Category Archives: Middle East

One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?

As ever, there is a fine line between a terrorist organisation and freedom fighters. As the old saying goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Perception and the country in question is key as are geopolitics and the context within which the struggles arise.

Many independent countries have come to the fore as a direct result of military uprisings by the people through rebel movements. Two recent examples are Kosovo and South Sudan, both of which their respective rebel movements formed a key part of achieving their nationalist goals.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas are other groups who have sought to secure rights and goals through use of force and have tip-toed a fine line between nationalist struggles and terrorist activities. In the case of Hamas, they are in political power, have foreign relations and are even supported by a number of regional counties, yet many have denoted them as a terrorist organisation.

Now the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel movement in Syria, albeit not on the grounds of seeking statehood but nonetheless symbolic freedom akin to other rebel groups, has tremendous international support as did the Libyan rebel movement prior to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi.

Ask the respective governments that these groups sought to overthrow, and the terms “terrorists mercenaries”, “armed gangs” etc come to mind. Yet ask those who supported the rebel movements, and they will have heralded as revolutionaries, democracy seekers and brave men who stood up to tyranny.

In Kurdistan, the Peshmerga are without a doubt a nationalist icon of the Kurds. Without standing up to the brutality of Saddam, the Kurds would never have achieved their freedom. For the Kurds, the rebel movement was about honour, self-sacrifice and bravery. Yet for Saddam, it was the Kurds and not his barbaric policies that were to blame.

Even the Americans rose up in arms against their British occupiers in the name of freedom as have many other nations throughout history.

The point is depending on what lens the world is viewed, the situation is perceived and treated completely differently and often hypocritically.

Murky definitions

It goes without saying that people often brand terrorism depending on a number of general factors, such as the mode of operation used to seek goals, motivations and characteristics of the group.

An important element here is the popularity and backing of the group. There is certainly difference between a popular national struggle that is waged through a national liberation movement and terrorism that is spurred on by a small minority whose goals is to be recognised, infamy and to generally strike a higher bargain from governments.

Generally speaking nationalist struggle seek to acquire often freedom and rights, while terrorist movements seek to destroy. Yet at the same time, terrorists still try to acquire through destruction, fear and violence.

In any case, the so called credibility and mode of operation of national struggles is a blurred line. How often have we seen bombings of buildings and use of IED’s and hit and run tactics in Syria and Libya, that result in civilian casualties? Rebel movements are no match for the sheer firepower of their adversaries and thus urban guerrilla warfare is almost a necessity.

The key thing is whether there is a purposeful and direct intent to harm the civilian population, which is the case with classic terrorism to gain media coverage and to strike fear. But such terrorist movements often lack true public following and are rarely representative of a large segment of society.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

Turkey has fought a bitter war with the PKK that is a little shy of 30 years. Throughout this time, Turkey has been unable to crush the “terrorists” that it has continuously labelled.

Just what are the PKK? A national struggle or a terrorist organisation? Again, it comes back to the argument of perception. Turkey and most of the west in strategic support of its key allies have been quick to blacklist the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Others have merely jumped on the new “Assad is supporting and arming the PKK” bandwagon.

All this simply masks reality. The PKK have been around for much longer than the current revolutionary era in Middle East and the situation in Turkey is far from new.

This is not to doubt that the PKK has received backing from Assad or Tehran, indeed the PKK has been used and manipulated effectively by even the US and Turkey.

A life of any human being, Kurdish or Turkish is sacred and as much as a Turkish mother mourns the pain of the loss of her son, it is no different for a Kurdish mother. By no means whatsoever can violent struggles be condoned and in this new era the PKK must ultimately give up its armed struggled, but Turkey has seriously miscalculated the PKK issue and continuous to do so to its detriment.

The PKK started their operation in 1984 on the back of the military junta that gripped Turkey between 1980 and 1983. This was at a time when repressive policies against the Kurds were at their peak.

Now imagine, for one minute that there was never an Abdullah Ocalan or a PKK organisation in existence in Turkey, would there be peace today or would the situation be any different? The simply is an overriding no.

The PKK was born out of the situation, and the situation was not born out of the PKK. In simple terms, if there was no Ocalan or PKK, there would simply have been another leader and another Kurdish group that would have filled the vacuum.

