David Schenker: Palestinian issue not linked to ME instability

David Schenker: Palestinian issue not linked to ME instability
Updated 18 October 2012

David Schenker: Palestinian issue not linked to ME instability

David Schenker: Palestinian issue not linked to ME instability

David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.
Previously, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Levant country director, the Pentagon’s top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant.
In that capacity, he was responsible for advising the secretary and other senior Pentagon leadership on the military and political affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. He was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service in 2005.
He is the author of three publications, as well as numerous analysis concerning the politics of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Arab and Islamic politics and US policy.
During his visit to Amman, David Schenker met some of the leaders of various political specters. His recent analysis on Jordan, “As Jordan Stumbles, the US Response Is Crucial,” published on Sept, 19, was met with widespread criticism in the media there.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News reporter Nawal Ksar, David Schenker spoke about the situation in the region and the politics of US in relation to the Islamists.

Security and stability in the Middle East is linked to a real solution to the Palestinian issue, do you believe that the changes in the region will not be in favor of the Israelis and the Americans in the future?
The current instability in the region is not linked to Palestine. No doubt, Palestine is an important issue for people, but when you ask people in the street — and not in front of television cameras — what their main concerns are, they will say shelter, education, standard of living, and having more say in their own lives and the politics of their countries. All that will come before Palestine. These revolutions, in Tunisia, Egypt, and what happening now in Syria is not about Palestine, it’s about tyrannical governments and bad economies. Economics is a primary driver, but in other cases like Syria it is about tyranny. I believe that the changes in the region will certainly in the near term prove destabilizing.
In the case of Libya we’ve had remarkable developments, including the election of a government.
But it is a tribal society flooded with weapons, and there are historical differences between the tribes. At the same time, many people are not confident that the government will prevail in the end, and be able to exert control all over Libya. Therefore, they are keeping their weapons to protect themselves. It is destabilizing in this environment. In this country that is full of weapons and without central authority, groups like Al-Qaeda that have been present for some time in areas like Darnah — a village that was a main source of insurgents traveling to Iraq to kill Americans and the Iraqi people. Salafists want to push the direction of Libyan politics further to the right, toward more Islamist government. Likewise in Tunisia, we have seen Salafists looking to try to push what has been a moderate population and government toward a more Islamist point of view.
In Egypt, will the Islamists improve the economy, where fifty percent of the people make less than $2 a day, and the state is on the verge of economic collapse? Will the Muslim Brothers be able to turn the situation around and reestablish security? Nobody knows. There will also likely be some popular backlash, as liberals will not approve the direction of post-Mubarak Egypt, and there will be protests. It is going to be unstable for some time. And, of course Syria, the revolt could take months if not years to succeed. Assad is finished. But the longer this go on, the more suffering will occur and more weapons will be in the hands of militias that will be hard to disarm at the end. Vengeance will be taken on the Alawites and perhaps against the Christian community that has been perceived as backing the Assad regime. I personally believe that the US has an interest and an obligation to be more involved in the Syria crisis, not necessarily with direct military involvement but at a minimum through arming the rebels . Washington generally is not effective in playing local politics in Arab states, nevertheless, I think we should be playing a role in supporting democratic transitions, supporting the rights of minorities, and helping to enshrine constitutional protections for everyone. Regrettably, it seems, in some of these countries toppled authoritarians will be replaced with theocrats or perhaps military authoritarians.

