Tag Archives | israel

India and the Golan Heights

India’s peacekeepers are at risk as the security situation deteriorates amidst UNSC’s squabbling.

Things aren’t looking all that great in Syria.  The UN now estimates that 93,000 people have been killed in the two year-old civil war.  The Alawites and their allies, propped up by Iran and Russia, and the various Sunni Islamist factions are butchering themselves to oblivion.

But the prolonged bickering in the UN Security Council and the Council’s inability to pass a resolution to bring this war to an end and prepare for an inevitable post-Assad Syria is extending the political and humanitarian crisis in that country.  The U.S. drew “red lines” for intervening if the al-Assad regime used chemical or biological weapons against its people.  But when it turned out that Bashar al-Assad had ordered the use of sarin on rebel forces, the U.S.’s response was muted: it held joint military exercises with its ally in Jordan along the Syrian border.

Russia, other the other hand, has consistently threatened to veto resolutions at the UNSC to enforce a no-fly zone.  So the UN has been ineffectual and bodies like the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference have done little more during this period than underscore the irrelevance of their existence.

Meanwhile, the  risk of the war spilling over into the Golan Heights along Syria’s border with Israel has increased.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has historically been supported by contingents from the Philippines, India and Austria charged with maintaining the peace in the buffer zone, has come under attack from Syrian rebel forces. Peacekeepers from the Philippines were detained (and subsequently released) by Syrian rebels in March 2013.  But the very structural composition of the UNDOF, as envisioned in the 1973 UN Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces is problematic under the circumstances (emphasis added):

The function of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) under the agreement will be to use its best efforts to maintain the Ceasefiie and to see that it is scrupulously observed. It will supervise the agreement and protocol thereto with regard to the areas of separation and limitation. In carrying out its mission, it will comply with generally applicable Syrian laws and regulations and will not hamper the functioning of local civil administration. It trill enjoy freedom of movement and communication and other facilities that are necessary for its mission. It will be mobile and provided with personal weapons of a defensive character and shall use such weapons only in self-defence. The number of the UNDOF shall be about 1,250, who will be selected by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in consultation with the parties from members of the United Nations who are not permanent members of the Security Council. [United Nations]

Effectively, this means that non-UNSC members are entrusted with maintaining the peace in a volatile region while having no influence in bringing about conditions for peace.  The Austrians have already withdrawn their contingent from Golan.  The Indian contingent is the second-largest in the Golan Heights (after the Philippines), with about 200 peacekeepers. The Philippines has already warned that it may pull out its peacekeepers as well.

With the security situation deteriorating and no end to the UNSC’s internal squabbles, it is time we considered a full pullout or at the very least, a substantial reduction in our footprint.  This will not, in and of itself, hasten the UNSC to act decisively in Syria, but there is no need for India to put its troops in harm’s way while the situation deteriorates in the region.

 

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Not your grandma’s al-Qaeda

Don’t ignore the possibility that attacks against the U.S. in Egypt and Libya were coordinated.

On Tuesday, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt came under attack.  In Cairo, an enraged mob, numbering — at first, about 50 — and later, hundreds, breached the embassy compound, took down the American flag and supposedly replaced it with al-Qaeda’s flag.  In Benghazi, the attack turned far more serious and resulted in the deaths of the U.S.’s ambassador to Libya, a consulate staffer, and two U.S. marines.

We are told that the reason behind the attacks was a movie entitled “Innocence of Muslims” by one Sam Bacile, an Israeli living in California, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed in poor light.  Excerpts of the movie have been published on Youtube, from where the attackers apparently first viewed its contents.  The film is being promoted by controversial pastor, Terry Jones, who was involved in the very public burning of the Quran, two years to the day of these recent attacks.

But mystery surrounds the person who is said to have directed the movie.  By some accounts, Sam Bacile has gone into hiding following the violent reaction to this film.  However, no current or historical records of the existence of an individual named Sam Bacile exist in the state of California or anywhere else in the U.S.  There are some suggestions that Sam Bacile might be a pseudonym of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a resident of Los Angeles.

News media in the U.S. has focused much of its energy on the Benghazi attack.  But earlier this morning, this blogger had tweeted that coordination between the attacks in Libya and Egypt cannot (and must not) be ruled out.  My contention was that these were per-meditated attacks against U.S. interests abroad on the anniversary of 9/11 and that the film itself may have offered an excuse to inflame passions, but was not the motive behind the attack.

Over the past many hours, U.S. officials have confirmed that they believe that the attack was planned in advance, and that protests merely offered a diversion.  The use of RPGs against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi makes this a distinct possibility.  In Egypt, Mohamed al-Zahwahiri, brother of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zahwahiri, claimed responsibility for the attack.  Mohamed al-Zahwahiri had only recently been released from prison, as part of the political upheaval following the so-called “Arab Spring” freedom movement in that country.  The irony is lost in the tragedy.

