Gaza, Arsal and a new regional ‘mandate’
ISIS and its lookalikes are nothing new to the scene, just like the challenges that confront the Arab and Muslims worlds did not start yesterday
In politics it is difficult to bring together emotions and ideals on the one side and realism and interests on the other; but this is exactly what we have seen in Gaza, Northern Iraq and the town of Arsal in northwest Lebanon.
It is a pity that we as Arabs and Muslims have a difficulty in accepting the truth, as most of us prefer sticking with illusions, and handle events either with naïve innocent reactions or unrealistic aspirations. These days, when dealing with problems in the region, we concentrate solely on symptoms, while forgetting causes, intentions and premeditated confusing tactics.
As a phenomena, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front and all al-Qaeda lookalikes, are familiar to the history of Islam. Since its early days, Islam has witnessed several extremist movements and groups that appeared, thrived and then disintegrated and withered away. Almost all claimed to have a monopoly on “true” Islam and tried to impose their hegemony on Muslims. Indeed, it is worth noting that religious extremism and intolerance appeared during the periods of weakness or collapse of the Muslim states and were either instrumental in this weakness or came about as a reaction to it and the impending collapse.
Just the opposite happened when Muslim states were flourishing and gaining ascendancy. Religious and sectarian tolerance, acceptance of ethnic and spiritual diversity and rich cultural interaction were the hallmark of almost all powerful Muslim states and dynasties.
ISIS and its lookalikes are nothing new to the scene, just like the challenges that confront the Arab and Muslims worlds did not start yesterday. Yet we as Arabs and Muslims handle our crises with emotional reactions that reject proper thinking and analysis, refuse to learn from past mistakes and enjoy empty sloganizing and political outbidding instead of linking and judging data and foreseeing potential outcomes based on knowledge and frankness with ourselves.
Peace agreements reach their expiry date
Well, let us begin with Gaza. I am pretty sure there is no sane individual that could cope with the tragic scenes created by Israel’s war machine. No one would or should ever stay silent watching mutilated bodies of children, hearing sighs of bereaved mothers or seeing the devastation of what were residential neighborhoods. In fact, even British Muslim Cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi resigned from the government of Prime Minister David Cameron in protest at its “morally indefensible policy” towards Gaza.
ISIS and its lookalikes are nothing new to the scene, just like the challenges that confront the Arab and Muslims worlds did not start yesterdayEyad Abu Shakra
However, we must realize that behind all the shelling, devastation and killing, Israel has “a political aim,” and so too Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their backers. What has been happening in Gaza is part of a political “scenario” that pertains to the very future of the Palestinian occupied territories, and forms a link with intersecting regional plans for a new Middle East.
Today, as we mark the centenary of the start of the First World War, whose end redrew our region’s map, we need to be aware that the Sykes–Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration may have reached their expiry date.
There are several regional and global players who intentionally divided the Palestinians after the Arabs recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as “the sole legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people. In my view, it is obvious from the Gaza War that Israel’s political and strategic aim is to destroy any possibility of an independent Palestinian entity.
Israeli strategists must have known long ago that it would be impossible to militarily obliterate Gaza, hence their aim of facilitating the implementation of a regional “mandate” or “trusteeship” over the disconnected Palestinian territories. Washington, of course, supports any policy Israel pushes for, while Tehran encourages, aids and pushes to ensure a larger Iranian share in the future regional plan with little regard, if any, to the pain and blood of the Palestinian people.
Gaza and Arsal
What applies to Gaza applied to Arsal and its Syro–Lebanese dimensions too. The situation in Arsal did not occur suddenly, although Lebanon’s politicians attempt to appear surprised by the events.
The Syrian uprising started more than three years ago, and soon after it began, the Supreme Leader of Iran and the Syrian President decided to turn it into a truly sectarian civil war, with regional and superpower collusion. Around two years ago, I believe Hezbollah entered the war under Iranian orders. Thus, it was only natural that Hezbollah’s active combat in Syria would provoke some sort of reaction within Lebanon where there is a marginalized and downtrodden Sunni community suffering under the military might of Hezbollah. All the while the Lebanese national army is, in effect, prohibited from exercising its duties in an atmosphere of national equilibrium and consensus.
Israel, which has been quite comfortable with its ceasefire line in the Golan Heights since 1974, is not keen to get rid of the Assad regime. It desires to ensure its survival, and hence has been seeking—with Russian and U.S. support—a convincing justification to keep it as an unofficial channel of communication between Tel Aviv and Tehran, as well as a regional shock-absorber that reassures religious and ethnic minorities and maintains their loyalties. This justification came about by making Syria, Iraq and Lebanon an easy prey to extremist “jihadists” hell-bent on committing mass murder, uprooting communities and destroying religious shrines and cultural monuments.
So while Hezbollah has nothing to do with its long-trumpeted false slogan of “liberating Palestine,” ISIS and its lookalikes have nothing to do with aiding Syria’s uprising, or confronting Iran’s hegemony over Iraq and Lebanon. This is based on their unacceptable crimes against innocent civilians in an area long known for its rich cultural and religious diversity, as well as ISIS’ dubious financial resources, and last but not least the strange silence of the world’s superpowers as these “jihadists” extend their conquered territories.
The uprooting of the minorities of northern Iraq—including Christians, Yezidis, Shabak and others—after undermining Syria’s uprising by internecine fighting and sectarian persecution, and then pushing a leaderless Lebanon towards civil war, are nothing but preludes to partitioning the region.
I have said it before, and I still believe it now, that the ongoing process of partition and fragmentation is getting us closer to a new regional “mandate,” with the full knowledge and blessing of the regional players.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug 9, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.
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