America is confused with regard to the events in the region, President Obama has pledged a two-state solution and broke his promise, the bloodshed in Syria is still going, the Iranian support also, but the US administration did not make any move, is Washington waiting a regional war to break out?
A regional war appears unlikely; who is going to participate? There is a possibility, of course, that the Israelis will strike Iran, but will the Sunni street rally behind the Shiite autocracy in Iran, put their own revolutions on hold, and delay hopes for their own democratic reforms and economic prosperity in return for a destructive war with Israel? You can see a scenario perhaps, in which Israel targets Iran, and Iran orders their Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon to retaliate. Hezbollah has to make some calculations. While Hezbollah says it is going to make its own decision. However, Iranians say they will listen to the Fakih (Khameini) and do whatever he says. But if Hassan Nasrallah responds on behalf of Iran, Hezbollah will undermine its raison d’etre. Hezbollah says the Islamic resistance in Lebanon is there to defend Lebanon against Israel, but if it launches a war on behalf of the autocratic regime in Iran it will show the organization to be an Iranian tool. In any event, the position will be dramatically changed after the fall of Assad, because Hezbollah will not be able to rearm.
Hezbollah has enough missiles and rockets to conduct maybe three more wars with Israel, but it won’t be like after 2006 when the militia was able to reconstitute fully.
As for the US pledges on the peace process, I think Obama went very far pressuring Israel concerning the settlements, and it proved in the end to be counterproductive. Israel made a settlement freeze that secretary of state Hillary Clinton said was the deepest, most profound settlement freeze in the history, and yet this wasn’t enough for Mahmoud Abbas, who chose to press for even more Israeli concessions, and when Israel didn’t comply, Abbas decided not to talk with Israel for 18 months — the first time Israelis and Palestinians stopped direct negotiations since 1994. So the US did what the Arab world requested, and it didn’t work. It was unprecedented approach and it was a wrong approach. This must be a bilateral agreement for Israelis and Palestinians, sitting down and deciding for themselves that they don’t want war anymore, and both are going have to make tough concessions. It is not up to the US to tell Israel what to do, just as much as in the past when Saudi Arabia tried to tell Arafat what to do and he didn’t listen. Israel and the Palestinians know their own interests — sometimes they are wrong as we see it — but we are not the masters of their destiny. As for Syria the US should be more involved, and I believe it’s a tragedy that the US is not. What Washington is doing is insufficient and prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. But just like the US is not doing enough, the Arab world has been absent, by sending Lakhdar Al-Ibrahimi, and by supporting UN initiatives that were never going to succeed.
Precious time has been wasted as 26,000 Syrians have been killed, with more than 40,000 missing, who, its regrettably safe to say, are likely also dead. This is the time for action, like the Arab League took in Libya. If the Arab States don’t like the suffering in Syria, they should agree in the Arab League to deploy airplanes and other military assets, and/or an Arab Peace Keeping force. If the Arab states take a bold decision, the west will follow.

US knows about Iranian intervention and support to radical groups, sometimes with its help, Washington has handed Iraq to Iran, and Tehran is meddling with Gulf security, especially in Yemen, why is the US role is absent? Is US retreating globally against the presence of Russia and China?
The Obama administration was elected on a platform of ending US involvement in the Middle East. I don’t believe this is a wise policy. The US should have a more active policy in the region. By not actively countering destabilizing Iranian activities — for example, by helping the Saudis to go after the Houthis in Yemen, or by putting more pressure on Hezbollah’s connections with Assad regime. Absent a more robust US policy, these problems are getting worse. The Iranians have been meddling in the Middle East since 1979. Currently, the Obama administration is focusing on futile negotiations with Iran, and has been careful not to anger Tehran. Sanctions and diplomacy have hurt the Iranian economy, but haven’t dissuaded the Iranians for the past three years from pursuing their nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, Tehran has been destabilizing the Middle East, particularly in Syria. This should be countered and called out publicly, and the US should be providing assistance to those who are committed to countering Iranian influence in their own countries. It is not clear that even after US elections, the Obama Administration will do anything militarily against Iran. While it’s not a great option, as senator McCain said, the only thing worse than bombing Iran is having an Iran with a nuclear boms. If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, it will mean the end of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

US human rights violations were unveiled in Guantanamo, in Abu Ghraib prison, and in Kandahar, what does America provide as reflection of its global image? Is the concept of freedom, civil and human rights is exclusive for Americans?
Guantanamo was extremely damaging to the US. There was a big debate in the United State about what constitutes torture, but most Americans agree with John McCain that this is a stain on the US reputation. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to put all sorts of pressure on people — captured Al-Qaeda prisoners do not have the same rights as US citizens.
The US is at war with Al–Qaeda. Captured Al-Qaeda prisoners are not entitled immediately to a lawyer. Some people would say that this is a mistake or a violation of the law. I am not a lawyer. Since President Obama came to office, it appears that there have been some changes about the type of pressure you could put on captured Al-Qaeda terrorists. I don’t think that human rights are American rights, they are applicable to all people of the world.

