Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Syria: Blinkered in Aleppo

by Elizabeth Kendal - 24th August 2016
first published by Lapido Media, using the title "Aleppo Horror: Be careful whose side you're on"


Is the Western media blinkered in the midst of Aleppo horror?

FOR every bloodied child in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, there is a bloodied child in the government-held west of the war-torn city.

While an estimated 250,000 people remain in the rebel-held east, more than a million – including some 40,000 Christians – remain in the government-held west.

Churches – which operate freely in western Aleppo – describe the fighting in July as the worst they have ever experienced. On one day alone in mid July, some 250 rebel rockets rained down on Aleppo’s Christian quarter in the space of four hours.

Struggle

On 25 June, the Syrian Government launched the Castello Operation aimed at severing the rebel supply-line that runs through the north of the city en route to Turkey. Advancing under Russian air cover, Syrian forces approached the Castello Road from the north and from the south in a pincer manoeuvre.

source
By 26 July the rebel supply-line had been cut and two days later, rebel-held eastern Aleppo was besieged. The government opened three humanitarian corridors and promised four more.

The strategy is as old as war itself: cut the supply, besiege the city, increase the pressure and then open the vents to allow the escape of human shields and surrendering fighters.

Syrian forces liberated Homs by this means. Indeed, the US-backed, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces recently liberated Manbij from Islamic State this way.

But if these rebels have learned anything it is how to fight asymmetrically. Aware of the propaganda value of human shields, the rebels convince them to stay.

In this they were aided by US Secretary of State John Kerry who echoed rebel claims that the humanitarian corridors ‘could potentially be a ruse’.  Consequently, only a few dozen families trickled out, with most opting to stay.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described them as ‘hostages’, claiming they actually were unable to flee as the rebels had mined the humanitarian corridors and set snipers over them.

Omran Daqneesh (5)
Had the family of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh – whose gut-wrenching image adorned newspapers across the globe last week -   escaped through the humanitarian corridors opened then he would not have ended up sitting bloodied in the back of an ambulance. Moreover his brother, Ali, 10, would not have died.

On 31 July, rebels belonging to Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) launched a counter-offensive in south-western Aleppo, and by 6 August had broken through the siege. Western mainstream media cheered loudly for what the Institute for the Study of War described as ‘a major victory for al-Qaeda in Syria’.  On 7 August the Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room released a statement declaring its intention to take the jihad into western Aleppo so as to capture the entire city.

Rebels

Jaysh al-Fatah is an al-Qaeda-led rebel coalition dominated by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Ahrar al-Sham (a Salafist outfit modelled on the Taliban). Because the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition also includes a few much smaller US-backed militias, Jaysh al-Fatah profits from US weapons and US protection. To quote the Russian President, the ‘terrorists’ might be ‘rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly’.

The US has proscribed Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) as a terrorist organisation and agreed with Russia that it should be targeted. However, the US has not been able to convince its ‘good rebel’ proxies to disengage from their al-Qaeda affiliated allies - and this has hampered US anti-terror efforts.

Convincing US-backed rebels to disengage from Jaysh al-Fatah will be even more difficult now that Jaysh al-Fatah – which already holds the provincial capital of Idlib – has achieved such success in Aleppo. Islamic fighters – including displaced Islamic State jihadists – will be flocking to join the ranks of Jaysh al-Fatah now.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in western Aleppo is deteriorating rapidly.

Electricity is limited and, due to recent fighting, the flow of water and the main supply line have been cut, meaning water, food, fuel and medicines are all scarce.

As the rebels – around 95 percent of whom are foreign: Chechens, Saudis, Uzbeks, Chinese Uyhgurs among others – press in on western Aleppo, loyalist Syrians feel both the war and the prospect of slaughter inching closer.

‘Hope’

Despite the dire situation, western Aleppo’s churches of all denominations continue to serve and minister as funds are pumped in from churches and Christian advocacy groups on the outside.

Aleppo’s Saint Elias Cathedral (Orthodox) is caring for some 4,000 families recently displaced from southern Aleppo’s 1070 district – half of them Muslim, half of them Christian.

Similarly, Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal said the churches are working to feed the hungry, regardless of their religion.

He said: ‘We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN (Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need) and other associations, and a lot of people come – we give about 7,500 meals every day. 

‘It is a lot, and the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims. So, on one side things are dark, things are sad – on the other hand we see the activities of the Church there and how the people, especially the Christian associations, are helping. These provide a sign of hope. Our mission is important there.’

That Western mainstream media cares so little about the plight or fate of loyalist Syrians is nonsensical, for of all the groups in Syria today, loyalist Syrians (non-Islamist Muslims, Alawites and Christians) are the group with which most westerners would have the most in common. Instead, the media apparently cheers rebels who represent everything they abhor and would slaughter them in a heartbeat. If there is one thing al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) agree on, it is the treatment of infidels.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She publishes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin to help facilitate strategic prayer; serves as the Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom; and is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.

