer), half of all intensive care beds are occupied by Syrians wounded over the last week alone.
In Syria itself, thousands of doctors have fled the country and dozens have been killed as the Assad regime continues to deliberately bomb medical clinics as a means of killing injured rebels and other patients.
THEY DON’T TELL OTHERS WHERE THEY’RE GOING AND THEY DON’T SAY WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN
Israel’s secret doctors
By Robert Fulford
National Post (Canada)
September 7, 2013
To help refugees from the Syrian war, Israeli doctors and aid workers must do their work furtively. When they go into refugee camps in Jordan, they change clothes so that they can fade into the background. They must be smuggled in and out. They don’t tell others where they’re going and when they go home they usually don’t say where they have been. Above all, they don’t want anyone to know the names of their patients.
They move “under the radar,” in the words of a clandestine organization in this field. When they treat Syrians in Israeli hospitals, they make sure no visiting journalist learns details that will identify the patients to authorities back in Syria.
Usually, Israel is glad to announce when it contributes to emergency relief. The case of Syrian aid is different.
Syria does not recognize Israel and forbids its citizens to go there. Israeli doctors are not welcome in Jordan, where their work has been denounced as a violation of Jordanian sovereignty. And Israel is anxious not to be involved in the Syrian civil war. It does nothing, officially, that could make it look like the medical corps of the rebellion.
For Syrians the possibility that their own government will punish them adds to the horror of their situation. This summer, in Nahariya, Israel, near the Golan Heights, scores of patients have been covertly brought across the border from Syria to be treated by Israeli doctors.
For patients’ friends or relatives, Israel becomes a last hope when no Syrian medical help is available. Masad Barhoum, clinical director at Western Galilee Medical Center, recently told an NBC reporter that many patients arrive unconscious. “When they wake up and find that they are in Israel they are anxious and afraid.”
A Syrian woman in the hospital said that she came to Israel because her daughter was hit by a sniper’s bullet. “The hospital in my town was destroyed. They saved her here, but now I am afraid to go back. We will be marked.”
An Israeli organization, iL4Syrians, operates anonymously in Syria and other desperate countries. Providing food and medical supplies for those who need them, it relies on secrecy to protect both its local contacts and its own practitioners. Its web site identifies no directors or staff but carries a defiant slogan: “Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives.”
They explain that “We focus on countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel, transcending differences.” They argue that a respect for the sanctity of human life expresses Jewish tradition and culture. As they see it, this applies to Israel’s toughest and cruelest enemies as well as anyone else.
Since all of these efforts are unofficial and unrecorded, no one can say how many Israelis are involved. I was alerted to this phenomenon by one of the regular letters of Tom Gross, an astute British-born commentator on the Middle East.
Gross has a 15-minute film showing a couple of days spent by an aid group visiting refugees. The refugees don’t expect them to arrive and are surprised when they learn that their benefactors are Israelis. That makes some of them nervous but in the film others say in Arabic “May God bless Israel.”
The team takes along a professional clown to perform for the children while food is being handed out; in one camp, however, the adults briefly riot over limited supplies. A journalist asks one of the aid workers, “Do people call you crazy?” She answers: “Not many people know.”
Information about this work has to be pieced together from fragments of journalism, like a paragraph in an Israeli/Arabic paper: “The Arab countries offer condolences but the best role is provided by the Israelis because they are crossing the border to provide assistance to the refugees, risking their lives without a word of thank you.”
These are dark days for much of the world, dreadfully dark for Syrians. Few can even imagine a solution that does not involve even more tragedy for them. W.H. Auden, in his poem “September 1, 1939” described an even darker time and offered the only advice that made sense to him: “Show an affirming flame.”
As Jews celebrate the start of the new year, it’s worth noting that these Israeli humanitarians have found a way to make their flame burn with a brave affirmation.
CNN VIDEO: ISRAELI HOSPITALS TREATING WOUNDED SYRIANS
DISABLED GAZA TODDLER LIVES AT ISRAELI HOSPITAL
Tom Gross adds: Also under-reported in the international media is the fact that Israeli hospitals treat thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank each year – in most cases their treatment being paid for by the Israeli government and private donations from Israeli and Diaspora Jews
Below is a moving story about a boy from Gaza, a rare case of an international news agency acknowledging the help Israel gives Palestinians.
Disabled Gaza toddler lives at Israeli hospital
By Diaa Hadid
May 3, 2013
RAMAT GAN, Israel (AP) — In his short life, Palestinian toddler Mohammed al-Farra has known just one home: the yellow-painted children’s ward in Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital.
Born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease, Mohammed’s hands and feet were amputated because of complications from his condition, and the 3½-year-old carts about in a tiny red wheelchair. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government won’t pay for his care, so he lives at the hospital with his grandfather.
“There’s no care for this child in Gaza, there’s no home in Gaza where he can live,” said the grandfather, Hamouda al-Farra.
“He can’t open anything by himself, he can’t eat or take down his pants. His life is zero without help,” he said at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, part of the Tel Hashomer complex in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan.
Mohammed’s plight is an extreme example of the harsh treatment some families mete out to the disabled, particularly in the more tribal-dominated corners of the Gaza Strip, even as Palestinians make strides in combating such attitudes.
It also demonstrates a costly legacy of Gaza’s strongly patriarchal culture that prods women into first-cousin marriages and allows polygamy, while rendering mothers powerless over their children’s fate.
Mohammed was rushed to Israel as a newborn for emergency treatment. His genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system and crippled his bowels, doctors say, and an infection destroyed his hands and feet, requiring them to be amputated.
In the midst of his treatment, his mother abandoned Mohammed because her husband, ashamed of their son, threatened to take a second wife if she didn’t leave the baby and return to their home in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, Farra said. In Gaza, polygamy is permitted but isn’t common. But it’s a powerful threat to women fearful of competing against newer wives.
Now Mohammed spends his days undergoing treatment and learning how to use prosthetic limbs.
His 55-year-old grandfather cares for him. Mohammed’s Israeli doctors, who’ve grown attached to the boy, fund-raise to cover his bills, allowing him and his grandfather to live in the sunny pediatric ward.
But it’s not clear how long he’ll stay in the hospital, or where he’ll go when his treatment is complete. As a Palestinian, Mohammed is not eligible for permanent Israeli residency. Yet his family will not take the child back, the grandfather said. His parents, contacted by The Associated Press, refused to comment.
As his grandfather spoke, Mohammed used his knees and elbows to scamper up and down a nearby stairwell, his knees and elbows blackened and scarred from constant pressure. He used his arms to hold a green bottle he found in a stroller. His prosthetic legs with painted-on shoes were strewn nearby.
He crawled toward his grandfather’s lap. “Baba!” he shouted, Arabic for “daddy.” ”Ana ayef,” he said — a mix of Arabic and Hebrew for “I’m tired.”
Dr. Raz Somech, the senior physician in the Tel Hashomer pediatric immunology department, attributes Mohammed’s genetic disorder to the several generations of cousin marriages in his family — including his parents.
In deeply patriarchal parts of Gaza — not in all the territory — men believe they have “first rights” to wed their female cousins, even above the women’s own wishes. Parents approve the partnerships because it strengthens family bonds and ensures inheritances don’t leave the tribe.
Repeated generations of cousin marriages complicate blood ties. It’s not clear what affect that has had on disability rates in Gaza; but Somech said a third of patients in his department are Palestinians and most have genetic diseases that were the result of close-relation marriages.
Further worsening the situation, disabled children are often stigmatized.
Some families hide the children, fearing they won’t be able to marry off their able-bodied children if the community knows of their less-abled siblings. And they are seen as burdens in the impoverished territory.
Some 183,600 Gaza residents — or 10.8 percent of the 1.7 million Gazans — suffer some kind of disability that affects their mental health, eyesight, hearing or mobility. Some 40,800 people suffer severe disability, the Palestinian bureau of statistics reported in 2011.
According to the bureau, two-thirds of young disabled Gazans are illiterate and some 40 percent were never sent to school, suggesting either their parents kept them home or did not have the means to educate them — a likely scenario in the territory, where about two-thirds of the population live under the poverty line. Over 90 percent of the disabled are unemployed, the bureau said.
Yet attitudes have been changing in Gaza.
Activist Eid Shaboura said Mohammed’s case is “extreme.”
“There’s been a lot of progress. It’s changing now, but of course, not to the level we want.”
There are greater efforts, by about 10 aid groups in Gaza, to increase opportunities for the disabled. Hearing-impaired Palestinians make boutique products in a Gaza center, “Atfaluna,” Arabic for “Our Children.” This year they opened a restaurant run by the hearing-impaired, further raising their visibility.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers have also pushed the issue in recent years. Their matchmakers have helped marry off sight-impaired single men with brides and cover wedding costs. Wheelchair-bound Palestinian fighters wounded in battle are honored in military parades.
The hospital that is Mohammed’s home is a rare meeting ground for Israelis and Palestinians. With Gaza’s medical system often overwhelmed, patients often receive permits to receive treatment in Israel.
A generation ago, thousands of Palestinians, including Mohammed’s grandfather, worked in Israel. But Israel began restricting Palestinian movement over years of flaring violence, particularly since the militant group Hamas seized power of the coastal territory in 2007.
On a recent day at the children’s hospital, patients and medics chatted in Hebrew and Arabic. Women in Muslim headscarves strolled in a corridor. An Orthodox Jewish woman affectionately patted Mohammed on his head. She nodded kindly at Farra.
Doctors’ fundraising has covered Mohammed’s years of treatment, Somech said. One donor provided $28,000 for Mohammed’s prosthetics.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is supposed to fund transfers to Israeli hospitals. But it stopped covering Mohammed’s bills six months after he arrived, Somech said. Palestinian health official Fathi al-Hajj said there was no record of the case.
There has been a growing number of cases where the Palestinian Authority stopped paying for patients because of its budgetary problems, Mor Efrat of rights group Physicians for Human Rights said.
Farra said he stepped in to care for Mohammed to save his daughter’s marriage. He sleeps beside Mohammed and ensures he’s clean and fed.
“Taking care of this child is a good deed,” he said.
But after years of caring for Mohammed, his grandfather said he wants to go home. He wished he could find a foster home or caregiver for Mohammed.
“He needs many things in his life,” Farra said, absentmindedly massaging Mohammed’s arm stump as the toddler rested on his lap. “He needs a home.”
This is the latest in a series of dispatches about Syria. You can comment on it here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Details of the use of Syrian chemical weapons over the last 9 months
2. While the NY Times published Putin’s propaganda today, Russia increases arms deliveries to Syria
3. Reuters: Dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal could take many years
4. Assad moves his weapons
5. “The worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began”
6. Video: In simple terms, why Assad used chemical weapons
7. Report by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
[Notes below by Tom Gross]
DETAILS OF THE USE OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS OVER THE LAST 9 MONTHS
I attach a report at the end of this dispatch by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (based in Herzliya, Israel). It makes grim reading but provides background you may find useful.
Here is a summary of some of the points in it that I have prepared for those who don’t have time to read it in full:
* Syria has one of the largest chemical weapons arsenals in the world.
* It includes traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern ones, such as sarin, and nerve agents, such as VX.
* Syria was initially helped to procure the components to make these in the 1970s and 80s by the Soviet Union, Egypt, West Germany, France, Iran, North Korea. Now the Syrians can produce their own.
* The Assad regime has significantly increased its chemical arsenal since 2009.
* At the outset of the war, a stockpile of about 1,000 tons of chemical weapons were stored in some 50 different cities in Syria.
* The Assad regime has a variety of platforms it can use to deliver its chemical weapons including aerial bombs, artillery shells and rockets, and ballistic missiles.
* Assad has used chemical weapons at least 14 times since last December according to British and other intelligence agencies.
* In December 2012, he tested chemical weapons on civilians for the first time by using them against the town of Baba Amr (his troops in the vicinity were provided with gas masks).
* On Dec. 23, 2012, he further used them in Homs province killed seven and severely wounding more than 50 to “test the world’s reaction.” The symptoms of those affected indicate he used BZ nerve gas, also known as Agent 15. Those injured suffered from asphyxiation, mental confusion including hallucinations, and general or partial seizures.
* On March 19, 2013, he used them in Khan al-Assal, killing 31 people and caused symptoms in 300 others. Those injured experienced a lot of secretion and respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, large concentration oxygen, and also neurologic symptoms - confusion, convulsions, and some of them went into comas; and also eye symptoms.
* Also on March 19, 2013, he used them in the town of Al-Otaybeh.
* On March 24, 2013, he used them in Adra. The injured were reported suffering from muscular cramping and respiratory problems. A video that featured on The Shaam News Network showed further symptoms including “convulsions, excess saliva, narrow pupils and vomiting.”
* On April 13, 2013, he used them in the Sheikh Maqsoud district in Aleppo, killing 31. Online footage shows women and children frothing at the mouth and twitching, both symptoms of exposure to nerve gas.
* On April 29, 2013, he used them in Saraqeb. Victims suffered respiratory problems, vomiting, bloodshot eyes, and constricted pupils. Sarin was used in that attack according to samples collected by French intelligence.
* On August 21, 2013, the Assad regime launched a massive chemical attack in a suburb of Damascus killing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children.
* Tom Gross adds: Incidentally, the “100,000 killed in Syria” figure given in this report and in many media, is a significant underestimate. Even the UN admits that in addition to the deaths of 120-130,000 documented people (the vast majority killed by Assad), tens of thousands of others have been “disappeared” by the regime.
For other recent dispatches concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and what these weapons did to the injured for decades to come when used by Saddam in Iraq, please see here:
* “The moral question nobody wants to answer”
* No, Al-Qaeda doesn’t dominate the Syrian opposition
* The U.S. replaced the British, but there is no one to replace America
* Video dispatch 18: Syrian refugees: “May God bless Israel”
* “Like figures unearthed in Pompeii”
* Israeli intelligence: Chemical weapons were fired by Assad’s brother Maher’s unit
Tom Gross adds (points not in the ICT report below):
WHILE THE NY TIMES PUBLISHED PUTIN’S PROPAGANDA TODAY, RUSSIA INCREASES ARMS DELIVERIES TO SYRIA
Russia is stepping up weapons supplies to Syria as part of the arrangement with the Assad regime to have its chemical weapons stockpiles placed under international supervision, Israeli Channel 2 TV reported Tuesday.