Wars, political changes and transformations reveal and expose countries and political parties, how do you see the future of Hezbollah after he persuaded the Arab youth that it is a hero, meanwhile it supports a tyrant today, and works against the will of the Syrian people?
Hezbollah is in a terrible position. The organization depended on Syria as the key link in its Iranian supply chain. But when Assad falls, there is little doubt that it wil be replaced by a Sunni Muslim regime which, regardless of whether it’s Islamist or secular, will remember the position of Hizbollah and will not continue the relationship with the Shiite militia. As a result, there will be a change in the balance of power in Syria and in Lebanon as well. Hezbollah will be isolated. Before the revolution in Syria it was taken for granted that if Israel attacked Iran, Hizbollah would respond, but now we just don’t know, because Hezbollah knows that it can’t rearm. How ironic that this organization, which was so outspoken on behalf of Shiites in Bahrain, is supporting Assad in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Sunnis and other peoples in Syria. Hezbollah’s hypocrisy has been exposed, and the group is losing the popularity and legitimacy it gained in 2006. And I anticipate it will continue to lose popularity.

After the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, there appeared landmarks that there is a strategic understanding between them and Washington, and cracks exist in their relationships with national forces and the Salafists. Do not you think that Washington is losing its bet on the Brotherhood?
While the Bush administration was concerned about the Islamists, the Obama administration was more interested in reaching out to the Islamists. In some small way, this outreach lent US credibility to the Islamists and gave the impression that the US was supportive to the Islamists — even more so than the secular political forces in the region. In fact, in Egypt, secular forces were so upset with the US position that they shouted down Hilary Clinton during her recent visit to Alexandria. While the US has engaged the Islamists, Washington hasn’t done a great job in engaging the liberals. At the same time, it seems that the Muslim Brotherhood feels very much that they are in competition with the Salafists, particularly in Egypt, but in Tunisia also. This dynamic could push these Islamist governments even further to the right, especially regarding restrictive social policies.

There is an insurgence against US policy in the Middle East, an alliance between the group of resistance countries, and in Russia, Iran, China and Latin America there is a sociological analysis that confirms significant changes in American culture and the decline of support to the American external role. Are we facing the of formation of a new international entity?
The group you are mentioning here — Russia, Iran, China and Venezuela — is an emerging bloc of some repressive and or socialist states that aims to counter US influence in the region and around the world. I think that this is significant and interesting development and a reality that Washington may have to deal with in the future. Whether this bloc can in any way supplant the US is not clear. I am not sure the group has the economic, or military power, or enough of a shared vision to do so. The US will still be looked to to play a global role. There are a whole slew of benefits to relations with the United States that don’t come with relations with countries like Iran, Venezuela, China or Russia.

Nuclear negotiations with Iran represents a marathon of negotiations without results. There was a secret agreement to enable Iran, the evidence on that is silencing Tel Aviv, and the weakness of political means that are used to deter its program. Will we witness a Middle East packed with nuclear weapons? And why is Washington and the West behaving differently with Iran, the opposite of what happened in Iraq, though there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction?
The negotiations were finished before they even started. I think Iran is not interested in a deal. The theocracy understands, just like north Korea, that the only way to prevent being topped over or attacked by a coalition of global forces is to have nuclear weapon. If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, other states will also do so, including perhaps Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. To date, the Obama administration’s efforts to end Tehran’s nuclear program have proven insufficient. The theocracy in Tehran intends to remain in power and continues to have regional ambitions. A nuclear weapon would help the regime to achieve this goal, and it is willing to endure much suffering.

