Friday, October 28, 2016


"Russia’s only aircraft carrier, laden with fighter jets and flanked by a flotilla of warships, is heading for Syrian waters in the eastern Mediterranean. The way it wheezed through the North Sea — a repair tug in tow and belching black fumes like an old banger — occasioned some merriment, as though it were a parable for a subprime superpower. That mirth is misplaced. These reinforcements to Russia’s air force in Syria will soon be in place. Moscow and its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, have resumed bombing Aleppo after a meaningless pause ended at the weekend. Now President Vladimir Putin is all but telling the world he plans to flatten eastern Aleppo if that is what it takes to crush a five-year-old rebellion — and that there is nothing the US and Europe can do about it. The spotlight of the international media, moreover, has moved to the battle for Mosul in northern Iraq — a historically resonant city, like Aleppo, but one where the US and its allies are confident they can recapture it from Isis. In eastern Aleppo, by contrast, Mr Putin seems to want to face his western adversaries with a replay of the geopolitical and moral conundrum they faced five years ago in Libya, when Muammer Gaddafi’s forces threatened to massacre rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi. That was prevented by Nato action that, in Mr Putin’s view, abused a UN Security Council resolution, bending the no-fly zone remit to carry out regime change.... That might change if there is a bloodbath in Aleppo. But by then it will be too late. Yet the world is looking at another Benghazi moment. Libya’s collapse into chaos after the west walked away has served as an alibi for a standoffish policy towards Syria that has resulted in that country sinking into even deadlier mayhem. There is no alibi for turning a blind eye to atrocity".
David Gardner, "The assault on Aleppo is a moral test for the west". The Financial Times. 26 October 2016, in
"Westerners find it hard to believe that a crisis, such as that afflicting Syria, cannot be stopped. “Surely, someone can and must do something” is the consensus thinking. If the UN has failed to stop it and diplomacy cannot bring it to an end, then the White House must stop the blood letting and use military power to do so. “We just cannot sit back and let this tragedy unfold without doing something.” That is the montra of pundits on TV and commentators on social media. The sad truth is that those hoping for a quick resolution to this crisis are likely to be disappointed. Contrary to expectations, the US is unlikely to enter into war with Russia over Syria. The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia. Despite the hawkish rhetoric of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are that once in the White House, she will come to the same conclusion about using American military force as President Obama. Real world constraints reduce the chance that US will deploy force in Syria. The Syrian opposition and their backers will be forced to rethink their current path".
Ehsani2 "How Will the Syrian Crisis End?" Syria Comment. 10 October 2016, in
One does not need to be either a apologist for the regime of Assad Fils, or for that matter an adherent to the questionable Russian narrative of the war to agree fundamentally with the comments from Syria Comment. The fact of the matter is that for good reasons or bad, Grazhdanin Putin has chosen to nail his colors to the Assad mast. There are of course manifold reasons for Putin's Syria policy and they have been discussed in this column. What cannot be doubted is that the Russian presence in Syria makes an overt American and or Western military intervention `a la Libya a complete non possumus. As the highly pertinent comments in Joshua Landis's online journal state:
"The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia".
The above fact does not even venture into discussing the issues of whether or not it makes sense from a moral perspective for the Americans and their allies to overthrow Assad. Given the aftermath of the Western military intervention in Libya and Iraq, has been chaos and unmitigated persecution of Christian and other religious minorities. Indeed, I for one have always been highly skeptical of the ideas that overthrowing the Assad regime would usher in a bright new dawn for the benighted people of Syria. With all that being said, the option for the Americans to engage in regime-change has gone forever with Russia's presence in the country. All which merely underlines the dictum of the great Goethe:
"You must conquer and rule / or lose and serve / suffer or triumph / be hammer or be anvil".

