Making sense of the mounting Mideast morass

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The so-called “Arab Spring” which began on such hopeful notes a few months back has since morphed into a “Long, Hot, Arab Summer of Discontent.” The confusing array of new developments has included setbacks to the interests of Israel and the United States. It has been a while since we have “hop-scotched” the violence-torn Middle East region, and the following are some observations about the ongoing aftershocks of the revolutions that resulted in the ouster of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and extreme violence in places like Libya and Syria.

Syria: The brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad continues its relentless slaughter of innocent men, women and children who have been bravely staging peaceful demonstrations in the streets of major Syrian cities since March. To date, human rights groups estimate that at least 2,000 Syrians have been killed by Assad’s security forces, which are being aided by brutal shock troops sent from its ally, Iran. In addition to those killed and wounded, at least 7,000 Syrians have fled across the border into Turkey to escape the bloodbath. The mainstream media continues to refer to Assad’s wholesale killing as a “crackdown,” which is about the lamest euphemism possible. What is happening in cities like Hama, Homs and Damascus is a slaughter of the innocent. The response from the international community has been feeble at best, since the threat of Russian and Chinese vetoes have prevented any kind of meaningful resolutions from being adopted by the U.N. Security Council except for the toothless measure approved a week ago. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said that Assad has “lost all legitimacy” and that Syria would be better off if he stepped aside. They are right, and it is high time the international community took more assertive action to make that happen as soon as possible.

Egypt: Egyptians saw ousted former president Hosni Mubarak being carried on a stretcher into a Cairo courtroom, where he faces a possible death sentence if convicted of murder charges over the deaths of 800 anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

To be sure, Mubarak was no Mother Teresa; he was an autocratic ruler who held onto power for too many years. At the same time, Mubarak was not a totalitarian, murderous thug like Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi or Syria’s Assad. Mubarak honored the 1979 peace treaty with Israel for over 30 years, opposed the theocratic regime in Iran and blocked Hamas terrorists from using tunnels to smuggle rockets and other weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Since Mubarak’s ouster, Iran has been able to send war ships through the Suez Canal, the natural gas pipeline in the Sinai, which supplied Israel has been sabotaged five times and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has staged a well-organized mass demonstration in Tahrir Square.

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Those who have announced their intentions to run for President of Egypt include Amr Mousa, former Secretary General of the Arab League, whose favorite expression, according to a Newsweek article is “I hate Israel.” In other words, after Mubarak, we are likely to see a new “Pharoah” arise who “knows not Joseph.”

Libya: The up and down fortunes of the NATO and U.S.-backed rebels have taken a turn for the better as the week begins. Rebel forces have reportedly taken control of the strategic city of Brega, but forces loyal to Qaddafi are using heavy artillery, tanks and better-trained troops to fight back. There have been rumors that Qaddafi loyalists may be engaged in “talks” with the rebels. It is to be hoped that those “talks” do not include an offer for Qaddafi to be spared justice if he agrees to join the ousted President of Tunisia in a safe exile to Saudi Arabia. Far more than Mubarak, Qaddafi deserves to be brought before the International Criminal Court for his role in ordering the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which cost over 200 lives, including 90 American citizens and his longtime support of terrorist groups during his 40-plus year reign of terror.

Yemen: The amazingly resilient dictator of Yemen, Abdullah Saleh, has apparently made a remarkable recovery from the severe burns he suffered after an attack on his presidential palace. Looking surprisingly fit, Saleh has announced his intention to leave the hospital in Saudi Arabia and return to Yemen, where a new wave of fighting broke out by those opposed to his return.

Yemen is second only to Pakistan as a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, which Saleh has been able to partly contain with the aid of U.S. drone strikes on suspected terrorists. The situation in Yemen remains highly dangerous and unlikely to calm down any time soon.

Afghanistan: Over the past weekend, another suicide bombing claimed by the Taliban killed 22 people and wounded 34. The Taliban terrorists were attempting to assassinate the governor of Parwan province, Abdul Basir Salangi. The attack was the latest in a string of extremely violent and deadly actions by the Taliban since President Obama announced a drawdown of U.S. troops in the war-torn nation.

At the time, Obama said in a speech that there were “signs” that the Taliban was interested in peace talks. The “signs” have included an attack on a hotel in Kabul, the assassination of President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, the killing of the mayor of the strategic city of Kandahar and the murder of other Afghan officials.

The Taliban also claimed “credit” for the shooting down of the Chinook helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 30 U.S. troops, including members of the same Naval Seals unit that found and killed Osama bin Laden. These actions show that the Taliban has absolutely no intention to seek peace – a depressing thought after 1,619 brave U.S. troops have given their lives since the nation’s longest war started in 2001.

Israel and Palestine: After the failure of the so-called “Second Gaza Flotilla,” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s well-received speech to a joint session of Congress, things were looking bright for the Jewish State. Recently, there have been widespread demonstrations in Israel over overly expensive housing and inadequate health and other social services.

In contrast to Syria and Libya, Israeli officials are meeting with the protesters in an effort to respond to their concerns. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is pressing forward with its effort to achieve recognition as an independent State of Palestine at the United Nations next month. The move, which would do an “end run” around the Middle East peace process, is being vigorously opposed by Israel and the Obama administration along with members of the Congress from both parties, all of whom have expressed strong opposition to the move, especially in view of the fact that Fatah and Hamas have formed a new national unity government.

The above are only a sampling of the concerns over what has happened to the “Arab Spring.” As we prepare for the Jewish New Year of 5771, let us hope that the coming year will see a reduction in violence and bloodshed and a resumption of serious and credible efforts to achieve peace and security for Israel and her neighbors.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.