The attack in Benghazi is being linked to Ansar al-Shariah (AS), a group that has historically been affiliated with the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) umbrella.  AS continues to be active in Yemen and played a defining role in political realignments in Tunisia (as part of Asar al-Shariah in Tunisia, or AST), post the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

It could be likely, therefore, that militants from AST, already involved in the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, were responsible for the attack, given the geographic proximity to Tunisia.  Both attacks bear the signature of al-Qaeda, or its affiliated groups.  Osama bin Laden may be long gone, but this isn’t the al-Qaeda of yore.

These events pose new challenges to the U.S. and other countries.  The threat vector of jihad is evolving.  A decade ago, al-Qaeda relied on a dedicated core of foot-soldiers to attack the U.S. and U.S.-interests — even at the cost of their own lives — around the world.  Today, a voluntary cadre of foot-soldiers, ready to forsake their own lives, may not be a necessity.

There is a growing trend of utilizing social media and the Internet to inflame public opinion, which can then be employed as the agent of attack.  Indeed, in India last month, the use of websites and SMSs to, at once, highlight the plight of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam, and terrorize Northeast Indians into leaving their adopted cities without over having to employ direct force indicates the evolving mindset of extremist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism.

The U.S., India and other like-minded countries would do well to take cognizance of these changing attack vectors and co-operate to address mutual and evolving threats.

 

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The New Great Game in the Middle East

Belly dancing on a tightrope.

The Best Defense carried a guest blogpost by Daniel R. DePetris on how India and China’s increasing demand for energy resources might play out in the Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Middle East.  The writer asks, how will New Delhi and Beijing’s foreign policies be affected by their quest for energy resources in the Middle East? Will they seek to assert themselves (thereby helping share “America’s burden”) or assume a more passive role?

These are all interesting questions, but also ones that have been largely answered.  The broad contours of engagement with the Middle East have been laid out by both countries.  China, in the past, tended to regard the Middle East as too distant for it to actively engage in the muddled politics of the region.  Even at the UNSC, while China sought to leverage its position to undermine U.S. power, it hardly ever actively brought proposals to the table on resolving the region’s long-standing disputes.

China’s growing economy and quest for resources necessitated a change in its approach.  It has established energy ties with several Arab countries.  It is invested heavily in construction projects in the Peninsula.  It is engaged (albeit uneasily so) in negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue, while it clandestinely pursued to build up Saudi Arabia’s nuclear deterrent via its friend, Pakistan.  While China today is engaged in the Middle East on several levels, its motivation is primarily economic, and its relations, nascent.

Therein lies the difference between India and China.  India’s engagement with the Middle East goes beyond the economic (although, arguably, energy security today is India’s chief motivator).  India’s historical cultural ties with the region have allowed it to engage with several, often warring factions in the Middle East without being drawn into zero-sum equations in the region.  Even where economic ties are concerned, India and China differ, with India having contributed substantially to the Peninsula’s human capital.

While India’s cultural ties with Iran are well publicized,  it has also maintained enduring cultural and economic ties with Arab countries.  These ties are the reason why a 350-year old Shiva temple stands at the outskirts of Muscat, why over a million Indians live and work in the U.A.E., and why India is Egypt’s fourth-largest trading partner.  That India has managed to maintain its ties with Arab countries, while also developing strong ties with Israel is a rare success for Indian foreign policy.  Belly dancing on a tightrope can’t be  easy.  And this is something that puts it at an advantage over Beijing in the Middle East.

This is not to suggest that the scope for adjustments in foreign policy, when required by national interest, does not exist.  India’s relations with Iran, for example, have come under stress recently, with New Delhi’s decision to support  U.N. sanctions, twice, against Iran and with its decision to launch Israel’s spy satellite, Polaris.  However, none of these changes will alter the nature of China or India’s engagement with the region.  Hopes that either country will offer to share “U.S.’s burden” in the region, therefore, are unrealistic.

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In Pragati: The return of the Ottoman

In the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I review Turkey’s transformation from a status-quoist, West-leaning, secular-nationalist state to one that seeks to become a regional power and indeed, a “Muslim superpower.” Its confrontations with Israel, most recently over the Gaza flotilla raid, involvement in negotiating a way forward in Afghanistan, and its attempts, along with Brazil, at brokering a deal with Iran over the nuclear impasse all point to a Turkey eager to break the shackles of the Kemalist ideology that has guided it since its birth in 1923.

But Turkey’s geo-strategic reorientation has consequences far beyond its region.  Indeed, its involvement now in Afghanistan, historic cultural and military ties to Pakistan and its location at the crossroads of Central Asia’s energy trade make it very important to India.  How must India view Turkey’s rise and what opportunities and challenges exist in India’s bilateral relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative, endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys in Ankara.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati ( PDF; 1.3 MB)

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant
to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s
rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and
energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically
has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with
Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to
the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s
assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and
provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A
member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative,
endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of
force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India
from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence
of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys
in Ankara.
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