REUTERS: DISMANTLING SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS ARSENAL COULD TAKE MANY YEARS
If Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is anything to go by, destroying Syria’s massive chemical weapons arsenal will mean checking dozens of far-flung sites in a war zone while the government employs delaying tactics to hide the banned munitions, an expert involved in past U.N. disarmament missions said.
Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons network comprises remote underground bunkers where hundreds of tons of nerve agents are stored, scud missiles and artillery shells, possibly armed with cyanide, and factories deep inside hostile territory used to produce mustard or VX gas, experts believe.
“It’s big. He has one of the biggest chemical weapons programs in the world,” said Dieter Rothbacher, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq who trained members of the team that just returned from Syria.
“There are calculations that to secure them up to 75,000 ground troops are needed,” he said in a Reuters interview. “It took us three years to destroy that stuff under U.N. supervision in Iraq.”
And AP reports today:
In Damascus, Cabinet Minister Ali Haidar was asked about the difficulties of implementing the transfer and relinquishment of Syria’s chemical weapons in the midst of a raging civil war.
He replied: “There was no talk about moving and transferring control. There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision.”
ASSAD MOVES HIS WEAPONS
Brig.-Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, a Syrian army defector, said that most of the chemical weapons have now been transported to Alawite areas in Latakia and near the coast, though some chemical munitions remain in bases around Damascus.
“THE WORST DAY FOR U.S. AND WIDER WESTERN DIPLOMACY SINCE RECORDS BEGAN”
Writing in the London Daily Telegraph, former British ambassador Charles Crawford said that “Monday 9 September, 2013 was the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began,” and he asked simply: “How has this happened?’
In today’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger (who is a subscriber to this list) answers:
In the interplay between Barack Obama and John Kerry, it’s not obvious which one is Laurel and which one is Hardy. But diplomatic slapstick is not funny. No one wants to live in a Laurel and Hardy presidency. In a Laurel and Hardy presidency, red lines vanish, shots across the bow are word balloons, and a display of U.S. power with the whole world watching is going to be “unbelievably small.”
The past week was a perfect storm of American malfunction… It is Barack Obama’s impulse to make himself and whatever is in his head the center of attention. By now, we are used to it. But this week he turned himself, the presidency and the United States into a spectacle. We were alternately shocked and agog at these events. Now the sobering-up has to begin.
The world has effectively lost its nominal leader, the U.S. president. Is this going to be the new normal? If so – and it will be so if serious people don’t step up – we are looking at a weakened U.S. president who has a very, very long three years left on his term.
On Wednesday the Russian press reported that the Putin government has sold state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and batteries to Iran…
China on Tuesday warned India about setting up new military posts along their disputed 4,000-kilometer border…
VIDEO: IN SIMPLE TERMS, WHY ASSAD USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS
It is worth watching this five-minute video by Michael Doran, taken at Brookings, who explains in simple terms to those “experts” on the BBC and other Western media who don’t “get it,” why Assad is using chemical weapons.
REPORT BY THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR COUNTER-TERRORISM
Syria’s Chemical Weapons - The Terrorism Threat
Report by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)
September 8, 2013
Since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, more than 100,000 people have been killed, 2 million people have fled the country becoming refugees, and 4.25 million people are internally displaced.
The will of Assad’s forces to fight is still there, but they are struggling to combat the Syrian rebel’s gains until recently. It is believed that the al-Assad regime is desperate enough to use anything in its power to stay the ruling government, including use of any of its poisonous gases, as was the case this past March through May.
Besides the use of chemical warfare by the Syrian government there is a real and immediate threat that chemical weapons, agents or precursors could fall in the hands of terrorist organizations, be it Hezbollah (in which case the regime itself could be willing to provide them to its staunch ally), pro-Syrian Palestinian organizations, the Free Syrian Army and its local units or the various Islamist and jihadists factions like Jabha al-Nusra.
This report is the first part of an ICT project intended to evaluate the threat of proliferation of Syrian chemical weapons to local and regional terrorist organizations and beyond. The report includes information on the status of chemical weapons in Syria and their use updated to mid-June 2013 and an addendum presenting the main points of the United States and French intelligence communities’ evaluation concerning the August 21, 2013 chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus.1
THE SYRIAN CHEMICAL ARSENAL
After its defeats in its wars against Israel, Syria began to develop a chemical weapons program as a way to deter the Israeli military might.
Syria was heavily dependent on outside help in procuring important precursor chemicals and equipment from Russia, Egypt, West Germany, France, Iran, North Korea, and possibly other countries over a period of 20 years. However Syria, which refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and after 1973 began to produce its own chemical weapons, further intensified its program after the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty in 1979. It is believed Syria started producing locally mustard gas as well as sarin in the 1980s.
Syria has one of the largest chemical weapons arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern agents, such as sarin, and persistent nerve agents, such as VX. Syria has accumulated since the 1980s a stockpile of approximately 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, stored in some 50 different cities, mostly located in the northern part of the country close to the Turkish border. Since 2009 Syria has been amassing a larger chemical weapons arsenal and engineering more complex chemical compounds.
Syria has a variety of platforms it can use to deliver its chemical weapons including aerial bombs, artillery shells and rockets, and ballistic missiles. In 1993 Syria was even the first to produce tube and rocket artillery rounds filled with mustard-gas-type blistering agents…the first weaponization of its kind.[Footnote 2]
Much of Syria’s chemical weapons designed for large-scale military use are binary, or stored as two separate ingredients that must be combined before lethal use, making it hard for its detonation by non-professional elements.
Until July 23, 2012 when the Syrian government implicitly acknowledged possessing stocks of chemical weapons reserved only for national defense against foreign countries, there had been no admittance from Syria that it had chemical weapons.3
Not much is known about the location of the chemical weapons. Are they stored in mass quantities? Are they stored in heavy artillery shells or missile heads? Are they located in close proximity to each other? General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced in April 2013 that the Syrian government keeps moving the chemical weapons,4 specifically its stocks of sarin and mustard gas from storage sites to trucks.5 It seems that the Syrian government is consolidating its chemical arsenal into fewer locations because in December 2012 American intelligence agencies indicated that there had been significant movement of chemical weapons stores as well as indications that the Syrian government had been mixing chemicals.6 According to one information the Russians advised the regime to consolidate their weapons depots into two to four main storage facilities.7
CHEMICAL WEAPONS FACILITIES
Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal can be divided into four types of facilities: production, research and development, dual-infrastructure, and storage.
Western specialists have indicated that chemical weapons production facilities of sarin and VX are located at 5 sites: al-Safira, Hama, Homs, Latakia, and Palmyra.8
Storage facilities are located at least at al-Furqlus, Dumayr, Khan Abu Shamat, and the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques - CERS).9
Hama - The site is located 47 kilometers north of Homs and 140 kilometers south of Aleppo. The facility was established and began producing missiles in 1993 and today is under the direct control of CERS.
Homs - Located outside the perimeter of the Homs Refinery and is subordinate to CERS. Lattakia - Located on the Syrian northern coast and is subordinated to CERS.
Al-Safira (As Safirah, Al Safir, Safiyah, Aleppo) is located in the northwest of the country on a ridge 1 kilometer south of Al-Safira and 20 kilometers southeast of Aleppo and is four by eight kilometers big. It was established in 2005, and is one of the premier chemical weapons facilities for production, storage, and weaponization including sarin.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Centre d’Et ude et Recherche Scientifique - CERS, located in Damascus, is the principal facility for both chemical and biological research, development, testing, production, and storage. The research center concentrates on upgrading chemical and biological war agents and dispersal and delivery systems for those agents. It also works on research for a variety of different weapons. CERS has worked closely with the Syrian military and reports directly to president Bashar al-Assad. It is in charge of operating several other chemical production facilities that have been listed above. For over a decade CERS has been the focus of western sanctions.
Jamraya - Located northwest of Damascus, was established in the 1980s with help from the Soviet Union. It is the most clandestine and highest profile research and development center in Syria. It is home to some of the most important strategic military bases in Syria and critical weapons are developed and stored there.10
Khan Abu Shamat Depot located some 20 kilometers east of Dumayr.
Furqlus Depot- Located approximately 40 kilometers southeast of Homs and 4 kilometers northeast of al-Furlqlus. It is subordinate to the Syrian government.
Masyaf, 7 kilometers northeast of Masyaf, is subordinated to CERS. Palmrya, northeast of Damascus: its status is questionable.
Dumayr, 40 kilometers northeast of Damascus: its status is questionable.
Setma Ltd. is located in the Damascus area.
Homs General Fertilizer Company is located on the shore of Lake Katina, a district of Homs, southwest of the city’s center. It is composed of three separate facilities for fertilizer production, two sulfuric acid plants, and an anhydrous ammonia plant.
Homs Oil Refinery (Syrian State Petrol Company) located approximately 5 kilometers west of the center of Homs inside ring road.
Banias Oil Refinery in the city of Banias is subordinate to Sytrol, General Corporation for Refining and Distribution of Petroleum Products, and the Ministry of Petroleum.
THE USE OF CHEMICAL WARFARE IN THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR
The chemical weapons stores are “in the hands of chemical weapons-trained loyalists of Assad’s Alawite clan…[and] most of the chemical weapons have been transported to Alawite areas in Latakia and near the coast”, so as to fire them using medium range surface-to-surface missiles. This means that irregular militias, who have the possibility to defect from the regime’s control, will have the knowledge to use these chemical ammunitions. Other chemical weapons remain in bases around Damascus and the chief research center CERS “and have been deployed with artillery shells.”11
The Syrian government military has strategically focused on solidifying control of major urban cities and main supply routes and lines of communications between the most strategic areas. The government forces have been able to hold all major cities, except Al-Raqqah, despite facing serious challenges in Aleppo, Dara’a and Dayr Al-Zawr. In Aleppo, Assad forces control the western half of the city, while in Homs Assad officials reported by the beginning of July that they have overhauled the Khaldiveh district as opposition spokesmen deny this declaration.12
However, opposition forces have cemented control over northern and eastern governorates and are continuously trying to overrun Syrian weapons depots, which they have not succeeded to do except for the suspected takeover of a factory outside of Aleppo by Jabha al-Nusra in August 2012.13 According to official Syrian sources, opposition rebels were found to control two containers of sarin in a raid by Syrian government forces on a militant hideout in al-Faraich, Hama.14
From this we can infer that the chemical weapons stores located in the major cities as well as near Lattakia on the coast are held and controlled by Syrian government forces or related militias. In areas near the major cities in flux however, it is unclear who holds these facilities.
Until recently it was difficult to evaluate the accuracy of the information published by France, Britain, the United States, Turkey and Israel, concerning the actual use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army due to its uncertain origin, time and way of delivery, and accessibility to the region.
In December 2012 Assad tested the waters by using limited chemical weapons allegedly against the town of Baba Amr and threatened to use them in al-Zabadani where gas masks were provided to government troops.15
The Assad regime then used chemical weapons at least in four instances between March and May. According to the June 13, 2013 White House statement use of chemical weapons resulted in an estimated 100-150 deaths in Syria.16
There are also claims, mainly by the regime and Russian officials, that the rebels have also used chemical weapons against Syrian citizens since the beginning of this year.17
KNOWN CHEMICAL ATTACKS BY THE SYRIAN ARMY
There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used since December 2012 in four attacks between March 9 to April 2013. It has not been possible, on the available evidence, to determine the precise chemical agents used, the delivery systems or the perpetrator, although most serious sources have evaluated that the Syrian army or elements of the regime where behind these attacks. See below map prepared by the ICT team: Syria’s chemical weapons and attacks (Map was modified from: global-atlas.jrc.it/maps/PUBLIC/2148_Syria_political_A1.jpg).
December 23, 2012 - Homs
On Dec. 23, 2012, an attack in Homs province killed seven and wounded more than 50. The inhalation of poisonous gases was determined as the source of deaths though this has yet to be confirmed. According to one IDF official, this was a “test of the world’s reaction.”18
The symptoms of those affected suggest that the Syrian regime utilized the BZ nerve gas, also known as Agent 15. According to Dr. Nashwan Abu-Abdo, symptoms included asphyxiation, mental confusion including hallucinations and behavior changes, and general or partial seizures.19
March 19, 2013, Khan al-Assal
The alleged attack in the northern town killed a reported 31 people and caused symptoms in roughly 300 others. Both sides called for an inquiry and blamed each other for the attacks.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian-American Medical Association, stated that the patients he saw in Khan al-Assal had symptoms “consistent with cholinergic syndrome”. This syndrome is a common effect of “exposure to nerve gas.” He noted that the patients had respiratory - including shortness of breath, bronchospasm, a lot of secretion and respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, large concentration oxygen; and also neurologic symptoms - confusion, convulsions, and some of them went into comas; and also eye symptoms.”20
Syrian doctors in Aleppo transferred blood samples to Reyhanli, Turkey. The White House noted that in this case there were strong signs and “some degree of varying confidence” that Syrian government forces had utilized sarin gas in combat.21
Allegations over the perpetrators of the attack continue. On July 9, 2013, the Russian government accused the Bashair al-Nasr brigade, an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army, of firing a sarin-filled “Bashair-3 unguided projectile” into the town. These allegations followed a UN declaration that “limited quantities of toxic chemicals” had indeed been utilized in Khan al-Assal, but that it had been impossible to identify the perpetrators of the attack.22
March 19, 2013, Al-Otaybeh
On the same days as the Khan al-Assal attack, Syrian activists uploaded video clips of victims of an alleged chemical bombardment of Al-Otaybeh, shown struggling to breathe. One of the videos features an interview with a local doctor, who suggested his patients have suffered from exposure to an organophosphate chemical. He noted that he treated one of the men with atropine, a remedy for exposure to nerve agents. Douma officials, a
neighboring town, have stated that they have conserved six corpses linked to chemical weapons attacks, with some having died in Al-Otaybeh.23
March 24, 2013, Adra
The Local Co-ordination Committees, a group of Syrian activists, stated that dozens had been wounded and at least 2 killed when Adra was attacked by Syrian army rocket launchers with “chemical phosphorous bombs.” The injured were reported suffering from muscular cramping and respiratory problems. A video that featured on The Shaam News Network showed further symptoms including “convulsions, excess saliva, narrow pupils and vomiting.”24
April 13, Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that two women and two children had been killed due to exposure to “gases from bombs dropped by an aircraft on the Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood.” Online footage allegedly showed victims “frothing at the mouth and twitching, both symptoms of exposure to nerve gas.”25 Twelve more people were injured, a majority of them succumbing to illness following exposure to the original victims of the attack.26
The final death toll of the attack states that 31 people were killed, including 10 soldiers, and wounded scores more.27 United Nations investigators in Geneva reported on the same day that they had found “reasonable grounds to believe limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used” in Aleppo, Damascus, and Idlib.28
April 29, 2013, Saraqeb
On-ground reports suggest that government forces shelled the city and used a helicopter to drop at least two containers believed to have contained poisonous gases. Local hospital workers stated that eight people had suffered respiratory problems and vomiting. A video showed patients with bloodshot eyes and some appear to have constricted pupils.29 The recovered containers were described as “box-like with a hollow concrete casing inside.” An alleged on-scene video showed what appeared to be white powder
surrounding one of the devices.