More importantly, the PKK have merely continued the legacy of previous Kurdish revolts, uprisings and armed struggles. Only two years after the proclamation of the republic, Turkey crushed a revolt in 1925. This was just a flavour of what was to come.

Throughout Atatürk’s rule, conflict in the southeast of Turkey was a common feature. The last revolt of that era in Dersim was quelled by sheer force and use of chemical weapons.

It is Turkey that ultimately created the PKK and until this realisation hits home, there will never be peace, brotherhood and harmony in Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in an apparent u-turn from his original stance of blaming Assad for rise in PKK violence, summed it up perfectly:

“Terror in Turkey did not appear as a result of the developments in Syria, it is a problem that has lasted for 30 years.”

Is the issue really 5000 or so PKK guerrilla’s or the 15 million Kurds? Lets say that Turkey was able to achieve its long-term goal of eradicating the PKK and 5000 rebels perished, can they guarantee under the current climate that another 5000 would not readily replace them?

Mere branding of the PKK as “terrorists” only services to mask the nationalist struggle that continues to plague Turkey.

Kurdish Rights in Turkey

There is no doubt that the situation of the Kurds in Turkey is a far cry from yesteryears but it has a long way to go, and although inconsistently employed the government has taken a number of bold steps. However, the polarisation of government policies and the military struggles runs too deep for wounds to easily heal.

Ankara has made a number of symbolic strides in addressing its Kurdish issue, but it has seemingly deemed these as sufficient to believe that there is no longer a “Kurdish issue”.

Ironically, the Kurdish issue if anything with the revolutionary winds in the Middle East has increased. Kurds in Turkey see Arabs and even their ethnic brethren achieve rights and yet how can they be expected to settle for the rights that Turkey deems “fair” to provide?

The bottom line is fear. Ankara has always feared the Kurds and for decades was able to effectively subdue them in line with the policies of neighbouring governments against their portion of Kurdish populations.

The more that Turkey continues along the lines of fear, the more that what they fear will come to light.

The violent struggle in Turkey serves no side and most Kurds are fed up of war, impoverishment and lack of investment in their region. Money is an important language and if the Kurds were able to enjoy employment, better standards of living, first class status then Turkey would see just how much the PKK would be supported.

Through the history of the Turkish republic, there have hardly ever been any significant Kurdish parties in parliament and most have been hastily shut down.

Now the BDP is facing the same plight as their predecessor. As violence has escalated in Turkey with August experiencing some of the highest level of confrontations since 1984, a BDP encounter with some PKK rebels caused inevitable uproar. Strangely, there were politicians, rebels and even the media but no state presence.

It is no secret that the PKK has a large support base amongst Kurds in Turkey but for many Kurds the PKK is their FSA, PLO or KLA. For them the PKK represents their national struggle. Not all Kurds agree with violence means but certainly see the PKK as their flag bearer, especially as the voted for AKP in large numbers but grew increasingly frustrated.

Whether open or private, it is not illogical that the PKK would have sentimental support from the BDP. After all they share the same cause and nationalism, if not the same platform.

Only when the grassroots support for the PKK is cut and Kurdish moderates are embraced can Turkey tip the balance against the PKK.

The end game

Most Turks are fierce nationalists and the mere idea of negotiating with the PKK or surrendering to their demands is a major red-line. The battle between the PKK and Ankara has become a question of pride and with sides are as entrenched as ever. No side is willing to cede with fear of their call for peace been perceived as a sign of weakness.

Turkey continues to reassure Kurds on the one hand and battle Kurds on the other, whilst trying to demarcate between a group of rebels and the general Kurdish population. Unfortunately, it is not about a group of rebels. If it was that simple the PKK would have been destroyed a long-time ago. It’s about addressing the root of the issue as opposed to cutting the branches of your problems.

It begs the question of just why Turkey has allowed the struggle to straddle for so long. Without a doubt the PKK has benefited many in the Turkish hierarchy as it has provided fuel to maintain the status-quo.

Times have dramatically changed and as the Middle East unravels, Turkey must either address new realities and influence the present or become swept as history is made.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.

Turkey’s new saviour role in the region undercut by its refusal to resolve age-old issue at home

Turkish support of Palestinian statehood and human rights in the Middle East is all the more ironic as the real issue of the region, a solution to the Kurdish national struggle is overlooked.