You talk about human rights in the region and issue reports about this, but you neglect to talk about Palestinian human rights, and human rights in Iran, is this because it does not serve the US interests?
There are US concerns about Palestinian human rights. This is an occupation. At the same time, however, its important to note that Palestinians in the West Bank right now are engaged in an Intifada, not against Israel but against the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile in Palestinian-ruled Gaza — which is not any longer occupied by Israel — Hamas is incredibly unpopular, due to its harsh social policies and repressive security apparatus. Palestinians rightly complain about the Israeli occupation, but between 1994-2000 they were more likely to complain about their corrupt, brutal and caprecious PLO leaders led by Yasser Arafat. American human rights reports prepared by the US State Department include sections on Israel.

What is the reason for canceling the People’s Mujahedin of Iran from the terrorist list?
In the United States we have a law that you need to be not involved in a terrorist activity for six months and then you can be certified to be taken off the list. This happened with Arafat and Qaddafi, and People’s Mujahedin of Iran had been not involved for some time. But the primary reason is that the Obama administration wanted to engage the Iranians and didn’t want to offend them. Recently, Washington seems to have reached the conclusion that negotiations were going nowhere, so there was little to lose by removing the MEK from the list.

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
Updated 7 min 27 sec ago

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage

How Erdogan turned a failed Turkish military mission to his political advantage
  • Deaths of 13 hostages held by the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Gara region came to light after Turkish airstrikes
  • President has used the incident to whip up nationalistic fervor and dial up pressure on opposition parties

ERBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: In the immediate aftermath of a failed cross-border, hostage rescue attempt earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened further military action against Kurdish fighters abroad and ratcheted up the rhetoric against his secularist opponents at home.

Erdogan’s latest foray against the PKK, an armed group fighting for greater political and cultural rights for Kurds in Turkey, has quickly expanded into a fresh crackdown on the pro-Kurdish HDP political party as well as a war of words with Washington over its ado-hoc alliance with a Syrian Kurdish PKK affiliate in the fight against Daesh.

It all began on February 13, when Turkey launched a raid against the PKK in the Gara region of Iraqi Kurdistan. After clashes, 13 Turkish citizens, most of them police officers and soldiers in PKK captivity since 2015 and 2016, were found dead.

Ankara said the PKK executed the hostages, but the group said Turkish airstrikes on the cave complex during the operation caused their deaths. Even as many Turks cast doubt on the government’s version of the events, security agencies arrested more than 700 people, including members of the HDP accused by Erdogan of being “official terrorist accomplices.”

Using the same political logic, Erdogan also accused the US of supporting terrorism. “What kind of NATO alliance is this? … They (the Americans) still act with terrorists,” he said on February 22, referring to US alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) group in the campaign against Daesh in northeast Syria. The leading political entity in northeast Syria is the Kurdish PYD, which was founded as the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Many analysts view the combination of the crackdown at home and the outburst against the US as a cynical attempt by Erdogan to divert attention away from the bloody outcome of the hostage-rescue operation.

The developments also come as the Turkish people continue to struggle financially, student frustrations spill over into violence, and the country's management of the coronavirus crisis is rated a lowly 74th out of 98 by the Lowy Institute's COVID Performance Index.

“Erdogan and the Turkish government do not view the hostage-rescue operation as a failure,” Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor Senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE, told Arab News. “The whipping up of patriotic fervour and the crackdown on the HDP are a familiar tactic employed by Erdogan to drum up support of his nationalist base for anti-PKK operations.”

She said the mileage Erdogan could get out of the crisis was not unlimited. “If the PKK did in fact kill the hostages, it will help build support at home in Turkey for more anti-PKK operations abroad and might strengthen Ankara case for more leeway in its Iraqi operations," Hawthorne said. “But it won’t help much with negative Iraqi public opinion vis-a-vis the operations.”

