Monday, October 24, 2011

Gaza Could Be an Independent Palestinian State Right Away

David Eshel

After the young Sergeant Major Gilad Shalit was released from his sixty-five months long captive ordeal, against over a thousand notorious terrorists, many of them with horrendous acts of brutality on their pallet, there are mixed feelings among many Israelis and Arabs alike. History reminds us that earlier mass exchanges have produced increased violence, as many of the liberated returned to the ranks of terror against Israelis, some of them even becoming ruthless leaders of terror cells.

After the somewhat exaggerated rejoycings both in Israel and Gaza, a more sober assessment of the future should be in place. And there are mostly negative repercussions in sight, based on a realistic outlook. The abhorrent display in Gaza City, while pinning medals for "bravery" onto the chests of those brutal murderers during a mass parade, turned them into national stars for the youngsters watching the scene. It must have encouraged them to become such future "heroes" or even follow in the footsteps of the Hamas “Shahid” martyrs, who, alas, were not present at this heinous occasion. These unfortunate prospects are the most appropriate expectations in any future foregathering between Israelis and Palestinians, and not only with Hamas in Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh
Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari, the notorious leader of the ruthless Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, already stated: "We will continue to abduct Israeli soldiers and officers as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails." This inflammatory statement by Hamas should not come as a surprise to any thinking rationale in Israel and elsewhere. Israel's willingness to repeatedly exchange thousands of Palestinian prisoners, legally accused, sentenced and incarcerated with several lifelong terms, against single or even deceased soldiers, is giving clear signals to future abductions as a modus operandi by Islamic terrorists. With the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, unremittingly trying to receive backing for statehood by the United Nations, which, alas, so far has not achieved results, the situation in the West Bank could soon escalate once more into violence, if the upsurge in the popularity of a militant Hamas, particularily among the youngsters will burst into a Third Intifada. The trigger for such a dangerous turn could become violent provocations between Jewish settlers and Hamas, or Tanzim activists. Should such clashes get out of control, it will become inevitable that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will have to intervene and then an armed engagement with the Palestinian police might not be far away, probably inflaming the entire region.

But there might be another way, one, which could be, regarded utopian by many sceptics with only doomsday scenarios in their future perception. That plan, which may still be regarded somewhat illusory, judging by painful past experiences, could concern a “different Gaza”, which to the surprise of many of those very sceptics seems already in the making, In fact, while Mr Abbas seeks a virtual state at the UN, Hamas already controls a real one.

Gaza City, 2011
Hamas has certainly boosted its popularity, stealing the show from Mahmoud Abbas, which he has ardently been trying to display around the world. Hamas' has wrestled the headlines from the PLO again, after securing the freedom of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single returning Israeli soldier. This places its leadership in an unprecedented position of strength.
For the first time, Hamas and Israel negotiated, although still not face-to-face, in achieving positive results, in common interest. While officially Israel and Hamas do not speak to each other, there is already a wide-ranging economic and logistical coordination handled by mediators going on on daily basis, providing the the living requirements in the Strip. In fact, an undeclared status quo governs relations between Israel and Hamas, and this convergence of interests seems to suit both sides. Hamas is busily engaged with its effort to beef up its rule in the Strip, and to gradually establish an independent entity - one that would compete with the regime established by the PA in the West Bank.
There exists a strange and vitually-forgotten document entitled "A Proposal for Governance of the Gaza Strip in the Context of the Announced Israeli Withdrawal." This document, produced in 2004 was the result of workshops and deliberations held jointly by Israelis and Palestinians with the participation of experts from Canada, Ireland and Spain, under the auspices of the Madrid-based Toledo International Center for Peace. The so-called Toledo plan  ( aimed "to facilitate the development of a reliable Palestinian structure of governance in the Gaza Strip, following the planned Israeli withdrawal. That structure was meant to take the form of a temporary Palestinian Authority for Gaza, known as the Palestinian Transitional Administration (PTA. An International security task force should be deployed and the significant role that Egypt, as key player should ensure that extremist Islamic Jihad insurgents be prevented to derail the plan. According to this scenario, the Toledo plan states, "PTA in its entirety would be entirely legally separate from the PA. The Toledo plan never materialized, but a different version could possibly be reconsidered, under the new circumstances now prevailing in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, since its forced takeover in 2007 and especially following the present prisoner exchange, which could provide an unprecedented and perhaps even positive atmosphere in both Hamas and Israel relations. However the precondition for any implementation of such a plan, will be wise, unorthodox statesmanship and first and foremost, bold and courageous “thinking out of the box” by political leaders on both sides. Do such leaders exist these days and if so, would they be politically ready to act and take chances, without flinching?

Many ask the question if Hamas, a radical Islamic organization could change its attitude towards the Jewish state. But, strangely as it may sound highly extremist organizations did have transformed. According to an article in the book that cited a Rand Corporation study analyzing 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, and discovered that 43 percent of the groups stopped pursuing violence when they chose the political path instead. Although Hamas might not change its radical ideology, its leaders could eventually be leaning towards making some sort of arrangement with Israel in order to exploit the growing prosperity in the Gaza strip, which is clearly making remarkable headway.

So let us take a closer look at Hamas Gaza. It may well follow the footsteps on the ideology of the Egyptian Brotherhood, but it is little known that the real “creator” of Hamas was none other than Israel itself, at the time ruling the occupied Gaza Strip during the Eighties of the last Century. The idea was to form a powerful religious adversary to Israel's Number One Palestinian enemy-the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Ministry of Defense under Moshe Dayan regarded the Imams of Gaza the most appropriate elements to place the PLO under stress- little did they realize that they were “sowing the wind and reaping a whirlwind” for the future! As unbelievingly it may sound Hamas spiritual leader the crippled Sheikh Ahmed Yassin actually continued receiving his tutoral monthly pension from Israel's Ministry of Education! Hamas ( Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, "Islamic Resistance Movement") was the outcome of Israel's dangerous gamble and the immediate result was its manifesto “ The Charter of Allah” issued in 1988.

