Belmont Club

Eyes Both Closed

Although the New York Times has optimistically described the incident as an opportunity for both Israel and Egypt to make common cause against Islamic militants, the attack on an Egyptian army base on Israel’s border, like the escalating Syrian civil war, is not only a warning that the foreign policy storm is coming. It suggests that it is here.

Egyptian jihadis based in the Sinai launched an attack on an Egyptian military base, killing at least 16 Egyptian soldiers and kidnapping a number of others. “Egyptian military sources told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that the terror attack was carried out against a central army position near the Kerem Hashalom crossing, which is known by the soldiers as ‘Tahrir Square.'”

If the Egyptians were taken by surprise, the Israelis were not. “One of the vehicles, likely boobytrapped, exploded as it rammed through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is shared by Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. A number of terrorists succeeded in exiting the second vehicle before it was destroyed by an air strike. They crossed into Israel and engaged in a firefight with IDF troops.”

IDF sources said the attackers were probably Beduin residents of Sinai who were part of a larger global jihad terror cell based in the peninsula. Six terrorists were killed in the gunfight. …

The IDF said the attack was not connected to an Israeli air strike earlier in the day against a global jihad terror cell that was in the final stages of planning an attack against Israel and along the Egyptian border. The air strike killed one terrorist and seriously wounded another.

The Los Angeles Times, which also characterizes the attack as the new Egyptian president’s wake-up call, nevertheless points out the obvious. The struggle for Egypt has begun. It is between the “good guys” — the Muslim Brotherhood types like Morsi —  and the bad guys, who are far, far worse.

“The extremists have increased since the revolution. They have blown up the gas pipeline to Israel. They have targeted checkpoints and fought with the Egyptian army,” said Sallam. “They seem to have political aims but no one knows what they are. We are worried they could get stronger.” The escalation by militants is complicating the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, a centerpiece of Middle East security since it was signed in 1979. The U.S. and Israel, which has hinted it may act unilaterally in Sinai to protect its security, have urged Egypt’s military and its new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, to rout the extremists.”

Either way, it is not going to be happy times for Israel. Trouble is brewing to the north as well. Michael Totten notes that Hezbollah’s position is crumbling in Lebanon. “It’s already starting to happen even while Assad is still standing.” Assad has been on the receiving end of the best insurgency that money can support. Gunmen have kidnapped visiting Iranians in the Syrian capital. Syria’s first astronaut has defected to Turkey. Even Syria’s prime minister has defected to Jordan. He said:

“I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution,” Hijab said in a statement read in his name on Al Jazeera television.

To add insult to injury, the Syrian rebels have blown up the government TV station in downtown Damascus.  It’s all being orchestrated, according to the BBC, from that secret base inside Turkey described in earlier posts. “Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also reported to be providing assistance for what has been described as a secret nerve centre for military aid and communications for the Syrian rebels. This is reported to have been set up in Adana.”

And it’s not just Alawite vs. Sunni any longer. According to NBC News, Syria is now about “Londoner versus Londoner.” “A British photojournalist has described the terrifying week he was held captive by radical Islamist militants in Syria, where he and another photographer constantly feared for their lives at the hands of ‘disenchanted’ young Britons.” I think the word they are looking for in place of “disenchanted” is “Islamist.”

But as is usual in these cases, to every action there is an opposite reaction. Iran, according to the Daily Caller, “is preparing for a direct attack on Saudi Arabia should Syria’s Bashar Assad be in danger of falling to rebel forces that the Islamic regime believes are being supported by the Arab kingdom, according to a source within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran also blames the Saudis for unrest in two of its provinces.”

“Dozens of Iranian ballistic missiles have been preprogrammed to hit Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia,” the source said. “Qatar will also be hit at the same time as it is directly involved with the events in Syria.”

And Syria is definitely feeling the crunch. The Washington Post reported that “Syria reached out to its powerful ally Russia on Friday, as senior officials pleaded with Moscow for financial loans and supplies of oil products — an indication that international sanctions are squeezing President Bashar Assad’s regime.” The most urgent need was for gasoline, according to Wired. “On Friday, Syria secured a crucial oil deal with Russia. Under the deal, Russia will ship refined gasoline to fuel-starved Syria. In exchange, the Syrian regime will ship unrefined crude oil to Russia.”

The reason for Syria’s economic troubles is Assad’s lack of extensive oil refineries. An oil pipeline to one refinery was blown up in January, and his regime has been choked by U.S./European Union sanctions. With as much as an estimated one-third of the regime’s budget coming from crude exports, Assad’s ability to pay his bills — and import refined gasoline to fuel his army — had been pauperized. Assad was forced to rely in part on the occasional Venezuelan tanker ship. “We need oil, oil products,” said Qadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economics. “Shortages of these materials are making the situation in the country difficult.”

The Libyan intervention, which was carried out in the name of the “responsibility to protect” civilians, has opened a Pandora’s box. A Harvard study claims that it has unleashed thousands of weapons upon the innocent. “Abandoned weapons that were once part of toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s arsenal pose an ongoing and serious threat to civilians in Libya, warned a report published by Harvard University on Thursday.”

“These weapons may have been abandoned, but their ability to harm civilians remains intact,” said Bonnie Docherty, leader of the research team sent to Libya by Harvard Law School and partner organisation CIVIC.