Notably, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that recovered samples of the Saraqeb victims had tested positive for sarin, which left him “no doubt”, that government forces were responsible for the gas attacks.
THE AUGUST 21, 2013 CHEMICAL ATTACK NEAR DAMASCUS
On August 21, 2013, just days after UN inspectors arrived in Syria to investigate the possible use of chemical weapons, the Syrian opposition accused the regime to have launched a large rocket attack in the Damascus suburbs using chemical weapons. There were wildly differing reports on the number of casualties, from “dozens” to 200 to over 650 and in the end some 2000. Witnesses, reporters on the ground and videos posted on the Internet confirmed that some kind of attack took place and that many children were among the dead.
Syria’s state media denied the claims and accused the rebels to be behind the chemical attacks.
The White House condemned the possible new use of chemical weapons in Syria and called for the UN team to investigate with urgency.
On August 30, 2013, the United States Government issued an assessment of the Syrian Government’s use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. The U.S. government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs.30
The report used U.S. signals and geospatial intelligence, accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel, videos, witness accounts, and thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area to analyze the August 21, 2013 chemical attack.
The preliminary U.S. assessment determined with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements and that 1,429 people were killed in the attack, including at least 426 children.
Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime- controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred. See the map of Damascus areas of influence and areas reportedly affected by 21 August chemical attack as published by the White House.31
The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents.
A French intelligence assessment paper released on September 2, 2013 reported that there was massive use of chemical agents in the August 21 attack and that only the regime could have been responsible. It said the attack combined ground strikes and chemical weapons in a coherent tactical maneuver and intelligence officials had concluded that rockets used in the attack were fired from regime-controlled areas.32
Based on video reports, French intelligence had counted at least 281 dead; the French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) reported at least 355 casualties; but reports by different other sources of up to 1,500 killed were consistent with such heavy use of chemical weapons.
The French intelligence believes the Syrian opposition does not have the capacity to carry out an operation of such magnitude with chemical agents.
THE DANGER OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS FALLING IN THE HANDS OF TERRORIST GROUPS
Besides the use of chemical warfare by the Syrian government there is a real and immediate threat that chemical weapons, agents or precursors could fall in the hands of terrorist organizations.
The Assad regime has a strategic alliance with the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is involved in the fight against the opposition forces. Thousands of Hezbollah fighters have participated in the recent military victory over rebel forces in al-Qusayr and are presently engaged in the battles for the control of the big cities, Aleppo and Homs.
The Syrians have provided in the past long-range missiles and other heavy weapons to Hezbollah and Israel has bombed attempts to transfer to the organization advanced anti-aerial SA-17 missiles.
The possibility of transfer of chemical weapons to the Lebanese terrorist organization is therefore realistic and worries the neighboring countries and especially Israel. Hezbollah is in possession of over 50,000 rockets and missiles, which include ones with a range sufficient of striking at most of Israel. A highly sophisticated and hierarchical organization trained by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah could be able to use chemical weapons or agents under Iranian or Syrian guidance.
The Al Arabiya TV reported on May 4, 2013 that, according to a Free Syrian Army spokesperson, Hezbollah along with forces loyal to the Syrian president had been using chemical weapons against the armed opposition. Residents of al-Qusayr claimed that Hezbollah used mustard-gas artillery shells during the fighting around the strategic town.33
The Assad regime could decide in certain conditions to provide chemical weapons to its proxy Palestinian organizations, especially the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, the faction led by Ahmed Jibril, one of the most sophisticated and dangerous Palestinian terrorist groups.
Finally, the nightmarish scenario of chemical weapons falling in the hands of the Free Syrian Army’s many local “brigades”, or worse in the hands of the various Islamist and jihadists factions, like Jabha al-Nusra, could materialize at any moment. These groups have already captured in the past military camps, airports and missile bases and possibly have already some chemical weapons or precursors in their possession, and some professional defectors from the Syrian army.
It is critical therefore to continue to keep track of the movements of Syrian government and opposition forces in order to evaluate in which areas the control of the arsenal of chemical weapons could be lost.
ICT intends to focus in its future reports on the potential operational implications of terrorist organizations in the area getting hold of chemical weapons and the ways to contain and combat such an occurrence.
1 The report is based in great part on the paper by Rachel Schwartz, “Case Study: Syria’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Program and
the Use of These Weapons in the Syrian Civil War Today,” The International
Institute for Counter-Terrorism Website, August 2013, at
2 “Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and human impact.” BBC News. 26 April
2013. Web. www.bbc.co.uk.wp.test.ebaytoday.ru/news/world-middle-east-22307705
3 MacFarquhar, Neil. “Syria Says Chemical Arms Reserved for Attack From Abroad”. New York Times. 23 July 2012.
4 Vandiver, John. “Troops needed to secure Syria’s chemical weapons, some
experts say.” Stars and Stripes. 29 May 2013. Web.
5 The Tower Staff. “Israeli Air Strikes Reported as Both Rebels and Hezbollah Close In on Syria’s Chemical Weapons.” The Tower. 3 May 2013. Web.
6 Baker, Peter; Mark Landler and David E. Sanger. “Obama’s Vow on Chemical Weapons Puts Him in Tough Spot.” NYTimes. 11 June 2013. Web.
7 “Syria ‘secures chemical weapons stockpile’”. Aljazeera. 23 Dec 2012. Web.
8 Pike, John. “Special Weapons Facilities”. Global Security. 5 June 2011. Web. www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/syria/facility.htm
9 Pita, Rene. “Analysis of Syria’s Chemical and Biological Threat.” Instituto Espanol de Estadios Estrategicos. 14 April 2012. Web.
10 “Profile: Syria’s top-secret Jamraya research centre.” BBC. 5 May 2013.
11 Deutsch, Anthony and Khaled Yacoub Oweis. “Syria’s Chemical weapons program was built to counter Israel”. Reuters. 5 June, 2013. Web. www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/04/us-syria-crisis-chemicalidUSBRE9530QC20130604
12 “Arab World.” Foreign Policy. 15 July 2013. Web.
13 Baker, Aryn. “Syria’s Civil. War: Mystery Behind a Deadly Chemical Attack.” CNN. 1 April 2013. Web. world.time.com/2013/04/01/syrias-civil-war-the-mystery-behind-a-deadly-chemical-attack/
14 “Syrian Army seizes Sarin gas from rebels.” ZeeNews. 3 June 2013. Web.
15 “Assad regime distributed gas masks and radiation suits to troops.”
Asharq-Alawsat. 6 December 2012. Web.
16 Feickert, Andrew, Paul K Kerr, and Mary Beth Nikitin. “Syria’s Chemical
Weapons: Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Service. 1 July 2013,
at www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R42848.pdf. See also Julian Perry Robinson, “Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria,” Harvard Sussex Program Occasional Paper, Issue 4 (26 June 2013).
17 “Russia Criticizes UN Report on Syrian Human Rights Abuses.”
RiaNovosti. 4 June 2013. Web.
18 Baker, Landler and Sanger. “Obama’s Vow on Chemical Weapons Puts Him in
19 Spencer, Richard. “Syria Homs Attack Might Have Included Use of Chemical Weapons”. The Telegraph
20 Hilleary, Cecily. “What We Know About Chemical Weapons in Syria.” Voice of America. 2 May 2013. Web.
21 Fahim, Kharim. “Still More Questions Than Answers on Nerve Gas in
Syria.” NYTimes. 11 June 2013. Web.
22 BBC. “Russia Claims Syria Rebels Used Sarin at Khan al-Assal”
23 “Syria chemical weapons allegations.” BBC News. 17 May 2013. Web.
27 Baker, “Syria’s Civil. War: Mystery Behind a Deadly Chemical Attack.”
28 Cumming-Bruce, Nick, and Seven Erlanger. “France Offers Evidence of ‘Multiple’ Uses of Nerve Gas in Syria.” New York Times. 4 June 2013. Web. www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/world/middleeast/france-offers-evidence-of-multiple-uses-of-nerve-gas-in-syria.html?pagewanted=all 29 Pannell, Ian. “Syria Crisis: ‘Strong Evidence’ of Chemical Attacks, in Saraqeb”. BBC
30 “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21,2013,” The White House Office of the Press Secretary, August 30, 2013, at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/08/30/government-assessment-syrian-government-s-use-chemical-weapons-august-21.
31 Syria Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21
August Chemical Attack, at www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2013-08-
32 Synthèse nationale de renseignement déclassifié. Programme chimique syrien. Cas d’emploi passés d’agents chimiques par le régime. Attaque chimique conduite par le régime le 21 août 2013, 2 septembre 2013, at www.gouvernement.fr/sites/default/files/fichiers_joints/syrie_synthese_nationale_de_renseignement_declassifie_02_09_2013.pdf
33 Al Arabiya, 4 May 2013, english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/05/04/FSA-
Syrian citizens trying to identify dead bodies, after the latest chemical weapons gas attack
* Mic Wright: “Bashar al-Assad didn’t look like a thug in his interview with Charlie Rose. He isn’t a thug; he has thugs and murderers who can do his dirty work for him. Like most tyrants, Assad keeps his own hands clean and leaves the blood to the butchers, like his brother Maher.”
* Maher’s record as a military strong man is long and brutal. When he crushed a prison riot in 2008 and had 25 people killed, Maher infamously snapped pictures of dismembered bodies with his mobile phone, and sent them out for fun.
* David Samuels: A Sarin gas attack like the one in Damascus requires days of preparation so that the chemical agents can be mixed and loaded into specialized delivery systems by trained handlers and troops in the region can be issued gas masks and other protective clothing. Orders must travel through a defined chain of command – a nerve-gas attack is not the kind of atrocity that a local commander can order up on a whim.
* David Samuels: “Suggesting that anyone aside from Assad gave the final order to launch a massive chemical weapons attack in the center of his own capital is tantamount to suggesting that Assad is no longer in charge of his regime – a suggestion for which there is no evidence. But the chain of military command inside Syria doesn’t end with the country’s president. The idea that Assad gave the order to carry out such a massive and politically dangerous attack without the approval of his Russian and Iranian advisers is also absurd – given the regime’s near-total reliance on Russian and Iranian strategic planning, supplies, fighters, and diplomatic backing for its week-to-week survival.”
* Tom Gross: A heading in the Financial Times today – “[Was] the use of chemical weapons a terrible mistake that the Syrian regime’s top leadership did not actually intend?” – reminds me of the useful idiots in the Western media in the last century who questioned whether Stalin actually knew about the gulags and whether Hitler actually knew about the camps.
* Tom Gross quoted in the Jerusalem Post: “President Obama’s approach toward Syria has been so muddled, so weak, over the past three years, and particularly in recent weeks, that many have failed to notice that the EU’s approach has been even worse. Over the Syria issue, as with other issues, the European Union is not showing itself to be much of a union. And yet if the Syria conflict isn’t brought to a resolution soon, its spillover effects, particularly in terms of refugees and as a potential training ground for terrorists, could have far worse repercussions for Europeans than for Americans. Yet the EU, with the exception of France, seems to want to absolve itself from playing a much-needed role in international affairs. The Americans can’t be expected to do everything alone.”
This is the latest in a series of dispatches about Syria. You can comment on it here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Jon Stewart explains the origins of the Syria conflict
2. Britain’s Observer issues correction: Israel did not use chemical weapons in Gaza
3. “As to the moral question ‘Isn’t the world obligated to put an end to the mass murder in Syria?’, nobody wants to answer” (Ma’ariv, Sept. 10, 2013)
4. Why the U.S. has decided to intervene (Yediot Ahronot, Sept. 10, 2013)
5. “Assad tells Charlie Rose: Obama runs a ‘social media administration’. Shamefully, he has a point” (By Mic Wright, Daily Telegraph, Sept. 10, 2013)
6. “Has the EU abandoned the U.S. on military action in Syria?” (By Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9, 2013)
7. “Did Vladimir Putin Bait a trap for the United States in Damascus?” (By David Samuels, Tablet, Sept. 3, 2013
[Notes below by Tom Gross]
JON STEWART EXPLAINS THE ORIGINS OF THE SYRIA CONFLICT
Both funny and insulting at the same time...
BRITAIN’S OBSERVER ISSUES CORRECTION: ISRAEL DID NOT USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN GAZA
The Observer, the Sunday sister paper of Britain’s Guardian newspaper (with which it shares a website) on Sunday published a correction admitting that its assertion the previous Sunday that Israeli forces had used chemical weapons in Gaza in 2008, was untrue.
This false smear about Israel is often repeated by anti-Israeli activists on the internet, but it is shocking that a paper as reputable as The Observer should have unquestionably repeated it.
The allegation was made in The Observer in an op-ed piece by Nabilia Ramdani, who The Observer described as a “French-Arab journalist who worked extensively in Syria until the Arab Spring.” (Ramdini supports the regime.)