But there is more reason why Gazans would, under the right circumstances, like to create their own independence. Unlike Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority--scattered under Israel's settlements dispersed like inkspots on paper--Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, fully controls its territory, borders, security and trade. It has access to the Mediterranean Sea, even an airport (although temporarily inactive) and is situated on a highly strategic crossroads between Egypt and Israel. The fairy tales of Hamas over miserable life in Gaza, widely broadcast for years in all media channels, was recently questioned in a story published in Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper by journalist Ashraf Abu al-Houl. Describing his trip to Gaza. Totally surprised by what he saw, al-Houl wrote: “ "A sense of absolute prosperity prevails, as manifested by the grand resorts along and near Gaza's coast. Further, the site of the merchandise and luxuries filling the Gaza shops amazed me.” Gaza's markets are filled with a “plethora of goods,” he wrote. Prices on many items, particularly food, are much lower than they are in Egypt, he said. With goods entering Gaza from both smuggling tunnels to Egypt and humanitarian aid shipments coming in daily via the Israeli crossings, “supply is much greater than demand “ he stated. While the evident prosperity might not be enjoyed by all Gazans, neither are such luxury goods available to the majority in Egypt or even Israel. But al-Houl's report certainly denies the “official” clamour of widespread famine in “occupied” impoverished Gaza. In fact since 2005 there was not a single Israeli soldier in Gaza, except Gilad Shalit held captive by Hamas!

And there is more. Palestinian society, after all, has always been strongly characterized by tribalism, as well as strong regional differences that set apart hill dwellers from plainsmen, nomads from settled population, urbanites from villagers, and Easterners from Westerners. Most affected by this were always the strained relations between West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.

While the West Bank is only about thirty miles from Gaza, there is more separating the two territories than an expanse of the Israeli Negev Desert.
In the West Bank, only 27 percent of the population are refugees, as opposed to the 64 percent that inhabit the Gaza Strip. Residents of the two areas have for decades, developed a quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, animosity toward each other.
Khalil Shiqaqi, a prominent Palestinian sociologist, after conducting hundreds of interviews, notes the presence of "a psychological barrier between the inhabitants of the two territories and mutual suspicion" that cannot be "disregarded or ignored."

Gaza's stronger local families, while a clear minority to the “refugee” Gazans always expressed their misgivings over the patronizing West Bank PLO, which became much more dominant since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip, chasing out the despised Ramallah rulers.
The notion of Palestinian regionalism is further reinforced by the varied Arabic dialects spoken throughout the territories. West Bank dialects are similar to the Jordanian dialect, while influences of Egyptian dialect are heard throughout Gaza.

Should Gaza (“Hamastan”) become an independent entity, there is additional wealth available at sea. Twenty miles from the beaches of Gaza, too far for the eye to see but still very much in Palestinian waters, lies a fortune in untapped, off-shore gas. Prospecting vessels sent down two probes seven years ago and what they found got the juices of executives from multinational fuel companies flowing. In one field alone, experts estimated a reserve of £2 billion worth of natural gas. And there is plenty of potential for other fields.

So why not create a Palestinian state in Gaza right now, when all the reasons speak for it, while Mahmoud Abbas continues to roam the world capitals begging for a state which might be a non starter?  Hamas in its 1988 Charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, which is complete nonsense. Hamas has neither the capability nor the military power to achieve its unreasonable goal. In fact, Hamas exists entirely on the mercy of Israel's armed might. If push comes to shove, the IDF can occupy the entire Gaza Strip within hours and destroy the Hamas leadership en route. Hamas can inflict substantial damage to parts of Israel within range of its rockets, but if the damage becomes unbearable, decisive action will inevitably follow to stop these attacks and with this would come the end of Hamas rule in Gaza, with all its newly gained wealth. During the last few years, Gaza has not only been rebuilt into a striving metropolis, but it can lose all this and return to misery and squalor if it choses war with Israel again.

On the other hand, Hamas has an option, which is not available to Mahmoud Abbas. Israel is strong enough to ignore Hamas' threats for its destruction. It could perhaps even ignore Hamas' “non recognition”- Israel being an established UN member for sixtythree years.  If the Hamas leadership will play its cards right and control the troublemakers still not following its orders, than peace could reign in the Gaza Strip and along Israel's border even without official agreements between the two countries. Then Gaza might become a new “Singapore”, which it could have been already, when Ariel Sharon decided to evancuate the IDF and seven thousand settlers from their homes at Gush Katif back in August 2005. The choice will depend on the wisdom or ignorance of the Hamas rulers in Gaza and the political courage of Israels leadership. 

Related Post:  24/01/2005 - Post Arafat: Two Palestine Entities?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Erdogan's Ambition for "Arab Spring" Hegemony - Step Easy!

By David Eshel 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamic prime minister of Turkey, may not be a nice person, regarded by most Israelis as an unfriendly bully strutting the already highly turbulent Mid Eastern neighborhood. But no one in his right mind can dismiss his shrewd, yet capable talents, being demonstrated over the last years in his own political domain. Through a series of very clever and successful political but legal manipulations, he established himself as the undisputed Islamic leader of over eighty million people-certainly no mean achievement  by itself, in a secular nation which was for decades virtually under the boot of the Kamalist military. But Mister Erdogan has far more ambitious plans in his agenda- his notorious "Israel Bashing" might be the immediate target, bringing high dividents from his already encited Muslim public, but his sight is set on far more ambitious objectives- the revival of Turkish hegemony over the ' Arab Spring" outcome, whatever may emerge from the present shambles.   

