Attacks on France. Losing the war on terror

How is a person supposed to live their life, when not knowing if going to a restaurant, a concert or going on holiday will end with them being yet another casualty of a deadly terrorist attack. This has become the new reality. The deadly attacks in France hammer this home in a way that can leave no doubt. We live in extremely dangerous times.

My original plan had been to write about the growing evidence that a Daesh (ISIS) bomb brought down the Russian plane as holiday-makers flew home from Sharm el Sheikh. But this week too there was a deadly suicide bombing by Daesh in Beirut with 43 dead and more than 200 wounded. Now there is Paris, drenched in blood. Where will be next?

What many don’t understand is the reasoning behind these attacks. Daesh are trying to provoke the international community into putting boots on the ground in Syria, they believe than in so doing they will bring about Judgement Day, this is part of their twisted theology. They believe that when the armies of the world gather together to fight them, God will bring about the end of times. There can be no reasoning with them. Going back to the probability it was a bomb that brought down the Russian plane highlights the point. Russia while very active in Syria has been concentrating its efforts on attacking the rebels who are against Bashar al Assad, leaving Daesh (ISIS) pretty much unscathed. The bombing of the plane is a direct message to Moscow, ‘Come and get us if you can, we want you to try and take us on’ The only way to try to defeat them is to put boots on the ground, air-strikes alone are not effective, they want to suck the world into war on their terms.This is one of the reasons for their terror attacks.

The dreadful attacks in Paris highlight the fact that the ‘war on terror’ is not being won despite the enhanced ability of governments to gather information and intelligence from pretty much all electronic communication. Hopefully it will also help people in general understand just how organized and capable Daesh are, yes they are blood thirsty but they know what they are doing and are a global organization, never under-estimate them.

A result of the attack in Paris will be the curtailing of yet more civil liberties in the name of security. Travelling by plane will become even more arduous than it already is, I would not be surprised to see travel by train also effected, security at large public gatherings will be tightened,  more of our personal communications will be monitored, the police will be viewing everybody with suspicion, finger ready on the trigger. This is one of the goals of Daesh, besides wanting to have all the major powers of the world put troops on the ground in Syria it also wants to permanently disrupt the lives of all who don’t follow its twisted philosophy. With the attack in Paris and the bringing down of the Russian plane, it has succeeded in doing exactly that. The fear of terror they are creating is maybe more effective at interrupting our lives than the acts of terror themselves. As long as Daesh are permitted to exist we can expect there to be a lot more innocent blood splattered on the streets. The question has to be, what will the USA, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others do about it. Will they stop playing their geo-political games, which have included turning a blind eye to Daesh (ISIS) and work together for once? Time will tell.

Who is fighting against Daesh (ISIS)?

The question of who is attacking Daesh (ISIS) has to be asked because as far as I can tell from conversations with my contacts on the ground in Syria, very little effective action appears to be directed against them on an international level.

The USA is carrying out some airstrikes against Daesh but from the information received is not proving very effective. None of the airstrikes have caused Daesh any serious problems so far and often they have already left the area by the time the bombs and missiles arrive. Having said that, the USA is continuing its funding and supplying of The Free Syrian Army (FSA), who are fighting on two fronts, against the Assad regime and against Daesh. Reports in the media that the USA is going to cut funding is regarding one small program only, the vast bulk of support is continuing. At the same time the USA does not want the FSA to capture too much territory, it is part of their plan for a divided and weakened Syria

Russia claims to be targeting Daesh but all the evidence points to the vast majority of attacks being against the FSA. Yesterday I heard news that Russia is using indiscriminate cluster bombs in its attacks against the FSA, wanting to confirm this I put word out that I was looking for evidence of cluster bomb use. In a few hours I had a link to a video shot yesterday of them being used in the Hama region of Syria. You can see for yourselves in the video.

Russia is more focused on supporting the Assad regime than fighting Daesh. Assad is Russia’s only Arab ally and after 4 years of fighting, with its military on the brink of collapse, Russia was left with no choice but to send in direct air and ground support. That it is using totally indiscriminate munitions such as cluster bombs shows how desperate and immoral both the Syrian regime and Russia truly are.

Turkey says it is against Daesh but its actions prove otherwise. It is more interested in seeing the Kurds weakened and has been turning a blind eye to Daesh crossing its borders. The recent suicide attack in Ankara was most likely by a member of Daesh, the focus of the attack being a demonstration for peace by Kurds in Turkey. Turkey has a working relationship with Daesh, when I wrote in April last year about Turkey guarding the tomb in Syria of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman the 1st, the founder of the Ottoman empire, President Erdogan of Turkey was quoted as saying “Right now, the issue is not about ISIL” ISIL being Daesh, the arab term for them, and were only a few hundred metres from the tomb. Turkey is happy that Daesh is fighting the Kurds, it saves him a lot of bother so why should he be interested in trying to stop them. Rather he is trying to provoke the Kurds in Turkey into action so he can justify the use of force and he is working with Daesh to do this.