Elizabeth Kendal has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).  

For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Middle East Crisis Entirely Predictable

Sir John Chilcot right to say hindsight not required
by Elizabeth Kendal

How often do you hear it said that the current crisis in Middle East is “unprecedented”?

Despite being routinely parroted by our political, academic and media elites, this assertion is absolutely false.

Those who make this claim are either embarrassingly ignorant of history, or desperate to excuse their utter cluelessness and/or deflect criticism from their catastrophic policy failures.

Surely one of the most pivotal sentences in the 150 page executive summary of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry is one found on page 129 under the heading “Lessons”, subheading “The decision to go to war”, in paragraph 828: “When the potential for military action arises, the Government should not commit to a firm political objective before it is clear that it can be achieved.”

Could the US-led West's objectives in Iraq have been achieved? 

Iraq straddles one of the most volatile religious fault-lines on the planet. Consequently, even the most basic understanding of Iraq’s sectarian dynamics and history would have given anyone considering war cause for concern.

Likewise, anyone with a basic understanding of the Islamic worldview would have known that an invasion of “infidel” forces would have triggered Islamic resistance. Furthermore, anyone with knowledge of the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East would have anticipated the consequences for local Christians should Islamic resistance be triggered or an Islamic order restored.

The events of 1979—the successful Shi’ite revolution in Iran and the failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia—heightened Islamic and sectarian zeal, and set in motion the wheels of global Islamic radicalisation. One generation later, the Middle East was a radicalised Islamic tinderbox just waiting for a spark. Had Western policy-makers truly understood and appreciated that fact, then they might have heeded the warnings and accepted an alternative. Yes, there were alternatives!

In late 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin advised the administration of President G. W. Bush that instead of going after Saddam Hussein, it should concentrate on the real sponsors of Islamic terror, specifically Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and put an end to the Saudi funding of Wahhabi extremism.
Presidents G.W. Bush and Vladimir Putin (2002)
As terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky explains: “Russian experts warned that the problem in Iraq was not just Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, but rather the prevailing radical militant trends. They urged the Americans to be ready to deal with radicalized populations, Sunni Islamist militancy, a radical Shiite population under Iranian influence, the flow of al-Qaeda operatives, and Kurdish-Turkish and Turkman-Arab hatred—all of which were likely to intensify in reaction to an American invasion of Iraq.” The Kremlin’s position was that rather than defeating terrorism, a US-led invasion would actually create and open new venues for terrorism.

In receipt of an abundance of intelligence from all sides, the onus was on Western policy-makers to assess that intelligence. Unfortunately our political leaders were ill-equipped for the task. Lacking knowledge of history and understanding of religion; blinded by arrogance [“where everyone else failed, we will succeed!”] and hamstrung by bias [“we are not going to listen to Russia!”], they were incapable of discerning wisdom from fantasy, or interest-driven propaganda from plain hard reality.

When US-led forces bombed and invaded Iraq in 2003, and removed Saddam and the Baathists by force, they liberated not “the Iraqi people”, but the Iraqi Shi’ites—facilitating the rise of the “Shia Crescent”.

By 2005 Iraq, once part of a north-south Sunni bloc, was fully integrated into an east-west "Shia Crescent" (more accurately known as the Axis of Resistance) with Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1982 vision of a continuous arc of Iranian influence extending from Tehran “to Jerusalem . . .  through Kabala” (in southern Iraq) awaiting only its final installment.

That Iraq’s political realignment would trigger Sunni resistance in Iraq, and have regional implications for oil and gas pipeline politics, and existentially imperil the region’s US-allied Sunni regimes—was entirely predictable.

Driven from their home in Mosul, by ISIS/ISIL fighters,
Assyrian Christian refugee, Radwan Shamra and son, Martin (3),
stand on the roof of St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church
in Amman, Jordan. 1 Oct. 2014.
(Photo: Warrick Page/The New York Times)
That conflict in Iraq would attract international jihadists, and result in the genocide of minorities—including the region’s indigenous Christian nation (the Assyrians)—was all entirely predictable to anyone with knowledge of history and understanding of religion.

Sir John Chilcot was absolutely right to reject Tony Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen.

“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” Chilcot said. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al-Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”

What a pity the Chilcot report had not been released in 2010, before the US-led West chose to back regime change in Damascus.

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Elizabeth Kendal is a long-time religious liberty analyst and advocate, author of the weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin. She serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) in Canberra, Australia, and is an adjunct research fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

Her second book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA) was released in June 2016. For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com