The Huffington Post
Originally published under the title, “Why America Should Aim To Contain – Rather Than Destroy – ISIS.”
A small contingent of U.S.-trained rebels inserted into Syria last month was decimated by the Nusra Front.
What to do about Syria? How to defeat the Islamic State? Think of all the op-eds and policy papers that aim to provide answers to these questions. But is there actually anything to them? What about the current U.S. approach?
To begin with, one can readily agree that the U.S. train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels to fight ISIS has been misguided from the beginning. The notion that such a force can only take on ISIS and not the Assad regime has no credibility among the overwhelming majority of Syrian rebels, regardless of ideological orientation, as the fight against the two is seen as inherently intertwined. Little wonder then that the initial batch recently inserted into Syria had only 60 recruits.
Further, U.S. policymakers’ grasp of the ground situation appears to have been grossly out of touch with reality. They failed to anticipate a clash with Syria’s al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which has also been targeted in American airstrikes. It is clear to any observer who has visited or tracks online the Azaz district into which the U.S.-trained rebels were inserted that the area had a notable Nusra Front presence that would suspect any American proxies.
The U.S. train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels has been misguided.
Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, bound as they are in part by political considerations, have produced mixed results. They have been most effective in the north, in support of the Syrian Kurdish units — known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG — that have deprived ISIS of significant control of north Raqqa province and Hasakah, such that the YPG has also taken over many parts previously held by the Assad regime.
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have produced mixed results.
On the other hand, understandable reluctance to launch airstrikes that can be seen as directly supporting the regime means that ISIS advances through the Homs desert have largely been unimpeded. ISIS’s control of the heartlands of its territories in central and southeastern Syria remains largely unchallenged, and revenue streams have not been seriously hurt. Furthermore, hundreds of civilians have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes, according to a recent report.
The YPG, for all its successes, will only go so far in attempting to take territory from ISIS. The same goes for the expected establishment of a Turkish “safe zone” in the north Aleppo countryside that may clear ISIS out of the remaining northern border areas and has prompted the withdrawal of Nusra Front fighters. This expected “safe zone” is a small, strictly local initiative driven more by Turkey’s desire to stop the YPG from linking up with its third canton of Afrin.
Given the failure of current U.S. policy, the main alternative proposed is broader support for rebel groups — either bringing the downfall of the regime or forcing a political settlement that can then bring about more effective local forces to take on ISIS. In this context, arguably the largest single rebel group — Ahrar al-Sham — has taken to Western media, calling for more engagement with the group from the West and the international community, while professing commitment to a “moderate” vision of Syria, including protection of minorities.
Three weeks after penning a Washington Post op-ed appealing for Western engagement, Ahrar al-Sham called the late Taliban leader Mullah Omar an “example of a believer” who “reminded us of the true meanings of jihad and devotion.”
While the Ahrar al-Sham op-ed seems superficially impressive, it overlooks the most important issue of the group’s ties to al Qaeda. Linked to this point is the subsequent inability or lack of will to oppose some of the more unsavory sides of the al Qaeda presence. For example, rhetoric of commitment to minorities cannot conceal the fact that Ahrar al-Sham has done nothing about the forced conversion to Sunni Islam of the Druze in Idlib at the hands of Nusra Front. Indeed, Ahrar al-Sham, like many other rebel groups, appears to pretend as though this has not happened at all.
In reality, when one reads between the lines of the op-ed, it becomes clear that what Ahrar al-Sham is advocating is Sunni Arab majoritarianism with a sectarian model of politics that cannot be seen as conducive to stability in Syria, even post-Assad. Generally left out of the debate in this context is the problem of simultaneously empowering the rebels and the YPG, when the former tend to view the latter as working towards taqsim Souria (the “division of Syria”).
Forming a unified force to fight ISIS would be difficult even with the Assad regime gone.
One thinks of the headache of Kurdish-Arab territorial disputes in post-2003 Iraq: such qualms are and will be no less of a nightmare in a post-Assad Syria. Add to this intra-rebel rivalries with power, ideological disputes and likely continued fighting from pro-regime and ethnic minority militias, and it can be seen just how difficult forming any unified force to take on ISIS will be even with the regime gone. The chaos that has engulfed Libya in the post-Gaddafi era is instructive in this regard, as is the civil war and anarchy in Somalia of nearly a quarter century since the downfall of its dictatorial regime in 1991.