Syria, after four years of fighting its army is exhausted and has lost over 80,000 men. Now Assad is trying to reinforce the territory he does hold and is not in a position to fight on many different fronts, hence the reason for Russia stepping into the fray. Assad too is less interested in fighting Daesh than against the FSA. In conversation with a friend on the ground in Syria an interesting bit of information came out, Daesh and Assad face each other along a 60km front which runs from the prison to the ex infantry school in Aleppo region, an area I know and drove along many times two years ago when I was in Syria. In all the time Daesh has held this territory not a single shot has been fired between the Syrian army and Daesh. There is quite a cozy relationship between the two, who are more interested in fighting the FSA than each other. The Syrian army has always chosen attacking the FSA rather than the extremists. It would seem this is down to the proxy war nature of this conflict, the USA supporting the FSA and Russia with Iran supporting Assad.

Iran is a natural ally of Bashar al Assad, Assad being an Alawite, a branch of the Shia muslim faith as opposed to 70% of the Syrian population being of the Sunni muslim faith. Religion and war, it is a story as old as human history. Under no circumstance does it want to see Assad go and will do everything in its power to support him. It too sees Daesh as a useful tool in the fight against the FSA and by extension the proxy war with the USA.

Saudi Arabia and UAE. The families that govern these countries are, for want of a better word, despicable, they finance terrorism and have given a lot of financial support to Daesh and other terrorist organisations. May God bring a plague upon their houses. They help create the problems and then refuse to accept or help the people, fellow muslims, who are forced to flee their homes and countries as a result. So much for brotherhood. I’m glad I’m not a muslim.

As an aside, now that both Russia and the USA are directly involved in Syria, the risk of accidental confrontation is high, if it were to happen, the results could be an escalation of the conflict with global repercussions.

A week in the news

The reaction to the story of the Syrian family I helped has generated a lot of international interest over the last week, much more than I ever supposed. The aim was simply to help the family, aiming for a big media response was never part of my motivation. However, it has happened and if it leads to greater awareness of the refugee situation, so be it.

The first response was from a national Chinese newspaper, who reported the story and also interviewed one of the family I helped. Use Google translate to see both of the stories.

http://zqb.cyol.com/html/2015-09/17/nw.D110000zgqnb_20150917_1-04.htm

http://zqb.cyol.com/html/2015-09/17/nw.D110000zgqnb_20150917_2-04.htm

The next, was the story being published as a major feature for British magazine, Big Issue as you can see here: http://www.bigissue.com/features/5662/a-syrian-family-s-journey-to-freedom-and-the-part-i-played-in-helping-them

Finally, so far, there was a national radio interview on CBC, the Canadian version of the BBC. You can listen to it here: http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2675818799/

There is some extra important detail in the radio interview which I had left out of earlier versions of the story as I had to think about my safety, but then Germany opened its doors and the situation changed, allowing me to talk about it.

Thank you all for all your support of my work. I appreciate it very much. We are getting the story out there.

Escape to freedom. Bringing a Syrian family to safety

The events in this article took place in the first two weeks of August 2015

This is the story of a Syrian family’s journey to freedom in Europe and the small part I played in helping them. Along the way I saw and learnt a lot about what refugees face as they escape from war-torn countries and political oppression.

Fadl and his family were introduced to me through Muhannad, a mutual friend. He asked me if I would be prepared to help Fadl and his family get from Greece to a particular European country. After some consideration, I decided to try and help them. The family is from the Aleppo region of Syria and before the war they had their own restaurant, they were a middle class family. His wife Majelina, who had to stay behind to look after ageing grandparents, was a university professor of English literature. Then, because of the war and ISIS (daesh) they had to leave it all behind. There was no future for them in Turkey, where finding work is extremely difficult, the only option left was to try and go to Europe. Along with Fadl was his mother in law, his niece and nephew. Forgive me for not giving their names but I think you can understand why.

The family had crossed from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos by a small boat run by Turkish people smugglers. They were charged 3000 euro per person for the crossing and the boat was cram packed with refugees, dangerously so. After being processed in Kos they were free to go, they made their way to Athens, which is where I met them.

The night before leaving Athens I wanted to see if I could find where Syrians socialize, I was directed to the Albasha Syrian Café. The place was packed with Syrians, drinking tea and smoking shisha. I’m sat outside drinking tea, watching the world go by, I was the only non Syrian in the place but everybody was polite to this stranger. There was a constant stream of fresh Syrian arrivals from Kos making their way along the road, it seems this is the area of the city they head to and can find somewhere to sleep. In fact, the owner of the café would often direct groups of new arrivals to where they could find a place for the night. All of a sudden, 4 police motorbikes arrived, lights flashing and the atmosphere became extremely tense. Not having any idea what would happen next I just sat there and watched, half expecting the police to come and check everybody’s documents. Instead they waited on the other side of the road about 20 metres down from the café and soon all became clear. Two big buses arrived and needed to turn off the road and through some gates, the police were there to control the traffic. When the buses arrived almost everybody in the café got up and headed toward them. The buses were for the Syrians, to take them north to the border with Macedonia and the Greek police were helping them on their way. At this point, I understood the Greek authorities know the Syrians don’t want to stay in their country and only use it for transit and so helps them on the next stage of their journey. Another thing I noticed was the person who was obviously in charge of the buses, he was Greek, not Syrian. He was another person in the chain of those who are making a fortune from Syrians as they head north. The Greeks want the Syrians out but they are also making a fortune in the process of sending them on their way. It is a mafia.

