by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
As the Jewish year 5776 draws to an end, it is a good time to sum up the four main developments defining what took place in our part of the world over the year:
It has been an eventful year in the Middle East, and there are four processes that sum it up.
1. Syria continued its disintegration
The most significant development of the past year was the continued disintegration of Syria, a country that was once the main strategic threat to Israel and is no more. The rebellion against Assad broke out in March 2011 and has left half a million dead, over a million injured and given rise to about 10 million refugees, more than half the population. Some of the refugees have spread around the world and some wander about Syria, fleeing for their lives from the Assad regime's barrel bombs.
The organizational aspect of Syria as a nation-state has fallen apart, with what is left of it trying to function in parts of Damascus and the northwestern Allawite region. Most of the country is under the control of the hundreds of militias, gangs and organizations vying for power, with Islamic State (which has also taken over parts of Iraq) at the head, followed by the Islamic Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al Nusrah) which has local aspirations, the Free Syrian Army supported by the West and others.
The country's infrastructure is in ruins: electricity lines, water systems, sewers, roads, railroad tracks, all were badly damaged during the last few years, and hundreds of thousands of residential buildings that were destroyed in bombing attacks and are unfit for human habitation must be torn down to avoid their endangering the lives of those who might want to return to them.
Rebuilding Syria, if that does happen one day in the future, is going to cost billions and there is no economic power on the horizon able to take this project on, even if what seems like a pipe dream of political calm and security ever does come true.
For the past few weeks, the fighting is centered on the industrial city of Aleppo, with the regime's jets systematically destroying the eastern sections of the city where the rebels are concentrated. Tens of women, children and elderly people whose only crime is living in an area infiltrated by rebels are killed daily with the gruesome sights shown in the media continuing to shock viewers.
The fact that the regime, a dictatorship fighting for its own survival, does not stop at anything, including chemical warfare - and is responsible for most of the death and destruction, is the most horrifying part if it all. All the country's citizens want now is to rid themselves of the despotic rule of the heretic Allawites over a country of Muslims.
Israel must draw two main conclusions from the Syrian debacle: One, that if they could, Israel's enemies would do to Israel exactly what they do to one another and two, that the world, which sees exactly what is happening and does nothing, will do the same if we find ourselves in a similar situation to that of Syria's civilian population.
2. Russia took the place of the United States
The existing security and governmental vacuum in Syria is what drew Russia into the fray. After three years of watching from the sidelines, Putin decided that the time had come to get involved in order to prevent Assad's regime from crashing. He put his air force at Syria's disposal along with bombers capable of launching all kinds of missiles, including bunker busters, and has wholeheartedly joined the battle against the rebels.
President Obama, wittingly or unwittingly, left the Syrian equation three years ago when he decided to do nothing even though it became incontrovertibly clear that Assad had crossed Obama's red line and used chemical weapons against civilians and rebel forces. The red line turned pink , white and then transparent when Assad agreed, with Russian mediation, to give up his chemical weapons.
The entire world warned Obama that Assad had no intention of keeping that agreement, but Obama ignored the critics, whose predictions have come to pass with the renewed use of chemical weapons against the rebels.
In addition to the Russian presence in Syria, Russia's ties with Iran have been strengthened, and in one instance at least, Russian bombers took off from Iran on their way to bomb Syria. Turkey's relations with Moscow have also improved while Israel has continued to maintain its previous understandings with Russia.
There is no doubt that Russia has become an international power that decides what is to happen in the Middle East. America, burned in Afghanistan and Iraq, has come to the conclusion that it has nothing to look for in this problematic region.
America's obsession with the presidential elections over the past year kept the Middle East off the charts as far as the American public's interest is concerned. Many Americans express the feeling that the entire Middle East can go to hell. Israel is paying the price of receiving less affection from Americans, some of whom actually see the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the cause of the trouble in the Middle East.
3. Iran's strength continued to increase
The nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers enhanced the status of the Ayatollahs' homeland in the Middle East. The United States gave the Iranians 1.7 billion dollars in cash at the beginning of the year, some of it in currency. This money is not being invested in Iran's crumbling and neglected infrastructure, but in fanning the flames of insurrection in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, buying Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon and building a foundation for Shiite terror all over the globe.
This past year, Iran increased its military presence in Syria to the point where entire Syrian army units are under direct command of the Quds Iranian forces. Hezbollah, the Lebanese tentacle of the Iranian octopus, has taken control of swathes of Syrian land and is now encamped, like a regular army, on the Syrian Hermon and southward along the border with Israel up to Kunetra in the Golan Heights.
Iran continued its massive support for the Shiite rebels in Yemen and even sent a few heavy missiles over towards Saudi Arabia. The Gulf States fear that the US in particular and the West, as a whole, now that it has alternate energy sources, have left them on their own to face the Iranian threat. Iran has been turning its eyes on Afghanistan, and is waiting impatiently to see the Americans leave that splintered and failed country whose land is filled with natural treasures that Iran is just waiting to despoil.
Behind the scenes there is a contest being waged between Iran and Russia on the portions of Syria at which each of them is nibbling away, but this is still in the background. The Ayatollahs feel they are on a high since the Great Satan (the US) succumbed to Iranian intransigence and agreed to a situation that allows Iran to continue its nuclear projects, its ballistic missiles and its destruction and death all over the Middle East, paid for by US dollars – in cash.
4. The migrants flooded Europe
Thousands of people in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa continue to flood Europe from Libya, Egypt and Turkey, travelling in leaky boats that cross the Mediterranean in the dark of night. Some never arrive and their passengers drown in the deep sea waters, but some reach Greece and Italy, continuing northward to Germany, France and Scandinavia. Close to two million migrants, mostly men between the ages of 20-30, arrived in Europe over the past two years. Germany alone has taken in over a million of them.
Most of the migrants are people who only want to turn to a new, pleasant page in their miserable lives, but some are terrorists who were planted among the migrants in order to sow death and panic in Europe. This was clearly accomplished during the past year in Belgium and France
The security situation in Europe is deteriorating mainly due to the inability of its security services to apprehend terrorists before they carry out their attacks, especially the lone ones who simply wait for the right moment to sow murder and suffering around them.
The problem is going to get worse with time, because as soon as a migrant becomes a European citizen he can travel anywhere, including the US and Israel, in order to carry out his private Jihad against anyone he defines as an "enemy of Islam."
The security forces of these countries will have to sharpen their senses in order to prevent this possibility.
A Happy New Year to all.
Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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