Leibler: Coping with barbaric, religiously inspired terrorism

by Isi Leibler
Originally published: November 26, 2014
http://wordfromjerusalem.com/?p=5411

 

The horror that engulfed the entire nation in the wake of the barbaric murder of Jews engaged in prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue remains palpable.

Although there have been other devastating acts of terror against innocent civilians, this time it was clearly religiously motivated. It was undoubtedly inspired by the incitement and despicable lies repeatedly broadcast by our purported peace partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who created frenzy among Muslims by alleging that Israelis would “contaminate” the Temple Mount by praying there and then invade and destroy Al Aqsa mosque. Such outbursts are reminiscent of the Arab riots in the 1930s.

Abbas also sent his condolences to the family of a terrorist slain while attempting to murder a Jew the previous week, hailing him as a “martyr” who “rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places.” This was followed by false allegations that Israelis had murdered a Jerusalem Arab bus driver, even though a Palestinian coroner confirmed that it was a suicide. To top it off, the day following King Abdullah’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jordan in order to ease tensions, Abbas called on his people to launch “a day of rage” against Israelis.

This latest escalation of incitement is yet another extension of the traditional hatred against Jews inculcated among the Arabs but which accelerated after the Oslo accords. Yasser Arafat and then Abbas have effectively brainwashed generations of Arabs—from kindergarten age—into fanatically hating Jews and sanctifying as “martyrs” those willing to sacrifice their lives and gain paradise by killing them.

The Palestinians have, in fact, been molded into a criminal society adopting a culture of death comparable only to the Nazis who, once in power, also brainwashed Germans into committing barbaric crimes. And those, including Jews, who morally equate this monstrous society with Israel because the Jewish state like any country also includes deviants and degenerates, are making obscene analogies.

Every level of Israeli society, from the leadership to the media and down to the man in the street, reacts with shock, horror, disgust and condemnation against our deviants. Contrast this to the public display, not merely in Gaza but also in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus, as Palestinians celebrated the most recent horror their “martyrs” had inflicted on Jews praying in a synagogue.

It is noteworthy that our “peace partner” Abbas had to be cajoled twice by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (who subsequently thanked him profusely) for condemning this latest act of terror. Yet even when he did, he had the chutzpah to blame Israel for inciting Muslims by repeating his lies that Israel is attacking Al Aqsa mosque. His Fatah spokesmen immediately stressed that he was forced to make the statement for “diplomatic” reasons.

Furthermore, Sultan Abu Al-Einein, his senior adviser and member of the Fatah Central Committee, praised those who carried out the synagogue massacre, stating, “Blessed be your quality weapons, the wheels of your cars, your axes and kitchen knives because [they are being used] according to Allah’s will. We are the soldiers of Allah.”

These murders, some of which were committed by Arab Israelis who worked and interfaced with Israelis, have had a devastating impact on good relationships between Israeli Jews and Arabs. Understandably, many Jews now feel uncomfortable and suspicious of their Arab neighbors.

The majority of Israeli Arabs are law-abiding and wish to live in peace with us but major efforts are required to convince Jews to regain their trust in those Arabs living and working among them. This will require more than government and media appeals calling for tolerance. Much will depend on whether there are moderate responsible Arabs willing to speak out, condemn the terrorists and take active steps to effectively excommunicate the minority of fanatics in their midst — including their Knesset representatives who currently openly identify with the terrorists and praise their vile acts.

The outrageous public celebrations by the Arab residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber are an example of what must no longer be tolerated. This village was an incubator of dozens of terrorist attacks, including the recent synagogue massacre, the murder of the eight Merkaz Harav students in 2008 and many others. The family of the murderers publicly proclaimed: “We are proud of what they did…They are heroic martyrs.” Paradoxically, the village pleaded with the High Court to remain on the Israeli side of the separation barrier.