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


"A 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen will go into effect starting Thursday, the United Nations announced on Monday. A cessation of hostilities that first went into effect in April "will re-enter into force at 23:59 Yemen time on 19 October 2016, for an initial period of 72 hours, subject to renewal," the UN's special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement. The ceasefire opens the door for negotiations to find a political solution to the conflict. April's truce was followed by repeated rounds of talks in Kuwait between the warring sides, which did not come to fruition. Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had agreed to the truce earlier in the day. Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi wrote on Twitter that Hadi agreed to the halt in fighting if Houthi rebels adhere to it, activate a UN-backed committee to watch the truce, and lift the siege on the encircled city of Taiz. Cheikh Ahmed said he had been in contact with the Houthis’ lead negotiator and with Hadi's government. The announcement comes after the United States, Britain and Cheikh Ahmed urged the warring parties on Sunday to declare a ceasefire, which they said could start within days. US Secretary of State John Kerry said if Yemen's opposing sides accepted the ceasefire, the UN envoy would work through the details and announce when and how it would take effect. "This is the time to implement a ceasefire unconditionally and then move to the negotiating table," Kerry said. The conflict in Yemen has killed almost 6,900 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced at least three million since March last year, according to the United Nations".
Middle East Eye, "UN announces 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen starting Thursday". The Middle East Eye. 17 October 2016, in
"The White House said it had begun an “immediate review” into its role in assisting the coalition in the wake of the attack, one of the bloodiest since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia led a coalition of neighbouring Sunni states into an air and ground campaign seeking to restore the ousted government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Yemeni officials blamed Saudi Arabia for launching about three air strikes targeting a gathering after the funeral of the father of Yemen’s interior minister, Jalal al-Rowaishan, a close ally of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been fighting alongside the Houthi rebel movement.... The US has backed Riyadh’s campaign to restore Mr Hadi’s government by providing rearmament and targeting assistance, but has become increasingly concerned about the loss of civilian lives in the 20-month campaign that has killed more than 10,000 people.... The coalition described the bombing as “regrettable and painful”, saying it would investigate the incident. In a statement, it said its pilots have “clear instructions not to target populated areas and to avoid civilians”. Coalition military officials had earlier briefed media that their jets had not struck the funeral hall.... Riyadh and its allies have been struggling to make headway against the Houthi movement, after earlier dislodging the Iran-backed militia and army units allied to Mr Saleh from the southern port city of Aden".
Simeon Kerr, "US reviews support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen after 140 killed". The Financial Times. 9 October 2016, in
"It is somewhat self-evident that per se, a mere air campaign will not fundamentally change the dynamics on the ground in Yemen. That the recently ousted President, Mr. Abd-Rabbu Hadi, does not himself possess the wherewithal militarily speaking to defeat the Houthi rebels 1. Accordingly, there is much talk of a coalition of ground forces between the Saudis and the Egyptians which will invade Yemen and defeat the Houthis. Which is of course by far the best case scenario. The only issue is that neither Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies or even the Egyptians have shown themselves in recent years able to perform anything akin to the scenario just outlined above".
Diplomat of the Future. "The Saudi military intervention in Yemen: A comment". 2 April 2015, in
There is nothing in the situation in Yemen from when I first wrote about it back more than eighteen months ago, which the errata-filled Saudi-lead military intervention has not proven to be true. The military intervention other than preventing the Houthi rebels from completing ousting the government of President Abd-Rabbu Hadi, has not achieved any of its original goals. It has not defeated the Houthi, nor has it restored peace and security to this wretched country and its poor people. Instead the Saudi campaign, especially its military campaign has shown itself both ruthless and incompetent. The image that one is left with is that of Air Chief Marshal 'Bomber' Harris of World War II fame being impersonated by P. G. Woodhouse's 'Bertie Wooster'. Added to which is the sordid fact that the Saudi military intervention has perhaps inevitably resulted in a greater role for Persia in the country, as it has gradually increased its support for the Houthi. In short the Saudis have more than lived up to their previous military reputation as incompetent brutes and blunderers. At this point in time, there is little left to do but to call a complete halt to Riyadh's military campaign in Yemen and hope that the current cease-fire will last long enough to prevent this unfortunate place from becoming another failed state `a la Libya, Syria and Iraq.

