Turkey says that it, together with the US, wants an IS-free zone in northern Syria. That is fine. But who will fill the vacuum in areas cleared of IS?
After several months of reluctant negotiations, Turkey has anxiously decided to join the allied battle against the radical Islamists who fight under the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Islamic State, ISIS, IS). Turkish jets bombed IS strongholds inside Syria, and police detained hundreds of IS supporters operating in Turkey, including two leaders. Moreover, Turkish ministers hastily signed a decree that would allow the U.S. military to use the critical Incirlik air base for strikes against IS targets. Incirlik, in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, is close to many IS strongholds and will cut response times for U.S. aircraft, increasing the efficiency of anti-militant operations.
Turkey says that it, together with the U.S., wants an IS-free zone in northern Syria. That is fine. But who will fill the vacuum in areas cleared of IS? That is an extremely important question Turkey’s American allies should think about with extreme care. Turkey simply finds joining the international campaign against IS an opportunity to install pro-Sunni Islamist rule in areas now controlled by IS.
This is how Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu describes, with all the unrealistic euphemism he could think of, the militias he apparently wishes would replace IS’s brutal Islamists:
“We need to support moderate opposition forces there. Moderate opposition forces means all those forces who are tolerant of other Syrian citizens, who do not commit any terrorist crimes and who do not collaborate with the Syrian regime, which is responsible for all these humanitarian tragedies in the last four, five years.”
The key word here is “moderate.” In all reality, Davutoglu wants to replace extreme Islamists with less extreme Islamists. And the less extreme ones come under a different flag: the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which Turkey has vehemently supported over the past few years, in the hope that it would fight and topple Turkey’s regional nemesis, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
The FSA was formed in August 2011 by Syrian army deserters, and was based in Turkey. Unsurprisingly, its fighters are 90% Sunni, which explains the real appeal to the Sunni supremacist Davutoglu. The FSA militias are a ragtag group of rebels with a cause: to build a Sunni Islamist Syria, albeit not a Salafist Syria. The group does not have a real structure, money or sophisticated weapons to fight either Assad or the Islamic State.
Members of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Tawhid Brigade pose for a photo in Aleppo, in 2012. (Image source: Vice video screenshot)
In Syria’s civil war, it is not uncommon to see fighters moving from one group to another. In March, for instance, the US-backed “moderate” rebel group, Harakat Hazzam, disbanded and its members joined extremist groups such as the al-Nusrah Front (ANF), an al-Qaeda offshoot, and the Levant Front, a coalition of rebels, also with ties to al-Qaeda. The ANF has, in addition,picked up thousands of men who once fought under the flag of the FSA.
Almost invariably, the groups fighting in Syria, with varying degrees of violence, are Islamists. If Davutoglu can market the FSA to his American allies, he will be nurturing, on his private agenda, another Islamist group that can potentially become another band of jihadists. Davutoglu is trying to make Syria an extension of Turkey for Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Islam.
In 2012, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an open letter to opposition groups in Syria, including the FSA, accusing them of carrying out kidnappings, torture and executions. A United Nations-sponsored inquiry commission documented war crimes committed by these groups.
Some FSA-aligned groups have been criticized for having an affiliation with radical Islamists. The group itself was accused of summarily executing innumerable prisoners it held. Furthermore, the UN offered credible allegations against opposition groups, including the FSA, that they wererecruiting children as soldiers. The FSA was mentioned in a 2014 HRW report detailing the widespread practice of using child soldiers — just as the IS is doing. All that is reasonable when you recall that some FSA-aligned brigades are working with hardline Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and Ahrar Al-Sham.
Such is the profile of the “moderate” rebel group that Turkey supports and tells the U.S. is the “good guys” fighting for democracy in Syria.
In other words, with U.S. help, Turkey wants to build, in parts of Syria, a Sunni Islamist rule, which it hopes will expand into other Syrian regions, finally reaching Damascus.
This may not be a realistic scenario, but even its progress can potentially create new Frankenstein monsters in Syria, with, most likely, “moderate” Islamists taking off their masks and becoming the radicals they in fact are.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.