As Turkey attempts to accelerate itself as a reborn champion of the Middle East, at the same time its highly anticipated “Democratic Opening” aimed at resolving its age old Kurdish dilemma has ground to a halt. Turkey continues a reach out to its neighbours but increasingly neglects to resolve historic problems on its doorstep.

In the past few years, Turkey has increasingly strengthened its influence over the eastern Mediterranean and the greater Middle East. While for decades Turkey looked more closely to its West than its Eastern frontier, there has clearly been a shift as it tries to muster an Ottoman-like prominence over the region.

With the prospect of EU membership seemingly  becoming more distant and the growing economical connotations that have come with improving relations with its eastern neighbours coupled with the huge energy incentives that come with Turkey’s unique geographical location, Turkey has realised that the key to its future lies with its past.

As Turkey has moved closer to its Arab and Iranian neighbours its relations with Israel have deteriorated exponentially much to the dismay of the US. The growing popularity of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan coincides with the Arab spring where Turkey promoted itself as a saviour of repressed peoples and a stalwart of human rights.

While Arabs may have gained tremendously from the historic revolutionary dawn, this has placed Israel into tight corner where its relative peace with Egypt and its neighbours has been greatly jeopardised.

One the back of rising anti-Israeli rhetoric, now Turkey finds itself at the spearhead of a contentious plan by the Palestinian government to push through recognition of statehood at the UN. This has placed the US under a challenging predicament were it could easily veto such proposals but ultimately face a great own-goal in its credibility in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

At same time as building bridges with the Arab community, Turkey continues to foster warm ties with Tehran. Suddenly Turkey finds itself with a hand in critical matters across the region from Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad to Tehran.

With Turkey enjoying a regional renaissance akin to its yesteryears keeping them onside has been ever more critical for the US.

All the while as Turkey flexes its new socio-political muscles, its Achilles heel remains on the backburner but as fervent as ever – a genuine solution to its Kurdish problem. It seems that whenever a social earthquake strikes the Middle East from the post Ottoman days to the current Arab spring, it is the Kurds that lose out.

Turkey’s passionate defence of what it deems rightful Palestinian statehood is all the more ironic as it denied the mere existence of the Kurds for decades. But as the Kurdish problem gathers dust on Ankara’s political shelf, just who is pressurising the Turks to resolve its age old problem?

Palestinian may be deserving of statehood but can anyone genuinely say that a 22nd Arab state is more justified than Kurdish independence?

The Kurds continue to act as one of most pro-US groups around, yet the US is rushing to appease Turkish demands at the expense of Kurds to save face at the UN and keep its other historic allies onside. A trade-off for a Turkish backdown on its insistence on unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence is likely to be direct American assistance to oust the PKK rebels, including deployment of US predator drones.

It is remarkable that as the Kurdistan Region gets bombed from both sides of its border and as Baghdad attempts to dilute their power to the south, the US keeps a silent profile.

Rather than propelling the steady Kurdish advancement, it appears leaning towards its “bigger” partners who appear intent on not just reining the Kurdish rebels but the region itself. Turkish and Iranian firepower serves as a reminder to the Kurdistan Region as much as the rebels just who calls the shots in the region.

Kosovar independence was fast tracked with the assistance of the EU, US and Turkey as a justified special case, much in the same way as South Sudan and now Palestine looks to join the list sooner or later.

Ironically, those same powers also consider Kurdistan a special case but to detriment of the Kurdish nation. Kurdish independence is considered a special case due to geopolitical ramifications i.e. fear that Kurdish independence in any of its parts would cause tidal waves and instability in others.

However, those that consider Kurdistan a special case are those same powers that created this artificial predicament.

As Kurdistan was selfishly carved up and denied the same rights that were given to other ethnicities, who asked the Kurds how they wanted to decide their own destiny?

While all parts of Kurdistan have undergone decades of repression and genocide under successive regimes, where was the US, UN and Europe to champion their rights or talk about “justified cases”?

Any established nation has the right to unmolested existence, to decide its own affairs and to express cultural freedom. No nation has the right to submerge, rule-over or deny outright another nation.

 These fundamental principles are one of the main reasons why the League of Nations and later the UN was created and why many wars have been waged against rogue regimes and dictators trespassing international charters.

 Clearly, in the case of Kosovo, South Sudan and Palestine such international charters are interpreted and implemented to suit strategic, ideological and political goals.