We must adopt tough measures if we are to avoid a breakdown between Israeli Jews and the Arab minority. The first step must be for the government to reinforce security, including in Arab areas that had until now been unsupervised. This is an awesome challenge and requires punitive measures for those engaged in anti-state or antisocial activities such as stone throwing, destruction of private property and incitement against the state. The homes of the terrorists’ families should be destroyed and the residence status of convicted terrorists and their families revoked, as this will serve as a major deterrent even to those willing to die in order to kill Jews. Should the international community condemn this as an infraction of human rights or the U.S. again complain that such steps “harm the interests of peace,” we should remind them that it is our lives that are at stake and that they should not interfere.

Beyond that, we should now repudiate the misplaced displays of goodwill we have made over the years in order to placate the international community. These have been counterproductive and only served to camouflage the Palestinians’ criminal society and culture of death.

It is one thing to demonstrate our high moral standards to bleeding hearts abroad by providing the top medical facilities to relatives of Hamas leaders calling for our destruction and applauding barbaric acts. But while Hamas leaders continue to behave in this outrageous manner, we should cease providing electricity and services to Hamastan. The prime minister should state that if those in control of Gaza are going to continue publicly calling on their people to murder us, we will simply terminate all contact.

The situation with the Palestinian Authority is different, because unlike Hamas, it does not have total authority in the region under its jurisdiction. Abbas remains in office despite the absence of elections since 2006. But he is party to the violation of civil rights among his own people, the rampant corruption and the rabid incitement against Israel. Yet his PA maintains order on the West Bank, not merely in order to retain his “moderate” image with the U.S., but more so to prevent the upheavals that would eventuate if a full intifada broke out, which could enable Hamas to assume control. Thus Abbas directs his terror incitement to Jerusalem and creates religious hysteria about Israelis destroying Al Aqsa mosque.

Abbas has been emboldened and encouraged in the knowledge that U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration will continue to stand by him. The U.S. criticisms against Israel, before, during and after the Gaza war, together with the repeated categorical whitewashing of Abbas and the PA, have paved the way for the current situation.

In contrast to previous occasions, Kerry unequivocally condemned the synagogue massacre, but Obama, appallingly, again felt impelled to employ moral equivalency by bracketing the attack in the context of “innocent” Palestinians who had also been killed.

The time has come to openly confront the international community and above all, Obama, for having mollycoddled Abbas and failing to exert pressure on him to bring an end to this murderous incitement.

The government must initiate a campaign in conjunction with friends of Israel throughout the world, to highlight the criminality of Palestinian society and explain why it would be an act of suicide under the prevailing circumstances to create a new terrorist rogue state.

We should appeal to our friends among the American people and Congress and, if necessary, challenge the president’s moral equivalency and betrayal of a loyal ally. The silent American Jewish establishment must now also speak out. They should take their cue from the Zionist Organization of America, which condemned Obama for linking his condemnation with the deaths of “innocent” Palestinians, and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, who called on the U.S. and EU to suspend PA funding until such time as they cease their incitement to murder Jews.

It is time for the U.S. and the international community to recognize that Hamas and other Arab extremists are not nationalists but birds of a feather with Islamic State.

We would have greater success conveying this message if our political leaders felt accountable to the public, which overwhelmingly yearns for a unity government during these difficult times. Alas, in our current dysfunctional political system, that is highly unlikely.

We must therefore gird ourselves to confront our adversaries, confident in the knowledge that we can and will defend ourselves and will not allow Jerusalem to be transformed into a Belfast or enable the international community to appease the extremists by offering us as a sacrificial lamb.

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.

He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom

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365 Days (views by country)

365byNation@Nov20-2014

 
 

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 – 

“Jerusalem’s chief rabbi Shlomo Amar shakes hands with an Imam as leaders from the Christian and Muslim community come to show their support outside a synagogue after yesterday two terrorists from East Jerusalem entered the Kehilat Yaakov synagogue in the Jewish orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof, Jerusalem, with pistols and axes, and began attacking Jewish worshipers, November 19, 2014.” (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Friends, relatives, and religious dignitaries mourn near the coffin of Israeli police officer Zidan Saif, 30, a member of Israel’s Druze minority, during his funeral in his northern home village of Yanuh-Jat, on November 19, 2014. Saif was killed the day before trying to intervene when two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis.” (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

 

Original story: http://www.timesofisrael.com/death-toll-rises-to-five-in-har-nof-synagogue-terror-attack/

 
 
The Druze revere Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, as a prophet. It was Jethro (Yitro) who, upon seeing Moses so exhausted by the burdens of leadership, suggested that he find a way to appropriately delegate his authority. In the Torah, Jethro is the first person ever to be accorded the esteemed title, “Righteous Gentile.”
 