In the morning, we set off and the drive to the Macedonian border was uneventful. When we arrived close to the border the family got out of the car and had to walk across country for about 2km to our rendezvous point on the other side. After leaving them, I drove across the border and waited, and waited, nothing. I had shown them very clearly on the map where we were to meet. After 2 hours I decided to drive into the small town of Gevgelija, Driving around, I saw the train station was teaming with refugees, I was sure the family must be there but so were the police. I didn’t dare stop, it would look too suspicious, a foreign car in a poor area of a small town full of refugees, the police would be certain to ask me questions. So I turned around and drove off for a while hoping the police would be gone by my next attempt. After an hour I tried again, back to the train station, this time no police, my sense of relief was palpable and there they were waving at me from the side of the road. After getting in the car we drove off, heading ever northwards. To be honest, I was annoyed, we had lost valuable time because they hadn’t followed instructions, instructions which were for their safety as well as for mine. Because other refugees were crossing the border using the same route  they had followed them and ignored everything I had said. There seems to be something in the Syrian mentality which I had not noticed before, they stick together and follow the group, but they don’t realize that the group offers them no real protection, not in a situation like this, not when I’m already there to help them. It didn’t help that Fadl’s phone battery had also died and been unable to contact me. At the next border I made sure he had my spare battery pack. I couldn’t risk losing them again for such a stupid reason.

The drive through Macedonia towards Serbia was simple but I was tired from driving and wanted to stop for the night. There was a hotel near the border with Serbia in Tabanovtse but we couldn’t stay, the hotel didn’t want Syrians staying unless they had a transit visa from the Macedonian police which gives them 72 hours to pass through the country, so we had to push on. I turned off the highway at the last point before border control, other Syrians were there, preparing to walk across country into Serbia. We arranged to meet in the Serb town of Preshevo, this time it was a longer walk, about 8km and it was starting to get dark. I crossed the border and drove to Preshevo, the place was absolutely packed with refugees, not only Syrian but also Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis. There must have been at least a thousand of them but despite all this the atmosphere in the town was relaxed. In many ways I think the local economy must be booming. Before travelling, many refugees make sure they have enough money for the journey and they spend it as they go, they need food and water. One shop keeper, who spoke a little English, said “no problem, they don’t steal, they pay for everything, the only problem is the mess”, finding a place to go to the toilet and wash is very difficult and litter just gets dumped. However, a thousand new refugees arriving every day brings in money, while the arrivals from the previous day move on. Watching the police was interesting, they weren’t making problems for any of the refugees and looked very relaxed. In Preshevo is a train and bus station, from here they can head north to the border with Hungary. This is where things got ugly. This is where I thought I had lost the family.

A relative of the family had crossed the border into Hungary from the Serb town of Horgos a couple of days previously and sent us a map showing his exact route but to be honest I had misgivings about the family making the crossing from here from the moment I saw the situation. The terrain was not in their favour but it is used by many refugees because this is where the buses bring them and there must be at least a dozen buses arriving every day. On the other side of the border in Hungary is the village of Roszke which has a train station, from there refugees try to get on trains to the north. We arrived in Horgos and were taking a drive around to look at the situation, the sun was close to setting, little did I know how long that night would be. Fadl stopped to talk to some of the many Syrians for information but I had the impression that they didn’t really know what they are doing, trying to succeed only through sheer weight of numbers. Suddenly, we saw Serbian police loading Syrians into vans, no friendly smiles here, we had driven into the middle of a police operation, which also seemed to be coordinated with the Hungarian police as later became apparent. Turning around, I drove back to a quieter area and told the family as strongly as possible that trying to cross the border tonight was a bad idea and that I really didn’t like the location. But Fadl’s mother in law, who is as stubborn as a mule was determined to make the crossing, now or never. When she got out of the car and started walking to join another group of Syrians who were about to attempt the crossing, the rest of the family had no choice but to follow her, I could see disaster looming. Again the herd instinct kicks in and because they see a large group they think they must be doing the right thing. What could I do? I was tired from 12 hours of driving, I wanted to take them to another area of the border which was quieter, a place where the buses didn’t drop off the refugees, where the police would not be expecting them. In Horos, hundreds of refugees arrive every day, of course the police are ready for them, what do they expect! But the herd instinct seems to overwhelm them and they are blinded by the all consuming desire to cross the border. To be honest, it reminded me of the migration of wildebeest when they have to cross the river and the crocodiles are waiting for them, they just go, taking their chance in weight of numbers. There didn’t seem to be any real logical process to what they were doing. And here we were, having arrived the night the police had decided to put on a massive operation to stop and capture as many refugees as possible. It was madness and I have to be honest I was very annoyed and part of me thought they deserved to be captured for being so stupid. The tiredness didn’t help my mood either.

As they were getting out of the car Fadl gave me his money to look after, some 900 euro, he thought the police might steal it if they caught him, but if they caught him I would never be able to give his money back and told him to keep it, plus he might need it for an emergency. That was a crucial moment, if he had left his money with me their story would not have ended well.