 The Kurdistan Region can be a power to be reckoned with if it maintains internal unity and refuses to succumb to bullying from regional and global powers and double standards to the adoption of UN charters.

 There is no doubt that the Kurdistan Region relies greatly on Turkish and Iranian support but they must not accept to be viewed as inferior partners but great strategic actors in their own rights. Kurdistan has masses of oil at its disposal and neighbouring partners are starting to realise a long held anxiety, a Kurdish boom underpinned by oil.

PKK and PJAK must lay down their arms for the days of armed struggles are gone. But the end of such rebel groups must be met with a genuine opportunity for peace and brotherhood. If Turkey continues to view the Kurdish issue as a terrorist issue then another 100 years will not end bloodshed and suffering. If the fundamental social polarisation remains intact, the demise of one rebel will simply result in the rise of another.

As Turkey builds extensions to its formidable looking house, without a true resolution to its Kurdish issue, its foundations are susceptible to crumbling at any time.

As for the US and UN, rather than  a continuation of supporting policies detrimental to the Kurdish cause, they must employ a genuine desire and effort to resolve the real issue of the Middle East – Kurdistan, not Palestine.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The hypocrisy of the Arab Spring as the Kurds are left to fend alone once more

If one was to foretell the collapse of three dictatorial regimes in the Middle East at the end of 2010, he would have been portrayed as somewhat of a psychotic. Such is the sheer velocity of the revolutionary whirlwind that has swept through the Arabian terrain that the question on every lip is not whether hardened dictatorial regimes can fall but who is next to succumb under the potent storm.

As fierce gun battles rage across Tripoli, the regime of Colonel Gaddafi is well and truly over and the Libyan people can look forward to a new historic dawn and the rebuilding of their country. In the case of Libya, it wasn’t as much a revolution as a brutal civil war that won the day.  Nevertheless, the end result with crucial NATO backing was just as symbolic.

A short distance across the Middle Eastern plains lies another embattled country and another dictator desperately trying to cling on to power. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has only remained in power for as long as he has under a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis and growing protests due to a sense of double standards from the international community.

It is easy to forget that Libyan protests in Benghazi snowballed into a rebel resistance force with the diplomatic, political and military support and encouragement of the Arab League, U.S. and Europe. The Syrian opposition has not been as directly empowered due to geopolitical considerations, with neighbouring Turkey weary about emboldening the Syrian Kurds and with Tehran, who enjoys strong influence over Damascus, Lebanon and Palestinian territories, anxiously watching developments.

For the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own respective rights and preservation of their culture and identity for decades, this is where the sense of hypocrisy becomes more tragic.

For successive decades, Kurds have endured terrible crimes against their population and acts of genocide and persecution, irrespective of the country they inhabit. Rather than receiving assistance or any semblance of acclaim that recent uprisings have attracted, the Kurds were left to persevere alone while much of the world turned a blind eye.

As Turkey joined the mass hailing of the fall of Gadaffi, pledged millions of dollars to Libya and talked of their moral obligation to Somalia, it was at the same time heavily pounding Iraqi Kurdistan territories in chase of the PKK, resulting in mass destruction of countryside and the much regrettable loss of civilian lives.

This only begs the question of why a Turkish life is considered any more sacred than that of a Kurd. Why do Turks mourn the tears of their mothers and loss of Turkish lives with such national tragedy and rejoice at the death of Kurds or celebrate with sheer nationalism with a backdrop of tears from Kurdish mothers?

The Turkish national forces hailed the alleged death of 100 or so PKK rebels after six days of fierce bombing like a victory against the heart of the resistance. But what does the loss of 100 PKK rebels actually entail? Does this bring Turkey closer to ending their decade old battle against the PKK? Sadly, the answer is no and the loss of more lives and further bloodshed only adds to the 40,000 plus running tally that this battle has taken so far.

As Turkey cuts the branches of its problems, the root only grows stronger.

After promising developments under his tenure, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is sadly proving that he will simply succumb to the wishes of ultra-nationalist brigade that has marred ties with the Kurds since the inception of the republic.

For Turks, the Kemalist ideology that underpins the Turkish state has taken mystical proportions. Under this Kemalist shadow, the Kurds have been perceived as a plague of the nationalist doctrine and thorn in the ideological framework of the republic.

Kurds did not choose to be a part of Turkey, Iraq, Syria or Iran as their existence was selfishly carved by imperial powers. Now Kurds who have inhabited this region for thousands of years are ironically perceived as trespassers in their own land.