 
This post is intentionally untitled. There are no words anyway.
 
 
 

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Stratfor: On Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies

By George Friedman 
Stratfor Global Intelligence

 

We do not normally comment on domestic political affairs unless they affect international affairs. However, it is necessary to consider American political affairs because they are likely to have a particular effect on international relations. We have now entered the final phase of Barack Obama’s presidency, and like those of several other presidents since World War II, it is ending in what we call a state of failure. This is not a judgment on his presidency so much as on the political configuration within it and surrounding it.

The midterm elections are over, and Congress and the president are in gridlock. This in itself is not significant; presidents as popular as Dwight Eisenhower found themselves in this condition. The problem occurs when there is not only an institutional split but also a shift in underlying public opinion against the president. There are many more sophisticated analyses of public opinion on politics, but I have found it useful to use this predictive model.

Analyzing a President’s Strength

I assume that underneath all of the churning, about 40 percent of the electorate is committed to each party. Twenty percent is uncommitted, with half of those being indifferent to the outcome of politics and the other half being genuinely interested and undecided. In most normal conditions, the real battle between the parties — and by presidents — is to hold their own bases and take as much of the center as possible.

So long as a president is fighting for the center, his ability to govern remains intact. Thus, it is normal for a president to have a popularity rating that is less than 60 percent but more than 40 percent. When a president’s popularity rating falls substantially below 40 percent and remains there for an extended period of time, the dynamics of politics shift. The president is no longer battling for the center but is fighting to hold on to his own supporters — and he is failing to do so.

When the president’s support has fragmented to the point that he is fighting to recover his base, I considered that a failed presidency — particularly when Congress is in the hands of the opposition. His energy cannot be directed toward new initiatives. It is directed toward recovering his base. And presidents who have fallen into this condition near the end of their presidencies have not been likely to recover and regain the center.

Historically, when the president’s popularity rating has dipped to about 37 percent, his position has been unrecoverable. This is what happened to George W. Bush in 2006. It happened to Richard Nixon in 1974 when the Watergate crisis resulted in his resignation, and to Lyndon Johnson in 1967 during the Vietnam War. It also happened to Harry Truman in 1951, primarily because of the Korean War, and to Herbert Hoover before World War II because of the Great Depression.

However, this is not the final historical note on a presidency. Truman, enormously unpopular and unable to run for another term, is now widely regarded as one of the finest presidents the United States has had. Nixon, on the other hand, has never recovered. This is not therefore a judgment on Obama’s place in history, but simply on his current political condition. Nor does it take failure to lose the presidency; Jimmy Carter was defeated even though his popularity remained well in the 40s.

Obama’s Presidency

Of the five failed presidencies I’ve cited, one failed over scandal, one over the economy and three over wars — Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Obama’s case is less clear than any. The 40 percent who gravitated to the opposition opposed him for a host of reasons. He lost the center for complex reasons as well. However, looking at the timing of his decline, the only intruding event that might have had that impact was the rise of the Islamic State and a sense, even in his own party, that he did not have an effective response to it. Historically, extended wars that the president did not appear to have a strategy for fighting have been devastating to the presidency. Woodrow Wilson’s war (World War I) was short and successful. Franklin Roosevelt’s war (World War II) was longer, and although it began in failure it became clear that a successful end was conceivable. The Korean, Vietnam and two Iraq wars suffered not from the length, but from the sense that the presidency did not have a war-ending strategy. Obama appears to me to have fallen into the political abyss because after eight years he owned the war and appeared to have no grip on it.

Failure extends to domestic policy as well. The Republican-controlled legislature can pass whatever legislation it likes, but the president retains veto power, and two-thirds of both houses must vote to override. The problem is that given the president’s lack of popularity — and the fact that the presidency, all of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election in two years — the president’s allies in Congress are not as willing to be held responsible for upholding his vetoes. Just as few Democrats wanted Obama campaigning for them, so too do few want to join the president in vetoing majority legislation. What broke Truman, Johnson and Nixon was the moment it became clear that their party’s leaders in Congress wanted them gone.

Acting Within Constraints

This does not mean that the president can’t act. It simply means that it is enormously more difficult to act than before. Gerald Ford, replacing Nixon but weakened by the pardoning of his predecessor, could not stop Congress from cutting off aid to South Vietnam during the final Communist assault. George W. Bush was able to launch the surge, but the surge was limited in size, not only because of strategic conditions but also because he had lost the ability to force Congress to fund alternative expansions of the war. In each of the failed presidencies, the president retained the ability to act but was constrained by the twin threats of an opposition-controlled Congress and his own party’s unwillingness to align with him.

At the same time, certain foreign diplomatic initiatives can continue. Nixon initiated negotiations between Egypt and Israel that culminated, under Carter’s administration, in the Camp David Accords. Truman tried to open negotiations with China, and the initiative’s failure had little to do with opposition to a negotiated settlement in Korea.

The president has few domestic options. Whatever Obama does with his power domestically, Congress can vote to cut funding, and if the act is vetoed, the president puts Congressional Democrats in mortal danger. The place where he can act — and this is likely the place Obama is least comfortable acting — is in foreign policy. There, the limited deployment of troops and diplomatic initiatives are possible.

Obama’s general strategy is to withdraw from existing conflicts in the Middle East and contain and limit Russian actions in Ukraine. The president has the ability to bring military and other pressure to bear. But the United States’ opponent is aware that the sitting president is no longer in control of Washington, that he has a specific date of termination and that the more unpopular things he does, the more likely his successor is to repudiate them. Therefore, in the China-North Korea model, the assumption is that that continuing the conflict and negotiating with the successor president is rational. In the same sense, Iran chose to wait for the election of Ronald Reagan rather than deal with Jimmy Carter (who was not a failed president).

This model depends on the opponent’s having the resources and the political will to continue the conflict in order to bargain with the president’s successor, and assumes that the successor will be more malleable. This is frequently the result, since the successor can make concessions more readily than his predecessor. In fact, he can make those concessions and gain points by blaming the need to concede on his predecessor. Ironically, Obama used this strategy after replacing George W. Bush. The failed president frequently tries to entice negotiation by increasing the military pressure on the enemy. Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush all took this path while seeking to end their wars. In no case did it work, but they had little to lose politically by trying.

Therefore, if we follow historical patterns, Obama will now proceed slowly and ineffectively to increase military operations in Syria and Iraq, while raising non-military pressure on Russia, or potentially initiating some low-level military activities in Ukraine. The actions will be designed to achieve a rapid negotiating process that will not happen. The presidency will shift to the other party, as it did with Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush. Thus, if patterns hold true, the Republicans will retake the presidency. This is not a pattern unknown to Congress, which means that the Democrats in the legislature will focus on running their own campaigns as far away from Obama and the next Democratic presidential candidate as possible.

The period of a failed presidency is therefore not a quiet time. The president is actively trying to save his legacy in the face of enormous domestic weakness. Other countries, particularly adversaries, see little reason to make concessions to failed presidents, preferring to deal with the next president instead. These adversaries then use military and political oppositions abroad to help shape the next U.S. presidential campaign in directions that are in their interests.

It is against this backdrop that all domestic activities take place. The president retains the veto, and if the president is careful he will be able to sustain it. Obama will engage in limited domestic politics, under heavy pressure from Congressional Democrats, confining himself to one or two things. His major activity will be coping with Syria, Iraq and Russia, both because of crises and the desire for a legacy. The last two years of a failed presidency are mostly about foreign policy and are not very pleasant to watch.

 
On Obama and the Nature of Failed Presidencies is republished with permission of Stratfor.
 
 
 

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imahd.ca: visitor snapshot, nov. 11, 2014

snapshot_2014-Nov11

 

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Leibler: Obama Seeks Confrontation with Israel

Originally published Oct. 30, 2014
by Isi Leibler @ wordfromjerusalem.com


 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the intensifying global pressures on Israel is to firmly reject any further territorial withdrawals that would put Israel’s security at risk, stating that “Israel will not lose hope for peace, but neither will it cling to false hope.”

He was also forthright about his intention to continue residential construction in Jerusalem, noting that “all previous Israeli governments have done so. . It is also clear to the Palestinians that these territories will remain within Israel’s borders in any deal.”

The Obama administration’s response to Israel’s confirmation that it would continue to create homes in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem was vindictive, brutal and in stark contrast to its deafening silence in relation to Palestinian incitement.

The State Department went so far as to accuse Israel of acting “illegally,” and in a manner “incompatible with the pursuit of peace”.

In an interview with American journalist Jeffery Goldberg published in The Atlantic, a senior US official referred to Prime Minister Netanyahu as “chickenshit” and described him as “the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most”. More than Assad, Erdogan, the Iranian Ayatollah, Putin, and the ‘peace loving’ Abbas?

The curtain drop to the administration’s malice was displayed last week in the Ya’alon imbroglio. In a private conversation earlier this year, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon disparaged Secretary of State John Kerry’s behavior in relation to the peace process as “obsessive” and “messianic.” He made his remarks when Kerry was repeatedly making provocative statements against Israel and then retracting them.

As defense minister, Ya’alon is limited in what he can say publicly and the fact that he spoke off-record is irrelevant if he was subsequently quoted. But he apologized and reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Nevertheless, the White House inflated his unofficial remark totally out of proportion.

To invoke such a vendetta against the defense minister of its most important regional ally, months after the event, exposes the pettiness of the Obama administration. That Ya’alon was denied access to Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice is problematic. But that this was leaked by State Department sources at the end of his visit was odious. To make matters even worse, the information was leaked to the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, whose publisher is engaged in a long-standing crusade to demonize Netanyahu and his government and which was the source that had initially released Ya’alon’s off-the-record comments.

Clearly, the White House regarded this as an opportunity to undermine not only Ya’alon’s standing, but the entire Netanyahu government.

This is just the latest in a series of vindictive incidents by the Obama administration because Israel has dared to reject its diktats. Nothing illustrates President Barack Obama’s contemptuous attitude toward Israel more than his directive to withhold arms to Israel during wartime because Israel had rejected Kerry’s initiative to engage Qatar as the mediator to end the Gaza hostilities.

As virtually every foreign policy initiative by Obama has proven to be disastrous, his recommendations or directives must be viewed with skepticism. After all, it is we who will have to live with the consequences.

This administration adamantly insists that the Israel-Palestine status quo is untenable. Yet it remains silent as Hamas boasts of efforts to restore its terror tunnel network; barely reacts to the mayhem in Syria and Iraq where close to a quarter million people have been butchered; ignores the Qatari funding of Hamas and other terrorist entities including the Islamic State; fails to castigate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for enabling jihadists to traverse Turkey’s territory in order to fight in Syria, while standing by and allowing the massacre of the Kurds on his border.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas humiliated the U.S. administration by merging with Hamas without prior consultation. But the U.S. failed to criticize this move, has not responded to Abbas’ policy of ethnic cleansing by making any future Palestinian state Judenrein, nor condemned him for executing any Palestinian found selling land to an Israeli. The U.S. did not reprimand him for failing to denounce the act of terror in which a baby and a young woman were killed last week in Jerusalem. Yet when an Arab teenager was shot to death while hurling potentially lethal Molotov cocktails at Israeli automobiles, the U.S. immediately conveyed its condolences to the family and urged Israelis to initiate an investigation.

Israel, the principal regional ally of the U.S., is the only country consistently facing criticism and has become the punching bag for the inept Obama administration, even being denunciated for opposing a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Only recently, Kerry again conveyed to an Arab audience the absurd allegation that the Arab-Israel conflict fanned ISIS and Islamic extremism. Yet the U.S. assiduously avoids condemning or responding to rogue states guilty of criminal bloodletting, out of fear of being further humiliated and exposed as lacking leadership.

It should be noted that there is a broad consensus throughout Israel that the government is justified in resisting efforts by the U.S. and others to restrict construction in its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs – which were never challenged prior to the Obama administration.

There are those who question the wisdom of such an announcement at this time, but if there is one issue for which we should stand united and maintain our rights, it is construction in Jerusalem, whose development must not be dependent on endorsement from other countries.

The administration’s efforts to demean Israel’s leaders have always been counterproductive. Despite the initial media frenzy, Israelis have in such circumstances responded by rallying in support of their government. And yet, now when the house of Israel should display unity, some of our politicians are behaving irresponsibly.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni public response to the recent pathetic and mean attempt to humiliate Ya’alon implying that the fault for the breakdown in relations rests with Israel rather than with a bumbling and spiteful U.S. administration were highly inappropriate. They promote chaos and bring shame upon themselves and the government they purport to represent, conveying the mistaken impression that Israel suffers from battered wife syndrome.

It is also regrettable that, in the face of a vindictive U.S. administration, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, failed to suspend political infighting and accused Netanyahu of being “personally responsible for the destruction of relations with the U.S.” He could have gained respect by stating unequivocally that there cannot be any limits on construction in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem.

Yes, there is constant tension and endless recriminations bouncing between the U.S. administration and Israel. And according to Goldberg, there is now even the threat that the US “may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations”.

The government has made every effort to avoid aggravating the situation but Israel is a sovereign democratic nation and there are occasions when it must reject unrealistic or dangerous demands from the U.S.

Netanyahu should be commended for his extraordinary diplomatic balancing act in withstanding the unreasonable pressure from Obama and Kerry, avoiding outright confrontations and in so doing, retaining the support of American public opinion and Congress.

Israel is a small country and its people are aware that the U.S. is crucial to their survival. But does that oblige us to forfeit our self-respect or sovereignty and fawn toward an administration that repeatedly displays its contempt and humiliates us?

We should display unity by supporting our prime minister’s policy of rejecting further territorial concessions until the Palestinian leaders separate from Hamas, engage in negotiations and display flexibility to enable us to achieve our security requirements. We will not be denied the right to construct homes in our capital or in the major settlement blocs, which will remain within Israel. We seek the support of the United States but we must retain our sovereignty.

 

 

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at http://www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.
This column was originally published (in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom) on October 30, 2014

 
 
 

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Stratfor: Turkey, the Kurds and Iraq: The Prize and Peril of Kirkuk

Originally published: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2014 – 03:00

By Reva Bhalla
Stratfor Global Intelligence

In June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d’Orsay. The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together.

He began with a message, not of reproach, but of inculpability: “Gentlemen, I should not be bold enough to come before this High Assembly if I thought that the Ottoman people had incurred any responsibility in the war that has ravaged Europe and Asia with fire and sword.” His speech was followed by an even more defiant memorandum, denouncing any attempt to redistribute Ottoman land to the Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, asserting: “In Asia, the Turkish lands are bounded on the south by the provinces of Mosul and Diyarbakir, as well as a part of Aleppo as far as the Mediterranean.” When Damat Ferid’s demands were presented in Paris, the Allies were in awe of the gall displayed by the Ottoman delegation. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George regarded the presentation as a “good joke,” while U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said he had never seen anything more “stupid.” They flatly rejected Damat Ferid’s apparently misguided appeal — declaring that the Turks were unfit to rule over other races, regardless of their common Muslim identity — and told him and his delegation to leave. The Western powers then proceeded, through their own bickering, to divide the post-Ottoman spoils.

Under far different circumstances today, Ankara is again boldly appealing to the West to follow its lead in shaping policy in Turkey’s volatile Muslim backyard. And again, Western powers are looking at Turkey with incredulity, waiting for Ankara to assume responsibility for the region by tackling the immediate threat of the Islamic State with whatever resources necessary, rather than pursuing a seemingly reckless strategy of toppling the Syrian government. Turkey’s behavior can be perplexing and frustrating to Western leaders, but the country’s combination of reticence in action and audacity in rhetoric can be traced back to many of the same issues that confronted Istanbul in 1919, beginning with the struggle over the territory of Mosul.

The Turkish Fight for Mosul

Under the Ottoman Empire, the Mosul vilayet stretched from Zakho in southeastern Anatolia down along the Tigris River through Dohuk, Arbil, Alqosh, Kirkuk, Tuz Khormato and Sulaimaniyah before butting up against the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains, which shape the border with Iran. This stretch of land, bridging the dry Arab steppes and the fertile mountain valleys in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been a locus of violence long before the Islamic State arrived. The area has been home to an evolving mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Assyro-Chaldeans and Jews, while Turkish and Persian factions and the occasional Western power, whether operating under a flag or a corporate logo, continue to work in vain to eke out a demographic makeup that suits their interests.
At the time of the British negotiation with the Ottomans over the fate of the Mosul region, British officers touring the area wrote extensively about the ubiquity of the Turkish language, noting that “Turkish is spoken all along the high road in all localities of any importance.” This fact formed part of Turkey’s argument that the land should remain under Turkish sovereignty. Even after the 1923 signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey renounced its rights to Ottoman lands, the Turkish government still held out a claim to the Mosul region, fearful that the Brits would use Kurdish separatism to further weaken the Turkish state. Invoking the popular Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the Turkish government asserted to the League of Nations that most of the Kurds and Arabs inhabiting the area preferred to be part of Turkey anyway. The British countered by asserting that their interviews with locals revealed a prevailing preference to become part of the new British-ruled Kingdom of Iraq.

The Turks, in no shape to bargain with London and mired in a deep internal debate over whether Turkey should forego these lands and focus instead on the benefits of a downsized republic, lost the argument and were forced to renounce their claims to the Mosul territory in 1925. As far as the Brits and the French were concerned, the largely Kurdish territory would serve as a vital buffer space to prevent the Turks from eventually extending their reach from Asia Minor to territories in Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia. But the fear of Turkish expansion was not the only factor informing the European strategy to keep northern Iraq out of Turkish hands.

The Oil Factor

Since the days of Herodotus and Nebuchadnezzar, there have been stories of eternal flames arising from the earth of Baba Gurgur near the town of Kirkuk. German explorer and cartographer Carsten Niebuhr wrote in the 18th century: “A place called Baba Gurgur is above all remarkable because the earth is so hot that eggs and meat can be boiled here.” The flames were in fact produced by the natural gas and naphtha seeping through cracks in the rocks, betraying the vast quantities of crude oil lying beneath the surface. London wasted little time in calling on geologists from Venezuela, Mexico, Romania and Indochina to study the land and recommend sites for drilling. On Oct. 14, 1927, the fate of Kirkuk was sealed: A gusher rising 43 meters (around 140 feet) erupted from the earth, dousing the surrounding land with some 95,000 barrels of crude oil for 10 days before the well could be capped. With oil now part of the equation, the political situation in Kirkuk became all the more flammable.

The British mostly imported Sunni Arab tribesmen to work the oil fields, gradually reducing the Kurdish majority and weakening the influence of the Turkmen minority in the area. The Arabization project was given new energy when the Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power through a military coup in 1968. Arabic names were given to businesses, neighborhoods, schools and streets, while laws were adjusted to pressure Kurds to leave Kirkuk and transfer ownership of their homes and lands to Arabs. Eviction tactics turned ghastly in 1988 under Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, during which chemical weapons were employed against the Kurdish population. The Iraqi government continued with heavy-handed tactics to Arabize the territory until the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003. Naturally, revenge was a primary goal as Kurdish factions worked quickly to repopulate the region with Kurds and drive the Arabs out.

Even as Kirkuk, its oil-rich fields and a belt of disputed territories stretching between Diyala and Nineveh provinces have remained officially under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish leadership has sought to redraw the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the Iraqi Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy with the creation of a no-fly zone in 1991 and then formally coalesced into the Kurdistan Regional Government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish influence gradually expanded in the disputed areas. Kurdish representation increased through multi-ethnic political councils, facilitated by the security protection these communities received from the Kurdish peshmerga and by the promise of energy revenues, while Baghdad remained mired in its own problems. Formally annexing Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala, part of the larger Kurdish strategy, would come in due time. Indeed, the expectation that legalities of the annexation process would soon be completed convinced a handful of foreign energy firms to sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities — as opposed to Baghdad — enabling the disputed territories to finally begin realizing the region’s energy potential.

Then the unexpected happened: In June, the collapse of the Iraqi army in the north under the duress of the Islamic State left the Kirkuk fields wide open, allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to finally and fully occupy them. Though the Kurds now sit nervously on the prize, Baghdad, Iran, local Arabs and Turkmen and the Islamic State are eyeing these fields with a predatory gaze. At the same time, a motley force of Iran-backed Shiite militias, Kurdish militants and Sunni tribesmen are trying to flush the Islamic State out of the region in order to return to settling the question of where to draw the line on Kurdish autonomy. The Sunnis will undoubtedly demand a stake in the oil fields that the Kurds now control as repayment for turning on the Islamic State, guaranteeing a Kurdish-Sunni confrontation that Baghdad will surely exploit.

The Turkish Dilemma

The modern Turkish government is looking at Iraq and Syria in a way similar to how Damat Ferid did almost a century ago when he sought in Paris to maintain Turkish sovereignty over the region. From Ankara’s point of view, the extension of a Turkish sphere of influence into neighboring Muslim lands is the antidote to weakening Iraqi and Syrian states. Even if Turkey no longer has direct control over these lands, it hopes to at least indirectly re-establish its will through select partners, whether a group of moderate Islamist forces in Syria or, in northern Iraq, a combination of Turkmen and Sunni factions, along with a Kurdish faction such as Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. The United States may currently be focused on the Islamic State, but Turkey is looking years ahead at the mess that will likely remain. This is why Turkey is placing conditions on its involvement in the battle against the Islamic State: It is trying to convince the United States and its Sunni Arab coalition partners that it will inevitably be the power administering this region. Therefore, according to Ankara, all players must conform to its priorities, beginning with replacing Syria’s Iran-backed Alawite government with a Sunni administration that will look first to Ankara for guidance.

However, the Turkish vision of the region simply does not fit the current reality and is earning Ankara more rebuke than respect from its neighbors and the West. The Kurds, in particular, will continue to form the Achilles’ heel of Turkish policymaking.

In Syria, where the Islamic State is closing in on the city of Kobani on Turkey’s border, Ankara is faced with the unsavory possibility that it will be drawn into a ground fight with a well-equipped insurgent force. Moreover, Turkey would be fighting on the same side as a variety of Kurdish separatists, including members of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara has every interest in neutralizing.

Turkey faces the same dilemma in Iraq, where it may unwittingly back Kurdish separatists in its fight against the Islamic State. Just as critical, Turkey cannot be comfortable with the idea that Kirkuk is in the hands of the Iraqi Kurds unless Ankara is assured exclusive rights over that energy and the ability to extinguish any oil-fueled ambitions of Kurdish independence. But Turkey has competition. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not willing to make itself beholden to Turkey, as did Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, while financial pressures continue to climb. Instead, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is staying close to Iran and showing a preference to work with Baghdad. Meanwhile, local Arab and Turkmen resistance to Kurdish rule is rising, a factor that Baghdad and Iran will surely exploit as they work to dilute Kurdish authority by courting local officials in Kirkuk and Nineveh with promises of energy rights and autonomy.

This is the crowded battleground that Turkey knows well. A long and elaborate game of “keep away” will be played to prevent the Kurds from consolidating control over oil-rich territory in the Kurdish-Arab borderland, while the competition between Turkey and Iran will emerge into full view. For Turkey to compete effectively in this space, it will need to come to terms with the reality that Ankara will not defy its history by resolving the Kurdish conundrum, nor will it be able to hide within its borders and avoid foreign entanglements.

 
 
Turkey, the Kurds and Iraq: The Prize and Peril of Kirkuk is republished with permission of Stratfor.
 
 

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