Nor should one pretend that the way forward lies in broader engagement with the regime. The regime is seeing its own population increasingly fragmented among different militia factions and continues to lose peripheral territories to its rivals. It is unlikely to be able to unite the country under its rule again. Working with the regime and by extension its main ally Iran, can only be seen as a recipe for permanent warfare.
The coalition should give up on pretensions to “destroy” ISIS and focus on containment.
In other words, there are no viable solutions. There is generally little honesty about what it would actually take to rebuild Syria at this point. For many years if not decades, it would take a large international ground force in Syria, enforcing the disarmament of all militia actors and implementing a grand nation-building project embodied in a government seen as acceptable to all sides. Unsurprisingly, no willpower or consensus exists anywhere for such an initiative.
Sadly, we are only “in the early stages of what will be a much longer war,” as Rania Abouzeid put it. The Islamic State is here to stay for the long term, if not indefinitely, and the coalition should accordingly give up on pretensions to “degrade and destroy” it. Instead, the coalition should focus on containment, providing humanitarian aid for refugees and civilians and establishing a no-fly zone to stop indiscriminate killing of civilians and destruction of what remains of infrastructure in Syria.
Any talk of restoring stability to Syria and defeating ISIS without realistic acknowledgment of what would be required is only an invitation to mission creep and unnecessary waste of lives and resources.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at the Middle East Forum’s Jihad Intel project.
A 2018 demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin. Photo: Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch.
A slight drop in the number of antisemitic incidents in Berlin during the first half of this year is no excuse for complacency, the city’s antisemitism commissioner emphasized on Thursday following the publication of statistics for hate crimes targeting Jews in the German capital from January-June 2019.
“Antisemitism remains a serious problem that we cannot tolerate in Berlin,” Lorenz Korgel — the city’s commissioner for combating antisemitism — told local news outlet Berliner Morgenpost. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains at a high level. ”
People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
The population of the State of Israel has increased 2.1% since last year, according to a report released in time for Rosh Hashanah by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Today, there are 9.1 million citizens of Israel, of which some 6.7 million (74%) are Jewish, the report shows. The country’s citizens also include 1.9 million Arabs (21%) and 0.4% of “others,” including Christians and those of other minority groups.
A women holds up a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo: Rhonda Hodas Hack.
JNS.org – Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against antisemitism and the wave of antisemitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.
On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its traditional end-of-the-year findings.
Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million people — 6.744 million (74.2 percent) of whom are Jews, with 1.907 million (21 percent) Arabs and 441,000 (4.8 percent) listed as “other.”
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason. Photo: Instagram.
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason play Pertshik and Hodl, whose love story takes them all the way to Siberia in the award-winning show by the National Yiddish Theatre.
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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
“Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first-rate Israeli security and strategic interest.” — Former head of Mossad Ephraim Halevy at “Between Jerusalem and Amman: 25 Years Since the Signing of the Peace Agreement Between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Institute for National Security Studies, Sept. 25, 2019.
A thought came to mind the other day.
For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza (did any of them recite a public Kaddish in the town square for murdered and injured Jews, or their damaged and desecrated property)?
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another
Incoming freshman Member of Knesset from the leftist, Democratic Union list, Yair Golan, did it again. Golan’s constant delegitimization of his political opponents on the right, smacks of the same delegitimization that tyrants, dictators, demagogues and assorted totalitarians always use, just before the Putsch.
In that regard, he’s right when he said recently, “I’m reminding people that the Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful, very careful, so that radicals with a messianic view won’t exploit Israeli democracy to replace the system of government.” Think “
As Israeli frustration mounts about violence coming out of Gaza, the idea of a ground invasion, and once and for all to finish with Hamas aggression, becomes more appealing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed this approach, saying, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.” While sympathetic to this impulse, I worry that too much attention is paid to tactics and not enough to goals. The result could be harmful to Israel.