“AS TO THE MORAL QUESTION ‘ISN’T THE WORLD OBLIGATED TO PUT AN END TO THE MASS MURDER IN SYRIA?’, NOBODY WANTS TO ANSWER”
The Israeli press today discusses Syria and the supposed “compromise deal” suggested by the Russians yesterday.
The Israeli paper Ma’ariv writes in an editorial today (translated from Hebrew):
“The Russian compromise proposal constitutes a ladder that allows everyone to climb down from the trees they have climbed up. On the one hand, Bashar Assad will be able to stay in power in Syria, and Iran and Russia will be able to defend their network of relations in the Middle East, acquire a diplomatic reputation and strengthen their international position.
On the other hand, Israel will be out of any danger from Syria’s chemical weapons. Al-Qaida activists, whom nobody likes, will be unable to take over Syria for the time being. Members of the American Congress will not have to decide on another war in the Middle East, which they are not interested in. And Obama will not need to act against his liberal philosophy and, by the way, will justify winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe John Kerry will win his own prize.
Thus all sides will be able to come down to the ground. The only ones who will not be happy over acceptance of the Russian proposal are the citizens of Syria. It is clear to everyone that accepting the proposal means the continuation of the brutal civil war in Syria.
In effect, behind the smiles and the victory photographs all around, the status-quo will be maintained, as if there was no use of chemical weapons and as if Syrian children were not being murdered every day conventional weapons. As to the moral question ‘Isn’t the world obligated to put an end to the mass murder in Syria?’, nobody wants to answer.”
YEDIOT AHRONOT: WHY THE U.S. HAS DECIDED TO INTERVENE
In its editorial today, the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot states:
“The US did not decide to intervene in Syria because of the horrific pictures of the massacre of civilians on the outskirts of Damascus. Whoever thinks that the rebels are not perpetrating similar horrors does not properly understand the situation. The US (like Israel) does not know if the fall of Assad would lead to a better or worse regime in Syria and is not sure that after the fall of Assad, the Sunnis will not carry out massacres and revenge attacks against the Alawites that would overshadow the current murders of civilians.
The US has decided to intervene because, as the leader of the enlightened world, as the world’s acting policeman, it cannot allow any outcast to use non-conventional weapons. If the world silently overlooks this violation of norms, it will no longer be possible to maintain world order and the US will find itself facing increasingly larger problems around the globe.
This is an outstanding US interest and this is why President Obama said last year that using chemical weapons was a red line. This is also the reason why, when the time comes, if Iran crosses the nuclear red line, the US President will decide to attack its nuclear installations: Not because of the moral need to save us and because of the loving ties with our Prime Minister, but because it is in America’s interest.”
I attach three articles below.
The authors of the last two articles (Benjamin Weinthal and David Samuels) are both subscribers to this list, as are those quoted in them -- Tommy Steiner, Gerald Steinberg and Josh Block.
Several readers who are opposed to American intervention in Syria, wrote to me about the last dispatch (“No, Al-Qaeda doesn’t dominate the Syrian opposition”). They say that I should have pointed out that the author of the first article in that dispatch from the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth O’Bagy – an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War – also works with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.
-- Tom Gross
ASSAD TELLS CHARLIE ROSE: OBAMA RUNS A ‘SOCIAL MEDIA ADMINISTRATION’. SHAMEFULLY, HE HAS A POINT
Assad tells Charlie Rose: Obama runs a ‘social media administration’. Shamefully, he has a point
By Mic Wright
Daily Telegraph (London)
September 10, 2013
Bashar al-Assad didn’t look like a thug in his interview with Charlie Rose. He isn’t a thug; he has thugs and murderers who can do his dirty work for him. His brother, Maher al-Assad, commands the regime’s Republican Guard and controls the Syrian Army’s 4th Armoured Division. It is they that the opposition and Western governments both suggest were behind the chemical weapons attack on August 21. Like most tyrants, Assad keeps his own hands clean and leaves the blood to the butchers. Maher is a butcher.
Maher’s record as a military strong man is long and brutal. Most infamously, he was in charge of crushing a prison riot in 2008 where 25 people were killed. Human rights groups verified footage of Maher snapping pictures of dismembered bodies with his mobile phone. That use of technology to record his crimes sits oddly with his older brother’s jibes at the American administration during the Charlie Rose interview. Bashar al-Assad said to Rose:
“How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evidence? We’re not like the American administration. We’re not a social media administration or government. We are a government that deals in reality.”
The fabrications of the past – fantasies about yellowcake uranium peddled by Colin Powell to the UN Security Council, the infamous 45-minute claim in the “dodgy dossier” – contributed to this situation. Assad is able to present the case for intervention against Syria as a he-said/she-said social media dispute. He is brazenly dismissing the claims of the rebels and Western governments. He’s putting the pictures of dead Syrians in the same category as a cat meme or a staged video of a fat woman falling down a hole.
By mugging to the online audience with stunts – such as when the White House tweeted a picture referencing Mean Girls – Obama’s administration has made itself open to satire. The Syrian despot tried a Jon Stewart act on Rose. He presented the US as liars – a charge also thrown at Obama by Putin. And it’s true that the lies of the past made the case for intervention unconvincing to the British public and Parliament alike.
Now Assad is able to dismiss America as a Twitter- and Facebook-obsessed group of posers. He’s identified a truth. Image is still triumphing over substance in the Syria debate. Most of the conversation is not about the lives of men, women and children but about how the narrative is playing out. It’s shameful.
(Mic Wright is the Telegraph’s chief tech blogger, specialising in technology, music and popular culture.)
“THAT A U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HAS TO POINT OUT TO EUROPEANS THAT THIS IS A ‘MUNICH MOMENT’ IS A DISGRACE TO WHAT THE EUROPEAN UNION OUGHT TO STAND FOR”
Has the EU abandoned the US on military action in Syria?
By Benjamin Weinthal
September 9, 2013
While many European leaders have shied away from backing a US-led military strike in Syria, Obama continues to press his campaign. Now, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting the strike, the EU stance may not matter.
BERLIN – US Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful push for European countries to join a coalition to strike Syria militarily, to deter its use of chemical weapons, is stumbling.
France remains the US’s only pro-strike ally among the 28 EU member countries. And even the tough French rhetoric is melting.
President François Hollande overruled his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s position that Paris would agree to military action before the release of the UN report on whether toxic agents were used in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21.
Hollande, who sought an accelerated track for military actions, now wants to wait on the report of the UN team, which is expected to be released in a few weeks.
Leading Israeli and international experts weighed in on the EU’s erratic and non-interventionist policies.
“The European fragmented and inconsistent response to the ongoing civil strife in Syria amounts to a moral bankruptcy. That a US secretary of state has to point out to Europeans that this is a ‘Munich Moment’ is a disgrace to what the European Union ought to stand for,” Tommy Steiner, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, wrote to The Jerusalem Post in an email on Sunday.
On the Middle East front, Europe and the US have turned inward.
Isolationist forces in the US and Europe have coalesced around a lack of appetite for intervention in the Syrian civil war.
“The entire Western take on Syria is not the finest moment in the history of the Transatlantic Community writ large. The public opinions of Europe and America are simply averse to the use of force. Their leaders have resorted to a new form of ‘leadership by public opinion polls,’” Steiner said.
“The end result is that the free and liberal world is abdicating its global moral high ground. This dismal episode might well constitute a watershed in global politics with sobering and unsettling questions for Israel and for the other Western allies in the Middle East and around the world,” he continued.
The soggy EU support for a bare minimum statement calling for a “strong international response” was underscored at the G20 meeting in Russia on Saturday. Germany initially refused to approve the statement, but a day later added its signature to the document.
France, Britain, Italy and Spain signed the statement. However, Spain is not a member of the G20 group of major economies.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told the Post, “EU officials point to soft power based on moral principles and mobilization of public opinion, but their inaction on Syria highlights the moral and political failure of soft power. As the British Parliament vote [against authorizing a strike in principle] revealed, the rhetoric of support for human rights is not backed by a readiness to take risks and pay a price to implement these principles.”
Steinberg, who has written extensively about EU-Israel relations, added “For over a decade, officials from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) distributed tens of millions of euros to political NGOs that target Israel, while ignoring Syria and other Arab totalitarian regimes. As a result, the European public and their representatives are not prepared to take action in order to enforce moral principles.”
Josh Block, head of The Israel Project and a veteran Middle East commentator, told the Post, “Given the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah axis that threatens not only Europe’s Arab allies but international peace and security, as well as the global consensus banning the use of chemical weapons – not to mention the continent’s historical experience with gassing of innocent men, women and children – it would seem clearly to be in the EU’s security and moral interest to take a firm stand, and rally in support of President Obama’s policy.”
Tom Gross, a British-born political commentator with expertise on the Middle East, told the Post, “President Obama’s approach toward Syria has been so muddled, so weak, over the past three years, and particularly in recent weeks, that many have failed to notice that the EU’s approach has been even worse.”
He continued, “Over the Syria issue, as with other issues, the European Union is not showing itself to be much of a union. And yet if the Syria conflict isn’t brought to a resolution soon, its spillover effects, particularly in terms of refugees and as a potential training ground for terrorists, could have far worse repercussions for Europeans than for Americans. Yet the EU, with the exception of France, seems to want to absolve itself from playing a much-needed role in international affairs. The Americans can’t be expected to do everything alone.”
The momentum for military action could pick up speed. After all, Saudi Arabia and Qatar came out on Sunday in favor of strikes.
The US might very well not find itself alone.
“SOMETIMES, WELL-MEANING LIES AND POLITICAL SPIN CAN BE JUST AS DEADLY, IN THE END, AS NERVE GAS”
Did Vladimir Putin Bait a Trap for the United States in Damascus?
By David Samuels
Tablet (online magazine)
September 3, 2013
The nerve-gas attack that left an estimated 1,000 or more dead civilians foaming at the mouth last month in Damascus constitutes a national security risk that the United States cannot afford to ignore, President Barack Obama argued in his televised remarks on Saturday, because it “risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.” A more precise description of the attack in Damascus was that it made a mockery of Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons – a line that Obama appears to have laid down precisely because he believed that it would never be crossed, thus providing America with a bullet-proof excuse for staying out of Syria’s bloody civil war.
So, who in their right mind would aim to force Obama into a conflict he obviously wants to avoid? Syria has little military or political interest in being bombed by the United States – especially now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clearly winning the war for primacy in Syria. In the context of the regime’s recent military gains, a chemical weapons attack on a civilian neighborhood in the middle of Damascus served no strategic purpose even remotely commensurate with the risk it entailed. The same goes for Syria’s regional allies: Hezbollah has little interest in their Syrian ally appearing to be even more of a monster, and Iran’s chief interest would appear to lie in encouraging the rest of the world to forget about WMD threats until they actually acquire a nuclear bomb.
Who actually benefited from breaching Obama’s “red line”? A compelling answer can be found in the nature of the attack itself. A Sarin gas attack like the one in Damascus requires days of preparation so that the chemical agents can be mixed and loaded into specialized delivery systems by trained handlers and troops in the region can be issued gas masks and other protective clothing. Orders must travel through a defined chain of command – allowing them to be intercepted, as they apparently were by Israeli intelligence, which put them in American hands before the attack was even launched. In other words, a nerve-gas attack is not the kind of atrocity that a local commander can order up on a whim to please his goons or terrify the locals into obedience. Except in the most extreme instances of Col. Kurtz-like madness or institutional disintegration, orders to use such weapons necessarily come from the top.
Clearly, suggesting that anyone aside from Assad gave the final order to launch a massive chemical weapons attack in the center of his own capital is tantamount to suggesting that Assad is no longer in charge of his regime – a suggestion for which there is no evidence. But the chain of military command inside Syria doesn’t end with the country’s president. The idea that Assad gave the order to carry out such a massive and politically dangerous attack without the approval of his Russian and Iranian advisers is also absurd – given the regime’s near-total reliance on Russian and Iranian strategic planning, supplies, fighters, and diplomatic backing for its week-to-week survival. Ditto for the idea that Russian or Iranian officers inside Syria gave their approval for such an attack without the blessing of the men at the top of their own chains of command: Ali Khamenei in Iran, and Vladimir Putin in Russia.
So, who – Khamenei or Putin – gave the OK? A reading of public statements by Iranian leaders suggests that they were at the least discomfited by the Syrian government’s actions, if not blind-sided by them. Both current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and former Iranian President Rafsanjani condemned the attack, with Rafsanjani openly naming the Syrian government as the perpetrator. Rouhani, for his part, called on “the international community to use all its might to prevent the use of these weapons anywhere in the world, especially in Syria” – which hardly seem like the words of a man whose immediate boss just OKed the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Which leaves the more influential and powerful authority figure in the room by nearly every conceivable measure, including disposable wealth, diplomatic throw-weight, and advanced weapons systems: Vladimir Putin.
The most illuminating way of understanding why Putin would greenlight a nerve-gas attack that would cross America’s “red lines” in Syria is therefore to ask how the Russian president understands U.S. policy toward the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – a policy whose real focus is not Syria but Iran.
Among students of the rougher techniques used by fascists, communists, and other old-fashioned political actors whose names rarely appear on ballots in contemporary Western democracies, the nerve-gas attack in Damascus is what’s known as a provocation. In the aesthetics of power that Putin learned from his instructors in the KGB, and that they learned from both their Leninist teachers and the Nazi enemy in WWII, a good provocation is a thing of beauty – a sinister and mind-bending event designed to elicit a response that will serve as a pretext for a predetermined course of action directed toward a larger strategic goal.
One of the classic aims of provocation as a technique is to alter the context in which future action takes place; the aggressor looks like he is defending himself, while the injured party looks like the aggressor. One major aim of this reversal is to disorient and demoralize the victim as well as anyone who is watching, a situation that often leads to paralysis, which further augments the aggressor’s tactical advantage. Some classic examples of provocation include the burning of the Reichstag, which was provoked by the Gestapo and led to Hitler’s formal seizure of power in Germany, or attacks on ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia and Poland that were staged or provoked by Nazi agents and then used as pretexts for the Nazi invasions of those countries. A more recent example of the technique can arguably be found in the 1999 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow by Chechen terrorists – attacks that may have been sanctioned by the FSB for the purpose of bringing Putin to power.