As Turkey flagrantly violates Iraq’s sovereignty, it doesn’t feel the need to provide any justification other than the preservation of Turkish rights. With every bombing of Kurdistan and the increasing heavy handed tactics in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, Turkey moves further and further away from peace and the gulf between Turks and Kurds only widens.

A life is sacred whether it is that of an Arab, Turk, Iranian or Kurd. Each ethnicity has the right to live in peace, freedom and within its own national identity. However, the plight of the Kurds has been commonly overlooked by the US and European powers. Such a policy of double standards may have been barely forgivable in yesteryears but in this day and age is an absolute dent in the credibility of any UN charter or institution.

The Kurdish cause has been merely been brushed aside as a terrorist issue. The fundamental issue for Turkey is not 5000 or so rebels but 15 million Kurds. With the Kurdish political process effectively stalled and any semblance of peace with the PKK becoming more of a distant reality, this has placed the general Kurdish population into a difficult and untenable corner.

As soon as Kurds talk of national identity or their fundamental rights or as soon as Kurdish politicians threaten to grow in influence, they are cast aside under the PKK camp.

The Kurds want no more than any other nationality – employment, equality and freedom. With the building of solid and genuine bridges across Turkey there is no reason why the Kurds cannot become a celebrated component of Turkey, especially with the carrot of the EU, than the ubiquitous Turkish conundrum.

The Kurds are here to stay and the sooner that they are embraced with equal rights, the sooner that the greater Turkey can truly excel.

The time for armed resistance and bloodshed is over but Ankara must seriously convince the Kurds that they have genuine intent to treat the Kurds with fraternity and equal rights. With Kurds feeling as trapped as ever between the state and the PKK and with channels of dialogue and democratic openings seemingly closed, unfortunately the situation will only worsen as the camps become more entrenched.

Much like the decade old regimes that are fast collapsing across the Middle East, Turkey must not take it position as a regional power for granted. It can ignore the escalating friction with the Kurdish community at its peril.  This is the same country that went to war with the Greeks in 1974 to defend the rights of Turkish Cypriots and has tried to maneuverer as a modern-day Ottoman incarnation through an increasing father-figure role in the Middle East and frequent rhetoric against repression in Israel, Syria and Lebanon, yet who continue to believe that a Kurdish problem does not exist.

As for Iraqi Kurdistan, their precarious existence could not be better illustrated in recent weeks. Repeated shelling and bombings by both Turkey and Iran is worsened with growing tension in disputed territories to the south.

Remarkably, this is happening under the doorstep of the US forces and more than likely such bombings have been made possible with US intelligence. It also begs the question of why Baghdad has been so tentative in condemning the Iranian and Turkish acts of aggression. After all, isn’t Kurdistan supposedly a part of Iraq?

The bombings have an air of warning about them, not just to the PKK but to the Iraqi Kurds. This is a show of firepower and muscle flexing to demonstrate who is in charge as much of a quest to uproot the PKK.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

The echoes of Iraq in Libya and setting the precedence for foreign intervention

Weary from the Iraqi lesson, the US and its allies finally intervene in Libya amidst a growing humanitarian crisis. However with a violent crackdown on protests spreading fast in Syria and Yemen, where does this leave the boundaries for foreign intervention?

One often learns lessons from his past experiences while others become scarred from past events and Western governments are no different. After the acrimonious fallout from the second Gulf War in 2003 which saw the overthrow of Saddam and threw US foreign policy firmly under the international spotlight, the Washington administration has often worked hard to repair its foreign policy image and rebuild its ties with the Muslim community. 

So when the next burning item on the agenda of the new Middle Eastern revolution that has rocked the regional balance in spectacular fashion became the 42 year old rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the hesitant nature of Western intervention particularly that of the US became evident.

In many ways, Libya has echoes of Iraq and Iraq has somewhat clouded intervention in Libya. Both countries had brutal dictators that ruled for decades and violently suppressed opposition, both posses immense amounts of oil, both leaders had a love-hate relationship with the West and ultimately both became subjects of no-fly zones and international sanctions. However, while the US and its allies sat idly in 1991 as the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings were brutally crushed in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, they could not simply watch in vain as Gaddafi’s forces relentlessly attacked rebel held towns and before that opened fire on protesters in the cold light of day.