Thursday, October 06, 2016


"Shimon Peres the Israeli leader and Nobel Prize-winning peacemaker who coined the phrase “the new Middle East”, has died at the age of 93 with the region still sadly reminiscent of the old one. One of Israel’s longest-serving public officials, Peres was prime minister, foreign minister and president at different times and played a role in the country’s history from before its founding. He will be best remembered as a father of the Oslo accords, the blueprint that was meant to create a Palestinian state. Peres’s vision of a brighter future for the region was shattered during his later years, when the Israeli-Palestinian peace process floundered amid the violence of the second Palestinian intifada; hopes for a two-state solution all but vanished. He grew increasingly disillusioned that the prospects for peace had slipped away under successive hardline governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the rightwing prime minister who defeated him and his Labour party at the polls in 1996 and went on to serve four terms in office. While remaining a voice for peace as Israel’s ninth president in 2007-14, his interventions on matters of war and peace in that ceremonial role were largely symbolic. As an elder of Israel’s postwar Ashkenazi liberal elite, he often seemed out of step with a demographically changing Israel as it came to display a right-leaning political plurality a citizenry sceptical about ever reaching a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians".
John Reed and Avi Machlis, "Shimon Peres, Israeli leader, 1923-2016". The Financial Times. 28 September 2016. In
"Defence Minister Shimon Peres's rivalry with Rabin was to haunt the lives of both men for the nest two decades. Peres had been the architect of the 'French Connection,' which had generated the weapons that won the Six Day War in 1967. He was instrumental in the acquisition of development of many of the weapons on which his country still depends. He was also perhaps the most erudite of that generation of Israel's leaders. Yet preeminence always just eluded him. Peres's combination of driven ambition and abstract intellectualism was not in keeping with the style of the Israeli public and contributed to his defeat in no fewer than five elections, including contests for Prime Minister. Over the decades of their rivalry, Peres thinking on relations with Israel's neighbours followed the same trajectory as Rabin's from 'hawk' to at least 'almost dove'--with Peres leaning somewhat more to extremes. He had been more of a hawk than Rabin, and he was to wind up as more of a dove. The difference was that Peres was intuitive where Rabin was analytical, intellectual where Rabin was practical. Peres's training had been in France, and he shared the trait of French academics, who tend to believe that the formulation of an idea is equivalent to its realisation. In the end, this idealism provided the impetus for the Oslo accords with the PLO in 1993."
Henry A. Kissinger. Years of Renewal. (New York, 1999), pp. 376.
There is not much more to add to former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's remarks about the late Shimon Peres. Peres is in certain respects one of the last of the Mohicans, in terms of being one of the few remaining voices of Israel's second generation of leaders. A generation which included of course Rabin. The generation which in effect won the Six-Day War and as it were subsequently 'lost' the peace which should have followed. Like Rabin, Peres fruitlessly toyed with various options in order to not deal with the Palestinians: the Jordanian option, the Egyptian option, the home-grown 'village league', West Bank, non-PLO option. All of course fruitless and all leading to a diplomatic cul de sac in the end. Finally, as the ultimate faute de mieux, first Peres then Rabin, via the Oslo route, negotiated with the PLO and for almost six-years it appeared that peace was truly at hand. For many different reasons, involving both the PLO and the then Israeli leadership the Oslo route ultimately failed. With Benjamin Netanyahu's electoral dominance since the January 2009 elections, in essence putting the entire peace process in a very cold hibernation. And in fact given the turmoil in the Near and Middle East since 2011, there has been no real pressure or for that matter reason for Netanyahu, et. al., to take the peace route. Unlike the generation of Rabin and Peres who were actively entertained by the idea of Israel 'joining' the Near and Middle East, the current Israeli leadership has no wish to join the area. Israel being almost completely removed from its surrounds economically speaking. Especially with the discovery of huge gas supplies off Israel's coastline. Of course this point of view might very well change. But, in the absence of the region recovering its equilibrium, there does not appear any particular reason why it should. Which from a historical perspective means that Peres quest for peace, and the form that this quest took can be said to have 'failed' historically speaking. Which from a Christian perspective, does not make any less impressive, Peres shift from a warmonger to a putative peacemaker. Or as our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God".