And while Hezbollah is silent and the Iranians condemn their ally’s actions, Putin appears to be enjoying himself at his victim’s expense. Calling claims of a Syrian nerve-gas strike “utter nonsense,” Putin told the Ria Novosti news agency last week that he had not seen even the slightest proof that the Syrian government was behind any use of chemical weapons, ever – or that chemical weapons had been used at all. “If they say that the governmental forces used weapons of mass destruction … and that they have proof of it, let them present it to the U.N. inspectors and the Security Council,” Putin opined, adding, “Claims that the proof exists but is classified and cannot be presented to anybody are below criticism.” Putin also seemed to delight in personally tweaking Obama – addressing him not as President of the United States but as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and urging him to embrace nonviolence.
If what happened in Damascus was a provocation, authored by Putin and intended to display American weakness to the world – the next question then becomes, why? Or, to put a finer point on things, what purpose, apart from the obvious pleasure of making Obama look like a sissy, was worth the risk of being held responsible – even partially responsible – for killing more than 1,000 people with weapons whose names are bywords for horror and whose use is a heinous crime under international law.
A worthy prize is not hard to find. While Obama was making his calculations about staying out of Syria – calculations that appear in retrospect to have been both reasonable and false – Putin was making his own calculations about the power vacuum that Obama had left behind in the Middle East. His first conclusion from studying that vacuum appears to have been that Obama wasn’t serious about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb – since that would mean involvement in another shooting war in the region. His second conclusion was that the best way to make that conclusion obvious was by crossing Obama’s “red line” in Syria – in response to which the U.S. president would probably do nothing, or next to nothing. What made the “red line” a perfect target for a provocation was that the line was never serious; it was a fig-leaf for excusing American inaction in a bloody civil war while keeping alive the president’s stated commitment to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
It is also worth noting that the nerve-gas attack in Syria is simply the latest and biggest in a series of incidents in which Putin has chosen to publicly confront the United States and stick his finger in Obama’s eye. First, Putin chose to give NSA leaker Edward Snowden refuge in Moscow’s airport and then in Moscow itself – a decision that led Obama to cancel his planned summit meeting with the Russian president, which presumably was a consequence that Putin both predicted and welcomed. Second, Putin decided to criminalize homosexuality at the Sochi Olympics – a thumb in the eye to an American government that prided itself on its acceptance of gay marriage. The U.S. press treated each of these incidents as indications that Putin is a difficult, ornery person – when in retrospect, they appear to be part of an ongoing global campaign to put Moscow on one side and Washington on the other. Applying the wedge tactics in the global arena that were so successful in Putin’s use of the Pussy Riot incident at home was an interesting novelty, it seemed, but nothing more. What was missing was any sense of why Putin would suddenly find it to Russia’s advantage to stoke conflict with Washington.
Evidence for why Putin might have gambled on America backing down is again easy to find. Obama made it plain that his only real interest in the Middle East was to get American troops out of the region as fast as possible. His famous Cairo speech, which so excited global commentators, pro and con, was a rhetorical signal that America was taking a new direction after eight years of war. The direction Obama clearly favored was “out” – out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan, out of the business of backing Hosni Mubarak and other regional dictators, out of attempts to overthrow or destabilize the regime in Iran, out of any real effort to create a Palestinian state or force Israel to leave the West Bank.
For Washington policymakers on both sides of the aisle, Obama’s new direction for Mideast policy made plenty of sense. The American economy was weakened by a decade of wars, the American people were tired, and the Pentagon was broke. Attempts at using limited force in Libya had created a mess that made even reasonable people long for the days of Muammar al-Qaddafi. Egypt, where Obama hoped for an accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood, slid into economic chaos and hopeless misrule. On the plus side, what was left of al-Qaida seemed more or less under control – and there was also the surprising news that, thanks to improved technology for extracting oil from shale deposits, America was on track to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017. So, why bother with the Middle East?
The president’s Syria policy was therefore an entirely coherent example of his larger approach to the region: Let Assad’s forces and the Sunni jihadists stomp on each other’s corpses and then YouTube it, while America provided airplane meals to a limited number of people who professed their belief in some form of democratic, nonsectarian government. The appointment of Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was icing on the policy cake, ensuring that the Pulitzer Prize-winner would be too busy explaining Syria policy to her fellow delegates and Ivy League grads to write a book denouncing Obama as an accomplice to genocide. It was perfect set-up, until Putin ruined it all with a nasty poison gas attack on Obama’s face-saving “red line.”
The prize Putin is seeking for obliterating the American “red line” is not victory in Syria – since his client Assad is clearly winning anyway. The point of the attack is to publically expose Obama’s deep ambivalence about the use of force to stop Iran. If Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria can fall so easily, after the public deaths of more than 1,000 innocent people, including hundreds of children who died foaming at the mouth, how many cruise missiles might Iran’s putative acquisition of nuclear weapons capacity cost? Two hundred? One hundred? Zero? The answer now is plain: However many missiles they might fire, America has no stomach for fighting a war in Syria, let alone in Iran.
Putin needs to make America look weak because Russia is weak. The major source of Russian weakness is Vladimir Putin – or rather, the system that Putin has imposed on Russia so that he can continue in his dual capacity as the country’s elected leader and also its richest man. When he decided to run for president again in 2012, Putin was faced with a fateful choice: He could work to make Russia an attractive destination for foreign capital by strengthening the rule of law and loosening the grip of the oligarchs, or he could choose to strengthen his own rule, according to the methods that were most familiar to him. Putin’s decision to use fraudulent means to win the presidential election, and then to clamp down hard on subsequent criticism, closing down newspapers and throwing critics in jail, made perfect sense to a man bred in an authoritarian state. It also ensured that the Russian economy would continue to be run through Putin and the oligarchs – the backbone of his political support – in ways that were unlikely to encourage rational foreign investment. The decay of the Russian economy under Putin means that foreign policy is not a moral exercise – rather, it is the only means by which Russia’s current economic leverage can be sustained.
By showing that Obama’s America is unable and unwilling to keep its promises, Putin has widened the leadership void in the Middle East – as a prelude to filling it himself. By helping to clear Iran’s path to a bomb, Putin positions himself as Iran’s most powerful ally – while paradoxically gaining greater leverage with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, who would much rather negotiate with Russia than with Iran, their sworn enemy. While the Americans were heading out of the Middle East, and the Chinese were too busy with their own internal debates about the future of their economy and society, Putin saw that something valuable had been abandoned on the world stage, and he took it. For the price of 1,000 dead civilians in Damascus, he has gained great power status in the oil-rich Middle East. Iran, for its part, gets the bomb, which isn’t great news for anyone, but was probably going to happen anyway.
The first lesson here for American policymakers is that Putin may or may not be evil, but he is obviously much smarter than they are – and he knows it. Another lesson worth learning is that American belief in promoting ostensibly universal aims like promoting democracy or halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the limited and well-meaning use of military force is only sensible in a world of people who share American values and preferences.
Since no such world exists, at least right now, and probably ever, Americans might be better off crediting the notion that while we are thinking our thoughts, other people are thinking their own thoughts, which are shaped by very different experiences and aesthetics – and that are likely to shape a world that we no longer control, in part because we have decided that telling people in faraway places what to do is the ultimate sin. In that belief, as in many others, Obama – and not his critics on the left and on the right – accurately reflects the will of the American people, who have experienced the endless wars of the last 50 years as a pointless waste of lives and treasure whose only clear outcomes appear to be piles of corpses abroad and the diminishment of basic liberties at home.
Only time will tell whose evil is worse – Putin’s or Obama’s. While Putin delights in using the old-school KGB playbook to consolidate his one-man rule, and to expose the empty moral posturing of the West, Obama believes that he can talk his way into a workable accommodation between his own sense of morality and global reality. But the lesson of Obama’s fig leaf is that it is better to be honest about what we are doing in the world and why. If Putin baited a trap for the United States in Damascus, it was Obama who walked right into it. If Obama had stood up and declared that the United States had no vital interest in Syria but would stop Iran from getting nukes – and would prosecute the authors of the nerve-gas attack at The Hague – then Putin would have been trapped. The same would have been true if Obama had said nothing and blown up two or three of Assad’s palaces. But he did neither. Sometimes, well-meaning lies and political spin can be just as deadly, in the end, as nerve gas.
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
There is another dispatch today here:
1. A lack of fact checking by journalists eager to promote the moderate Rouhani myth
2. Student at British university deliberately given low mark because she was Israeli is finally compensated
3. Palestinians throw rocks at Jews on Rosh Hashana
4. Israel security forces foil Hamas bomb plot in Jerusalem shopping centre
5. Bomb-proof backpack for children
[Notes below by Tom Gross]
A LACK OF FACT CHECKING BY JOURNALISTS EAGER TO PROMOTE THE MODERATE ROUHANI MYTH
Iranian President Rouhani didn’t offer Jews a “Blessed Rosh Hashanah” -- the English-language tweet reported around the world yesterday was a hoax, according to Rouhani’s spokesperson Mohammad Reza Sadeq, and Iran’s official Fars News Agency.
The fake message was widely reported by Western journalists, none of whom appear to have done any fact checking, since Rouhani doesn’t even have a twitter account.
Media outlets, especially left wing ones, have been eager to portray Rouhani, a ruthless regime insider, as a moderate.
Those reporting on Rouhani’s fake tweet included CNN, The Washington Post and the Israeli anti-Netanyahu paper Ha’aretz.
Among other recent dispatches on Rouhani, please see:
STUDENT AT BRITISH UNIVERSITY DELIBERATELY GIVEN LOW MARK BECAUSE SHE WAS ISRAELI IS FINALLY COMPENSATED
This is a follow-up to one of the notes in the dispatch of December 30, 2011, titled
Smadar Bakovic (also written as Berkovich), an Israeli postgraduate student at Britain’s prestigious Warwick University, has finally won an official apology and £1,000 compensation from the university after her dissertation was deliberately given a poor mark purely because she was an Israeli Jew.
The low mark was awarded by Nicola Pratt, associate professor at the university’s politics and international studies department. Pratt is known for her attacks on Israel, which she has made in letters to The Guardian and elsewhere.
The university authorities allowed Bakovic’s dissertation to be re-marked by other professors overseen by an external examiner from outside Warwick University, and she obtained a distinction, with a much higher score than Pratt awarded.
As I wrote previously on this case:
However, the authorities at Warwick University are refusing to discipline Prof. Pratt, and there has been remarkably little national newspaper coverage of this story in the British press.
One wonders if there would have been so little media coverage if a student was marked down by a politically active professor at a top university for being African, or Arab, or anything else other than an Israeli Jew.
PALESTINIANS THROW ROCKS AT JEWS ON ROSH HASHANA
Jews visiting Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, cowered for safety when dozens of Palestinian men and boys, many wearing masks, began lobbing rocks at them. Israeli security forces were called to the scene. They chased the rock-throwers into mosques but did not pursue them inside.
ISRAEL SECURITY FORCES FOIL HAMAS BOMB PLOT IN JERUSALEM SHOPPING CENTRE
A plot by Hamas to bomb an upscale Jerusalem shopping mall during the Jewish New Year holidays has been thwarted by Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet.
The agency announced it had arrested several Palestinians who belonged to a Hamas terror cell. Some of those detained worked at the Mamilla Mall, where they planned to smuggle the bomb and hide it until the time it was to be detonated during the Jewish holidays when the mall is filled with people. Steel balls to increase the deadly effect of the explosives were found together with the bomb. The Shin Bet said the cell confessed that the mall bomb was only one of a number of terror attacks they were planning to carry out.
BOMB-PROOF BACKPACK FOR CHILDREN
As the new school year begins in Israel, an Israeli designer has created a bomb-proof backpack that is said to protect all vital organs from the impact of an explosion using 19 layers of Kevlar fabric, the same material used in flak jackets. In the event of an attack, a child would need to pull side straps and yellow strings from the hood to create the equivalent of a personal bomb shelter.
“The backpack was designed as a bag for children and teenagers but can be used by adults as well with different design changes which are being processed,” designer Hila Raam, 27, told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. “I wanted to protect people while they were in open spaces and couldn’t find shelter in a limited time frame.”
However, the steep price (almost $500) will prove off-putting to many potential purchasers.
G20 leaders in St Petersburg, Russia discuss Syria yesterday
* Elizabeth O’Bagy: “Since few journalists are reporting from inside the country, our understanding of the civil war is not only inadequate, but often dangerously inaccurate... In the past year, I have made numerous trips to Syria, traveling throughout the northern provinces of Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo. I have spent hundreds of hours with Syrian opposition groups ranging from Free Syrian Army affiliates to the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade. Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged predominantly by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards.”
* Anne Applebaum: “Twenty-one years ago this summer, Bill Clinton was crisscrossing the United States, campaigning for president and denouncing the White House for its failure to stop the Bosnian war. In July 1992 he spoke of the “renegade regime” in Serbia, called on the UN to tighten sanctions and, after the publication of particularly harrowing photographs from a Serbian concentration camp, declared that Americans must do “whatever it takes to stop the slaughter of civilians.” If elected, he declared, he would begin “with air power against the Serbs.”
“Alas, Clinton had not, at that point, learned about the power of language or about the ways in which an American president’s words can be interpreted around the world. What seemed like mere campaign rhetoric to him – “renegade regime,” “whatever it takes” – seemed like a promise to those who were fighting. Croats and Muslims took heart... They were to be disappointed: What was useful to Candidate Clinton was problematic to President Clinton, who spent the next several years delaying until major diplomatic and then military intervention became clumsily inevitable.”
* David Aaronovitch on Ed Milliband, the British opposition leader who made it easier for Assad to continuing gassing his own people: “And in this moment of crisis it became clear – as it does – what Mr Miliband is. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.”
1. “On the front lines of Syria’s civil war” (by Elizabeth O’Bagy, Wall St. Journal, Aug. 31, 2013)
2. “Obama’s mixed messages on Syria” (by Anne Applebaum, Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2013
3. “Ed Miliband is no leader. He is a vulture” (By David Aaronovitch, The Times of London, Sept. 5 2013)
I attach three articles below.
