Middle East Meltdown: Here's What's Happening
The Middle East is in full meltdown and the U.S. is rapidly nearing full retreat in the region. But considering the incompetents running our foreign policy, our absence may be best for the Middle East for the moment.
So here’s what’s happening:
Iraq: Last night Prime Minister Maliki gave a speech accusing new President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution as Golden Dawn militias backing Maliki took up strategic positions around Baghdad, including the Green Zone, in an all-out coup. Remarkably, Maliki is accusing Masum of a coup. Maliki’s issue with Masum is that the new president has not selected Maliki for a third term as prime minister. One report said that U.S. forces had to extricate President Masum from the presidential palace when it came under mortar fire from Maliki’s renegades. Let’s not forget the words of President Obama in December 2011, when he declared that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” upon pulling out all remaining U.S. troops.
Islamic State: A coup, of course, is exactly what Iraq needs right now as the terrorist Islamic State continues to push south despite U.S. airstrikes. The terror group is conducting ethnic and religious cleansing of Yahzidis and Christians, creating a staggering humanitarian crisis. Last week the Islamic State forces captured the dam north of Mosul, the largest dam in Iraq which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers described in 2007 as “the most dangerous dam in the world” because of its instability. This is a key strategic asset that will give the Islamic State control of the Tigris River as they push towards Baghdad. The best hope to stall this push is not the Iraqi army, which collapsed several weeks ago when the Islamic State began their offensive, but Kurdish forces. The Islamic State is also preparing to target Saudi intelligence officials as they plan to open a front there, despite the fact that much of their funding has come from Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon: Iraq is not the only place where the Islamic State has launched an offensive. Last week they launched an attack on the Lebanese border town of Arsal, overrunning Lebanese army checkpoints and taking Lebanese soldiers hostage. Arsal is home to a large camp housing refugees from Syria. ISIS took the captives hoping to exchange them for a Syrian Islamist militia commander supported by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who had been arrested by Lebanese authorities. Although the terrorist groups eventually agreed to withdraw and release their captives, the New York Times quoted one of their commanders saying that the attack forces included the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate) and the Free Syrian Army – the same Free Syrian Army receiving weapons from the U.S. As I reported here last month, some of those U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army forces have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Lebanon remains without a president as Hezbollah and their March 8 Alliance allies in parliament refuse to elect a president, a position reserved for a Maronite Christian. Syrian refugees now make up one-third of the country’s population, further destabilizing Lebanon.
Syria: The war in Syria drags on as 170,000 people are estimated to have been killed – one-third of those civilians – and many of its largest cities, such as Homs, lie in complete ruin. The Islamic State controls a wide swath of territory in the north, while the Iranian and Russian-backed Assad forces fight to hold onto the coast and Damascus with no end to the war in sight. The recent successes of the Islamic State are prompting many Syrian rebels to join with the terror group.
Turkey: Yesterday’s presidential election saw the current Prime Minister Recep Erdogan elected. Last week Erdogan signaled that as president he intends to turn the office from its largely ceremonial role to running the country from this new position. Under Erdogan, the country has grown increasingly authoritarian, with last year’s Gezi protests violently suppressed and the country remaining the largest jailer of journalists in the world. Concerns have been raised about Erdogan’s support for terrorism, particularly his financing of Hamas and looking the other way as terrorist groups operate openly on the country’s Syrian border. Recent news reports have directly linked Erdogan to internationally banned al-Qaeda financier Yasin al-Qadi, even meeting with him repeatedly despite being on Turkey’s own terrorism list. Despite Erdogan’s dictatorial manner President Obama has hailed the neo-Ottoman Erdogan as one of his top five favorite world leaders, and notwithstanding its support for terrorist groups, Turkey remains as co-chair of the State Department’s Global Counterterrorism Forum.
Israel/Gaza: A new 72-hour truce was announced last night in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. While negotiators are headed back to Cairo today for continued talks, there remains a Mexican standoff: Israel has no intention of ending the blockade on Gaza and allowing Hamas to resupply itself as it continues to rain down rockets on Israel, and Hamas has made the border openings a pre-condition to any deal. Since the beginning of Israel’s Operation Protection Edge, Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched 3,488 rockets at Israel. Casualties in Gaza are approaching 2,000 (though many media outlets and even the UN are expressing long-overdue caution about casualty figures being supplied by Hamas-controlled ministries).
Egypt: One of the chief causes of the current Israel/Hamas conflict is that the Egyptian government has wisely put a stranglehold on the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi a year ago, Egypt has shut down and destroyed a reported 80 percent of the Gaza smuggling tunnels, putting a severe crimp in the Hamas finances that netted the terror group $1 million every day and stocked the terror group with material and weapons. Thus, Hamas is eager to have the Rafah border crossing reopened. The Egyptian presidential election in May that saw Abdel Fattah al-Sisi installed as president seemed to definitively resolve the country’s political crisis, but terror attacks in Sinai and around Egypt directed at the new government continue. These same terrorist groups have also used the Sinai to launch rockets towards Israel. This past weekend the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies announced the formation of the “Egyptian Revolutionary Council” in Istanbul, portending a continued insurgency against the Egyptian government. Violence could erupt this week during the first anniversary of the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Rabaa protests last August 14th, and attacks on Coptic Christians continue in Upper Egypt, where I recently visited.
Libya: The ongoing violence in Libya recently spilled over into Egypt as 21 Egyptian border guards were killed two weeks ago in an attack on a border crossing. The violence between terrorist groups and government-aligned militias continues around the country, which has prompted the U.S. and other countries to remove all of their personnel. Attempts to seat Libya’s newly elected parliament this past week were met with bombardment of areas around Tripoli as militias aligned with the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, who were big losers in the elections, are openly opposing the new government. Many of these militias now trying to destabilize the government and launching attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi were directly funded by the previous Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government.
Kuwait/Qatar: Last week the U.S. placed sanctions on three Kuwaitis for terrorism financing in an ongoing struggle to rein in terror funding from the Persian Gulf states. In response, Kuwait pledged to help curb financial support for terror groups operating in Syria and Iraq, though the country remains the largest funder of terror groups in Syria. U.S. efforts with Qatar, the recent beneficiary of an $11 billion arms deal with the U.S. and the site of U.S. CENTCOM forward headquarters, have not been as successful. As conflict continues to rage between Israel and Hamas, the U.S. had to block Qatar from transferring millions to Hamas to keep their operations in Gaza running. Israel President Shimon Peres has called Qatar “the world’s largest funder of terror,” not without cause.
As if that weren’t enough trouble for the world, the president of Azerbaijan is threatening war with Armenia, the World Health Organization last week declared a global health emergency for the ebola epidemic on the West African coast, all-out war looms between Russia and the Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry continues to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, the results of the Afghanistan presidential election remain in flux, Boko Haram continues its terror attacks in Nigeria, a bloody civil war still rages in South Sudan, attempts at a ceasefire continue to break down in the Central African Republic as an Islamic insurgency fuels sectarian clashes that have left thousands dead, and attacks by the Somali terror group Al-Shabaab in Kenya exacerbate deep political divisions.
In the meantime, back at home an endless wave of illegal immigrants continues to pour over our southern border, an Orthodox rabbi was murdered walking to synagogue in Miami this past weekend in what may be a Gaza-related hate crime, a study by a U.S.-government funded research center claims that sovereign citizens and patriot groups represent the greatest terror threat to the U.S., Hillary Clinton attempts to distance herself from the Obama administration’s foreign policy that she helped create, and Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett criticizes close U.S. ally Israel on Face the Nation while trying to deflect the administration’s inept handling of the Gaza crisis as America’s allies across the globe weigh the growing downside for being our friends.
If you think it can’t get any worse, don’t worry: it will.