They started walking at about 20:30, the sun had set and they were walking into the unknown with another group of Syrians. We had agreed that I would wait on the Serbian side of the border until they had crossed, with the police operation they might have had to turn back. I got a message at midnight that they were “Go” and would send me GPS coordinates of where to find them when they had found a safe place to wait. Then we go dark, no more communication. It is my turn to cross the border into Hungary and I have to be honest I was nervous, not only for them but also for me, I had all their baggage in the car which could raise some difficult questions. What I had not expected was the huge wait to cross the border, almost 2 hours, the Hungarians were searching all cars. There was a huge operation that night to stop refugees and I was in the middle of it. As I was waiting to cross into Hungary, one of the border guards was spot checking cars. I noticed that he was interested in me and watched in the mirror as he took a very roundabout route to come up to the back of my car. He tapped on the back of the car, my passport ready in hand was already out of the window waiting for him, he asked “what you do” I replied “what do I do or what am I doing?” It was enough to put him off balance, after a 2 second look in the back of the car he let me pass not realizing all the baggage belonged to the family.

Finally, I received a message with GPS coordinates of their location, so far so good, I took the first exit off the highway after the border crossing, they were close to an antenna with a flashing red light on top but it was in the middle of a field, no way to drive there. What to do? I had already been passed by 3 police vans, it was now 2 in the morning but the level of police activity was very high, they were everywhere. I waited until there was no traffic, stopped on the road parallel to the antenna which was about 300 metres away and put on my hazard lights, this was the agreed signal. I felt like an absolute sitting duck, just as the family also felt. I had thought about what to do if the police asked why I was stopped on the road, with this in mind, I was playing with the navigator on my phone when the police pulled up behind me. Keep calm Russ I said to myself, I told the police I was looking for a hotel after just crossing the border, I was tired and needed to sleep, it was true I was exhausted not that I would have been able to sleep with everything that was happening. The police seemed to accept this and said the nearest hotel was about 30 km away. Knowing there was no way I could now stay on that road and wait for the family, I drove back toward the highway where there was a fuel station and big car park. It was about 2km from the antenna. I sent them a message telling them there was no other choice, they had to get to the fuel station, easier said than done, the area was teaming with police. I was at that fuel station for nearly 2 hours. I honestly thought the family had been caught, even more so when I saw a large group of refugees walk out of the dark into the fuel station, seconds later 2 police vans came racing after them, it was bedlam, they started running in all directions, the police chasing after them, their sticks held above their heads to hit anybody who resisted. I didn’t see anybody get hit but the threat was there, some simply stopped running, they knew the game was up.

Then I got a message to say the family was coming in a taxi, WTF………….. This is where my insisting that Fadl took his money instead of leaving it with me paid off. They were captured by the police after leaving the antenna and the local police chief decided who could pass and who could not and that depended on money, 200 euro per person and the family was 4 so 800 euro, then the local taxi working with the police charged them 100 euro to drive them the short distance to the fuel station. I saw the taxi coming and followed it as it drove slowly past. As the taxi stopped I pulled parallel to it so they could get in directly, I had never seen them move so fast as they jumped into the car. Then we were out of there. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved the family were. Taking care to drive normally, we headed for the highway. The sky was beginning to get light, it had been a very long night.

We drove north, wanting as much distance between us and that border as possible. I had not slept all night but the adrenaline had helped keep me awake. With the adrenaline wearing off I had to stop, I was starting to fall asleep at the wheel.  We found a resting place on the highway south of Budapest and slept for a couple of hours.  After that we left Hungary, there were no more border controls, found a hotel and basically crashed for a few hours before having a really big dinner. The next day was relaxed and I was able to get them safely to their destination.

For the family, their journey had a happy ending but it is not so for millions of others who feel they have no choice but to flee their countries because of war or oppression. I know that Europe is not big enough to take everybody, it isn’t possible, but they are human beings like you and I and have the same right to a dignified life. The family I helped have relatives in Europe, Fadl has dreams of being able to start a small restaurant. His brother was shot by a Syrian sniper and leaves behind 3 young children in northern Syria, Fadl is sworn to do all he can to support them financially. His wife Majelina had to stay behind in Turkey to look after ageing grandparents but she looks forward to the time she can join her husband. Their story is no different to so many of others. They are flesh and blood with the same hopes, fears and emotions as anybody.

Losing the war on terror?

Like the war on drugs, the war on terror against groups such as Islamic State (Daesh) simply isn’t working. Fighting these groups is trying to deal with the symptoms rather than get to the cause of why extremism has grown so rapidly this century.

There are several reasons for this, the first is religious and political ideology supported by a belief that the only way to bring change is with the use of force and revolution. History is littered with examples, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the English civil war. All happened because of deep dissatisfaction with the existing ruling classes who thought only of themselves and not of the common people. Yet in each example after the overthrow of an unjust political system, all led to further bloodshed, in France many innocent people were sent to the guillotine, after the Bolshevik revolution Stalin ruled by fear and had many thousands executed for no good reason, Oliver Cromwell increased persecution against catholics after the protestant “Rounheads” won the English civil war. So we come to today, the “Arab Spring” the revolutions to overthrow unjust and power crazy rulers in north Africa and most notably Syria have created so much bloodshed and allowed new power crazy and religious groups to enter the vacuum, which is invariably created after a revolution. The question has to be, why and how relatively small numbers of those with extremist ideology are able to gather so much support?

Take Nazi Germany as an example, Hitler was able to come to power because so many ordinary people were suffering terrible financial hardship and unemployment, here was someone who promised to rebuild their country and give them a sense of pride and identity once again. Groups such as IS (Daesh) work along similar lines. They appeal to many who feel abandoned, using very slick propaganda to create a sense of identity, somewhere they can belong. The mistake is made that this is just about religion, it is not, it is about creating a sense of being part of something bigger where they can play a part, religion is just one of the tools used. The real motivation of Daesh is power. They would also not be where they are today if they didn’t have money or if other countries didn’t find Daesh useful in the international game of geo-politics.

Then there is the fact that these groups are good for business, as they create regional wars, the arms manufactures rub their hands together in glee, war is good for business so long as it is contained to a region far away. Like the war on drugs, so the war on terror is very good for business, ethics don’t even come into the equation.

Now with the terrorist attack in France and the shooting of tourists in Tunisia we witness what is surely the beginning of a far greater threat to what we consider the western way of life. Global political malfeasance, the purely self interested interference in the middle east, the rulers of middle eastern countries who have never taken care to give opportunities for education and work to large minority groups. All together allowed the development of Daesh. Now Daesh want to spread fear around the world as payback. Finally governments are waking up to this very real threat, which is ironic as they helped create the threat in the first place by their playing of geo-political games.

So what might happen next? For a start, more intense blocking of refugees trying to escape from these troubled lands for fear that some among them could be terrorists. Tunisia is closing a large number of mosques in the wake of the shooting of tourists as these mosques are said to be a source of hate preaching, I think we will see this trend increase over time, more mosques will be closed in many countries around the world. The result of that will be many muslims including the majority who are against violence as seeing this as a direct attack on their faith, which could also have unintended consequences.

This has become a global problem and one which needs a global solution, personally I think it is too late, Pandora’s Box has been opened. If action had been taken earlier to stop injustice and inequality, if governments had cared about people rather than power then there would have been a chance and groups such as Daesh would not have the power they have today. In a way, every bomb dropped on Daesh makes them stronger, they have become like the mythical Hydra, cut off a head and two more grow in its place as young ideological muslims conditioned by slick propaganda join the group to defend their religion against attacks from the corrupt west and equally corrupt arab rulers.

The world is now entering a time of great danger, not since the end of Second World War has such an existential threat existed and to be honest our politicians have no real idea of how to deal with it. Before, wars were between countries, now we face a war against an idea which has become international. Bombing an idea out of existence once it becomes deep seating among many people in many countries is simply not possible. Politicians are going to have to come up with new ideas and think very carefully about the potential consequences of those ideas, not something at which they have ever been very good.

The state of things

The human-race is like a car which is rolling towards the edge of a cliff and instead of hitting the brakes we seem to be hitting the gas.

United Nations

At the UN Headquarters, “let us beat our swords into ploughshares”

The vast majority of people just want to get on with their lives, wanting to raise their families in security both financially and physically, but we now live in a time when that is becoming harder and harder for more and more people. Society is becoming very deeply divided and tribal, politics,religion race and wealth are the dividing factors.

After World War 2, there was a period when things seemed to be going reasonably well. During that time we saw nations rebuilding themselves along with the fall of colonialism, businesses were booming and the quality of life was improving for the majority, medical care was made easily available, housing was easy to find, as were jobs that paid a living wage even at the lower end of the social scale. Racism was recognized for the injustice that it is and action was taken, women were able to take their place in the workplace, no longer simply as a secretary but as lawyers and doctors etc. Of course challenges remained but the point is, improvements were being made in society which were unimaginable not so long before. Of course there was the cold war, and some terrible proxy wars were fought between the two superpowers, Korea and Vietnam, at terrible human cost but in many ways the world was more stable during the cold war than it is today.

Politics was also less partisan in the past, the different parties of many countries could often find a way to work together. Today, politics of the democratic system is polarized and tribal in a way not seen for a very long time and to be honest the wheels are starting to fall off. Then there are countries where there is a single “strong man” in power, as always the power goes to their heads. Those who desire power should never be allowed to have it. The same goes for countries which are governed or ruled by a single family or tribe. They can not imagine never being in power and so set up systems to perpetuate themselves no matter the suffering that might cause others.

Interestingly, over the course of human history, we have tried all forms of government, royal rule, emperors, feudal systems, dictators, authoritarianism, communism, democracy yet none of them can prove themselves in the long run. For sure there have been some benevolent kings and queens in the past who genuinely cared about their subjects but then they died and the situation invariably changed. It strikes me that we are not able to govern ourselves and as society becomes more divided the task will only become harder and more dangerous. As a thought experiment, maybe what is needed is a benevolent global ruler or organization that has the power to put a stop to all the chaos. Quite honestly, if things continue the way they are then the situation can only become worse. The cliff edge approaches.

Religion is a big issue too these days. Everybody is aware of radical Islam and in particular how ISIS (daesh) use it as an instrument of power and fear. The Pope recently said there could be a case for creating an international military force to take them on. This is interesting as the Vatican usually stays neutral on the use of armed force, at least publicly. It must be said that ISIS (daesh) are doing everything they can to create a clash of civilizations, the wanton destruction of historical sites is more about trying to provoke an international reaction rather than for any religious belief. That the Vatican is now weighing into the situation, with all its power and influence, could well lead to what could be seen as a christian crusade by the muslim world even if they don’t support the extremists. To be honest the entire Middle East is beyond hope. Those of you who follow this blog know of my deep interest in the region, it is like a second home to me but the political and religious situation will only become worse. Nothing short of a geo-political earthquake of a magnitude never imagined can resolve the chaos, game playing, war and death. Israel and Palestine is a crazy situation, they are family, literally related to each other but hate each other with all the fury of an erupting volcano. In fact if you could take religion out of the equation there would be no other difference between the Jews and the Palestinians, just members of the same blood line going back to the biblical Isaac and sharing the land.