Weapons left behind after last year’s conflict range from bullets and mortars to torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles, creating an “explosive situation” in a country with a weak central government, the report said.

“The sheer scale of weapons here is shocking,” co-author Nicolette Boehland told AFP in Tripoli.

An administration which pursues gun control at home in the name of public safety has so far succeeded in unleashing thousands of weapons in Mexico, Libya, and now Syria — an irony only matched by Rudy Giuliani’s observation that the idea that Obama is a friend of the Jewish state is “the biggest joke” he’s ever heard.

But maybe the bigger joke’s on us. At least the jest was briefly on Reuters. Persons sympathetic to the Syrian government took over the Reuters blog and the news agency’s Twitter account. For a while, the hackers were literally rewriting the news to favor Assad. As the Strategy Page notes, the front line is now your computer monitor. “Since mid-June someone has been conducting Internet based attacks against specific civilian, military, and government officials in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. This attack delivers a secret software program that monitors PCs it gets into, passing back keyboard activity, video and audio recordings (activity around the infected PC), and documents. This bit of ‘malware’ is being called Mahdi and examination of it seems to indicate that it comes from Iran.”

The action has gotten so fast and furious that the emergence of the nucleus of a possible Kurdistan did not attract much notice from a press whose plate was full and who, moreover, were trying to regain control of their Twitter feeds. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reports:

In the wake of the steady disintegration of the Assad regime, Syrian opposition activists reported that several towns, such as Amouda and Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeast, had passed in mid-July 2012 without a fight into the local hands of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Thus emerged for the first time in modern Kurdish history the nucleus of an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave bordering the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of the Kurdish-populated towns. …

Turkish observers have commented that the geopolitics of the Middle East are now being reshaped as the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility, posing enormous challenges for all the states hosting large Kurdish populations: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.4 Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts erupting in this part of the region. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus. But its use will depend on which power dominates the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. This area could equally provide Iran with a corridor for moving supplies to its Syrian surrogates and even to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Perhaps this is why some commentators see Kurdistan as the new regional flashpoint in the Middle East.

The current era of international peace is in danger of sliding into a period of conflict. The period of American dominance, which began in George Bush’s [corrected from Ronald Reagan] “thousand points of light,” is now drawing to a close under Barack Obama’s “thousand flashpoints.”  That past, when the Wall came down, seems like a lost dream. Now everybody’s arming up, even environmentalists. The Sea Shepherds have commissioned a new vessel to fight the “whale wars” at a secret location. They have hired ex-SEALs to train them and acquired a UAV for purposes unspecified. Huge new criminal organizations like the Haqqani crime family are expanding abroad, even while leaders like Afghan President Karzai are virtual prisoners in their presidential palaces. Is Westphalia a failure?

The Left has now devoted entire websites to mapping the activities of what it calls “Obama terror drones” throughout the world. Well they wanted him elected in the first place. And perhaps more equipment is under development. Wired recently reported the existence of a giant, hydrogen-powered flying ray gun mounted on a drone — ostensibly canceled in favor of the ALTB, but ominously dubbed the Phantom Eye. What are the odds that that laser will one day be pointed toward the ground?

Then there are “telescopes” mounted on US Navy destroyers for unspecified purposes. But it’s probably not for lighting birthday candles.

"A Thousand Points of Light"

It is hard to discount the chance that the world is now moving into a new period of international instability and conflict.  The most unfortunate thing about it is that each successive step on this journey has been characterized as an “opportunity” or a step toward peace. Guantanamo was closed, but it was replaced by rendition and drone warfare. Congressionally-approved conflicts were no good, so they were exchanged for “kinetic military action.” The democracy agenda for the Middle East was a Bush fantasy, so it was replaced by the Arab Spring which is so much better. The principle of “Responsibility to Protect” has morphed into a hunting license to bring down anybody the Saudis don’t like. The Pivot to the Pacific has spurred a Chinese Monroe Doctrine.

On every inch of the way, the liberal press told us things were getting much, much better until they were suddenly far, far worse. A cynical person might conclude the Left has sold the public instability in the name of peace; a storm under the guise of calm. It has certainly sold the public poverty in the name of prosperity.

But why not? Words are everything and lies are necessary so that we never ever guess at the truth. That’s why Londoners are in Syria; because they’re “disenchanted.” Why would they be anything else?

Victor Davis Hanson, chronicling the descent of California from the Golden State into what, in places, is now the Third World, described the long-term effects of policy self-deception in these memorable words: “Hiroshima looks a lot better today than does Detroit … a perfect storm of events that have shred the veneer of sophisticated civilization.”  Like many other things, Detroit had been destroyed by an ideology which systematically replaced rational thinking with the chanting of slogans. If California is the domestic result of that thinking, the Middle East is the international fruit of the same ideas. Strange as it may seem, lies are actually more destructive than the atom bomb, at least over time. The latter destroys bodies, but the former eats our souls.  Surveying the ruins of the Golden State, Hanson says that we are left “with a memory of modern appetites but without the ability to reproduce the means to satisfy them:  in short, a sort of Procopius’s description of Gothic Italy circa AD 540.”

We may well look on the lost Pax Americana and say, “How on earth did we get that?” Some agency must have provided it. But after that moment of reflection, it will be on to following the next sound bite in the New York Times, on to the next celebrity carnival, on to the next opportunity as touted by those who will never tell us the truth because they have forgotten it themselves.

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