Clashes between Turkey and the PKK in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast markedly decreased in 2020, compared with the years when the Turkish-PKK conflict (which began in 1984) flared following the collapse of a ceasefire in July 2015. Fighting now takes place mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Of late, Erdogan has been threatening new cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq, including against its Yazidi affiliates in the Sinjar area. In January, Turkish officials met with the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership and discussed, among other things, removing the PKK from that region.

However, in addition to PKK affiliates, Iraqi Shiite militia groups, many of them backed by Iran, are present in Sinjar and will almost certainly oppose a Turkish military operation there.

Under the circumstances, Hawthorne doubts that Erdogan can effectively invoke the deaths of those Turkish hostages to win some support from the Biden administration for another bloody offensive against the PKK.

“The Turkish government has tried and failed for years to appeal to the US government regarding its concerns about the PKK,” she said. “It is unlikely that the US will become softer towards Turkey because of one particularly difficult and deadly operation in a decades-long struggle.”

More generally, the Turkish government has given repeated warnings of operations against the PKK. But if fresh incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan, or even a new foray into Sinjar, happen, Hawthorne anticipates that the “further south the operations are, the more complicated the issue will be with the Iraqi government.”

Her views are echoed by Kurdish analyst Gunes Murat Tezcur, the Jalal Talabani Chair and Professor at the University of Central Florida, who believes the failed Gara operation is unlikely to “have any influence over the Biden administration’s current policy towards Turkey, which is characterized by a divergence of interests at multiple levels.”

These include US opposition to Turkey’s procurement of Russian S-400 air defense missiles and Turkey’s opposition to American cooperation with the SDF in Syria. Furthermore, Tezcur said it is an indisputable fact that the Gara raid was a failure since it led to the deaths of all the hostages.

“The contrast with a successful rescue operation, such as the one conducted by Israel at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976, is instructive in this regard,” he told Arab News, adding that one of the Gara raid’s negative outcomes is that Erdogan will not be able to “score any political points domestically.”

Even so, the opposition cannot hold the President Erdogan accountable for the loss of Turkish lives in view of “the prevailing power asymmetry” in Turkey, arising from his government’s domination over the media and the weakened state of parliament.

Analysts also say Erdogan’s relentless hounding of the HDP is part of a strategy, in play since 2015, of demonizing and criminalizing its leadership by equating it with the outlawed PKK and denying it autonomy as a political party.

“That strategy, which has had its ebbs and downs, has been very consistent for the last several years,” Tezcur said. “It keeps the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), the junior partner of the ruling coalition, content, and aims to drive a wedge between the HDP and other Turkish opposition parties.”

He also noted that the HDP has become more dispensable for the government since the Turkish military and security forces have established stronger military leverage over the PKK in recent years, at least partially through technological developments such as the use of sophisticated and lethal armed drones.

“The government feels that it no longer needs the messenger/mediating role of the HDP given its relentless military operations that significantly limit the PKK’s room for maneuver,” Tezcur said.

While he foresees more Turkish incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan aimed at PKK bases throughout this year, he doubts that the Turkish military will open a new front by launching an unprecedented ground assault on Sinjar.

At least three factors have led Tezcur to this conclusion. First and foremost is the presence of Iraqi military and Shiite militia groups in the Yazidi homeland.

Then there is the “considerable international concern and sympathy” for the beleaguered Yazidis, who were subjected to a vicious campaign of genocide by Daesh in 2014.

Finally, the distance from the border would make logistical support for a ground operation considerably more difficult for the Turkish army.

Among those who view the arrests of HDP members as Erdogan’s way of shifting blame for the Gara raid failure is Mohammed Salih, a Kurdish affairs analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

The actions of Erdogan “reveal the impunity, at both the domestic and international levels, with which he can behave in an authoritarian way,” Salih told Arab News.