Our political leaders do not have the answers to the challenges facing the human-race today, their impotence and incompetence becomes more obvious every day. They try to change things but ultimately nothing ever changes, they only add another layer to the crust of everything which has gone before. The global political system has taken on a life of its own which ultimately nobody can control, a little like Frankenstein’s monster and see how that ended for its creator!

The United Nations which was set up after World War 2 to bring about international “peace and security” is little more than a place where political games take place, where self interest is made apparent and very little good is ever done. Saying that, if the global situation continues the way it is, when we really could on the brink of destroying ourselves it could well turn out to be the organization to be given real power and oversight of the international situation, but the situation will have to develop much more for that to happen, maybe when our leaders and politicians see there is a direct threat to their own security. Can and will it happen? Yes. Will it be successful? No.

I have written this article because for all the following I do of international politics, religion and economics, whatever I write is ultimately futile, not that it will stop me, it is just that for the moment I am tired of writing about specific situations because there are so many of them and too many new things happening every day. All the atrocities of war, the political arrogance, the religious meddling, honestly it takes a lot of energy and I can see where it is all heading. It is not my intention to depress anybody with this article, simply to demonstrate that the global system as it stands (political, economic and religious) is self destructive and beyond repair. It needs to be dismantled.

Major earthquake or volcano due?

Totally off my normal topics but Friday will be a confluence of solar eclipse, spring equinox and perigree moon (when the moon is closest to the earth) History suggests that there could be a major earthquake or volcano somewhere in the world in the next few weeks, due to the extra gravitational stresses on the earth’s crust. I’m curious to see what will happen while hoping there is no further suffering caused if it does happen.

Update: 27/04/15

It isn’t only the tides which are effected by the moon, the entire earths crust also bulges slightly with the passage of the moon, not a huge amount, millimetres. A temporary increase in the force exerted on the earth’s crust can trigger already fragile areas. My point was that, the force on the Earth was temporarily increased beyond what is normal and as a result certain points in the earth’s crust, which were already fragile, were simply pushed over the edge. The tectonic plates all influence each other to a greater or lesser degree so even increased stress in a more stable area can ripple out and act on less stable areas.

It is terrible to see all the suffering caused by the earthquake in Nepal. Seismologist had recently concluded that the danger there was high but had not expected an earthquake to be imminent. My thoughts are with all the victims, one of so many tragedies happening around the world.

The Middle East in 2015

It was wonderful to get back to the Middle East, meeting old friends and making some new ones. As for the local food, keep it coming. Then there was the desert, I can’t explain why but I have always felt at home there.

This trip was not just about pleasure though, my focus was very much on getting up to date with what is happening in the region, particularly with regard to Syria but also the Middle East in general.

This article is based on discussions with trusted sources and as 2015 unfolds you will be able to see for yourself how things work out.

Abo Saif with a post interview cigar

Abo Saif with a post interview cigar

Syria

Southern Front, a coalition of moderate and secular Muslim rebel fighting brigades finished 2014 in a positive frame of mind. The combined forces number over 30,000 fighting men. Over the last year, the amount of support they are getting from the Americans and British has risen dramatically, in terms of weapons, training and finance. They now control large areas in southern Syria but are also very active in areas north east of Damascus, in particular the strategically important mountain area of Palmyra. There they face both the Syrian army and Islamic State. Before going into battle against Syrian army troops, radio contact is always first made to see if they wish to defect. Quite often they do, particularly if they are Sunni Muslims. The Syrian government is also using a lot of fighters from Hezbollah as well as directly from the Iranian military. One of the things highlighted to me is the importance of sticking to international law when it comes to treatment of prisoners. Southern Front are working hard to become a professional army, rather than simply a rag tag group of rebels with no central command. Politically they are also working to legitimize themselves, so far they have made a lot of progress in this direction.

The general feeling is that Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, will lose his hold on power, nobody can say exactly when this will happen but the feeling now is that it is inevitable. The plunging price of oil is severely curtailing the ability of both Iran and Russia to continue their support of Bashar al Assad who absolutely needs them to maintain his grip on power. When he goes, the top tier of the Syrian regime will also go with him. They will be replaced by existing senior figures from the Syrian army, Generals etc and most definitely Alawhite, the same tribe as Bashar al Assad. Damascus and the west of the country up to the Latakia region will be governed by the existing government framework except for a replacement of the top tier of government. South of Damascus will become a new region, governed separately to Damascus and will have a Sunni Muslim majority. Syria will effectively be turned into a Federation. After four years of war there is bad feeling on both sides of the Sunni/Alawhite divide, governing both sides from a single government in Damascus would be impossible, too much blood has been spilt. The simple solution is to create a Syrian Federation. In the north and east of the country where Islamic State hold sway, it could become a common unifying objective for the Alawhite and Sunni to start working together to push together against Islamic State. If not to eradicate the extremists but certainly to contain them. Once Bashar al Assad is gone you will begin to see steps in this direction.

