Monday, November 30, 2015

Truth and Consequences

"At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work as one coalition."
Dmitry Peskov, personal spokesman for Vladimir Putin

"[Russia] is ready to co-operate with the coalition which is led by the United States."
Russian President Vladimir Putin

"Vienna talks cannot go ahead productively without . . . a list of terrorists and a list of opposition groups."
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

"All those who demanded the resignation of Assad have left and Assad remained."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem

"There have been requests from Erdogan of a telephone conversation in the past two days."
"We see Turkey's non-readiness to bring elementary apologies over the aircraft incident [negating Putin's response to the calls]."
Yuri Ushakov, Putin aide
The attacks came as Turkey warned that with so many different groups involved, another incident like the downing of the Russia jet could happen unless there was better information sharing
The attacks came as Turkey warned that with so many different groups involved, another incident like the downing of the Russia jet could happen unless there was better information sharing

So then, the perceived utility of a grand coalition has slipped into 'not-bloody-likely' territory. Thanks primarily, it would seem to a psychotic moment of rage on the part of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan who regrets the inevitable fall-out of his succumbing to that deadly slap-down, but not the urge to succumb to his rage. Vladimir Putin, who knows all about the volcanic pressure to submit to rage has little sympathy for a personality reflecting his own.

In any event, the conceit that Moscow and Washington/NATO have the same goal in the exercise of their self-appointed mandates in Syria cannot be sustained. The two solitudes have decidedly different goals, obvious to any observer who cares to identify political realities. Each of them is acutely aware of the transparency of their differences and between them it is only Mr. Putin who insists otherwise.

France's President Hollande pretends that any differences that exist are minor in nature and easily transcended, but he is deliberately delusional. Somehow, in the execution of his executive role as president of France he has convinced himself that as a great world power led by a great man with a Napoleonic complex he can step with ease into the yawning chasm that the vacant president of the United States has left, 'leading from behind'.

And, it would appear furthermore, that despite Mr. Putin's boast that his military's position in Syria has accomplished far more in the brief time since it has entered the fray in comparison to the pale accomplishments of the U.S.-led coalition over a period of a year and more, the bombing missions, three-quarters of which have targeted the U.S.-supported Syrian rebels rather than Islamic State jihadis, have accomplished little more than demoralizing Syrian Sunni citizens.

Russia has been carrying out strikes in Syria since September, but many have not targeted ISIS strongholds
Russia has been carrying out strikes in Syria since September, but many have not targeted ISIS strongholds

Russia's military entry to the regime-led Syrian bloodbath has added to the civilian death toll and as such done more than its part in creating new migrations of external refugees fleeing an enhanced regime death machine. The aim and accuracy of its 'dumb' bombs has succeeded in accomplishing little it purportedly set out to do, other than aid Bashar al-Assad in his design to blast Syrian Sunnis into oblivion.

Those in the know point out that on the other hand, territorial losses to the Islamic State have diminished entirely as a result of the more effective Western airpower in its provision of close air support interfering with Islamic State offensives and aiding the only effective challenge to ISIL's advances, the Kurdish militias. Degrading and destroying ISIL owes nothing whatever to Moscow's intervention; so not only is President Putin delusional, so too is President Hollande.

Dozens more were injured, and people were pictured desperately trying to save people from the rubble
Russian Bombers killing Sunni Syrians in Ahira, Syria

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The Discussion, The Political Realities

"I am in Moscow with you to figure out how we can act together in order to co-ordinate our actions to hit this terrorist group and look for political solutions for Syria."
French President Francois Hollande

"Our positions are the same. That forces us to join our forces in fighting terrorists."
"We are prepared to work with you, Mr. President."
Russian President Vladimir Putin

"We are truly saddened by this incident. We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again."
"If we allow our sovereign rights to be violated … then the territory would no longer be our territory."
"In such situations it is important to keep the channels of communication open."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Vladimir Putin and Islamic State troops
Getty Images: Vladimir Putin is set to increase Russia's presence on the ground in Syria

Not all that ambiguous, after all; not an admission of error and regret, but regret that it was necessary to punish Russia for its arrogance in presuming that the relationship it had with Turkey of political, trade and economic dimensions could be relied upon to allow a Russian bomber to stray for an entire 17 seconds into Turkey's air space with impunity. Perhaps under other circumstances as when for example, his great good friend Mr. Putin was not supporting Mr. Erdogan's arch-enemy.

That Mr. Putin's bombers were as well bombing Mr. Erdogan's ethnic cousins could be counted as further extenuating circumstances leading to psychotic rage later to be regretted, but only through its necessity, not its commission. And the consequences, of course, certainly the consequences. That said, the hostility that now exists between the two countries and their heads of state compromises a rigid and real obstacle  in Mr. Hollande's plea-offer, and Mr. Putin's reconsideration.

And there can be little doubt that Mr. Putin has his regrets too. Primarily that his longer-range plans for Europe and the United States to relax the Crimea-and-Ukraine-related sanctions, and lead to restoration of more amicable relations with the West have been disrupted. In any event, it is Russia that is conducting itself properly on the international stage, respecting the sovereignty of Syria, whose President Bashar al-Assad has generously invited Moscow to act within its airspace.

In stark contrast to the U.S.-led airstrikes with foreign planes flying over Syrian skies without an invitation from Mr. Assad to do so. This clever little conceit is meant to reflect the two situations as being of equal dimension; if the United States and NATO can feel confident in entering a sovereign country's territory lacking express permission to do so, how can they fault Russia for simply taking possession of territory that historically has been attached to Russia, with inestimably deep heritage value?

That a NATO member so rashly challenged Russian power and in so doing ensured that no joint commitment could ensue is regrettable, all the more so that Turkey is unfit on many levels to be a member of NATO, an opinion no doubt quietly shared by many NATO countries. France, for example, has long led blocking action against Turkey's entry into the European Union, an entry that Turkey has long attempted to succeed at.

And now Turkey's lack of discipline has once again pointed out its poor fit for NATO. Russia is seething, deep-sixing the planned gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey meant to bypass Ukraine; the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant Russia was prepared to build through contract with Turkey; and tour operators no longer laud Turkey as a destination for Russians. Economic sanctions of food products and the provision of military aid to the Kurds are under full consideration.

And the status quo will continue; Bashar al-Assad has free reign to continue barrel-bombing Syrians, sending more refugees into Europe, while Russian soldiers help the Syrian military, Iran and Hezbollah fight the Syrian rebels. The focus on Islamic State is left to the Kurdish militaries and to the aid given them by over-flights and bombing from U.S.-led airstrikes.

Syrian airspace is not that wide that one or another of the missions, Russian and Western, do not stand the chance of an encounter.

And when and if that happens, a more broad response to ill feeling and political-military outrage will be expressed. And when and if that happens, many will yearn the days when these opposites were merely exchanging verbal accusations.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Vladimir Putin's Multi-Tasking Skills

"The fight against terrorists and resolving the Syrian conflict should not take place at the expense of Ukraine."
Edgars Rinkevics, Latvian foreign minister

"Lithuania won't join any new coalitions that include Russia or that Russia wants to be part of."
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite
Massive electrical pylons were sabotaged last Friday in Ukraine, cutting off power to millions of people in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. Although Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the region remains dependent on the government of Ukraine for its power. Ukrainian Tatars in Crimea, incensed at their maltreatment by ethnic Russian rebels, had taken the revenge initiative and when attempts were  being made to restore power, the entire enterprise at great cost to Ukraine, Ukrainian activists, called Civil Blockade of Crimea, attempted to block repair works on Saturday.

Russia may be busy in Syria, but Vladimir Putin is adept at multi-tasking, with his KGB-trained attention focused wherever he feels he can be advantaged in the long run. 

Ukrainian activists scuffle with servicemen near the damaged power lines (APTN)

A Russian threat to ban Ukrainian food imports from January first, elicited a response from Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian interior minister, who called on the country’s national security council to annul contracts for power supply to Crimea. Moscow, for its part, threatened to block Ukrainian food imports in response to Ukraine joining western sanctions against Russia. Blocking and destroying food has become a favourite tactic of the Kremlin, pace the wholesale destruction of food from the West, last year.

To complicate matters, fighting has once again flared over the last three weeks with Ukrainian field commanders, humanitarian volunteers and local journalists speaking of the ethnic-Russian rebels in eastern  Ukraine shooting mortars, heavy machine guns, automatic weapons and sniper fire along the frontline that comprises the Minsk II ceasefire lines. Full frontal assaults on Ukrainian positions have been launched by the rebels and saboteurs have infiltrated territory controlled by Ukrainian forces for the purpose of placing anti--personnel mines.

Russian troops may have been placed in Syria, and Russian bombers are busy knocking out Syrian rebel units and targeting the Turkmen rebels close to the Turkish border, occasioning a deadly response from the Turkish military, but Ukraine is never far from Vladimir Putin's scheming mind. The Kremlin is providing weapons, ammunition, equipment and supplies to the separatists who are being trained by Russian military specialists to turn the rebels and mercenaries into more highly effective fighting forces.

The Donbass remains targeted by President Putin to accommodate his plans for a greater Russian Federation. Little appears in the news, the lull in reporting corresponding with Mr. Putin's plans to create a low-profile independent of the actions incited on the part of the rebels. If all goes according to plan, the opportunity to have sanctions lifted may yet be achieved. After all, French President Francois Hollande's visit with Mr. Putin had a distinct purpose; collaboration in destroying ISIL.

And that possible cooperation between France, the U.S.-led air coalition and Russia would come with a predictable price. Formal recognition of Russian possession of Crimea is clearly beyond the pale, but the lifting of sanctions would be quite acceptable to Moscow in exchange for [a temporary?] halt to Russian bombing of U.S.-supported Syrian rebels, to focus instead on a joint series of attacks on Islamic State installations.

Russia's ruthless destabilizing actions in eastern Europe, its provocations toward Western powers, the potency of Vladimir Putin's volatile temperament and decision-making and the destruction and deaths that occur as consequences of his actions make him a formidable trouble-maker. Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so similar to Mr. Putin in many ways, has now warned him not to "play with fire", perhaps not quite understanding the pyromaniac character of the Russian president.

In his single-minded determination to restore the power and prestige, the command and the fear that were once Russia's, Sochi worked nicely as an introduction to the new Russia, proudly fearless and ferociously amiable as long as its interests were not challenged. But the Russia that has challenged the patience of the international community by its reckless disregard for treaties and sovereign nations' right to respect of geographic boundaries is an international outlaw.

It is beginning to appear at times as though Russia has some political-ideological traits in common with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; its military braggadocio, its oblivion to international obligations, its casual attitude in causing death and destruction, and its consuming desire to expand its hegemony in reflection of its past glories as the dominant player as far as its threats could be enforced.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Conflicted Conflict

"In advance, in accordance with our agreement with the U.S. we gave information on where our planes would be working -- at what altitude, and in what areas. Turkey is part of that coalition and they had to know it was the Russian airforce working in that area."
"It's got insignia, and you can see that very clearly."
"If it was an American aircraft, would they have struck?" 
Russian President Vladimir Putin 
Russian anger: posters showing a portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and reading "Wanted Erdogan","Erdogan", and "Turkey", left after a protest at the Turkish embassy in Moscow. Russian anger: posters showing a portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and reading "Wanted Erdogan","Erdogan", and "Turkey", left after a protest at the Turkish embassy in Moscow. Photo: AP

"I personally was expecting something like this, because in the past months there have been so many incidents like that."
"Our engagement rules were very clear, and any sovereign nation has a right to defend its airspace."
Ismail Demir, Turkish Undersecretary of National Defence

"That would require Turkey-backed rebels to be present in Syria, and I think Turkey was alarmed that Russia's bombing of positions held by Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syria was hurting their positions and therefore Turkey's future stakes in Syria."
"So this is also an aggressive Turkey posture in the Syrian civil war to prevent the defeat of Turkey-backed rebels so they can hold onto territory and have a say in the future of Syria."
"In the days leading up to the incident, many newspapers, especially the pro-government publications, were running headlines highlighting the suffering of the Turkmens, who are closely related to Anatolian Turks."
"I think the government felt that, in terms of domestic politics, it had to do something to ease some of this pressure that had resulted from the Russian bombardment against Turkmen in northern Syria."
Soner Cagaptay, Turkish analyst, Institute for Near East Policy, Washington
"We strongly condemn attacks focusing on areas inhabited by Bayirbucak Turkmen -- we have our relatives, our kin there."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
A Turkmen rebel manning a mortar in the fight against Bashar al-Assad's forces. A Turkmen rebel manning a mortar in the fight against Bashar al-Assad's forces. Photo: Halab News Network

Moreover, the jet's flight co-ordinates had been passed on to Turkey's ally, the United States. So much for President Erdogan's assertion that had he known immediately the plane's identity "maybe we would have warned it differently". That's about as much a statement edging toward regret that is likely to come out of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's clenched mouth in response to Russia's invitation to apologize. Turkey, he said, has no need to say sorry for the violation of its air space.

Make of that what you will; defiance, inviting a death wish for Turkey's economy. For there are compelling precedents about the many avenues open to Moscow to exact a type of economic revenge on its enemies, those who provoke its wrath. Take, for example, citing health risks, banning wine from Georgia in 2006 in response to interest cited in joining NATO. Or banning confectionary from Ukraine in 2013 as closer Western ties appeared imminent.

And who can forget the destruction of immense mountains of cheese, bacon, fruit and produce imported from the West when EU-US sanctions were imposed over Moscow's theft of the Crimean Peninsula? With Turkey, there's more, far more that the Kremlin can come up with that will pinch its economy beyond the suspension of military communication channels including the avoidance of air accidents by shutting down their "hot line".

A Turkish army truck loaded with self-propelled guns heads to the Syrian border. A Turkish army truck loaded with self-propelled guns heads to the Syrian border. Photo: AP

Joint investment projects are now on the line. And Russian tourists have been advised to bypass Turkey while those currently caught in Turkey on vacation are recalled home "due to the terrorist threats that remain on Turkish territory". Compelling reason enough, but no need to persuade patriotic Russians, for Ankara's actions against the Russian military has ensured that Russians are eager to voluntarily exact maximum pain on Turkey.

Vladimir Putin's usual grace in exemplary diplomatic concerns were in evidence as well when he suggested that Turkey had shot down the Russian bomber after the United States had passed information on its location to Ankara. Thus further ensuring that a cooperative coalition is certain to emerge from the hostile standoff, even as Mr. Putin in his discussion with French President Francois Hollande assured that Russian airstrikes will henceforth target Islamic State jihadis, giving Syrian rebels a break.

Two Russian Su-24 bombers were targeting Turkmen rebels in the mountainous Bayirbucak region, and it was that mission that saw one of the bombers hit by a missile fired by one of two Turkish F-16 fighter jets with the two pilots bailing out and one shot to death by the very rebels they were targeting. Following which a Russian rescue helicopter was also fired on by Turkmen rebels with weapons supplied by the United States, in which a Russian marine was killed.

Which set another chain of events in motion, none of which are likely to be recalled any time soon, while the region hovers on the cusp of additional complications in an already-complex series of enemies facing off against one another; a complex of conflicts-within-a-greater-conflict. Yet, said Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minster, "No one can legitimize attacks on Turkmens in Syria using the pretext of fighting ISIL".
A Russian S-400 air defence missile system makes its way through Red Square during a military parade in Moscow. File photo AP

Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development party were just recently re-elected with the majority they sought, amending the earlier election when they were returned with a slighter majority, on the promise  to support Turkish ethnic identity and they won to the detriment of both the Kurdish minority and the party committed to Turkey's secular status. So it is perfectly legitimate for this government to bomb Turkish and Syrian Kurds, while at the same time defending Syrian Turkmen.

Now, Russia has deployed its most up-to-date air-defence system, the S-400 mobile anti-aircraft missile to its airbase near Latakia. And with fresh resolve to make Turkey pay for its arrogance in presuming it could challenge Russian supremacy, Moscow could just decide to strike Ankara where it would sting the most; resume deadly attacks against the Turkmen. A Western intelligence source ventured that very opinion: "They're the real target. He [Putin] can just plaster them."

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Inevitable Clash of Petty Titans

"President Putin had to get there before Assad fell so that Russia could retain its foothold in the Middle East with its airport and naval base."
"Secondly, he wanted to show his domestic population and the world that Russia is a global power. And finally, he needed to distract the world's attention from Ukraine."
Lt.-Gen.Ben Hodges, commander, U.S. Army in Europe
Syrian Turkmen fighters are seen with an anti-aircraft artillery weapon near the northern Syrian village of Yamadi, near the Turkish-Syrian border, Syria, November 24, 2015. Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday    Reuters/Stringer

This can be viewed in a number of ways. Moscow feels hard done by, taken advantage of, held to a standard that represents the West's interests, not that of the Russian Federation. After all, it is NATO and the United States that have trespassed in eastern Europe, Russia's bailiwick. Pushing Moscow around, courting the eastern European countries that once comprised a proud part of the Soviet Union, convincing them that their futures will advance with an alliance with the West, scorning Vladimir Putin's efforts to revisit the glory days of the USSR.

And since the West's advance into the near-abroad of Russia is seen as perfectly fair in a geopolitical chess game of nerve and reaction, why then, it's perfectly fine for Moscow to venture into Western airspace and sea lanes, just to test things out; in the process leaving some nervous European leaders worrying about their sovereignty, and Western leaders in a state of suspense over what it all means, but few taking steps to counter-challenge Mr. Putin's moves of verve and nerve.

So Russian bombers have flown down the coast of the U.S., closed in on Iceland's air space, and flittered about Europe. Britain's Royal Air Force has ushered Russian jets from British air space, and the Nordic countries have blanched at Russian planes at their frontier while the Baltic coujntries complain of Russian incursions into their air space. NATO's air patrol mission is the response to these nervous reactions.

Russian submarines have been pursued in Swedish waters, and even Japan has experienced Russian planes probing its air space, while a Russian task force appeared off the coast of Australia during last year's G20 meeting in Brisbane. Russian bombers fly at the edge of the Canadian Arctic and past Iceland. Russian bombers turn their transponders off as they did flying into Irish airspace necessitating that civilian air traffic be rerouted urgently, in response. The nuclear-powered carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched fighter jets when Russian warplanes closed in, refusing radio contact.

Turkey shot down a drone in October in its airspace which the U.S. announced conformed with Russian designs. All of these ploys to elicit notice and to challenge a response have been met with frustration and puzzlement. What, precisely, is being achieved? Other than providing titillation for the Russian public back home and in the process building the popular esteem of a man with a Napoleon complex.

This time a NATO country responded to a clear provocation and with reason enough given the complex situation.
A combination picture taken from video shows a war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border November 24, 2015.
Reuters/Reuters TV/Haberturk

And now two countries known for their belligerence, knitting together two leaders whose personal style resembles one the other, have each in their own way committed offences against the other. The Turkish slap-down of Russian insolence has thus far cost two Russian lives; one of the warplane's pilots, and a Russian marine in a helicopter that was also shot down by Turkomen rebels, emulating from the ground what a sophisticated missile accomplished from the air.

That Turkey and NATO had repeatedly given warning to Moscow over its fightrer jets violating Turkish air space, and should they continue there was a risk they would be shot down, had not, evidently been taken very seriously by the leadership of a country that supplies energy, wheat, nuclear technology and tourists to the country doing the warning. On the other hand, by targeting Turkmen opposed to Assad's regime on the border between Syria and Turkey, events were weighted to occur.

Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander in a Syrian Turkmen brigade (C), holds handles believed to be parts of a parachute of the downed Russian warplane near the northern Syrian village of Yamadi, near the Turkish-Syrian border, Syria, November 24, 2015.   Reuters/Stringer

One warplane shot down another warplane. And a diplomatic emergency of some critical measure has ensued. The shooting might be viewed as entirely unwarranted, a product of one leader's bad humour against another, that cost the lives of two soldiers. On the other hand, those soldiers were in the process of annihilating the lives of ethnic Turks in Syria, opposing the regime that Russia has been championing, even while the U.S. alliance is striking at Islamic State, a menace toward the region.

What next? Support by Russia to Turkish Kurd separatists? Turkish backing for Crimean Tatars ill-treated by Moscow in Crimea?

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Searching For Security and Normalcy

"We raised our glasses high to Friday night's victims, the 'vile perverts' like us, who enjoyed rock concerts and drinking at cafes. We raised our glasses high to life, to laughter, to friends and to the fact that Paris will always be a party, despite the pain and the tears."
"Despite the knot of sadness in my stomach and the leftover adrenalin from work, being outside with people is what felt right..."
"Drinking a pitcher of red wine at Prune on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin was our own way of saying 'merde' to all of this, that we were breathing, that we were alive."
Paris journalist Margaux Bergey
The web of fear from the Paris attacks has spread across Europe, especially to Belgium where some of the assailants had lived before the violence (AFP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand)

Jewish parochial schools have long had armed French military standing guard outside, at their entrances. French people entering all Jewish institutions have become accustomed to seeing the military on duty, guarding against attacks from Islamist jihadis. Attempting to forestall repeats of previously successful attacks. In reality, the state guarding one long-resident ethnic-religious demographic of the nation for whom liberty, equality and fraternity is a byword, against another ethnic-religious demographic.

Young French men and women by their hundreds have seen fit to become a proud part of a sinister, apocalyptic ideology based in Koranic interpretation of Islamist world domination, to prowl Paris in search of targets in the war that none dare mention lest they be accused of Islamophobia, or alternately to travel in search of their place among the Islamic State jihadis to take part in conflict and in building the caliphate in Iraq and in Syria; time enough for its extension into France.

France's RTL network published the results of a poll last week which found that 84 percent of the surveyed are fully prepared to accept a "certain limitation" of their freedoms in the larger struggle against terrorism. Three-quarters of those responding were favourable to the arrest and imprisonment of everyone suspected -- their numbers estimated to be 5,000 -- by the nation's intelligence services of being affiliated with a terrorist organization.

"Too much freedom becomes a catastrophe", said Alphonse Bangoura, a French Muslim living in Saint-Denis. "They were too tolerant with these people", he said with disgust even as the police assault on a terror cell ended near where he lives. This French Muslim  decries the French government's kid-gloves approach with Islamist radicals. Surveillance of mosques should be increased, he said: "Everything happens there".

Video footage of the "ringleader" of the Paris atrocities surfaced, showing him leaping over a ticket barrier in the Metro system, even as his colleagues were in the act of mass murder commission. Abdelhamid Abaaoud had dodged fare at the Croix de Chavaux station in Montreuil, a mere 200 yards from where one of the cars in the attacks was discovered. When the attack on the Bataclan concert hall was underway he was at the station.

French investigators had determined through fingerprint checks that two of the seven attackers who died in the coordinated gun and bomb assault killing 130 Parisians, had entered Europe through Greece on October 3. More recent news surfacing suggests that a third among the attackers might also be someone who had come through Greece. That would be perhaps three, not the previous one suspected of having immersed himself among the hordes of refugees entering Europe through Greece.

A Senate vote extended a state of emergency in France for an additional three months, giving police the power to carry out arrests and searches, and authorities the power to forbid the movement of people and vehicles at certain times and places. France and Belgium have urged their European Union counterparts to tighten their gun laws, to toughen border security and to choke off funds to extremist groups.

"Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union", stated French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, emphasizing the 28-nation bloc's urgent need to implement a system for collecting and exchanging airline passenger information. The data is vital, he said, "for tracing the return of foreign fighters" from Syria and Iraq. Although the EU exchanges that data with the U.S., Australia and Canada, it hasn't figured out yet how to do so with its own members.

It remains a mystery how and when Abaaoud had entered France before his death, something he had boasted about in ISIL's magazine; his ability to move at will in and out of Europe, undetected, undeterred. There are over 350 people who were wounded in the attacks, over and above the 130 killed outright. Some of those wounded remain in critical condition, leading Prime Minister Manuel Valls to suggest the death toll may yet rise.

Imminent threat of Paris-style attacks puts Belgian Govt. on high alert
The Belgian capital of Brussels is on lock down after the government warned of possible terror attacks like those in Paris last week. Police and soldiers are patrolling the city. The Belgian government describes the threat of attack as "serious and imminent." This comes as Belgian media reports that a key suspect in the Paris attacks was arrested in the Brussels region last night.

In Belgium, police have been busy detaining people; 16 in 22 raids. But the fugitive Salah Abdeslam remains on the loose. Thousands of troops are patrolling and authorities are on the hunt for suspected militants in a Brussels that is in lockdown. Schools and Universities in Brussels remain closed, the subway is shut down. "We fear an attack like in Paris, with several individuals, perhaps in several places", explained Prime Minister Charles Michel.

"Nobody is pleased with such a situation. Neither are we. But we have to take our responsibility." And French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated that ISIL must be destroyed at all costs: "We must annihilate Islamic State worldwide ... and we must destroy Islamic State on its own territory", he said. Speak to the U.S., speak to Russia, accommodation can be arranged. Seriously. That is, if they're all prepared to do so, seriously.

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Defunding Islamic State

"[How critical? About $3-billion flows into ISIL-controlled coffers annually] mainly derived from illicit proceeds from its occupation of territory [in Iraq and Syria but increasingly from] new and emerging technologies."
"ISIL has manipulated social media, physical and virtual social networks, encouraged donations and conducted a marketing campaign in a manner that is consistent with industry standards established by major crowdfunding companies."
Financial Action Task Force report

"If there was a global commitment, we would pull the plug on terrorist financing in a day, and [ISIL] would be incapacitated in a month because no terrorist organization is a financial island."
Christine Duhaime, terrorist financing expert, Vancouver

"In Mosul [northern Iraq] alone, the Islamic State has implemented taxes on a variety of commercial activities. [There is even a] protection tax (jizya) levied on non-Muslims."
"In total, the extortion/tax system imposed in areas under its control in Iraq and Syria could generate as much as $30-million per month for [ISIL]."
Jean-Charles Brisard/Damien Martinez, terrorism experts
Islamic State fighter on the march in Raqqa Photo: AP

There are two battlefields to be addressed in the war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; one on the military side, the other on the financial side. One without the other will express an incomplete victory against the organization's wide operational territory. Terrorist financing is global; the stretch of Islamist jihad is as wide as the Internet can reach and that is universal.

Funding is steady and it's reaching Islamic State coffers through a wide variety of sources, not the least of which is 'donations' trickling in from just about every country in the Western world where Islam has made its signature presence. From among the masses of Muslims living peaceful lives in democratic countries of the West there is a relative handful who are complicit with the rise of Islamist jihad and they see themselves required to fund the global caliphate.

The money is gratefully received and it is used to massacre people innocent of any crime but their mere existence. There are other activities; extortion, theft, smuggling, human trafficking, kidnapping, fund-raising exploits hiding behind the shield of representing charitable enterprises. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was "self-sustaining", able to raise between $70-million and $200-million annually by 2006, according to U.S. government files.

Islamic State brings funding to a whole new level, leaving its predecessors in the dust of small-change in comparison. Many experienced military commanders who had served proudly with Saddam Hussein before 2003 are now in the controlling cadres of ISIL. They are well served by thousands of combatants who have the use of heavy weapons; artillery, armoured vehicles, tanks and other armaments, courtesy of the United States.

Those weapons, provided to the Iraqi armed forces and abandoned in their haste to remove themselves from the direct vicinity of Islamic State fighters, obviated the need to procure them through ISIL's financial resources; another economic benefit to the caliphate. There is no shortage of Kalashnikovs. A rocket launcher, over a dozen handguns, bulletproof vests, combat gear and allied military hardware was found in the possession of the Paris attackers, all ISIL comrades-at-war.

ISIL has the manpower and the funding it requires and as such the group "represents a new form of terrorist organization where funding is central and critical to its activities", according to an independent, inter-government body supported by Canada, the United States, Britain, France and other democracies with a horse in this race to destroy the potential represented by Islamic State's rise to power and its irresistible attraction to many Muslims living in the West.

Twitter has been an invaluable aid, attacting ISIL sympathizers, happy to contribute to ISIL's appeal. Alternatives to traditional banking and money-transfer systems embrace electronic crowd-funding actions from the democratic countries of the west. That's the easy targets; to stem the flow from those sources; not quite easy, but it can be done. As for the most lucrative sources of revenue; stolen assets such as oilfields and banks, that's another thing.

Localized funding sources like "taxes" are immune to being impeded as long as Islamic State is in control of territories it has gained over the past several years. But ISIL supporters in the West, and they are there and in ample numbers, should and can be cut off from raising or transferring funds directed toward terrorism under the guise of charitable donations. The most unfortunate transfer of funds are those instances when governments succumb under wraps to paying ransom for abducted citizens.

Funds directed to "terrorist hot spots" need more close scrutiny at the point of transfer; which is to say using routine banking services to transfer funds from client accounts in the West to accounts controlled by ISIL must be cut off. Wire transfers should be viewed with suspicion and time taken to verify their legitimacy -- or lack of. Governments must see the need to toughen up enforcement. Financial institutions should be working with intelligence authorities.

Much depends upon it.

Abu Rafiq -- ISIL resister, Raqqa

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

If It's Good Enough for Al-Assad It's Good Enough for ISIL

"Terrorism hit France not because of what it is doing in Iraq and Syria ... but for what it is."
"We know that there could also be a risk of chemical or biological weapons."
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

"They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilians and military, to aid them."
Senior Iraqi intelligence official 

"[ISIL] is working very seriously to reach production of chemical weapons, particularly nerve gas."
"That would threaten not just Iraq but the whole world."
Hakim al-Zamili, head, Iraqi parliament's security and defence committee

"Even a few competent scientists and engineers, given the right motivation and a few material resources, can produce hazardous industrial and weapons-specific chemicals in limited quantities."
Retired Lt.-Gen.Richard Zahner, top U.S. military intelligence officer, Iraq 2005-06
The prospect of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant using weapons of mass destruction such as deadly chemicals in their bombs is indeed a frightful prospect. The devastating effects of such attacks have been well enough documented. There was opportunity to do so in Syria when Alawite Shiite President Bashar al Assad saw fit to unleash chemical weapons on his own Sunni Syrian civilians living in Damascus suburbs, suspecting them of supporting the Syrian rebels.

AP Photo via AP video, File
AP Photo via AP video, File   This image made from an AP video posted on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 shows a student wearing a gas mask and protective suit during a session on reacting to a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria.
This so horrified the international community that they cheered that American President Obama had warned the Syrian regime of the consequences should he even imagine using chemical weapons. And then they jeered when, at the behest of Vladimir Putin, appealing to Barack Obama's humanitarian love of peace, the prospect of military intervention was set aside and the U.S. satisfied itself with orchestrating the removal of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

At least some of them. Syrian has since used chlorine gas to great effect, along with the destructively shattering effect of barrel bombs. Taken together, the metal shrapnel exploding out of the barrel bombs and augmented by chlorine gas makes for a quite effective combination. No one seems to notice much of that any more, since it's become such a common occurrence, urgent to Syrians, passing by the notice of the U.S. which takes more care now in the issuing of 'red lines'.

This file image made from video broadcast on Syrian State Television on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, purports to show a chemical weapons expert taking samples at a chemical weapons plant at an unknown location in Syria.
Syrian State Television via AP video, File   This file image made from video broadcast on Syrian State Television on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, purports to show a chemical weapons expert taking samples at a chemical weapons plant at an unknown location in Syria. 
So the horror of it; ISIL in possession of and planning to use chemical weapons. As  it happens, the Syrian regime has been responsible for more Syrian deaths by far than has Islamic State; both are equally reprehensible killing machines. The great tide of humanity that has gushed out of Syria living in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, let alone the hundreds of thousands surging into Europe, represent far more people fleeing the regime than they do in fear of ISIL.

Of course, ISIL now threatens Europe, and that's a fish of a different kettle. Aside from the fact that the jihadis are a threat of immense proportions anywhere they target, and their target area is rapidly increasing as Islamist terrorists in Africa and South Asia increasingly join Daesh, the very thought of launching chemical attacks along with suicide attacks is daunting.

As though Kurds and Yazidis don't have enough to think about, Kurdish forces in northern Iraq this year were hit by mortar shells which preliminary tests conducted by the U.S. appear to show traces of the chemical agent sulphur mustard. This has Iraqi authorities concerned that the use of such chemicals and gases could be expanded; particularly if they're seen to be successful.

The Iraqi military distributed gas masks to their troops deployed west and east of Baghdad over the summer, with a senior official in Salahuddin province claiming that 25 percent of the troops deployed there were also issued with gas masks. Russia has provided the Iraqi military with 1,000 protective suits against chemical attacks, according to Hakim al-Zamili.

Evidently ISIL has set up a branch for the specific purpose of developing chemical weapons. Chemical experts from abroad have responded to ISIL's request for assistance. Even an Iraqi expert who once worked for Saddam Hussein is reputed to have joined ISIL in their quest to develop effective and efficient chemical weaponry. Experts from Chechnya and southeast Asia have also responded.

Research laboratories, according to experts and materials from Iraq have been moved to "secured locations" inside Syria. And while the Syrian government denied and continues to deny it has and is making use of chemical weapons, it's likely that if ISIL is asked point-blank they will agree that yes, this is just what they're doing, and what about it?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Hoping to Hit ISIL Where It Hurts

"Paris will forever be seen as the touchstone that led to a ramped-up effort against ISIS. Its impact was devastating and the response has been aggressive and, personally, I would like to see it even more aggressive."
Richard Nephew, (former) U.S. State Department official on Iran sanctions file

"We have been fighting a war on drugs for decades, and there are still people doing drugs. To expect that anybody has a magic wand to stop [the oil revenue] -- it is hard. I would argue that it is hard but it needs to be done."
Jon Alterman, senior vice-president, Zbigniew Brzezinski chair, global security and geostrategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies

"We've stepped up our attack [and] focused our targeting on other oil facilities ..."
"The purpose of the strike was to help cripple ISIL’s oil distribution capabilities, which will reduce their ability to fund their military operations."
U.S. army Col Steve Warren
Kurdish forces overlook a burning oil well on November 10, 2015 near the ISIL-held town of Hole, Rojava, Syria.
John Moore/Getty Images   Kurdish forces overlook a burning oil well on November 10, 2015 near the ISIL-held town of Hole, Rojava, Syria.

Taking a page out of the Israel Defence Forces strategy to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible, the U.S. strike force dropped leaflets early this week to inform truck drivers to vacate the oil fields that furnish the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with much of their working capital, before bombing takes place. Up until now -- and the ISIL attack in Paris changed this as much as it will other initiatives -- The military had held off on bombing vehicles that are used to transport oil for ISIS because of concerns that civilian drivers of the trucks could be killed.

That having been done, four A-10 Thunderbolt fighters and two AC-130 gunships were deployed targeting up to 300 trucks used for the transport of oil for Islamic State in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour, about 280 miles from Damascus, according to Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. About 115 of the 300 trucks were destroyed in the attack.

Damascus itself has been known to use the black market oil that benefits ISIL; the regime's focus has been on eliminating the threat it sees from Syrian Sunni rebels, not so much Islamic State.

ISIL's oil revenues from oil are substantial although figures are hard to come by. Aside from those oil revenues, ISIL took in a half-billion dollars when it overran Mosul last year and cleared out the central bank in Mosul. ISIL's trade in antiquities garners it handsome profits. It is also continuing to be funded by wealthy Saudis and other Sunni sources in the region. Media reports suggest that ISIL's oil revenues could be around $50 million monthly from production of 40,000 to 50,000 barrels daily.

"The crude is sold to middlemen at a heavy discount, and Turkey, Syria and Iran are reportedly final destinations for the contraband product", a report by RBC Capital Markets in September announced. As well, ISIS has made an effort to operate refineries for a larger plan to maintain essential services for locals, recruiting engineers to aid with that effort, according to the bank.

Western coalition forces had refrained from targeting ISIL-controlled oil facilities with the thought they would be retaken by Iraq.

The spectre of Kuwaiti oil wells that burned for years after they were torched by Saddam Hussein's retreating forces in 1991 and the environmental devastation that resulted has ensured that targeting of oil wells represents a hazard best avoided. The second alternative was to bomb the oil tankers in their hundreds that line up for miles awaiting the opportunity to transport the oil to the ready-and-waiting black market.

Coalition forces isolated Ramadi, Beiji and Sinjar from ISIL recently, and an oil refinery in Beiji has been returned to the Iraq Ministry of Oil.

A French airforce Rafale fighter jet. Twelve planes took part in the overnight strikes on the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria.
A French airforce Rafale fighter jet. Twelve planes took part in the overnight strikes on the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria. Photo: Reuters

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Punishment Glutton -- Paris Under Siege

"People had booked a hotel in Paris over the holidays. They are cancelling their trips to Paris. They are going to go elsewhere."
"They need to get on top of the security situation in France. You can buy Hermes in Rome, too."
Ruby Silvertown, founder/owner, Travel Network Corp., Toronto

"There is going to be a shift away from France, into Italy and Spain."
"It's the mindset. It gets so much publicity on CNN, 24 hours a day, people say it's not safe."
Dean Horvath, Mason Horvath Travel, Vancouver 

"Someone sitting in New York looking for a place to put a factory (and) was going to put it in France now will put it anywhere but."
"Investors will now demand a higher premium to invest in France."
"[For travellers it's France's reaction to ISIL terror] It's all the lineups at security. It's not the terrorist threat. That's like getting hit by lightning."
Dr. Ken Lester, professor, Desautels faculty of management, McGill University
Police outside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, 19 November
Notre Dame cathedral was under guard as darkness fell -- AFP

No doubt Turkey saw a drop in tourism after the October bombing in Ankara by Islamic State terrorists that left 100 people (peace activists, leftists and Kurds) dead. This was Turkey, known to have been supportive as a Sunni-majority country, to the Sunni terror group that has launched itself into a war with Shiite Muslims and the despot of Syria whom President Erdogan detests enough to give support to ISIL. On the surface at least he has altered course after the two bombings, the first one in Suruc, killing 40 Kurds.

Egypt's reaction to the Sinai Province affiliate of Islamic State successfully placing a bomb aboard a Russian flight packed with Russian tourists leaving Sharm el-Sheikh for St.Petersburg, killing all aboard, was to deny that terrorists could have infiltrated the airport's flimsy security and no bomb had been involved; the plane simply deconstructed due to metal fatigue. Egypt had good enough reason to deny terrorism played a part. It has been struggling for years with Salafist Bedouins, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood launching deadly attacks.

Its social, military and religious turmoil since the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, his replacement by the Brotherhood's Mohammad Morsi and his rejection, leading to riots and bloodshed has hampered the country's economic recovery, already in a parlous state. That vital segment of the economy dependent on tourism was just emerging from its downturn with robust returns, and Egypt could little afford yet another setback, but that is precisely what it is now facing, with tourism once again slumping.

And now it is France's turn. Which signals quite a triumph for the forces of Islamist jihad; not only managing to launch surprise attacks that have been hugely successful in terms of bloodshed and the trauma imposed on its presumed enemies, but its deadly assaults have succeeded in knocking apart vital parts of their economy, while Islamic State itself remains financially secure with the income generated through its black market oil, antiquities sales, and financial support from Sunni backers in Saudi Arabia, et al.

"In solidarity with Paris. Our thoughts are with the victims of this terrible tragedy, their families and their loved ones, and the mobilized assistance teams -- Paris, November 13, 2015", read a message from Accor, the French hotel giant on its website. Shares of Hermes International SCA, Keris SA and LOVMH Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, SA fell on the Paris stock market. Significant harm done to luxury goods sales, and to tourism.
Police outside the Printemps department store in Paris, 19 November
Police have been on patrol outside the famous Printemps department store in Paris -- AFP

Chalk up another win for Islamist jihad, and terror international; the City of Lights will take some time to recover, and perhaps before it manages to completely, it will experience yet another atrocity, apart from the random attacks by one segment of its population (Muslims) against another segment of its population (Jews). But French President Francois Hollande is adamant; France will not be cowed, its values and its liberties will prevail.

And toward that end, he has pledged to absorb an additional 30,000 Syrian refugees.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Responding to French-born Jihad

"The extent of the phenomenon and its entry in all areas, with the radicalization of young students and young girls in particular, indicates that it could turn into a mass phenomenon."
"It is not a matter simply of preventing the slide of a few marginalized individuals; we have to ask ourselves why a large part of the country's youth is turning away from our social model."
"There is a tap of hatred that produced them. It turns out that the more the investigation progresses, we discover the people acting are French, not Syrian, not Iraqis. Today, in certain areas, forces hostile to our country are thriving. It has been going on for years, and it has to end."
"Our collective responsibility is to protect kids before they become killers." 
"They [religious extremists] are always in front and we are just reacting. If, for the first time, we thought to act first, to counter-attack around cultural values, against their discourse, if we looked after women, liberated them, got rid of their veils, if we granted them equality, then we would be disturbing [the extremists] on their own turf."
Malek Boutih, member of French National Assembly: Generation Radical report

"The desire to hit us is very clearly expressed. And our geographic position, through the easy access into our territory for all jihadists of European origin, whether they're French or not, complicates matters."
Marc Trevidic, French magistrate
REUTERS/Christian Hartmann - RTS7O9O

"Today, it is clear that the engagement of the armed forces in Muslim countries has an effect on people who do not feel European and want to fight European values. [ISIL] gives them that opportunity."
"School cannot do much because the students are not blank pages on which teachers can freely write our principles and values. Students also have an environment they live in."
Malika Sorel-Sutter, former government council on integration member

"[Other attacks] are without a doubt [being prepared]. At any moment, we could suffer an attack. We are at war."
"We know that the battle to confront the ruptures in our society and this rise of radical Islamism to defend our values and secularism, comes through schools and through culture."
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls
People run after hearing what is believed to be explosions or gun shots near Place de la Republique square in Paris, on November 13, 2015.  Dominique Faget / AFP / Getty

Many French Muslims seem to agree that "France asked for it ... they shouldn't have gone to bomb Syria". Or Mali, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. And perhaps that's true. France and the coalition led by the United States that has attempted time and again to restore order and peace in the restive, belligerent and religion-led dysfunction of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia appear to have failed in their intent, reaping resentment and blame from the very people who begged to be saved from themselves.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket massacres, Prime Minister Valls tasked Malek Boutih to look into youth radicalization in France, and to produce a report setting out his findings, along with recommendations. That June publishing of the Generation Radical report gave ample warning of a breakdown in French society that risked a rising tsunami of Islamist jihadis preparing themselves to attack their own country, France.

French officials girded themselves. And then they waited. For the next incident that would take them by surprise and create yet another shock wave which leaves the French resolve to carry on and to respond with force. And then? Wait again. France, as a former colonial power, feels an obligation to step in with military force in its former colonies facing existential disruption leading to total breakdown of governments and society. Somehow, official France appears to have overlooked the need to step in to the extreme emergency situation it was itself internally facing.

In the interests of freedom and equality official France appears to feel that immigrants should be left to their own devices, that they will eventually so hugely appreciate the privilege of living in a democratic state guaranteeing the future for all its citizens in equal measure that there would be no need to regulate and legislate and impose conditions with citizenship. Once in France, newcomers become French and the corollary to that is adaptation to French culture and values and law by willing osmosis.

But this never happened, and what Muslims from abroad brought with them was all they would ever need in law, culture and values and they grimly and with hostile intent, shut themselves away from the contaminating effects of French lifestyle and values; degraded and contemptible, an insult to Islamic values. Since the issue is that of distance and hostility no social contract inviting each to meet the other took place and within the banlieues where Muslim life went on, France was absent.

The report cited 30 percent of the new generation of jihadis are not even born Muslim, but rather are converts to Islam in a rebellion against their own society which they feel has little personal value to them. Islam is, after all, a proselytizing religion, and one growing at an amazing rate among the world's population. So, is this religion of peace that its devout followers proclaiming it to be, what attracts converts? Perhaps some, but the younger demographic appear to appreciate the violence of atrocities that Islamic State is so adept at staging and proliferating through the Internet.

Mr. Boutih is right about one thing, that the Friday 13 November multiple deadly attacks in Paris mark a time when committees and studies are no longer sufficient as a response to the growing threat of violent militant Islam. The religion of peace's other facet, that of its fascist ideology, was to be faced and dealt with. And of course it's the right decision, but do they know where to start? Well, President Hollande has started with increased bombing of ISIL, which is fine, but doesn't address France's internal dilemma.

French citizens pose a threat to the rest of the world as well with its 457 citizens currently in Syria and Iraq, 320 on their way and an additional 521 with the intention of leaving Paris to travel to Syria. This is no one's idea of a vacation, other than a vacation from civilization for the greater allure of Medieval carnage waiting to be imposed upon other Muslims and with that experience, to be brought back to Europe in a viral spread of jihad.

France, said Malika Sorel-Sutter, had failed to ensure that immigrants and their offspring would be loyal to the country's values. And the Prime Minister emphasizes the need to strike ISIL head on while acknowledging "There is fertile ground for radical Islamism, this jihadism", while carefully making the obligatory distinction between Islam and 'radical Islamism', which is only Islam recognizing and obeying its original instructions to the faithful.

Perhaps someone should remind Mr. Boutih that as far as hitting the Islamists in their own territory, France already has made wearing the burqa and the niqab unlawful. That subtle message to Islamist misogynists doesn't appear to have dented their self-regard one iota. Outlaw and arrest the imams who are preaching Islamist fascism in France's mosques, and thus interfere in their freedom of speech and assembly? Come now, France; respond!

Spectators invade the pitch of the Stade de France stadium after the international friendly soccer match between France and Germany in Saint Denis, outside Paris, on November 13, 2015. Hundreds of people spilled onto the field of the Stade de France stadium after explosions were heard nearby during a friendly match between the French and German national soccer teams. Christophe Ena / AP

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