With Turkey flexing its muscles, we may soon face a renascent neo-Ottoman Empire. This vast ancient and ruthless empire, an Anatolian dynasty established on the ruins of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans were the standard-bearers of Islam after their conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453. For nearly half a millenium, the Turks dominated the eastern world, spreading Islam faith and its culture to millions. The climax culminated under the reign of  "Suleiman the Magnificent" with the Turkish empire  engulfing southwestern Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean countries and North Africa  and even extending deep into Central Europe, including Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, only to be stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1529. The long declining Ottoman Empire finally came to its end, as a regime under a Muslim caliphate in November 1922, following the defeat of Turkey in WW1. On 29 October 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed. by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who became its first president of the transformed Turkish society, the former Muslim part of a vast Empire becoming a modern, secular nation-state, with the Grand National Assembly (GNA) at the heart of the new secular modern democracy. For eighty years Kemal Atatürks secular legacy was upheld in Turkey, with the armed forces being the undisputed guardians. All that ended in 2003, when the Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim, was elected prime minister. Erdogan's aim was to turn secular Turkey into a Mulsim Islamic nation, but he faced an enormous challenge, as Turkey's 1982 constitution proclaimed the nation's system of government as democratic, secular and parliamentary, while the country's original Constitution by Kemal Atatürk  makes the military the guardian of Turkey's secular rule. Under the circumstances it took Erdogan and his AKP several years to achieve their goal- to rid Turkey from the dominating military Kemalists, who attempted to overthrow his government and save it from the Islamists, The largely secular Turkish military has historically been the Praetorian Guards of the Turkish state; a check on both Islamist and Leftist elements in the country being the real power of the nation. But by finally winning over the constitutional courts, Erdogan cleverly checkmated the Kemalist generals, in the September 2010 referrendum on constitutional amendments, removing the remaining obstacles to the Islamist' absolute power, by shrewdly  targeting both the courts and the military, by legal means. Promoting AKP loyalists in the legislature and top army positions ensured that the Turkish military would no longer be the guardian of secularism. As result the entire military staff resigned and was replaced by Islamic officers, loyal to the now virtually absolute leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Having achieved his first target in his home domain, the Turkish Premier now is set to exploit the present leaderless turmoil in the so-called "Arab Spring" to become the predominantly leading power among Muslim states in the Middle East and North Africa. If he succeeds, then the stage will be set for neo-Ottoman hegemony over the entire Sunni Middle East. But things might not happen that fast, as his empiric visit to Egypt showed.

To promote his Islamic "messianic" message, Erdogan embarked on a highly publicized tour of the "Arab Spring" along the Mediterranean. First in line was Cairo, where he initially received an enthusiastic welcome, by the masses, mainly the younger generation of the Muslim Brotherhood, regarding him as their saviour. However, looking closer on the event, the visiting Turkish minister, displaying a powerful, but highly arrogant actor, clearly hinting for hegemony in a turbulent, rapidly changing region, must have caused some painful memories among the still sensible segment of the Egyptian population, still very much aware from the days when an oppressive regime of the Ottoman Sultanate ruled over Egypt from Constantinople. 

interference in Egypt's local affairs?

The Egyptian military Junta was even more reluctant, fearing further backlash from Washington and still chafing from the aftershock from the ransacked Israeli Embassy affair in Giza. Matters became even more hectic for the Turkish megalomaniac, when he started preaching his proposal for a secular constitution to the Muslim Brotherhood assembly. This was probably the last thing that the hard line Islamists expected from their "hero". Accordingly,   Dr Mahmoud Ghuzlan, the spokesman of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood soon slammed back declaring that the MB considered Erdogan's comments as interference in Egypt's local affairs. It is long known that Turkey and Egypt are bitter rivals for influence in the Muslim world and whatever leadership emerges in Cairo, it will remain determined to defend this role. What probably irked the proud Egyptians most, was Erdogan's strutting attitude around Cairo streets is not an Arab at all, and his lecturing to Cairo  listeners in the Turkish, rather than Arabic language, virtually sermonizing how to conduct their future, must have been scathing to most. The fact that the Turkish language became first known in written records dating back nearly 1,300 years, while Arabic was first spoken during the  6th Century, must have further caused affront in the Egyptian capital- the cradle of Muslim heritage. To sum up: neo Ottoman Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's visions from  his first state visit proved far from being a victorious tour of, what he aspires to be a revival of long gone Turkish hegemony. Apart from his unbounded ambition to degrade Turkey's former ally, Israel, Erdogan's speeches in Cairo, seem to have achieved only meager response to form a strategic alliance between the two nations, still very much dependent on US goodwill.

Erdogan's carefully prepared "state" visit seems to have reaped even lesser results in Libya, where his appearance was overshadowed by visiting Sarkozi and Cameron. In Tunesia there was only a repeat performance of "Israel Bashing" and little else besides. Based on his misstep in Cairo, it looks as if his vision for a revival of the Ottoman hegemony in the "Arab Spring" countries will have to wait for a better opportunity, if at all.

Meanwhile on his return home, Mr Erdogan will have his hands full dealing with the Kurdish question, which could probably escalate sharply, if the Palestinians receive their UN recognition in New York. The PKK has already conducted a series of lethal ambushes and bombings that have killed scores of Turkish soldiers in mid-2011. In August itself at least 11 Turkish troops were killed in a bombing attributed to the PKK in the southeastern province of Hakari. There is also rising discontent among the Kurds in South Eastern Turkey, which could signal serious trouble for the Islamic government. Although Erdogan has promised an end to the three-decade war, he recently toughened his line last August by ordering his new military staff to prepare a massive offensive on northern Iraq's Kandil Mountains, the stronghold of the Kurdish Workers Party and Peshmerga fighters. To prevent any possible flare up by the Kurdish population inside Turkey itself, Erdogan has ordered Special Forces sent to the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakir, Hakari and Sirnak, reports said. The entire operation will probably come under command of the new Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel, promoted from Gendarmerie chief to military commander. The ordered offensive might allow him to demonstrate his skills in conducting large scale military operations.

Erdogan's Turkey is no economic powerhouse either! According to latest estimates, the annual budget deficit of 9.5% is expected to reach 10%, with the external debt doubling itself in the past 18 months. Turkey's unemployment rate is 13% and the local currency continues to plummet vis-à-vis the dollar. Once that bubble explodes, then Tayyip Erdogan might no longer be so glib in his arrogant rhetoric spreading regional leadership ambitions. His score might then be settled by a long line of his opponents, judged and incarcerated on imaginary charges. His ultimate fate might then become not much different, from the ousted autocrats, he wishes to replace.

Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan might feel that the ongoing "Arab Spring" is his golden opportunity to rekindle the long defunct Ottoman Islamic hegemony over the entire Sunni region. However, based on his recent distainful rhetoric in Cairo and elsewhere, Erdogan's supercilious and world shaking ambitions could still end in his ultimate defeat at home.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arab Spring- Kurdish Summer

After South Sudan and Palestine willl Kurdistan Be Next for independence?
In a dramatic move, last month, the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK), a platform for Kurdish associations and movements In the Kurdish region of Turkey and the main Kurdish party, BDP, have proclaimed a democratic self-government, saying that the Kurds do not want any longer to live without a status. The 850 delegates of the DTK, meeting Thursday, July 14 in Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, have decided to proclaim a "democratic autonomy" for the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question.

The Kurds are planning their future homeland partly in historic Armenian territories which for over 4000 years have been Armenia's heartland and their ancient culture, until in 1915 the Turkish government perpetrated, massacred and then occupied this land. Now ninety years later, Turkish Kurds want to turn this territory into their autonomy.
This move will shake the foundations of the Turkish state as has been feared for a long time. But the  bold Kurdish initiative does not have only domestic ramifications for Turkey alone. It might well become the trigger for an independent Kurdistan state embracing the Kurdish Iraq, parts of Iran and Syria as well.

Now that the genie is out, the world is watching prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's known wizardry, to see if he can put back the genie in the bottle. Meanwhile the Kurds have created a fait accompli and will not retreat unless they face a bloodbath in traditional Turkish style.
The Diyarbakir declaration  had already fueled tensions in Turkey after an upsurge in Kurdish militant activity, which killed 13 Turkish soldiers, and a boycott of parliament by Kurdish deputies, following the June election of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government.
The daring unprecedented Kurdish move, totally surprised and shocked the Ankara administration, totally stunning  Erdogan and his ministers. Any attempt to annul the Kurdish challenge will have critical repercussions.
The Turkish military has recently undergone a serious crisis, when the entire general staff resigned en block, which may be the reason, why its intelligence service has not given early warning on the political build-up in Diyarbakir.

Prime minister Erdogan and his newly assigned generals are facing a difficult dilemma: Should they order a military intervention to rescind the Kurdish declaration by force, this action, which will no doubt be confronted by violent defiance by the Kurds,  will  certainly get Turkey in trouble with the world, especially in Europe, with which Ankara  has its wishful dreams over joining the European Union.
Being also an important member of the NATO, using military force, including American weapons, against its own people, would be regarded  a very serious matter in Washington.
So, with a bit of luck and political wisdom by the Diyarbakir leaders, the entire Kurdish people could take avantage of the ongoing Arab Spring and prepare the ground for a long anticipated independent Kurdistan, linking up with Iraq's ongoing autonomy, the Iranian Kurdish enclave and perhaps even the Syrian Kurdish minorities, already suffering from Bashar Assad's murdering bullies.

With the Arab world in total turmoil, lacking any orderly leadership, the Kurds could finally achieve their sacred goal for  independence, after decades, if not centuries of  desecration and  oppression. If the Kurds will play their cards wisely, first of all eliminate once and for all their internal disputes and strifes over minor issues, the creation of an independent Kurdistan may even be sanctioned by the United Nations. Following the establishment of South Sudan and soon to be Palestine, the estimated 25 million Kurds, should no longer be denied equal rights for independence, even if their neighbors would react negatively against it.

So meet the Kurds. A largely Sunni Muslim people with their own language and culture. For more than 4,000 years Kurds have inhabited the Zagros Mountains, the Mesopotamian Plains, Taurus Mountains and Mt Ararat. This rugged mountainous region has provided them a sanctuary from military oppression. Generally known as Kurdistan, it nevertheless appears nowhere on any official maps.

Exact numbers of the Kurdish population are difficult to establish. According to estimates,  there are some 13-15 million Kurds living  in Turkey, about five million in Iran, four million in Iraq and some 900,000 in Syria. Over two  million Kurds live scattered in the rest of the world, mostly in central Asia.