Iran

There is a deadline for Iran to agree to stop its nuclear development program, if that deadline is reached without agreement then Islamic State will be permitted to enter Baghdad in Iraq to attack the Shia Muslim population which Iran is committed to protecting even at great expense. Iran and Syria both permitted Islamic State to grow and develop but they are no longer in a position to control it now that it has enough of its own resources and agenda. If Iran does not make a deal about its nuclear program it will be forced into direct conflict with the beast it helped create. So many parallels with how the USA helped set up Al Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan only to have it turn against its one time backer. Islamic State have enough funding in place to cover the next two years without stress, if Iran is forced to confront them then it will prove to be very expensive as it is reliant on oil exports but the price of oil is so low now it doesn’t even cover the cost of production. How long can Iran continue to support Bashar al Assad at current oil prices, let alone take on the expense of opening a second front against IS? Iran therefore has to make a tough decision, stop its nuclear development program or get sucked into a military campaign it can ill afford. All the indications are that the price of oil still has further to fall. Oil really is being used as a weapon and very effectively too. This also applies to Russia, it too is being made to pay heavily for its continued support of the Syrian regime.

Islamic State

The falling price of oil also has an impact as it has to reduce the price at which it sells oil, thereby reducing its income. Saying this however, all the indications are that IS is flush with enough cash to run operations for the next two years. IS has also been selling ancient Syrian artifacts on the black market. The words do not exist to describe how I feel about those who do business with IS, buying up Syria’s national treasures which will never again see the light of day. Something really needs to be done about this black market and those who do business with IS. Much has been made of young Europeans who have gone to join Islamic State, it appears that instead of using them as fighters IS are more interested in their propaganda value. Add to this the fact that they tend to have a better education than local Syrian or Iraqi members, many are being used for non military duties such as administration and book keeping, not what many who thought they would be fighting expected.

There is not a single person in the Middle East who believes or even considers that Israel had any involvement in the development of IS. I have lots of people who read my work and try to tell me about the connection between Israel and Islamic State. There isn’t any, get over it. Israel is and has been guilty of many things, but this ain’t one of them.

IS was allowed to grow and develop by Bashar al Assad along with support from Iran. They are more interested in power and money than religion. They are willing to do business with just about anybody who will pay. So if you have a factory you want protecting from damage while you wait out the war in Dubai you can organize, through middle-men, the transfer of funds. IS also has a nice little line in selling ancient artifacts from the areas it controls, ironic considering that according to their strict view of Islam any statue or image with a human face should be destroyed. Forget that, they are all about the money. IS are about as Muslim as the bottom of my shoe. Instead, it is a mafia with a lot of weapons and a love of power. Its arrogance will lead to its eventual downfall.

Oil (personal opinion)

There is no doubt in my mind that the USA and Saudi Arabia are collaborating to force down the price of oil as a way of putting huge economic stress on Russia and Iran. Russia is being made to pay for its action in Crimea and along with Iran both of them are being made to pay for their support of Bashar al Assad. If the price of oil stays low until late in the year then it will be much harder for them to continue supporting Assad. This is oil being used as a weapon. There is however always room for the unexpected to happen, Saudi Arabia is maintaining its oil output at a high level, if there were to be a cyber attack on the control systems of its oil production facilities it would certainly force the Kingdom to reduce or even stop output and increase prices as a result. As always, expect the unexpected.

There you have it, a general outline of the Middle East for 2015. For sure it is not possible to say how much will be this year, apart from Iran which has a specific deadline, but there will certainly be movement in those directions written about, there is an awful lot happening behind closed doors.

This is my first article of 2015 and I hope you found it interesting. I will be happy to see your comments. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

Syria. Interesting developments

Most of the media focus on Syria these days is to do with IS, Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh. I don’t think a single group has ever collected so many acronyms! They control large areas in the north and east of the country. In the south however, there is a different situation. The Southern Front, which has many thousands of well equipped and trained fighters, is made up of moderate muslims and secularists and they hold large parts of Syria south of Damascus. Extremist groups such as Al Nusra and Daesh have tried to get a foothold in the south but without success.

The leadership of the Southern Front believe the regime of Bashar al Assad will collapse at some point. There are various reasons for this. The first is the duration of this terrible war which has sapped a lot of energy out of the Syrian military in terms of manpower. Both sides of this conflict are tired after 4 years of fighting but the areas loyal to the Assad regime are becoming uncomfortable at how many of their men are being lost in this war while Assad sits comfortably in his palace in Damascus. The second reason is economic and is closely linked to the price of oil. War is hugely expensive and the Assad regime is dependent on both Iran and Russia. Iran for funding and Russia for weapons. As the price of oil has collapsed over the last few months it becomes increasingly difficult for Iran to fund Bashar al Assad so he can buy weapons from Russia. Russia can not afford to simply give weapons away as it has its own financial problems also due to the price of oil and the effect of sanctions. If oil prices stay low well into 2015 then it will become extremely difficult for the Syrian regime to hold on to power.