THE WESTERN MEDIA BUYS INTO ASSAD’S PROPAGANDA
On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War
The conventional wisdom – that jihadists are running the rebellion – is not what I’ve witnessed on the ground
By Elizabeth O’Bagy
Wall Street Journal
August 31, 2013
With the U.S. poised to attack Syria, debate is raging over what that attack should look like, and what, if anything, the U.S. is capable of accomplishing. Those questions can’t be answered without taking a very close look at the situation in Syria from ground level.
Since few journalists are reporting from inside the country, our understanding of the civil war is not only inadequate, but often dangerously inaccurate. Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda; that the forces of President Bashar Assad not only have the upper hand on the battlefield, but may be the only thing holding the country together; and that nowhere do U.S. interests align in Syria – not with the regime and not with the rebels. The word from many American politicians is that the best U.S. policy is to stay out. As Sarah Palin put it: “Let Allah sort it out.”
In the past year, I have made numerous trips to Syria, traveling throughout the northern provinces of Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo. I have spent hundreds of hours with Syrian opposition groups ranging from Free Syrian Army affiliates to the Ahrar al-Sham Brigade.
The conventional wisdom holds that the extremist elements are completely mixed in with the more moderate rebel groups. This isn’t the case. Moderates and extremists wield control over distinct territory. Although these areas are often close to one another, checkpoints demarcate control. On my last trip into Syria earlier this month, we traveled freely through parts of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army, following roads that kept us at safe distance from the checkpoints marked by the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq. Please see the nearby map for more detail.
Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards. The jihadists pouring into Syria from countries like Iraq and Lebanon are not flocking to the front lines. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on consolidating control in the northern, rebel-held areas of the country.
Groups like Jabhat al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, are all too happy to take credit for successes on the battlefield, and are quick to lay claim to opposition victories on social media. This has often led to the impression that these are spearheading the fight against the Syrian government. They are not.
These groups care less about defeating Assad than they do about establishing and holding their Islamic emirate in the north of the country. Many Jabhat al Nusra fighters left in the middle of ongoing rebel operations in Homs, Hama and Idlib to head for Raqqa province once the provincial capital fell in March 2013. During the battle for Qusayr in late May, Jabhat al Nusra units were noticeably absent. In early June, rebel reinforcements rallied to take the town of Talbiseh, north of Homs city, while Jabhat al Nusra fighters preferred to stay in the liberated areas to fill the vacuum that the Free Syrian Army affiliates had left behind.
Moderate opposition forces – a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army – continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime. While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I’ve watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups. They’ve demonstrated a willingness to submit to civilian authority, working closely with local administrative councils. And they have struggled to ensure that their fight against Assad will pave the way for a flourishing civil society. One local council I visited in a part of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army was holding weekly forums in which citizens were able to speak freely, and have their concerns addressed directly by local authorities.
Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France. This is especially true in the south, where weapons provided by the Saudis have made a significant difference on the battlefield, and have helped fuel a number of recent rebel advances in Damascus.
Thanks to geographic separation from extremist strongholds and reliable support networks in the south, even outdated arms sent by the Saudis, like Croatian rocket-launchers and recoilless rifles, have allowed moderate rebel groups to make significant inroads into areas that had previously been easily defended by the regime, and to withstand the pressure of government forces in the capital. In recent months, the opposition has achieved major victories in Aleppo, Idlib, Deraa and Damascus – nearly reaching the heart of the capital – despite the regime’s consolidation in Homs province.
At this stage in the conflict, barring a major bombing campaign by the U.S., sophisticated weaponry, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon systems, may be the opposition’s best chance at sustaining its fight against Assad. This is something only foreign governments, not jihadists, can offer. Right now, Saudi sources that are providing the rebels critical support tell me that they haven’t sent more effective weaponry because the U.S. has explicitly asked them not to.
There is no denying that groups like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham have gained a foothold in the north of Syria, and that they have come to dominate local authorities there, including by imposing Shariah law. Such developments are more the result of al Qaeda affiliates having better resources than an indicator of local support. Where they have won over the local population, they have done so through the distribution of humanitarian aid.
Yet Syrians have pushed back against the hard-line measures imposed on them by some of these extremists groups. While I was last in northern Syria in early August, I witnessed nearly daily protests by thousands of citizens against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in areas of Aleppo.
Where does this leave the U.S. as the White House contemplates a possible strike? The Obama administration has emphasized that regime change is not its goal. But a punitive measure undertaken just to send a message would likely produce more harm than good. If the Syrian government is not significantly degraded, a U.S. strike could very well bolster Assad’s position and highlight American weakness, paving the way for continued atrocities.
Instead, any U.S. action should be part of a larger, comprehensive strategy coordinated with our allies that has the ultimate goal of destroying Assad’s military capability while simultaneously empowering the moderate opposition with robust support, including providing them with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon systems. This should be combined with diplomatic and political efforts to first create an international coalition to put pressure on Assad and his supporters, and then working to encourage an intra-Syrian dialogue. Having such a strategy in place would help alleviate the concerns of key allies, like Britain, and ensure greater international support for U.S. action.
The U.S. must make a choice. It can address the problem now, while there is still a large moderate force with some shared U.S. interests, or wait until the conflict has engulfed the entire region. Iran and its proxies will be strengthened, as will al Qaeda and affiliated extremists. Neither of these outcomes serves U.S. strategic interests.
(Ms. O’Bagy is a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.)
AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT’S WORDS
Obama’s mixed messages on Syria
By Anne Applebaum
September 4, 2013
Twenty-one years ago this summer, Bill Clinton was crisscrossing the United States, campaigning for president and denouncing the White House for its failure to stop the Bosnian war. In July 1992 he spoke of the “renegade regime” in Serbia, called on the United Nations to tighten sanctions and, after the publication of particularly harrowing photographs from a Serbian concentration camp, declared that Americans must do “whatever it takes to stop the slaughter of civilians.” If elected, he declared, he would begin “with air power against the Serbs.”
Alas, Clinton had not, at that point, learned about the power of language or about the ways in which an American president’s words can be interpreted around the world. What seemed like mere campaign rhetoric to him – “renegade regime,” “whatever it takes” – seemed like a promise to those who were fighting. Croats and Muslims took heart, remained wary of peace talks and kept fighting – on the assumption that the new U.S. administration would come to their rescue.
They were to be disappointed: What was useful to Candidate Clinton was problematic to President Clinton, who spent the next several years delaying until major diplomatic and then military intervention became clumsily inevitable. One analyst of the war described the Clinton administration’s early policy in Bosnia as: “to pronounce on principle, prevaricate in practice and preempt the policies and plans of others.”
Fast-forward two decades, and another administration is in a remarkably similar position. To be clear: The central problem of the Obama administration’s Syria policy is not that the president has failed to use military force but that both the president and his top officials have implied that they might use force, then backed away, then once again picked up the rhetoric. To put it bluntly, President Obama has also failed to understand the ways in which an American president’s words will be interpreted around the world.
For example, in August 2011 Obama declared: “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” To Syrians fighting on the ground, that may have sounded like a promise that U.S. military support, or at least substantial military aid, was imminent. Neither was forthcoming. This June, the White House authorized the CIA to begin arming some of the Syrian rebels. This sounded even more like a promise, but as of last week that aid also had yet to arrive.
The president famously declared a year ago that the use of chemical weapons constituted a “red line” in Syria. But now that the red line has been crossed, the president has decided that he needs congressional support before he can respond. This is perfectly legitimate – but shouldn’t it have been obtained earlier, at the time the promise was made? Certainly the Syrian regime interpreted the president’s sudden and unexpected desire for congressional support as a “historic American retreat.” Its media gloated accordingly.
If you wanted to do so, you could read something sinister into these tactics. Perhaps, some unnamed officials suggested to the Wall Street Journal this week, these delays and sudden changes are intentional: Perhaps the administration’s point is to “tilt” the fighting away from Assad but to prevent an outright rebel victory – in other words, to prolong the war. If so, this administration is even more ruthlessly cynical than its critics have maintained, and Syrian conspiracy theorists are right on the mark.
But whether that is true hardly matters because the effect is the same: As happened in Bosnia, American pontification, prevarication and postponement in Syria have preempted the policies of others and delayed negotiations. The civil war continues; with every month the devastation increases, the refugees multiply and the levels of political extremism rise. Back in June, the Group of Eight called for “urgent” peace talks. But there are no negotiations to speak of, in part because the Syrian rebels continue to hang on for Western military support that always seems to be just around the corner but never quite materializes.
Two decades ago, five years ago and today, the source of the problem is the same: The president of the United States wishes to represent things – justice, fairness, international norms – that he cannot, or will not, or doesn’t know how to defend in practice. In the future, it would be far more just, and far less cruel, for the president, and the rest of us, simply to say nothing at all.
“A VULTURE, NOT A LEADER”
Ed Miliband is no leader. He is a vulture
The Syria vote crystallised his failings. He waits for mistakes, then like a scavenger exploits them
By David Aaronovitch
The Times (of London)
September 5 2013
At the weekend a left-leaning colleague from another newspaper came home from holiday abroad and began asking his associates how Ed Miliband had come by his position on Syria. And no one could really tell him. It was a mystery. Somehow the Labour leader had ended up being the agent of Britain bowing out of any military response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
This colleague realised that last week’s vote was the biggest moment of Mr Milband’s leadership. It is the act that tells you more about him than anything else he has done.
In deciding to oppose the Government’s motion – which incorporated most of the caveats to action which Labour had previously asked for – Mr Miliband and his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, went far beyond duffing up poor old post-beach, red-shouldered David Cameron. Mr Cameron, after all, is their day-to-day foe. They also rejected the call by President Obama that Mr Assad “be held accountable” for an action that, dreadful in itself, posed a huge risk to others if it went unpunished.
They turned down the appeal of John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, for a response both punitive and exemplary against Syria’s armed capacity. They decided not to heed President Hollande’s assertion that “when a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer”.
These leaders are not Bush and Cheney, they are not the semi-mythical veins-in-my-teeth rocket-penised neocons. Labour supported Mr Kerry for president in 2004 (maybe Ed, in the US and silent during the Iraq war even campaigned for him), they backed Mr Obama in 2008 and 2012, and celebrated when Mr Hollande won the French presidency. These men are not just Britain’s allies. They are Labour’s natural friends. No one could accuse Mr Obama of having rushed into anything over Syria.
So how did Ed Miliband end up hindering these friends? What was his strategy? What did he actually want to happen?
The simple fact is that everyone knew where David Cameron stood. He believed that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons on a large scale on August 21. And he believed that it was necessary for an armed response to that attack to punish Assad, to weaken his military, to deter him from further use of chemical weapons and to deter others.
But what did Labour want? A couple of months ago I had a conversation about Syria with Douglas Alexander, a man I’ve always liked and – until that moment – thought highly of. He was being critical in a sort of nitpicking, legalistic way of the Government’s position on Syria. I said to him that people had a right to expect an idea of Labour’s foreign policy strategy in broad outline. It was the job of the Opposition, he replied to me, to hold the Government to account.
So, in the first instance Labour said they wanted evidence. Remember? “First the evidence and then the decision”? With the suggestion surely that if the evidence was forthcoming, then the decision would be for action. After all, if you were already decided on inaction, then why wait for the evidence?
The Government’s motion, if passed, would have allowed for that process, but it was opposed and defeated. In the absence of a commitment by Labour to support the Government when the evidence was available, Mr Cameron cannot bring another motion to the House.
Since then the Labour position has mutated. Forget the evidence. Forget the plans. Forget the argument. Forget the legality. It was being put about this week that Labour would now only back action if “there is a very significant change. There are two examples: if al-Qaeda got possession of very large stockpiles of weapons or if there is a direct threat to national security”. By next week it will only be if a member of the Assad family with a pot marked “anthrax” jumps on the Duchess of Cambridge.
How has Labour ended up in a situation whereby a major attack with chemical weapons could happen without a significant reponse by this country in concert with its allies? Mr Miliband could have accepted the government motion last week and taken the credit for getting a proper process established before action.
And he was presumably aware that the casualties would not just consist of David Cameron, but of any future Prime Minister’s incapacity to suggest a course of action – however essential – that might be unpopular in the country. Of his own future capacity to take action.
Peter Hain in an article this week argued that there could be no military victory but only “a negotiated settlement between Assad and his enemies”. That at least is a position. An impossible one, but it’s a position.
Does Labour believe it, though? Does Labour, in fact, believe anything? Anything at any rate that it is prepared to risk actually saying? During the debate it sunk itself into the Coalition of the Unwilling. There was the usual heavy nodding during routine invocations of “exit strategies” and “mission creeps”. Let them fight it out between themselves. The Tory Right and pro-Assad George Galloway commended Mr Miliband for his blow for democracy. From outside Parliament Nigel Farage did the same.
And perhaps here we do come to it. We are living through a bad-tempered and isolationist moment in British politics. When Mr Galloway and Mr Farage agree it is because something sounds good to both of them. It was well put by Lord Ashcroft this week. “People,” he wrote, “see the pace of change continuing and even accelerating, and they know Britain in 20 years will look different from the Britain of today, let alone that of 20 years ago. Some welcome that, many are ambivalent and others are scared.”
Many want to stop the world. No entanglements. Fewer immigrants. Stop this, don’t build that. Get out of Europe. Above all a section of the electorate wants to stop things from happening.
And Ed Miliband intuited that the British people, overall, probably didn’t want something to take place over Syria, and decided that instead of arguing with them, he’d join them. Just as he has done over immigration. He’d become the spokesman for nothing. He wouldn’t outline his own alternative strategy – he’d just defeat Mr Cameron’s.
And in this moment of crisis it became clear – as it does – what Mr Miliband is. A personable man (and he is a very pleasant companion), politically he is not a presence at all, he is an absence. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.
And though you can just about see how in a bad year Ed Miliband could become prime minister, what I cannot any longer pretend, after three years of his leadership, is that he would be a good one. On the contrary. I think he would be a disaster. Strangely, I think both the country and his party already know it.