The Kurds were arbitrarily overlooked by the victorious powers that artificially carved up the Mideast after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire post-World War I. But during that same period, Kurds began to consider the concept of nationalism, a notion introduced by the British amid the division of traditional Kurdistan among neighboring countries. The 1920 Treaty of Sevres, which created the modern states of Iraq, Syria and Kuwait, was to have included the possibility of a Kurdish state in the region. However, it was never implemented.
After the overthrow of the Turkish monarchy by Kemal Ataturk, Turkey, Iran and Iraq each agreed not to recognize an independent Kurdish state. Despite a common goal of independent statehood, the Kurds in the various countries are hardly unified. From 1994-98, two Iraqi Kurd factions – the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani – fought a bloody war for power over northern Iraq. In September 1998, the two sides agreed to a power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, has been  waging a guerrilla insurgency in southeastern Turkey in its quest for an independent Kurdish state which should be a homeland for all Kurds.

The contrast between how the world treats the Palestinians and the Kurds could not be more marked. Palestinians are spoiled with international succor and are pampered financially by the world. They were offered an independent state back in 1947 but rejected it, preferring to destroy the new Jewish state instead. In September, the Palestinians now expect the world to give backing to a unilateral declaration of an independent state. This might well succeed, following the example in South Sudan.

 But inconceivably, the Kurdish declaration for autonomy in Turkey, last month was greeted with total silence. In short, a people meeting many more prerequisites for political seld-determination  failed to elicit even a modicum of  world sympathy so liberally accorded the Palestinians.

However the ongoing 'Arab Spring' could eventually shift into a 'Kurdish Summer', if their leaders, execising wiser statemanship, will find a way to join hands in what seems to become their golden opportunity. As dramatic changes are sweeping the entire Arab world, new chances could emerge for Kurdish independence as well. With the dilemma in Ankara growing steadily, the future of Turkey's Kurdish minority is  inevitably shifting into its national focus. The long unfulfilled quest of the Kurds for independent statehood is now emerging as a major barrier in Turkey’s path to the European Union and in Ankara’s relations with the United States.
Hardly a day goes by without Turkish threats to enter northern Iraq, still held by US forces,  in pursuit of Kurdish PKK rebels waging a 32-year-old guerrilla war that has claimed countless lives. This very concept, even Turkish officials say, is dynamite under the foundations of the 
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's led republic.

But should something sofar unexpected happen and the United Nations will at last follow suit with a declaration of an independent Kurdistan, the Kurdish troubles will be far from over. In fact, they might face an onslaught of three neighbors, determined to destroy the fledgling creation before it matures into a strategic threat to them.

Turkey cannot afford an independent Kurdistan, it would be losing some of its highly strategic and economic assets. In fact, without Kurdish eastern Turkey, the entire nation coherence would break apart.  Iran will fear the establishment of a dangerous  Sunni stronghold on its eastern border, destabilizing the already highly ethnic sensitive Sh'ite republic.
It seems that military intervention  will become the only option and Turkey's military might will be dominant in this dangerous venture, which might have unprecedented repercussions throughout the entire region.

The Turkish General Staff  certainly realizes that any military action aimed at the Kurdish enclave in south-eastern Turkey would be a high-risk operation. The area is mostly mountainous and difficult to enter with armored forces. The Turkish army has already experienced such kind of fighting against the PKK. From  1984 to 1999 alone, the army battled  PKK guerillas in southeast Turkey in an expensive conflict which took over 30,000 lives. Should Ankara decide to eliminate the Kurdish declaration for independence, by force, they could face hundreds of thousands determined fighters, many of them trained by the Turkish Army itself during their mandatory service, or as regular officers and soldiers. Up to one-fifth of Turkey's 72 million people are Kurds, meaning that tens of thousands serve in the armed forces at any one time.  
No doubt, the Kurdish Peshmerga instructors will start training the Turkish Kurds to fight a guerilla war in the south Turkey mountains, which provide excellent conditions to ward off large military forces. In such difficult terrain, entire divisions could be broken up by determined fighters, cleverly using their own familiar habitat to establish bunkers in crevices, mine the narrow mountain passes with IEDs, every ridge, nook and cranny becoming a major infantry operation.

Moreover, the Turkish army will face a much more serious problem, once the Turkish conscripts no lonver count among the mandatory and regular service troops. Those soldiers make up a large segment of the infantry and will be hard, if not entirely impossible to replace.

Prime minister Erdogan seems to have anticipated this problem and has already ordered his newly created  army staff  to start hiring professional frontline troops and is examining ways to cut compulsory military service, which currently provides the bulk of the army’s manpower. To build and train a professional army takes time and resources, which will place a heavy burden on Turkey's economy, time which might become critical if the Turkish Kurds will merge with the Iraqi Pershmerga fighters. Under such circumstances, the " new" Turkish army could face the full impact of a seasoned Peshmerga army of more than 100,000 fighters operating in extremely complex and very difficult terrain.

Peshmerga "those who face death" have been in existence since the advent of the Kurdish independence movement in the early 1920s, following the collapse of theOttoman Empire. They are highly  motivated and trained mountain fighters known for their courage and fierce fighting spirit.

In this turbulent part of the world, already undergoing some highly dramatic changes, Turkey will no doubt soon come into world focus, as this political wizard, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  is facing his yet most difficult challenge.

Part Two will analyse the economic and military prospects of an independent Kurdistan

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unilateral Palestinian State Will be a Non-Starter

Already, about 100 nations across the world have come out in recognition of an independent Palestinian state, including, most recently, Turkey and more might be coming onboard until September, when the United Nations General Assembly will vote for the creation of an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 borders.
Symbolism aside, if there is one thing the Palestinians have not learned in four decades of fruitless peace talks, it is that if ever they hope to have a state of their own, it will only be through realistic negotiations with Israel. A UNGA vote might give them a temporary field day in joyful manifestations, but when the curtain goes down
reality will again erase all the hope for a workable solution.
Here are some of the reasons, why a unilateral move will create a non-starter situation, that will never work:  Even if the UNGA passes a resolution, calling for the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it will still remain a landlocked entity, fully dependent on Israel's goodwill to provide access to Mediterranean ports- that Palestine will depend on for its import and export. Palestinian dependence on water supply also rests on Israeli sources which themselves suffer acute shortage and will more and more rely on desalination plants- hardly accessible under the circumstances which will prevail if Palestine is unilaterally created. A simple look at the West Bank map will show that a non-negotiated unilateral Palestinian statehood, call it what you will, presents an impossible geo-political place which can be ruled by central administration. Even if we discount the Jewish settlements, its remaining territory is partitioned, and subdivided into cantons, without directly controlled links between them, a situation that would scarcely be a state worthy of the name.

To be more specific the Palestinian West Bank presents a disaster: Geopolitically it is practically divided into two parts, a northern part with Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem and Qalqilya as Palestinian enclaves, and a southern section with Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron. In between there is Jerusalem, that has now been expanded eastwards to such a degree that it encroaches upon the Judean Desert and cuts the Palestinian territory in half. The Jordan Valley, that should normally mark the natural boundary between the future Palestine and the Kingdom of Jordan, is practically a military zone, and Israel has already made it clear that it does not intend to demilitarize it. In other words, the future Palestine will be a land-locked State, surrounded completely by Israeli territory.  And there is more: Although the Israeli and Palestinian economies are intertwined, Palestinians are far more reliant on the Israeli economy than vice versa. Eight-seven percent of all Palestinian exports are to Israel and more than 73% of Palestinian imports come from Israel. And the Palestinian Authority is already undergoing a serious financial crisis. According to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad the PA cannot even pay its employees because of what he said was “the failure of donors, including our Arab brothers, to fulfill their pledges.” The Palestinian Authority has accumulated a deficit of more than $500 million in 2011.
Searching for an alternative, to overcome the landlocked situation,  using Jordan's Aqaba port instead might be useless, as any transports would have to cross the Jordan River bridges, which Israel will continue to control- moreover it is highly doubtful, if the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will welcome such a move, fearing more Palestinian influence on the already large population of Palestinian origin, including Islamic radicals among them, causing dangerous instability in the Kingdom.
Half of the Palestinian population is concentrated in the Gaza Strip, cut off from the West Bank and ruled by the Islamic radicals Hamas, which not only places at its aim the ultimate destruction of Israel, but opposes any Palestinian state ruled by its arch rival the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by Abu Mazen. Moreover, Hamastan, which was created in a violent coup d'etat in 2007 is virtually at war with Israel, bombarding it's territory constantly with rockets and mortar fire. Having already won the controversial 2006 elections, should they win the oncoming ballots once more- the would destabilize any newly created entity in the West Bank and resort to terror against Israel- which will inevitably lead to all-out war, resulting in  catastrophic consequences and final hope to any Palestinian liberty. The latest attempt to unify Hamas and Fatah into a joint Government, has so far failed even to agree on a prime minister to lead it and as long as Hamas regards the destruction of Israel as its main agenda, peace with such a "unified" Palestinian authority seems totally out of the question for any Israeli government.
But should the UNGA assembly vote come to be and a huge majority will support this unrealistic creation, Israel too will come under severe political and perhaps even economic pressure. The real value of the vote will depend on which nations will give their "yes" to the proposal. The Arab and Muslim world nations are certain to adhere to their traditional anti-Israel stance, but whether Europe and especially the majority of the G20 countries will join will depend on the United States attitude and how much influence it will have on the proceedings. It will be up to Israel's diplomacy effort during the next few months to gain as much support among its remaining friendly nations to prevent a political disaster from occurring, both within it's political survival, while maintaining it's sphere of global influence. With the revolutionary turmoil engulfing its neighbors and the waning influence of Washington's Obama administration, Israel will feel more and more isolated in the coming months, with the specter of a massive support for a Palestinian statehood, backed by the United Nations placing the Jewish State in a highly precarious diplomatic situation.
"'We are facing a diplomatic-political Tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of and that will peak in September,' said Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, at a conference in Tel Aviv last month. 'It is a very dangerous situation, one that requires action.' He added, 'Paralysis, rhetoric, inaction will deepen the isolation of Israel.'”

And there is good reason for concern, even if the UNGA recognizes the "non-starter" Palestinian statehood coming September.  With this vote, which will have similarity with the November 1947 Lake Success vote for the establishment of the Jewish State, the majority of  so far official ownerless real estate in the West Bank occupied by Jews will come under 'de jure', if not 'de facto' under nominal jurisdiction of the UNGA created entity. So far, most this land had no official owner and was regarded 'occupied under military administration' since 1967m before this it was occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the last 'owners' were the Turkish ruled Ottoman Empire, the law of which still adheres to much of the legal proceedings. Realistically seen, it might not make any difference, as it is highly doubtful that substantial changes will come into being as long as bi-lateral negotiations will try to solve this enigma. With the entire Arab Middle East in turmoil, even the leftist Palestinian "well-wishers" in Israel can hardly envisage the mass evacuation of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and cede it to an uncertain fate with what may well become a Islamic Hamas ruled neighbor- its rockets targeting most of Israel's coastal cities and strategic installations.