The Southern Front sense this and are preparing for Bashar al Assad to lose his grip on power. The biggest challenge when this happens will be to stop Damascus descending into chaos and allowing the extremists an opportunity to try and fill the vacuum. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown the biggest mistake the Allies made – mistake is too kind, FUBAR would be more appropriate – was to remove all traces of the government and institutions without having anything to replace them, that is what led to the chaos we see in Iraq today. Southern Front realize this and have very recently stated how they see a transition being made. They are not looking to take over the country, in fact as you will see from their in-depth statement below they want to see Syria as a very inclusive country with all being represented in the new government. When the regime falls there will probably still be large areas in the north and east of Syria under the control of Daesh but for the rest of the country there will be an opportunity to close a terrible chapter in the history of the beautiful country. Then with time it will be possible to regain territory from the extremists.

Below is the statement which was passed to me by the Chief Co-ordinator of the document and I also provide a link to a PDF of the release.

The Southern Front
Free Syrian Army
Transitional Phase
10.12.2014

STATEMENT NO. 4
THE TRANSITIONAL PHASE

The collapse of the current regime will not be the end of the Syrian people’s revolution. The end of the regime will be only the start of a new and, hopefully, final phase of the people’s struggle for freedom. In order to ensure that the final phase succeeds with the  establishment of a new national model of governance based on respect for human dignity and a rebirth of Syria’s tremendous potential, it is imperative that all nationalist forces commit to a course of action during the period of transition from authoritarianism that will fulfill the popular will.

Therefore,
The Southern Front announces that it will dedicate its efforts during the period of transition following the collapse of the regime to supporting:
First: the protection of all Syrian citizens, their property and their rights without any distinction of religion, culture, ethnicity, or political affiliation in accordance with International Humanitarian Law and the international standards of Human Rights.
Second: the maintenance of Syrian state institutions, including all ministries and military institutions.
Third: the integrity of the economic and service infrastructure of the state, including telecommunications, energy, water, and public and private transportation networks.
Fourth: the establishment of a process of inclusive, national, political reconstruction.

GENERAL FRAMEWORK

1- The Civil Defense Force:
Once the Assad regime collapses, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army intends to transition from a military organization into a civilian defense force to contribute to establishing the appropriate conditions to enable a successful political transition in Syria. Among the primary objectives of a civilian defense force will be: protecting all citizens, maintaining all state institutions, and securing the infrastructure for the economic prosperity of the country. The Joint Command of the Southern Front is currently preparing itself for the moment of transition and is committed to implementing a detailed day-after plan to protect Damascus (the seat of government), prevent looting, protect citizens and state employees, and ensure that governmental institutions remain fully operational.

2- The Transitional Administration:
To guide the period of transition, the Southern Front will support efforts to establish a Transitional Administration. The Southern Front believes that no current state employees, identified for their competence and loyal service to the state, should be excluded from continuing to serve. In addition, the Transitional Administration should be open to senior defected government officials who return to the country to help in its reconstruction. The Southern Front, which by this time will have transformed into the the Civil Defense Forces, will support such an interim governing arrangement granted that it is non-political, and led by technocrats whose terms will end upon the completion of the interim or transitional phase. The first task of the Transitional Administration will be announcing the cessation of
all military operations and demanding foreign fighters to leave the country within a specified period of time. The Transitional Administration will also take steps to ensure that state institutions continue their routine work. It will announce to government officials including the judicial authority that their work will be guaranteed within the framework of the General Law. The civilian police will be requested to continue their work. The armed forces will be requested to remain temporarily in their barracks until security and order restored.
The current constitution will be immediately suspended and replaced by the original constitution of 1950 as an interim constitution until the drafting of a permanent constitution for the country that shall be approved by a popular referendum.

To ensure neutrality with respect to key decisions that need to be made during the critical transitional period, the Transitional Administration should issue an immediate appeal to the United Nations to form a “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” in Damascus as soon as possible with a special envoy of the UN Secretary General. This Office will be necessary to advise the Transitional Administration, coordinate foreign aid, and identify key requirements for the transition. It is also needed to recommend and supply experts and advisers to help rebuild the institutions of the state. To ease the pressure on the Transitional Administration, and to benefit from the best Syrian minds and intellects in guiding the transition, the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” will be requested to appoint a Syrian Advisory Committee composed of qualified professionals to draft a framework and plans for the transitional period, according to a specific timetable. The Office will also request the presence of a UN observer missions and specialist teams.

The key tasks for UN and the Syrian Advisory Committee will be:

First: to establish the High Electoral Commission.
Second: to oversee general elections to choose an “interim” legislative authority within six months, paving the way for the formation of a constituent committee for the drafting of the constitution.
Third: to form a constituent committee to draft the permanent constitution for the country within one year.
Fourth: to hold a public referendum on the constitution after the completion of the work of the constituent committee.
Fifth: to implement national elections for a new parliament and government.

All bodies and formed by the “Syrian Transitional Phase Office” or by the Advisory Committee should be independent bodies. They should advice the Transitional Administration, but they should not be subject to it or overlap with it. The mandate of the Transitional Administration should be considered officially over after the holding of  elections for a new parliament and government.
Long Live Free Syria
The Southern Front
10.12.2014

Statement 4-The transitional phase

I will be back in the region in the near future to talk directly to Southern Front and should have more information for you some time in January. I’m very curious about what will happen. I think 2015 will be an interesting year.

This article is also published on DigitalJournal.com