UN resolution 1973 was finally passed weeks after the initial revolt began in Libya, with the likes of the UK, France and US mindful of the escalating humanitarian situation but unsure just how to sell intervention to the wider international community. The common theme was the need to protect civilians and this was the overriding basis for the backing of the resolution from member states. The Western powers that backed action were weary of avoiding comparisons to the Iraqi invasion of 2003 and as such distanced themselves as much as possible from the idea of occupation or direct intervention in the battle between pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebel movement.

As violence and bloodshed is fast spreading in Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s regime tries to contain rising protests by force, the question for America and the West after resolution 1973 is how do you define the boundaries for intervention? Would Syria be any different if the protests snowballed into a large resistant movement (which may become a firm reality if the largely disenfranchised Kurdish minority join the uprising) and the civilian population were attacked?

As such, the wording of the resolution on Libya essentially afforded a wide range of options, short of a ground invasion to protect the civilians. Support from Arab powers and the Arab League was of fundamental importance, there was no chance that the likes of the US would take action against a Muslim and Arab state without greater regional backing this time round.

No doubt owed to the tainted image that the US invasion received from the Iraqi invasion, the question of who would command the enforcement of the no-fly zones has been  somewhat of a hot-potato with the US keen to take a back seat in the operations and hand-over command without delay. Much like the response to the Egyptian uprising, the Washington administration has been at times slow to respond to escalating situations in the Middle East whilst been unclear what they want to achieve.

There is no doubt that the overall aim of the current mission is to ultimately see the overthrow of Gaddafi, even if the West has persistently dismissed any semblance of suggestions that they were aiming for “regime change”. However, it is clear from the heavy air strikes and missile attacks on Gaddafi defence sites and armour that it is hoped that Gaddafi’s forces would be paralysed enough to allow the ill-prepared and ill-trained rebels a chance to regroup, strike back and oust the regime.

In truth much of the actions of the Western powers can be masked under the pretext of protecting civilians, and it may well reach a stage where the rebels are directly armed.

However, under the current pretext of events, there are a number of permutations that may come to light. Firstly, there is the nightmare scenario for most that rebels fail to capitalise on Western air-strikes and eventually Gaddafi clings on to power, secondly there is the possibility of a civil war that rages for months or years that will undoubtedly cripple much of Libya and destabilise the region and finally there is the increasing likelihood of a de-facto partition of Libya as a result of any stalemate.

Both scenarios make anxious reading for the West, with a continuation of economic sanctions likely to cripple the people more than regime itself. The West know from the Iraqi experience that sanctions and no-fly zones do no always work against desperate dictators intent on holding on to power. Iraq suffered 12 years of sanctions and yet only the very people that the West is trying to protect at the current time suffered.

The actions of the West in the next week or so will speak volumes. Days of gruelling negotiations over handing command to NATO were only partially successful. Ironically, NATO is an alliance led by UK, France and the US anyway. However, by going under the NATO umbrella with the only Muslim nation of Turkey as a critical piece of the puzzle, it adds broader strategic weight to the operations. 

The burning question is what is next for the Middle East and how will the West subsequently react to events that unfold under the international eye. The view of Arab states on how they prefer the Middle Eastern tide to unfold is not uniform. Some Arab powers would prefer a weakened Gaddafi to stay in power rather than create more political vacuums in the region, while some Arab countries with their own restive populations and who have suffered anti-government protests would have their own reservations in mind.

A great example is Syrian pan-Arab nationalist regime, it is very unlikely that the major Arab powers would support direct action against his regime.

At least for Libya, the people will have the limited consolation that the West did not just standby and finally took action although somewhat belatedly. In contrast to Iraq of 1991, where the people were encouraged to rise up and take matters into their own hand, but at their crucial time of need the West turned a blind eye. The 2003 invasion essentially came 12 years too late for the people and remarkably after decades of barbaric rule where opposition was frequently crushed and genocide and repression was rife, many people despised the US intervention in Iraq or criticised it as not having a moral or legal basis.

The lesson for the West is timing, realising that sanctions and no-fly zones are not enough to topple a regime and ensuring that intervention is marketed well. This is why the West this time around was careful in the wording of the resolution and in publicly setting their overall objective.

Ironically, the US led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan was designed to achieve the very thing that the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya seek today, more freedom, change, liberalisation and democracy. However, the West can not pick and choose which uprisings they support based on the regime in question and their strategic objectives.

Protests in Yemen were violently suppressed while there have been brewing opposition in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and particularly Syria. The tides of change will only get stronger if Gaddafi’s regime falls, and the next country to be swept by the tidal waves is yet to be seen. It will not only be regimes that change in this oil rich part of the world, strategic alliances, the regional power balance and the even the sectarian balance will be affected. Take Iran who voiced their great concern as the protests from their Shiite brethren in Bahrain were put down.

 Too many changes, too fast and without a clear Western policy on guiding and supporting these “new” states or clear criteria for the need to intervene, may see the region in further turmoil than enter a new era of prosperity and democracy. 

 The US and its allies are needed to play a crucial and productive role in the Middle East more than ever.

Protests in Yemen were violently suppressed while there have been brewing opposition inBahrain,Saudi Arabia and particularly Syria. The tides of change will only get stronger if Gaddafi’s regime falls, and the next country to be swept by the tidal waves is yet to be seen. It will not only be regimes that change in this oil rich part of the world, strategic alliances, the regional power balance and the even the sectarian balance will be affected. Take Iran who voiced their great concern as the protests from their Shiite brethren in Bahrain were put down.

 Too many changes, too fast and without a clear Western policy on guiding and supporting these “new” states or clear criteria for the need to intervene, may see the region in further turmoil than enter a new era of prosperity and democracy. 

 The US and its allies are needed to play a crucial and productive role in the Middle East more than ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, eKurd, Various Misc.

Gaza’s Agony Continues

The depth of destruction in Gaza slowly unfolds, but for the people of the impoverished strip, more agony lies ahead. 

Palestinians in the Gaza strip were left to pick up the pieces once more after a deadly Israeli offensive lasting 22 days finally came to an end, almost in ironic sync with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the new US President.

An Israeli unilateral ceasefire, the product of much diplomatic effort by Western leaders and regional powers, was later followed by a week-long Hamas ceasefire, tentatively ending a conflict that made the lives of 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip a living hell.

Reflecting on the devastation

As Israeli troops and tanks gradually left the impoverished strip of land, the full scale of the devastation resulting from daily air strikes and Israeli artillery assaults started to unfold.

With bulldozers slowly ploughing through the debris of battle, it was the unfortunate population of Gaza, of whom almost two-thirds remain registered with the UN as refugees that were once again the victims of decades of bitterness and colonial legacies.

Relative peace was ended, when Hamas refused to renew an edgy six-month ceasefire with the Israeli government towards the end of 2008. As persistent rocket-fire ensued, Israeli launched the latest offensive under the banner of protecting their civilians.

With further destruction to an already embattled landscape,    and historic and deep-rooted animosity between Hamas and Israel, the future for Gaza remains bleak.

Israeli left the Gaza Strip in 2005, but ubiquitous rocket-fire into southern Israel has meant that deadly Israeli retaliatory air strikes have been common. In one of the most densely populated areas in the world, often it is civilian bloodshed and heartache that ensues, than any real diminishment of Hamas’s ability to launch rocket fire.

Humanitarian crisis

As Israeli eased its operations, much needed food and medical supplies began to trickle thorough the border crossings. Figures indicate that over a third of the population have been without water since the offensive began, with many without any power.

In addition to the rubble dotting the landscape, thousands of people remain homeless. According to estimates from Gaza, over 22,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed amounting to billions in reparation.

What chance for peace?

The concept of peace for two sides so contrasting in ideology is a difficult undertaking. Hamas, who have also been at deadly logger-heads with their arch-rivals Fatah, refuse to recognise Israel and remain committed at seeing the return of all Palestinian lands from their “occupiers”.

Maintaining a short-term truce appears a difficult enough task, let alone lasting peace between both sides. For Israel, the dilemma is obvious, how do you appease patriotic ranks in government to negotiate with an enemy, who remains intent on seeing your collapse?

As much as the Hamas movement does not encapsulate the views of all Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza strip, where an already mentally-scarred nation suffers more agony, it is hard not to alienate the greater population away from seeking peaceful ties.

With each dying civilian, the gulf to peace only increases. Israel seeks to ensure security which it has every right to enjoy, but what sympathy can be granted if hundreds of other civilians perish in the quest of protecting their own. One can blame Hamas for endangering their own population, but try telling that to the people of Gaza who have lost their homes and lack basic commodities.

Yet a key constraint remains to any peace. Until Palestinians can find peace with each other there is no chance of any peace with the Jewish state. However, a unity government appears a distant possibility for now with any elections in the short-term highly unlikely.

International reaction

Most Western powers, including some regional governments, remained supportive of Israel’s security concerns and motives for launching the offensives against a regime that many still deem as a terrorist organisation.

However, broad dismay at the humanitarian catastrophe that enveloped was difficult to veil. Israel’s heavy handed tactics, resulting in the death of 1,300 Palestinians, was hard to justify as much as the continued nuisance of rocket-fire from Palestinian territory had placed enormous pressure on the Israeli government to react.

Israeli unilateral ceasefire comes on the back of a firm commitment by leading powers to take more action to prevent arms-smuggling from Egypt into the hands of militants. However, Hamas has so far remained defiant in its continued pursuit of arms and the key question remains as to who will police the southern border of Gaza with Egypt.

Even the more favoured and pro-Western Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas that currently control the Western bank, were not wholeheartedly sympathetic to the consequences of perceived Hamas provocation that spurred the onslaught of Israeli anger.

The great differences between Arab neighbours were in open view at the recent Arab summit, further highlighting the complexities in resolving the Palestinian question. Even Arab countries fail to address the current issues with any sense of unity.

US presidential card

It is hard to see the timing of the disproportionate Israeli onslaught as coincidental. Within the final weeks of President George W. Bush’s controversial tenure at the helm, Israel hit back at a more ferocious rate to greatly-weaken the military threat posed by Hamas under the umbrella of the strong support offered by the current Bush administration.

The controversial Israeli offensive meant that even the fading days of Bush’s rule, were clouded in debate. Intriguingly, the Israeli pull-out started just days before Obama’s inauguration as president.

It remains to be seen whether the new U.S. president, would afford the Israeli government the same underlying backing but certainly ahead of their own elections, Israeli leaders would want to build a solid “start” with the new US regime.

What remains certain, is that Obama will inherit as many challenges and obstacles to Middle Eastern peace as his predecessors, who have all desperately tried to foster the prospect of a viable two-state solution.

As long as any two sides remain worlds apart in viewpoints and persist with the same kind of deep-rooted hatred for one-another, a dozen more US presidents, would continue to inherit the same instruments of instability and terror.

Propaganda war

For both the Israeli government and Hamas, the propaganda war bore as much significance as the deadly war itself.

Both sides have toyed with statistics and used international sentiment to their advantage.  Regardless, of the terms of peace or length of confrontation, both sides would always declare a popular victory against the other.

It remains to be seen, how Israelis would react to any perceived further aggression by Hamas. Likewise it is unclear how Hamas would react if they felt that the terms of their own indefinite ceasefire was breached.

In truth arms-smuggling in Gaza is next to impossible to stop and rocket-fire, however varying in intensity and frequency, will continue on Israel.

In many ways, there is a feeling of a temporary halt to the fighting, in light of the dire humanitarian situation and the immense pressure to ease the suffering of the people. All the seeds for a future conflict remain very in much in position.

Gaza fenced in

The long-term Israeli economic embargo on the Gaza strip aimed at punishing the Islamist regime and weaken their resolve will only ever inflict further pain on ordinary civilians.

With people limited in their movement and stuck between a much-maligned Hamas and an unwavering “neighbour”, the people of Gaza are in more ways than one trapped within their own lands.

If Israeli seeks to build ties, then it must be a lot more attentive to civilian damage and suffering in their response to any aggression, and ease any economic blockades thereafter.

The ordinary people of Gaza can only be distanced, when they witness their neighbourhood in rubbles, their hospitals full of wounded and their social infrastructure in tatters. Israeli must entice the Palestinian people away from extremism and not enflame passions and hatred further.

Israeli elections

In Israel, ahead of crucial elections on February 10th, the popularity of the offensives raised the prospects of key individuals at the heart of the recent military offensive to revel at the polls.

However, in spite of certain ministries gaining in popularity, opinion polls indicate a win for right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Somewhat ironically, it was Netanyahu who opposed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 after almost four decades of occupation, after insisting that Palestinian hardliners would assume any power vacuum that would ensue from any pullout.

The long-term strategy to deal with their Gaza problem remains very much to be seen.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.