In Multipolarity

‘Week In Review’, published on Al-Monitor, Dec 18, 2016

Aleppo, which is mostly Sunni, was sold a sectarian bill of goods by the opposition. And it has been a disaster for the people of Aleppo.

A woman and her daughter await evacuation from eastern Aleppo (Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

A woman and her daughter await evacuation from eastern Aleppo (Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

At a press conference Dec. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama said that although as president he “always feel[s] responsible,” the blame for the “brutality” in Aleppo rests “in one place alone — with the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. And this blood and these atrocities are on their hands.” Obama, who is regularly and often unfairly skewered by critics for his “failure” in Syria, explained that “unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems. … I understand the impulse to want to do something. But ultimately, what I’ve had to do is to think about what can we sustain, what is realistic.”

In referencing his approach to pursue a diplomatic solution, which he continues to believe is “the right approach,” Obama said, “I cannot claim that we have been successful.”

Obama might have cast a wider net in assigning blame to include those regional powers who have allowed, or even facilitated, the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, all in the name of deposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jabhat al-Nusra, which changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is now the largest al-Qaeda affiliate ever thanks to the support of some U.S. regional allies, as none other than U.S. Vice President Joe Biden explained two years ago.

The Syrian government’s apparent victory in Aleppo, which wrought unconscionable suffering, hopefully signals an irreversible setback for Jabhat al-Nusra, which, according to UN special Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, has held the city’s residents “hostage,” as we reported here in October.

The mainstream press often appears to obscure, or overlook, or not know, that the point of the spear for the “rebels” in Aleppo are Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies, including Ahrar al-Sham, even though this information is well-documented in the weekly “Syrian Situation Report” and other sources.

Similarly, almost never mentioned in press accounts is that these terrorists and armed groups rule through intimidation, fear and Islamic law in areas they control. This column has been one of the few to give prominence to Amnesty International’s must-read report on life inside areas under control of armed groups in Aleppo and Idlib. The report’s press release pointed out that these “groups operating in Aleppo, Idlib and surrounding areas in the north of Syria have carried out a chilling wave of abductions, torture and summary killings,” including the targeting of children and journalists.

Our guess is that there are few residents of Aleppo lamenting a defeat by Jabhat al-Nusra and its  partners.  Aleppo’s citizens simply want this unjust war and relentless misery to end. The spirit of the 2011 popular uprising against Assad was hijacked long ago by terrorists and armed gangs.

The secular, moderate opposition has also been a casualty of this ugly trend. To consider the battle for Aleppo in those 2011 terms is a false and misleading narrative. As we wrote here in January, 11 months ago, Aleppo represented “the failed promise of the terrorist and armed groups that have offered little more than Islamic law and criminality. Aleppo, which is mostly Sunni, was sold a sectarian bill of goods by the opposition. And it has been a disaster for the people of Aleppo. The Syrian government’s barrel bombs and relentless sieges added to an unbearable existence.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week, “We have collectively failed the people of Syria. … History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment.”

The end of the battle of Aleppo offers the world community the opportunity for a new solidarity, “to do even more” to assure that the city receives the urgent humanitarian aid it so desperately needs, especially as winter sets in, and that Syrian government forces and their allies respect human rights and international law as they take control. As we wrote last year, the defeat of Jabhat al-Nusra and its partners in Aleppo “could be the beginning of the end of the sectarian mindset that would have been alien to the city prior to 2011. There is no more appropriate city to begin Syria’s healing.”

Israel weighs Russian role in Syria

Ben Caspit writes that for Israel’s national security leadership, “the Russian presence in Syria effectively removes Syria from the map of operational opportunities that Israel has prepared for the day of reckoning. The Israel Defense Forces estimates that that day will not happen anytime soon, and that the chance of Iran ordering Hezbollah to ignite the front is not high, given the current situation.

At the same time, however, it is obvious that the front could erupt in seconds, given the extreme volatility of the situation and circumstances on the ground. On one hand, the Russian presence in the region should rein back incidents of that sort. On the other hand, it could create a complicated situation for Israel if such a conflagration does break out. Aware of this new situation, Israel is now looking for operational alternatives and creative solutions.”

Is Turkey losing “all rationality” after terrorist bombings?

A car bomb blast killed 13 Turkish troops and wounded 55 in Kayseri on Dec. 17, just six days after a double bombing outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul took the lives of 44 and wounded 154. The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), claimed responsibility for the terrorist bombing in Istanbul. The violence has intensified the already sweeping crackdown on not just the PKK and TAK, but Kurdish politicians and activists with seemingly no direct ties to either group.

Cengiz Candar reports, “At the time of this writing, some 600 people had been detained and more arrests are expected. Two more lawmakers were added to the 10 HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party] lawmakers already behind bars. For the Turkish street, there is no difference between the TAK, PKK, HDP and the Kurds. Thus, outrage over the Istanbul bombing quickly became a nationalist, anti-Kurdish frenzy, and from there it has taken an anti-Western, particularly anti-EU turn. The pro-government dailies are filled with analyses along those lines. Ibrahim Karagul, the editor-in-chief of pro-government daily Yeni Safak, was blunt in the headline of his daily column: ‘US and Europe, take your hands off terror!’ … Not only the leaders but the Turkish public in general appear to be on track to lose all rationality. The Istanbul bombing accelerated this dangerous trend further. Yet there is another danger of which few are aware: With the post-coup purges at an unprecedented level, Turkey’s apparent security and intelligence shortcomings make it almost impossible to emerge victorious from its multi-front ‘war against the alleged Gulenist networks within the state and society, against IS outside Turkey’s borders, against Turkey’s Kurdish population and various Kurdish organizations in the broader region, and against the institutions of the European Union and above all the European Parliament.”



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