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gives an interview to Le Figaro yesterday
GUERNICA WAS ONLY A SMALL MARKET TOWN OF 7,000 PEOPLE
* Herb Keinon: “Trust us,” the world – led by the U.S. – has urged Israel for years on Iran. “We will deal with Iran, we will not allow them to get nuclear weapons. Even if they do, there is little chance they will use them. Nobody is that crazy.”
* Really? Syrian President Bashar Assad is that crazy, using chemical weapons in broad daylight against his own people, even though he knew he would be held culpable. Israelis have noted the rows and rows of gassed bodies wrapped eerily in white shrouds less than 200 miles from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
* Wall Street Journal editorial: President Obama’s Syrian melodrama will go down as one of the stranger gambles, if not abdications, in Commander in Chief history. For days his aides had been saying the President has the Constitutional power to act alone in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and that he planned to do so. On Friday, he rolled out Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a moral and strategic call to arms and declare that a response was urgent.
* If the point of the bombing is primarily to “send a message,” as the President says, well, then, apparently Congress must now co-sign the letter and send it via snail mail… Around the world Obama has so far mobilized mainly a coalition of the unwilling, with even the British Parliament refusing to follow his lead. By comparison, George W. Bush on Iraq looks like Metternich.
* Unlike the British in 1956, the U.S. can’t retreat from east of Suez without grave consequences. The U.S. replaced the British, but there is no one to replace America.
* Dominic Lawson: “Forget the massacre of thousands in Syria and Egypt, whether by chemical weapons or more conventional methods of mass slaughter. The Middle Eastern issue galvanising some of our musical mega-stars and their followers, even now, is the treatment by Israel of Palestinians. A fortnight ago the violinist Nigel Kennedy told the audience at the BBC Proms concert that Israel should “get rid of apartheid”.
* “Hyperbole has surrounded that little nation ever since it was created in 1948 and the secretary of the Arab League pronounced, as five Arab countries launched a joint attack on the one-day-old state: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.” Now the exterminations and massacres are Arab on Arab; but somehow it will still be said to be all to do with Israel.”
* When the wave of popular uprisings sometimes known as “the Arab Spring” reached Syria, Damascus’s envoy in London went on BBC’s Newsnight to tell a clearly startled Jeremy Paxman that “the Israelis could be behind it.” Actually, the Israeli government was most discomfited by the uprisings in the region. It is Israeli citizens who are now stampeding for gas masks.
* David Horovitz: Though dutifully silent in public … the Israeli political and security leadership is privately horrified by President Obama’s 11th-hour turnaround on striking Syria… And it is profoundly concerned that the president has set a precedent, in seeking an authorization from Congress that he had no legal requirement to seek – and that Congress was not loudly demanding – that may complicate, delay or even rule out credible action to thwart a challenge that dwarfs Assad’s chemical weapons capability: Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons.
* Fouad Ajami: Pablo Picasso immortalized Guernica for the bombing it suffered in the Spanish Civil War. But Guernica was a small market town of 7,000 people, and it was attacked by German and Italian bombers; Aleppo, which endured the brutality of the regime’s fighter planes, is a city of more than 2 million.
* The Obama administration has already announced an intended strike of limited duration and magnitude, and done even this with an air of doubt and irresolution. The dictator has already been told that his regime is off-limits. From the very beginning of this terrible war, Assad has been smugness itself. He had warned the rebels that no foreign cavalry would ride to their rescue. Borrowing a page from the book of his late father, Assad has openly proclaimed that America did not have the stamina for tests of strength in the Levant.
You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
You can read other dispatches on Syria from the last few days here:
* Video: Syrian refugees: “May God bless Israel”
* “Like figures unearthed in Pompeii”
* Israeli intelligence: Chemical weapons were fired by Assad’s brother Maher’s unit
1. “Leading From Behind Congress” (Wall Street Journal editorial, Sept. 1, 2013)
2. “Obama unleashes horror in Jerusalem” (By David Horovitz, Times of Israel, Sept. 1, 2013)
3. “Weak world response on Syria boosts chance of strong Israeli action on Iran” (By Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 1, 2013)
4. “Destroy Assad’s regime, or hold your fire” (By Fouad Ajami, Bloomberg news, Aug. 29, 2013)
5. “So who still thinks Israel is the root of Middle East problems?” (By Dominic Lawson, The Independent, Sept. 2, 2013)
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach five articles below.
The writers of all these pieces are long-time subscribers to this email list.
Dominic Lawson was the editor of the Sunday Telegraph when I was the paper’s Jerusalem correspondent. This is his last column for the left-leaning British paper The Independent, and it is notable that he chose to write about Israel, a topic he does not write on often. (The Independent has a ferociously anti-Israel record; its chief Middle East correspondent is the notorious Robert Fisk.)
David Horovitz is the editor of The Times of Israel (and previously editor of The Jerusalem Post).
Herb Keinon is the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post.
Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was born to a Shia family in Lebanon.
LEADING FROM BEHIND CONGRESS
Leading From Behind Congress
Obama recklessly gambles with American credibility.
Wall Street Journal (editorial)
September 1, 2013
President Obama’s Syrian melodrama went from bad to worse on Saturday with his surprise decision to seek Congressional approval for what he promises will be merely a limited cruise-missile bombing. Mr. Obama will now have someone else to blame if Congress blocks his mission, but in the bargain he has put at risk his credibility and America’s standing in the world with more than 40 months left in office.
This will go down as one of the stranger gambles, if not abdications, in Commander in Chief history. For days his aides had been saying the President has the Constitutional power to act alone in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and that he planned to do so. On Friday, he rolled out Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a moral and strategic call to arms and declare that a response was urgent.
But on Friday night, according to leaks from this leakiest of Administrations, the President changed his mind. A military strike was not so urgent that it couldn’t wait for Congress to finish its August recess and vote the week of its return on September 9. If the point of the bombing is primarily to “send a message,” as the President says, well, then, apparently Congress must co-sign the letter and send it via snail mail.
It’s hard not to see this as primarily a bid for political cover, a view reinforced when the President’s political consigliere David Axelrod taunted on Twitter that “Congress is now the dog that caught the car.” Mr. Obama can read the polls, which show that most of the public opposes intervention in Syria. Around the world he has so far mobilized mainly a coalition of the unwilling, with even the British Parliament refusing to follow his lead. By comparison, George W. Bush on Iraq looks like Metternich.
But what does anyone expect given Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy leadership? Since he began running for President, Mr. Obama has told Americans that he wants to retreat from the Middle East, that the U.S. has little strategic interest there, that any differences with our enemies can be settled with his personal diplomacy, that our priority must be “nation-building at home,” and that “the tide of war is receding.” For two-and-a-half years, he has also said the U.S. has no stake in Syria.
The real political surprise, not to say miracle, is that after all of this so many Americans still support military action in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons – 50% in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll. Despite his best efforts, Mr. Obama hasn’t turned Americans into isolationists.
A Congressional vote can be useful when it educates the public and rallies more political support. A national consensus is always desirable when the U.S. acts abroad. But the danger in this instance is that Mr. Obama is trying to sell a quarter-hearted intervention with half-hearted conviction.
From the start of the Syrian uprising, these columns have called for Mr. Obama to mobilize a coalition to support the moderate rebels. This would depose an enemy of the U.S. and deal a major blow to Iran’s ambition to dominate the region.
The problem with the intervention that Mr. Obama is proposing is that it will do little or nothing to end the civil war or depose Assad. It is a one-off response intended to vindicate Mr. Obama’s vow that there would be “consequences” if Assad used chemical weapons. It is a bombing gesture detached from a larger strategy. This is why we have urged a broader campaign to destroy Assad’s air force and arm the moderate rebels to help them depose the regime and counter the jihadists who are gaining strength as the war continues.
The very limitations of Mr. Obama’s intervention will make it harder for him to win Congress’s support. He is already sure to lose the votes of the left and Rand Paul right. But his lack of a strategy risks losing the support of even those like GOP Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who have long wanted America to back the Syrian rebels.
Yet now that Mr. Obama has tossed the issue to Congress, the stakes are far higher than this single use of arms in Syria or this President’s credibility. Mr. Obama has put America’s role as a global power on the line.
A defeat in Congress would signal to Bashar Assad and the world’s other thugs that the U.S. has retired as the enforcer of any kind of world order. This would be dangerous at any time, but especially with more than three long years left in this Presidency. Unlike the British in 1956, the U.S. can’t retreat from east of Suez without grave consequences. The U.S. replaced the British, but there is no one to replace America.
The world’s rogues would be further emboldened and look for more weaknesses to exploit. Iran would conclude it can march to a nuclear weapon with impunity. Israel, Japan, the Gulf states and other American friends would have to recalculate their reliance on U.S. power and will.
These are the stakes that Mr. Obama has so recklessly put before Congress. His mishandling of Syria has been so extreme that we can’t help but wonder if he really wants to lose this vote. Then he would have an excuse for further cutting defense and withdrawing America even more from world leadership. We will give him the benefit of the doubt, but only because incompetence and narrow political self-interest are more obvious explanations for his behavior.
All of which means that the adults in Congress – and there are some – will have to save the day. The draft language for authorizing force that Mr. Obama has sent to Congress is too narrowly drawn as a response to WMD. Congress should broaden it to give the President more ability to respond to reprisals, support the Syrian opposition and assist our allies if they are attacked.
The reason to do this and authorize the use of force is not to save this President from embarrassment. It is to rescue American credibility and strategic interests from this most feckless of Presidents.
“FOR THE LEADERSHIP HERE, THE ALTERNATIVE IS TOO AWFUL TO CONTEMPLATE”
Obama unleashes horror in Jerusalem
By David Horovitz
Times of Israel
September 1, 2013
The Israeli political and security leadership is privately horrified by President Barack Obama’s 11th-hour turnaround on striking Syria – a decision he took alone, after he had sent his Secretary of State John Kerry to speak out passionately and urgently in favor of military action. It is now fearful that, in the end, domestic politics or global diplomacy will ultimately lead the US to hold its fire altogether.
It is worried, furthermore, at the ever-deeper perception of Obama’s America in the Middle East as weak, hesitant and confused – most especially in the view of the region’s most radical forces, notably including Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran.
And it is profoundly concerned that the president has set a precedent, in seeking an authorization from Congress that he had no legal requirement to seek – and that Congress was not loudly demanding – that may complicate, delay or even rule out credible action to thwart a challenge that dwarfs Assad’s chemical weapons capability: Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported Sunday night that, once Obama had zigzagged to his decision not to strike for now, the White House contacted Israel’s leadership to convey the news. The goal, successfully achieved, was to ensure that there would be no avalanche of publicly aired criticism of the president by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers. Only the hawkish minister of housing, Uri Ariel, defied the prime minister’s restraining order, complaining bitterly in an Army Radio interview Sunday morning that Assad was a cowardly murderer “who needs to be taken care of, already.” Ariel thus earned himself a dressing-down by Netanyahu, who told him at the Cabinet table that personally attacking the president of the United States did not serve Israel’s “security interests.”
But privately, Israel’s silently appalled political and security leaderships have no doubt that Obama’s last-minute change of heart harms Israel’s security interests far more critically than any marginal minister’s inconvenient outburst possibly could.
Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are reported to have briefed Israel’s leaders to the effect that Obama’s firm intention remains to strike back at Assad for what Kerry said Friday was the carefully planned August 21 use of chemical weapons to kill over 1,400 of his own Syrian people.
The Israeli leadership wants to believe that this is the case. The notion that the US would turn its back on the toxic crimes of a murderous dictator, whom Kerry bracketed Sunday with Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, is too dire to consider in an Israel facing more than one hostile regime relentlessly seeking to exploit any military and moral weakness in order to expedite the Jewish state’s demise.
Though dutifully silent in public, Jerusalem has quickly internalized the damage already done – by the sight of an uncertain president, all too plainly wary of grappling with a regime that has gradually escalated its use of poison gas to mass murder its own people; a regime, moreover, that can do relatively little damage to the United States, and whose threats Israel’s leadership and most of its people were taking in their stride.
At the very least, Obama has given Assad more time to ensure that any eventual strike causes a minimum of damage, and to claim initial victory in facing down the United States. At the very least, too, Obama has led the Iranians to believe that presidential promises to prevent them attaining nuclear weapons need not necessarily be taken at face value.
If a formidable strike does ultimately come, some of that damage can yet be undone, the Israeli leadership believes. American military intervention can yet be significant – in deterring Assad from ongoing use of chemical weapons, and bolstering American influence and credibility in the region.
But if Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who will be hosting the G20 later this week, inserts himself into the equation, and Obama is distracted by endless machinations ostensibly designed to see Assad stripped of his chemical weapons, machinations that ultimately are sure to lead nowhere, the damage will only deepen. If there is no strike, the United States – hitherto Israel’s only dependable military ally – will be definitively perceived in these parts as a paper tiger, with dire implications for its regional interests. And for Israel.
Jerusalem is worried, too, of a direct line between requesting Congressional approval for military action against Syria – a relatively straightforward target – and feeling compelled to honor the precedent, should the imperative arise, by requesting Congressional approval for military action against Iran – a far more potent enemy, where legislators’ worries about the US being dragged deep into regional conflict would be far more resonant.
Israel remains hopeful that, to put it bluntly, Obama’s America will yet remember that it is, well, America. The alternative, it rather seems, is something the leadership in Jerusalem finds too awful to so much as contemplate just yet.
“TRUST US,” THE WORLD – LED BY THE US – HAS URGED ISRAEL FOR YEARS ON IRAN
Weak world response on Syria boosts chance of strong Israeli action on Iran
By Herb Keinon
September 1, 2013
This kind of international dallying is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran and its nuclear capabilities.
The question US President Barack Obama posed Saturday in his dramatic statement from the White House lawn was a profound one: “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”
“If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental intentional rules, to governments who would chose to build nuclear arms, to terrorists who would spread biological weapons, to armies who carry out genocide?” the president asked.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on multiple occasions last week that Syria was Iran’s “testing ground.”
Iran, he said and Obama implied, was watching carefully to see how the world would respond to its client state’s use of chemical weapons.