“The Turkish leader will certainly continue military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan because foreign operations are now a sure way for him to deflect attention from the many problems at home.”

As for the Biden administration, Salih said it “has already made clear, with its silence over the mass arrests, and the violations of Kurdish rights in Turkey in general, that the human and democratic rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey are practically of no value.”

Twitter: @pauliddon

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
Updated 33 min 59 sec ago

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
  • 84% of those surveyed reported experiencing multiple symptoms of PTSD
  • ‘It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage … but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: More than three-quarters of Syrian refugees may be suffering from serious mental health problems caused by their country’s 10-year conflict, according to a new report.

UK charity Syria Relief surveyed hundreds of refugees living in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province, and found that 84 percent of people had at least seven out of 15 key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People suffering from PTSD, which is usually caused by witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, experience a range of symptoms including panic attacks and anxiety, and it often comes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as depression.

Despite the sky-high rates of PTSD, Syria Relief said accessing professional medical help is difficult, if not impossible, for many refugees.

Only 15 percent of refugees in Lebanon believe there is some mental health support available, and for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib that figure drops to just 1 percent.

One respondent to the survey, Ahmed, was hit by a government airstrike and trapped inside a destroyed building for 12 hours before being rescued.

“We could only see dust and darkness. We remained trapped under the rubble, in the cold for 12 hours until the Syrian Civil Defence (the White Helmets) freed us,” he said.

“What we saw, it cannot be described. The sound of aircrafts was so terrifying. I am, and I always will be, so scared of that sound, even after a hundred years. My fear has become my obsession,” he added.

“Whilst I received medical help, psychologically no one has taken care of me. I don’t even know if there is any mental health support for people like me, or even for people in a worse mental health condition than me.”

Charles Lawley, the report’s author and head of communications at Syria Relief, told Arab News: “There needs to be a change of attitudes toward mental health. It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage — broken buildings and bodies — but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see.”

He and the team at Syria Relief have urged the international community to “ensure there is funding to meet the psychosocial needs that are bound to result from people becoming victims of conflict and disaster.”

There is a danger that the mental health effects of the conflict on the millions of Syrian refugees could outlast the war itself, Lawley said. 

“One woman I spoke to witnessed her husband being killed in an airstrike on their home, and four months later lost two of her three children in another airstrike. This was six years ago. How is anyone ever going to come to terms with that without the help of a mental health professional?” he added.

“Some of the people I speak to haven’t been inside Syria or an active conflict zone for five, seven, even 10 years, but the symptoms of the trauma from their experiences aren’t healing.”

Nearly 12 million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced — more than half of the pre-war population.

The conflict began in 2011 when a pro-democracy protest movement was met with brutal force by the Assad regime.

Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Updated 01 March 2021

Iran place to look into for extraterritorial killings, says former US secretary of state

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)

LONDON: Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the place to look into for extraterritorial killings and not Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has denounced a CIA report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it completely rejected the “negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”

Pompeo told Fox News that President Joe Biden’s administration wanted to take the Kingdom, which is an important security partner for the US, and make it a foe. 

“They want to go sit down and cut deals with the Iranians who have, by the way, murdered far more people all across the world than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has during our four years and the eight years before that as well,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, if you’re looking about extraterritorial killings the ayatollah is the place to look, (Foreign) Minister Zarif is the place to look, President Rouhani is the place to look in Iran, not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” 

The Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the people responsible for the journalist's death had been convicted and sentenced in Saudi courts, and that these sentences were “welcomed by the family of Jamal Khashoggi.”

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
Updated 01 March 2021

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 

Don’t let pandemic distract from fight against extremism: Experts 
  • Pro-Iran Shiite militias pose ‘major’ Mideast threat: Ex-UK envoy to Saudi Arabia
  • Emirati ambassador: UAE has found success by listening to aspirations of country’s youth

LONDON: The UK and Middle Eastern countries should not allow the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions to distract from the importance of countering extremism, a group of experts said on Monday.