But Israel cannot afford to sit quietly by and await such a dominant majority to vote against it's strategic interest either and something has to be done- an fast to try and  eliminate, or at least, defer the oncoming UNGA vote. It will demand a change of diplomatic policy without delay and come up with new and convincing proposals, which insisting unchanged, on Israel's security interests, renew, for example, the 2000 Camp David proposals, which agreed to gradually cede nearly 90% of the West Bank to Palestine ( then under the late Yassir Arafat- who turned down the generous offer and started the Intifada instead). With the new leadership under Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, this could lead perhaps to serious negotiations towards an acceptable solution. Bearing in mind the letter written by then president George W Bush to Ariel Sharon ( 14 April 2004), quote "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities", a mutually accepted settlement of the border might even be achieved.

The Palestinians have nothing to gain by winning a relatively insignificant vote in the oncoming September general assembly, it will get them nowhere in their quest for a feasible independent statehood that can function. For Israel the ongoing Arab revolutionary fervor sweeping the Middle East urgently requires a unity coalition, like the one, which then prime minister Levi Eshkol created on the even of the 1967 Six Day war crisis. Let some wise statesmanship, "Churchill-like"- save the day before it is too late.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Operation 'Odyssey Dawn'- Lots of Noise, But Little Purpose


David Eshel
A former British air force commander said a clear objective in Libya is needed before launching airstrikes. Now the strikes are on and may produce the "Biggest Show in Town" but unfortunately, little more. But what is the objective of Operation 'Odyssey Dawn'? Does it include a regime change, or physical removal of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi personally?  If so, what of his seven sons – are they to be targeted too? As far as we know, UNSC Resolution 1973 calls for the "halt in the fighting and to achieve a ceasefire". It does not explicitly call for the removal of Col Muammar Gaddafi or a even a regime change. In fact, it specifies clearly that no ground action is permitted: It  "authorizes member states to "take all necessary means to protect civilians", but crucially excludes any "foreign occupation force" moving into the territory of Qaddafi's Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, in most sweeping terms. So what 'necessary means' can the operation take to achieve to protect civilians? Without getting 'boots on the ground' very little can be achieved in any military action. Even hitting high-profile targets will become difficult, when hidden, or well camouflaged in urban environment., without 'eyes on the ground'. So what is the purpose behind all this noise?

When the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003 the aim was to overthrow Saddam Hussein and this was achieved by ground action. When NATO  entered Kosovo in 1999 its purpose was to stop ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic's army. As mentioned, the precise objectives of  Operation Odyssey Dawn 2011, and how they will be achieved, are by far, less well-defined – and therefore, potentially problematic. It therefore looks like 'good old' Qaddafi will stay in power in Tripoli for some time to come and a form of stalemate will eventually emerge, bringing to a partition between the east and west, which could 'invite' Jihadist elements filling the void. Moreover, having already attacked Qaddafi, he will feel cornered, making him again one of the top dangerous terrorists in the world.

Should Operation Odyssey Dawn end in a divided Libya, the danger of it becoming a Jihadist terror base will be real. There are reports that radical Islamist elements are already active in the rebel held eastern part of Libya. Taking advantage of the ongoing chaos, a large group of Islamist gunmen, believed to be members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), recently seized a weapons depot in the eastern Libyan port city of Derna. Calling itself the “Islamist Emirate of Baraqa,” the group, assisted by a former Libyan Army Colonel named Adnan al-Nwisri, seized a large cache of weapons. There may be other Islamic groups active in this area, which have not yet been identified. It needs little imagination to estimate the danger posed to Egypt, still in process to reorganize itself, to fill the leadership gap, left after Mubarak. A radical Islamic neighbor could have devastating consequences in this highly sensitive and dangerous situation.
So under the present UNSC constraints, there is little hope that Operation Odyssey Dawn will achieve anything apart from a few days of high profile public relations, indicating UN and  Western determination to act and, inevitably- with a considerable bill to pay, adding to an already dwindling defense budget in the UK, France and even the USA.

According to a new report issued by the US Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, three options for a No-Fly Zone over Libya would have three very different costs:

1. "Full No-Fly Zone" covering all of Libya
- $100 million to $300 million per week
- Initial strike to secure airspace: $500 million and $1 billion
- Six month total: $3.1 billion - $8.8 billion
- Similar to no-fly zone imposed over Iraq (Operation Northern and Southern Watch)

2. Limited No-Fly Zone focusing on the northern third of Libya
- $30 million to $100 million per week
- Initial strike to secure airspace: $400 million to $800 million
- Six month total $1.18 billion - $3.4 billion

3. Stand-off No-Fly Zone focusing on coastal Libya with only air and naval assets beyond Libyan territory
- $15 million to $25 million per week. 

For a total cost estimate- take your pick, as to how long the operation will last.

Just as a reminder, the No Fly Zone over Iraq lasted from 1991 to 2003, when Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' started. Before that, Operation 'Deny Flight' over Bosnia took place from April 12, 1993–December 20, 1995.
With no specific aim for Operation Odyssey Dawn, any guess might be right to define how long it will last until someone decides, either to change the UN resolution terms and send ground troops in to remove the tyrant, or let him stay, with all the dangerous consequences involved.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Vacuum After Qaddafi Will Be Filled by Jihadists

I am no friend of Qaddafis, but nor have I any yearning towards Al Qaeda or the  Muslim Jihadists taking over the Libyan void, once this weird figure is chased out.And it sure will come to this, although western leaders and the media keep ignoring the facts. Qaddafi might be mentally stuck in eighth century Islamic traditions that certainly were not intended to build a seeming democratic nation, but erode another. The Western press continues to tell its readers that once the old tyrant will disappear, Libya will become a moderate nation, its people longing for freedom and self expression, after 42 years of brutal oppression. Unfortuntely, as with the ongoing popular uprisings in the region, hope for a western style democracy in the Muslim nations seem, at best a deceptive and naive view, if not sheer wishful thinking. In the words of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who still plans his country to become member of the Euuropean Union: “Democracy is a product of western culture, and it cannot be applied to the middle-east which has a different cultural, religious, sociological and historical background”- could there be a more  explicit  and frank opinion issued by a "moderate" Islamist leader?

Based on recent past, "successful" attempts  to demote ruling despots and democratize these people, ended in just more misery and bloodshed, until even more brutal leaders emerged from the ensuing turmoil. Western intellectuals continue their naive talk about Islam really being a ‘religion of peace’ that only needs to evolve through a moderate revival, to become a democratic entity, once it frees itself from centuries of the oppressive clerics. Still many of those pseudo-oriental scholars, continue preaching about this possibility, while totally ignoring the fact that Islam is in fact already right in the midst of a revival, but a post-colonial fundamentalist radical revival that is affecting Muslims all over  the world, even those in Western countries including the United States. No less a person than Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently told European leaders that Islam was in the midst of a revival that would culminate in world-wide Muslim domination.

According to US based University Professor Walid Phares, himself a born Lebanese and leading Scholar of world reknown, warns that Islamic  jihadists want to impose a re-creation of the strict religious law caliphate, by merging dozens of Muslim countries into one world power and thereby obsrtuct any democratization attempts in the Middle East. In prof. Phares' words: " The jihadists have been waging a war of ideology against democracies, using the influence of their petro-economies and (western) democracies have fallen to a "global civil war" of ideas, politics and interests". This highly dangerous trend, which is already enfolding through the so far leader-less mass demonstrations, all over the Middle East, may become the vanguard of this world dominating jihadist caliphate, if not stopped in time, already running short.

Libyan opposition leaders, which France and Great Britain are desperately trying to bolster in their failing attempt to demote Qaddafi and his henchmen, are actually casting themselves as 'true followers' of Islam- but far from being the Western-style freedom movement, that the media has miscast. That the Libyan revolt is Islamic in character and is being deliberately misrepresented in western media reports, although clear anti-western slogans are issued constantly by rebel leaders.They clearly emphasize the nature of their intent- turning post-Qaddafi's Libya into a Jihadi Islam nation, with a Taliban-like Shariah law installed.

An even more mystifying fact, that among the leading elements in the rebelling Libyans, the notorious Libyan Islamic Fighting Group ( LIFG)  is represented.  According to the Washington based Center for Defense Information, LIFG is regarded as a highly dangerous anti-western organization, which aims replacing the Qaddafi regime with a government modelled on the most exterme Sunna ( Wahhabi) principles. And LIFG is not alone in its quest for Islamization of Post-Qaddafi Libya. According to a report from Al Arabiya, a senior rebel leader confessed to European politicians in Tripoli, that the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, (AQIM) has already set up an “Islamic emirate” in Derna, a city in eastern Libya. It s headed by a former prisoner once held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What will happen in the Libyan war depends now on the western determination to oust Colonel Qaddafi from his subterranean bunker in Tripoli. So far his troops seem to make progress against the rebels, but if the controversial "no-fly zone" should prevent his air power from taking to the sky, the situation could become critical for Qaddafi. Just how this "no-fly zone" will operate seems questionable from a sheer military viewpoint. Without massive USAF and USN intervention, the Europeans have little chance to become effective. Although Qaddafi's air defenses are not exactly powerful, these still have to be eliminated before a danger-free operational airspace can be established on acceptable flight-operation conditions. As most of the Libyan SAMs are mobile, their neutralization will require real-time intelligence and rapid reaction with sensor-to-strike missions. Gaining such information will inevitably require "boots on the ground"- a high-risk operation in itself. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates left little room for optimism in this realm when he mentioned: "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined".

But sooner or later mounting pressure from the West and the Arab League will force Moammar Gaddafi to go, just as Mubark went. But then what? Whom does Mr Obama wish to replace this lunatic Libyan despot? A vacuum in leadership in this unstable country will inevitably lead to an Islamic revolution like that in Iran 1979. When Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt, the military temporarily took to the reins and  and blunted any opportunity for an Islamic revolution, at least for the time being. However a jihadist neighbor in Post-Qaddafi Libya will certainly encourage Islamic elements, led by the highly Influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is just waiting for his chance to fill in the void. Linking a radical shift in the Egyptian Brotherhood under Qaradawi with LIFG and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, (AQIM) could become the founding pillars for the prophesied  quest for the jihadist' caliphate.

However, should Qaddafi maintain his hold on Libya- which seems likely, as western leaders are still dithering over launching an ineffective "no-fly" zone, the colonel's message to Arab and Iranian autocrats will be clear: "do what you see effective to maintain your regime- don't worry about Obama or the EU' they only talk and do nothing".

The Saudis already acted and sent their troops into Bahrain, just before Tehran would, to support their Shiites rioting against the Kingdom. No doubt, the King of Jordan will also be encouraged to keep his Hashemite throne, while the military in Egypt might become more aggressive, should the 'Lotus' revolution get out of control.

Meanwhile the Obama administration continues to lose its prestige as a resolute world leader- the  series of amateurish statements from the president and his aides seem rediculous, only underlining the impotence of a dwindling 'Pax Americana', caught so flatfooted in the latest crisis management. His wavering attitude has already damaged American credibility throughout the region, particularly with leaders who for decades were Washington's loyal allies. Mr. Obama thus made a virtue out of not having a strategy.

Unfortunately, with such a dubious record, there is little hope that Barak Hussein Obama can hardly become the Peacemaker, which he so passionately wishes to be.

Related Item:
16/12/2007: Defeated in Iraq, Al Qaeda Migrates to Maghreb -Next Stop: Europe