Will there be massive rhetorical outrage followed by determined military action by the entire world? Will there be immediate military action? Will there be massive rhetorical outrage followed by limited action by the US? How limited will the action be? Will the pain be bearable?
But the Iranians are not the only ones watching. So is Israel. Whether or not Israel decides to act against Iran could be determined in large part by how the world acts now against Syria. And the British parliament’s vote Thursday against military action is not a great sign.
“The international stuttering and hesitancy on [a] Syria [strike], just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself,” Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page on Friday. “From Munich 1938 to Damascus 2013 nothing has changed. This is the lesson we ought to learn from the events in Syria.”
And Bennett’s post came even before Obama’s address in which he said that the US would conduct a limited military action against Syria, but only if Congress approved it when it came back from its summer recess on September 9.
“Trust us,” the world – led by the US – has urged Israel for years on Iran. “We will deal with Iran, we will not allow them to get nuclear weapons. Even if they do, there is little chance they will use them. Nobody is that crazy.”
Really? Syrian President Bashar Assad is that crazy, using chemical weapons in broad daylight against his own people, even though he knew he would be held culpable.
Yet the world dithers.
The French speak tough, the British back down completely, and Obama says he will take limited action if Congress approves when it comes back from summer vacation.
The Iranians, watching this show, are surely calculating what action they could expect if they run at full speed to nuclear capability. One could not blame them for concluding that the French will speak tough, the British will vote military action down in parliament. And Obama will bring the matter to Congress for a vote if Congress is in session. If not, he will wait patiently until Congress re-convenes to ask its opinion.
That kind of international dallying is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran.
Besides, if this is how the world acts when some 1,429 people are gassed, how should we expect them to act if Iran just crosses the nuclear threshold, but doesn’t kill anybody yet?
If gassing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, as US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday, does not lead to a military assault, will the crossing of the nuclear threshold – when no one is killed – trigger a response?
The Iranians are carefully watching the world’s response to the Syrian atrocities. If the response is not harsh enough, or swift enough, or serious enough, they may very well conclude that they would face a similar type of situation and read that as a green light to proceed with their nuclear program at full throttle speed.
The Israelis are also watching the world reaction. And Israel, too, may very well conclude that if the world’s response is not harsh enough, or swift enough, or serious enough, then they too will feel that they have a green light to take action to stop the Iranians.
The lack of a strong international response in the face of rows and rows of gassed bodies wrapped eerily in white shrouds just 220 kilometers from Jerusalem might not compel Israel to take action against Assad, but it surely may compel it to think twice about relying on the world to rid it of the Iranian nuclear menace.
THE GOAL SHOULD BE THE END OF ASSAD’S REGIME
Destroy Assad’s Regime, or Hold Your Fire
By Fouad Ajami
Aug. 29, 2013
Syria is the moral and strategic test that U.S. President Barack Obama neither sought nor wanted. He had done his best to avert his gaze from its horrors. He, the self-styled orator, had said very little about the grief of Syria and the pain of its children. When he spoke of Syria, it often sounded as though he was speaking of Iraq – the prism through which he saw the foreign world and its threats.
In his first term, his four principal foreign policy advisers – the secretaries of state and defense, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – supported arming the rebellion in Syria: He overrode them. Earlier this year, he himself promised the rebels weapons that were never delivered.
History will record for Obama that it was Bashar al-Assad who dragged him into this fight. Obama had made much of the distinction between wars of choice and wars of necessity. He is said to have pondered theories of just and unjust wars. To this Syrian ordeal, he came late in the hour, after the barbarisms, after the veritable destruction of Syria’s nationhood, after the jihadis had carved out their emirates. It doesn’t matter much whether this entanglement is one of choice or of necessity. This is only partly a hand that Barack Obama was dealt. To a greater extent, he has shaped the conflict with the passivity he opted for in a standoff with a petty dictator who should have been thwarted long before.
Obama now makes his stand the lawyerly way, on very narrow grounds – the use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta, east of Damascus. True, the use of chemical weapons was a transgression all its own, the first since Saddam Hussein’s campaign of death and ruin in Kurdistan a quarter-century ago. But Assad had sacked and reduced to rubble ancient, proud cities. He had ignited a religious war between Sunni and Shiite Islam; he had sent vigilante squads to maim and kill across a volatile fault-line between Sunni and Alawite towns, with the transparent aim of “cleansing” whole communities. The peace and fabric of an old, settled country has been torn to shreds as its people have fled in terror into neighboring states. A million children, 740,000 of them younger than 11, the United Nationsestimates, have been made refugees.
Why indict Assad on the chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta alone? One would think that the use of airpower against civilian populations would have sufficed as a trigger for military intervention. Pablo Picasso immortalized Guernica for the bombing it suffered in the Spanish Civil War. But Guernica was a small market town of 7,000 people, and it was attacked by German and Italian bombers; Aleppo, which endured the brutality of the regime’s fighter planes, is a city of more than 2 million.
The Obama administration has already announced an intended strike of limited duration and magnitude, and done even this with an air of doubt and irresolution. The dictator has already been told that his regime is off-limits. From the very beginning of this terrible war, Assad has been smugness itself. He had warned the rebels that no foreign cavalry would ride to their rescue. Borrowing a page from the book of his late father, Assad has openly proclaimed that America did not have the stamina for tests of strength in the Levant.
It is an unfortunate fact of Arab political life that adventurers can walk out of the wreckage of bitter defeats and claim victory before the gullible. Consider the trail: In 1991, the U.S. inflicted an overwhelming defeat on the regime of Hussein, but the Iraqi despot was spared, and the “Arab Street” that had rallied to him was never convinced that their hero had faltered.
Seven years later, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, it was time to go at Hussein again. Operation Desert Fox, an Anglo-American campaign, was meant to punish the Iraqi despot for his defiance of UN inspectors looking into his weapons programs. After four days of strikes, the thing came to an end, and Hussein took it as evidence of the weakness of Western powers.
In 2006, the leader of Hezbollah ignited a war on the Israeli-Lebanese border. He spun his own legend about the “divine victory” that his militia had secured. There had been death and economic ruin in Lebanon, but it was enough that Hezbollah was left standing after the fight.
The Syrian regime must then be denied the dividends of an inconclusive military campaign. The regime itself – its barons, its secret police, its elite military units and its air bases – ought to be legitimate targets, and the same is true of Assad’s presidential palace. There should be conviction and courage in this fight with the Assad dictatorship.
The truth of it is that the (Sunni) Arab world is now full of animus toward the Syrian ruler and his cabal. No tears will be shed for Assad. The vast majority of Arabs must dream of an end for him similar to the macabre fate that befell Muammar Qaddafi. The unwillingness of the League of Arab States to support a military effort against Assad’s regime is a piece with the moral abdication of that group. That body is a league of despots that has never acknowledged truths known to practically all Arabs. No attention ought to be paid to the Arab League and its pieties. The classic Obama concern about antagonizing the sensibilities of the region can be set aside. This is “the East” and Western deeds play out under watchful eyes, in full view of people with a scent for the resolve and weakness of strangers. Obama has proudly proclaimed that he does not bluff. In his bunker, that petty Syrian dictator has called his bluff.
BLAMING THE JEWS
So who still thinks Israel is the root of Middle East problems?
By Dominic Lawson
September 2, 2013
Forget the massacre of thousands in Syria and Egypt, whether by chemical weapons or more conventional methods of mass slaughter. The Middle Eastern issue galvanising some of our musical mega-stars and their followers, even now, is the treatment by Israel of Palestinians. A fortnight ago the violinist Nigel Kennedy told the audience at a Proms concert that Israel should “get rid of apartheid” – his tendentious reference to the treatment of the Arab minority within that country.
Kennedy’s remarks were cheered by many in the audience at the Royal Albert Hall, but the BBC cut them from its later television broadcast of the concert, allegedly following a complaint by Lady Deech, a former governor of the corporation. The London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign fizzed into action, declaring that “suppressing free speech and political dissent is the norm for state broadcasters under dictatorships. It is worrying when we start to see this kind of suppression being practiced by our own state broadcaster.”
This remarkable suggestion that the BBC was acting as state censor on behalf of government (rather than merely demonstrating its own determination not to see its great music festival turned into a platform for contentious political slogans) is an example of how the state of Israel makes so many people lose all sense of perspective.
So it goes with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters who immediately issued a call to arms “to my colleagues in rock’n’roll” over the treatment given to “my brother Nigel Kennedy.” Waters denounced “one Baroness Deech (née Fraenkel), who disputed the fact that Israel is an apartheid state”. What’s with the “née Fraenkel”? Presumably this is the rock star’s way of letting us know that Deech is – aha! – a Jew. Enough said – although Waters did go on to say: “I have many very close Jewish friends”.
Perhaps some of those friends – whether or not they adhere to Jewish dietary laws – might be tiring of his latest porcine stunt, in which Pink Floyd’s pig balloon is imprinted with a Star of David before being “symbolically” shot down. With a delightful irony, this active boycotter of all things Israeli is now himself facing calls to be boycotted, from the admittedly small Jewish population of Dusseldorf, which German city is Waters’ next destination on his current tour.
You might dismiss this as completely irrelevant to the slaughter on the streets of Damascus – and in any rational sense it is – were it not for the fact that the Syrian Free Press, one of Bashar-Al Assad’s propaganda outlets, has been extolling Waters in recent weeks (when not too busy claiming that the murder of hundreds of children by Sarin nerve gas was actually organised by the CIA on behalf of Israel).
Given the longstanding iconography of anti-Semitism within the Middle East, it is perhaps not surprising that when regimes in the region feel threatened by their own people, they immediately seek to blame the insurrection on Israel or “the Jews”. When the wave of popular uprisings sometimes known as “the Arab Spring” reached Syria, Damascus’s envoy in London went on BBC’s Newsnight to tell a clearly startled Jeremy Paxman that “ the Israelis could be behind it…they could be behind any bad thing in the world.”
Actually, the Israeli government was most discomfited by the uprisings in the region, rather preferring the dictators it knew to the possibility of Islamist regimes in their place. It is Israeli citizens who are now stampeding for gas masks, not those of the US, in preparation for what might follow if President Obama does unleash part of America’s vast arsenal in the direction of sites believed to hold Assad’s chemical weapons.
It is true that Israel in 2007 sent eight fighter jets laden with 17 tons of high explosives to demolish the Dair Alzour site in Syria, which the International Atomic Energy Authority has since concluded was the base of a “gas cooled graphite moderated nuclear reactor not configured to produce electricity…built with the assistance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” So Israel is indeed ferociously single-minded in pursuing its self-defence within the region.
Yet the idea that Israel is the proximate cause of any tension within that part of the world – and therefore of the sea of blood sweeping through Egypt and Syria – is paranoiac when not deliberately mendacious. In many cases, the origins of the problems go back to the death of the prophet Mohamed, and the split between the followers who believed his successor should be appointed under Arab tribal tradition –later known as the Sunni – and those who insisted his successor should be from his family, and nominated Mohamed’s cousin and son-in-law Ali – the group which became known as Shia muslims.
In certain Arab countries, power had been held for generations by the Sunni, even while a majority of the population might have been Shia. This was the case in Iraq, where a sectarian civil war was precipitated by the disastrously misconceived US invasion. The opposite is true of Syria, a majority Sunni country, yet ruled by Alawites, a branch of the Shia. Not surprisingly, the rebels there are overwhelmingly Sunni, backed by the Sunni regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar; and Bashar’s main backer is the Shia regime of Iran.
This tribal and sectarian dispute, which has the potential to become the Muslim equivalent of the Thirty Years War, has about as much to do with Israel as did the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. And the peoples involved care very little, if at all, about the fate of the Palestinians – certainly much less than do Nigel Kennedy and Roger Waters.
Yet some western governments still fall for the bizarre idea that if the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians were to be sorted, then this would help to solve all the other conflicts in the region. Thus the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared last week, following a meeting with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “The Israeli-Palestinian issue is …perhaps the central issue of the region.”
To be fair to Fabius, that is the sort of thing visiting dignitaries are expected to say when in Ramallah. But, in the midst of the conflagrations in Egypt and Syria, it does bring to mind the remark of the late French ambassador in London, Daniel Bernard, who in 2001 delivered himself of the view that “all the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country Israel.”
Hyperbole has surrounded that little nation ever since it was created in 1948 and the secretary of the Arab League pronounced, as five Arab countries launched a joint attack on the one-day-old state: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.” Now the exterminations and massacres are Arab on Arab; but somehow it will still be said to be all to do with Israel.
I think I made a similar point on this page over six years ago – but unfortunately this is the last of my columns for The Independent. To those readers who have enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them, I’m sorry to desert you; to those who did not – you can calm down now.
“All they have to eat is cucumbers”
By Tom Gross
While hospitals across northern Israel continue to treat hundreds of severely wounded Syrian adults and children, Israeli doctors have been smuggled into refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere, where they continue to perform life-saving operations on wounded Syrians. For security reasons they cannot be filmed.
But some ordinary Israelis have also taken matters into their own hands, smuggling shampoo, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent, sugar, rice, toys for children and other basic items -- all donated by members of the Israeli public and Israeli supermarket chains -- into Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere.
Officially Jordan does not allow Israelis to help Syrians and has threatened the Israelis that do so.
These actions have largely been kept a secret outside Israel in order to protect the Israelis but they have now been revealed on Arab websites, which have compared the help given by Israelis to Syrian refugees to the lack of assistance given by Arabs.
Israel’s Channel 10 television accompanied one group of Israelis, and this 15-minute film is well worth watching if you have time.
As one of the volunteers discovers, all that the Syrians had had to eat before they arrived were cucumbers they picked from the fields
This film was made in early 2012. There have been many more missions since then by members of the Israeli public but out of safety concerns, these have not been filmed.
At the time there were only 50,000 refugees -- today there 2.5 million out of Syria and another 5 million inside Syria.
While some of the Syrians are hostile when they find out their helpers are Israeli Jews, others can be seen in the film saying in Arabic “May God bless Israel”.
There is a follow-up to this dispatch here:
Thousands of Syrian refugees crossing into Iraq
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Other dispatches in this video series can be seen here: