Iran’s NAM Extravaganza/ Al-Qaeda in Syria
Aug 24, 2012
August 24, 2012
Number 08/12 #06
Next week, Iran is set to become the president of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and host a six day Summit of the NAM in Teheran. As Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe has reported, Teheran is going all out in an effort to use the Summit to attempt to ” shed its image as a global pariah” and ” gain much-needed support to counter Western pressure over its controversial nuclear program.” Meanwhile, despite urgings from the US, Israel and others not to participate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has announced he will attend the Summit. This Update looks at the implications of the Summit for the NAM, the UN, and especially efforts to maintain international pressure on Iran to halt its illegal nuclear weapons program.
First up is a piece from the Huffington Post by US analyst and activist Laura Kam looking at how this meeting seems to be shaping up in complete opposition to the declared goals of the NAM summit – namely “eliminating world problems.” Kam suggests, given the recent antisemitic and violently anti-Israel invective from Teheran, one of these “problems” Teheran will probably be seeking to eliminate is Israel – even though such calls violate the UN Charter. Kam suggests a number of messages that members of the NAM should be delivering to Iran at the Summit if they want to retain any credibility or integrity, including: abiding by UN resolutions on the nuclear issue; ending support for the murderous Assad regime in Syria; halting the funding and arming of terrorist groups and ending calls for Israel’s destruction; and improving an appalling human rights record. For her argument in full, CLICK HERE. In addition, an editorial in the Washington Post offered another discussion of the dangers and dilemmas associated with the Summit.
Next up, American Jewish Committee head David Harris pens a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon putting strongly the case for not attending. He notes that the visit will be used by Teheran as “proof positive that Iran, far from diplomatically isolated, is able to conduct business as usual.” Listing all the many reasons the Iranian regime should not be granted legitimacy and normalcy, he calls on Ban to refuse to fall into their trap and “confer respectability on the unrespectable.” For his argument in full, CLICK HERE. A similar plea to Ban Ki-Moon not to go comes from noted international law academic Dr. Ruth Wedgwood.
Finally, turning to the separate issue of Syria, Ed Hussein, a former Islamist radical turned analyst and critics of extremism, discusses the problem of the growing al-Qaeda presence amongst the rebel side. He notes how important Syria, known as Bilaad al-Shaam, is in Islamist ideology, how the conflict is attracting young Islamist men from across the region for this reason, and how to the rebels, such fighters are welcome Mujahadeen volunteers. He predicts that the aftermath of the conflict will likely give al-Qaeda-linked jihadists a base in the heart of the Arab world, and there is little that the West can do about this. For his worrying analysis in full, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The Australian federal government has controversially announced plans to send two diplomatic envoys as observers to the NAM gathering in Teheran – but has promised they will walk out if the Iranians indulge in “inflammatory anti-Israeli rhetoric.” The opposition has been critical of the decision to send the envoys.
- A list of some of the most extreme, antisemitic and apparently genocidal statements made by Iranian leaders about Israel and “Zionists” over recent weeks.
- An important analysis of the driving ideas behind Iranian foreign policy from Middle East specialist Ray Takeyh.
- Reports that Iran has increased its underground nuclear enrichment capability, and that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered increased efforts to carry out terrorism in the West in response to the pressure on the Assad regime in Syria.
- Terror expert Matthew Levitt on Iran’s increasing use of unexpected surrogates to carry out terror attacks.
- Cliff May on why media attempts to compare Israeli “invective” against Iran with Iran’s calls for Israel destruction are an exercise in blatant false equivalence.
- A useful new glossary of the terms used in the Iranian nuclear debate.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro on the reaction in Israel to two apparently racist attacks by Jews on Arabs.
- Allon Lee’s latest “Media Week” column.
Huffington Post, 08/13/2012 1:24 pm
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), with 118 member states and 21 observer states, is a group of nations who do not consider themselves to be formally aligned with or against any power bloc — neither East nor West. Their mission is the pursuit of national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security in their ‘struggle’ against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony.
Given these noble goals, it’s truly astonishing that NAM chose Iran to be the group’s chair for the next three years and as a result, Tehran will be the host city for its 16th summit, slated to begin on August 26.
Not only is Tehran hosting the summit, attendees received invitations from non-other than Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinjad. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, the overarching goal of the summit is to “eliminate world problems.” Jews may very well be one of them. Just last week Ahmadinejad, in yet another anti-Semitic rant, said,
It has now been some 400 years that a horrendous Zionist clan has been ruling the major world affairs, and behind the scenes of the major power circles, in political, media, monetary and banking organizations in the world, they have been the decision makers…
Do any of the Non-Aligned Movement member states recognize the infuriating irony that an organization seeking to solve the world’s problems and enhance its own stature in the international arena is choosing to hold its summit in one of the world’s most dangerous and problematic nations, not to mention the most blatantly anti-Semitic one, while simultaneously honoring the meeting’s hosts who regularly commit egregious human-rights abuses?
Even far more serious however, would be the participation of Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, at such an outrageous event, as recent media reports indicate.
Another question: How can the UN Secretary-General go to a country openly disobeying and flouting six UN Security Council Resolutions calling on it to cease its nuclear weapons program and other activities, not the least of which is the continued and widespread supply of weapons to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas — without dealing with those issues and only those issues. After all, Iran is the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, according to the State Department. And for years, Iran has openly insulted the very essence of the United Nations by thumbing its nose at its own Security Council decisions. What’s more, Iran openly declares its wish to annihilate another UN member state.
If the participants at the Non-Aligned Movement conference want to maintain even an ounce of integrity and credibility, they will forcefully deliver the following messages to the Iranian regime during the summit:
- Iran must cease denigrating the United Nations and abide by numerous UN resolutions to halt uranium enrichment.
- Iran must stop providing assistance to the corrupt Syrian regime, which is currently slaughtering its own people and destabilizing the region.
- Tehran must cease supporting its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, which continue their murderous campaigns against innocent civilians in Israel and around the globe.
- Tehran’s persistent threats against Israel’s very existence and its unrelenting anti-Semitism must end immediately.
- The Iranian regime must halt its unfathomable human rights violations, such as unjustified executions of Iranian citizens, including but not limited to women and homosexuals.
If the Non-Aligned Movement fails to deliver these messages to the Iranian regime, it will have forfeited the opportunity to meet its goal of “eliminating world problems” before its meeting adjourns.
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Jerusalem Post, Monday Aug 20, 2012
Dear UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
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Our collective excitement at the possibility that the Assad regime will be destroyed, and the Iranian ayatollahs weakened in the process, is blurring our vision and preventing us from seeing the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria. In March of this year, jihadis mounted seven attacks against Assad. By June, they had led 66 “operations,” and over half of these were on Syria’s capital, Damascus. The Syrian opposition is benefiting hugely from the terrorist organization’s determination, discipline, combat experience, religious fervor, and ability to strike the Assad regime where it hurts most.
The territory in the Middle East that al-Qaeda covets most is of course Saudi Arabia, but Syria is next on the list. Now, Syria is not Syria to jihadis, but part of Bilaad al-Shaam, what the region was called when when borders did not divide the lands we now call Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and, crucially, Israel and the Palestinian territories. To al-Qaeda, these modern-day countries are based on artificial borders created after the First World War by the British and French, descendants of the eleventh-century Crusaders who occupied Jerusalem. Yes, al-Qaeda has a long historical memory, but it also has plans for its future. And in Bilaad al-Shaam, the future is looking good for al-Qaeda.
As long as Assad governs Syria, brigades of Arab and other Muslim fighters will continue to gather in Bilaad al-Shaam to support the jihad of the Sunni Muslims against an Alawite infidel, as they see it. Assad offers them a rallying point. In the process, al-Qaeda’s local franchises will win support and create alliances with Syria’s tribes and Sunni religious leaders. In the event of Assad’s falling, al-Qaeda will probably gain de facto control of parts of Syria to serve as a new strategic base for jihadis in the Middle East, or at least enjoy tribal protection in the broader regions with Iraq and Jordan. A new government in Syria not only will be indebted to these fighters, but also will be in need of their cooperation to minimize the potential of militias fighting each other.
Just as Syria is not Syria to al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda is not al-Qaeda as we know it to the rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army. For Syrian opposition soldiers, the al-Qaeda fighters are welcome Arab and Muslim volunteers, mujahideen, religious brethren who call themselves Jabhat al-Nusrah li-Ahli al-Shaam (Front for the Victory of the Levantine people), among other names. Not since the days of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets has global jihadism found this rare combination of native Sunni Muslim hospitality, a powerful cause, available cash, eager Arab support, Western acquiescence, and the constant arrival of young Muslims to fight under its banner to create an Islamist government. While exact numbers of jihadist fighters are hard to come by, it is a fact that in every crucial battle of the last three months, from Aleppo to Homs to Deir al-Zor to Damascus, al-Qaeda has been prominent.
For the foreseeable future, the Assad government will continue to face violent uprisings in city after city. It will lose control over its borders with Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon, and foreign fighters will arrive in droves because jihad in Bilaad al-Shaam holds several powerful promises.
First, in early Muslim scripture and history, the words “Bilaad al-Shaam” appear regularly, with special reference to jihad there at the End Times. Today’s jihadists see themselves as part of this prophecy and expect to earn high religious status as martyrs.
Second, historically, Bilaad al-Shaam included Palestine and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Jihadists have regularly argued that winning Syria will bring them one step closer to liberating Jerusalem. From Damascus, an army of Muslim martyrs could be mobilized to attack Israel. To jihadists, who only two years ago could not dream of attacking Damascus, their new ambition of launching attacks on Israel is not daydreaming.
Third, the Assad regime represents an Alawite minority sect that was reviled by the 13th-century Syrian imam Ibn Taymiya. Ibn Taymiya’s teachings contributed heavily to the Saudi school of Wahhabism. Ibn Taymiya called for the killing of Syrian Alawites, whom he referred to as Nusayris. For Sunni jihadist fighters, the conflict in Syria is religiously underwritten by their most important teacher.
Fourth, unlike Shiite-dominated Iraq, Syria is mostly Sunni. And unlike Afghanistan, Syria is Arab. Al-Qaeda has been in exile from the Sunni Arab lands because of clampdowns by governments in the region. Bilaad al-Shaam offers jihadists a home in the heart of the Arab world. This makes them relevant again to the daily politics of the Middle East.
Whether Assad stays or goes, jihadism now has a strong foothold in Syria. The Free Syrian Army may wish to dismiss its al-Qaeda allies as irrelevant in order to reassure the West and continue receiving Western support, but the jihadi websites and footage of al-Qaeda fighting in Damascus and Aleppo tell a different story.
There are no easy options in Syria. We cannot credibly ask the FSA to jettison its bravest fighters while we refuse to send Western troops. And to send Western arms and manpower into the country is to sign up for an eventual fight with al-Qaeda for control of Syria the morning after Assad’s fall. Al-Qaeda’s and the West’s interests merged in Afghanistan against the Soviets; Will they do so again in Syria? And will our common enemies — Hezbollah and Iran — hold this unmentionable alliance together after Assad? No, because that same history teaches us not to ride the al-Qaeda tiger: It will soon enough turn on liberal Arabs, the West, and Israel. In Syria, with or without Assad, the only certain result will be the presence of al-Qaeda’s offshoots. We are yet to grasp the consequences of this reality.
— Ed Husain is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.