At an event hosted by the UK’s Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “The danger of the pandemic is that it distracts our attention (from extremism), and weakens the ability of governments and societies to deal with it and address it honestly and intelligently.”

He added that the appeal of extremist ideologies “hasn’t gone away,” and that all governments need to remain focused on this issue. 

“One of the major threats to the Middle East is the spread of Shiite Islamist militias that have a degree of loyalty not simply to Iran, but to the supreme leader himself — they’re Khameneists, basically,” he said.

“We see it with Hezbollah in Lebanon, we see it in Syria, and we see it extraordinarily in Iraq. The hollowing out of state capacity in large parts of the Middle East, in favor of these predatory militias, is a major long-term threat,” he added. “The key for governments is not to lose focus of all of this.”

John Woodcock, the UK special envoy for countering violent extremism, echoed those concerns over the persistent threat of violent extremism.

“There has been a danger in the last 12 months that national focuses haven’t been on the issue of extremism,” he said.

“I think that’s potentially a far greater issue for the years ahead because of the huge resource pressure that countries will come under in the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

This financial pressure, Woodcock warned, could trickle down to multilateral agencies working in conflict and post-conflict zones, potentially hampering their ability to carry out work that acts as a preventative buffer to the allures of extremism.

His concerns appear to already be playing out in the UK, amid reports on Monday that Britain will cut its aid budget to Yemen, which is embroiled in a civil war involving pro-Iran Houthi militias.

Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to France, said his country recognized early that religious extremism presented a real challenge that demanded attention, and was successful in tackling it.

In the UAE, “we saw that there was a very powerful narrative within our own Islamic community that was pulling kids into warzones and into acts of violence,” he added.

“This recognition happened some time ago,” he said, but after the 9/11 attacks “this became much clearer to us.”

To counter this, the UAE “focused on young people in particular and what aspirations they have, asking how we as a government can provide them with the means to achieve those aspirations,” Ghobash added.

The UAE “has continued to develop sensitivity to what young people want to do and what they can do,” he said.

“The approach of the leadership has been to invest in intellectual, legal and physical infrastructure to provide uplifting visions of where the country and its people can go.”

The launch of the Mars Hope probe, Ghobash said, presents just one example to the country’s youth of how Emiratis can operate internationally, bypassing cultural or religious differences.

Initiatives like that, he added, encourage the country’s youth to focus on “improving the lot of mankind, not just our own neighborhood.”

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel
Updated 01 March 2021

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel

Suffering of Syria detainees ‘unimaginable’: UN panel
  • Almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses
  • Report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year

GENEVA: Thousands of civilians have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” including torture, sexual violence and death in detention during a decade of conflict in Syria, United Nations investigators said on Monday.
Tens of thousands of civilians who were detained are unaccounted for, with no trace of their whereabouts, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found.
The three-member panel’s report, based on more than 2,500 interviews conducted over 10 years, carried out investigations into more than 100 detention facilities.
It found that almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses.
“Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones’ fate,” said commission chair Paulo Pinheiro.
“This is a national trauma that needs to be urgently addressed by action from the parties and the international community.”
The report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year.
“These detainees have endured unimaginable suffering,” the commission said.
“This has been happening with the knowledge and acquiescence of the governments who have supported the different parties to the conflict.
“The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown. Many are presumed to have died or been executed.”
Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said parties to the conflict had, with few exceptions, failed to investigate their own forces, with the focus seemingly on concealing rather than probing crimes committed in detention facilities.
The report said that men, women, boys and girls detained by government or pro-government forces were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture, including rape.
“At least 20 different horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the report said.
“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tire and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”
The authors called for all parties in the conflict to stop violations, immediately release certain categories of detainee and allow independent monitoring of detention facilities.
Its findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was mandated by the council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the country.
The commission has repeatedly accused the various sides of war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity.
Since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011, more than 387,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes.