May 22, 2014
Number 05/15 #06
This Update offers two highly-informed expert opinions on the fall of the strategic Iraqi town of Ramadi to ISIS forces last weekend, and in particular, what this dramatic development says about current US strategy for fighting ISIS and shoring up the Iraqi government.
First up is the always insightful Israeli scholar Dr. Jonathan Spyer, who sees the fall of Ramadi as a direct result of mistakes of US policy. In particular, he argues, the US needs to be arming forces that are effective against ISIS – the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni tribes – which it avoids doing due to its commitment to working only through the official Iraqi government, rather than focussing on the broken Iraqi army. He also warns that the result of this mistake is leading the Iraqi government and US to rely on the Shi’ite militias – now massing to try to re-take Ramadi – which in fact means allying with Iran, which trains and supports these militias. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.
Another view of the implications of Ramadi comes from leading American strategic affairs analyst Anthony Cordesman. Cordesman warns that both the fall of Ramadi and the recent “success” in re-taking Tikrit from ISIS demonstrate that the Iraqi army cannot operate without the support of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, and that therefore Iraq’s government cannot heal the gap between the country’s Sunnis and Shi’ites. He says that “It is all too clear that the present U.S. air and train and assist campaigns are not enough” and recommends a much more intensive role for US trainers and forces in Iraq, especially in preparing for the important future battle to retake Mosul from ISIS. For his view in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, this Update brings you the final article from the late Prof. Robert Wistrich, arguably the world’s most distinguished academic expert on antisemitism, who died suddenly in Italy on Tuesday. In this article, submitted to the Jerusalem Post two days before his death, Wistrich calls for those fighting antisemitism to free themselves from a series of myths – making seven points in all to counter them. Among these points are: far-right antisemitism is now secondary to other threats; Holocaust education is not in itself an effective counter to antisemitism; since 1975, “hatred of Israel has increasingly mutated into the chief vector for the ‘new’ antisemitism; and that much antisemitism today is driven by what he calls “a new civic religion that could be termed ‘Palestinianism'” which sees all Israeli actions in terms of “a sinister Jewish-imperialist conspiracy.” For all of this must-read assessment of the realities of antisemitism today from this unparalleled authority whose expertise is now tragically lost, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Remembrances of Robert Wistrich from former co-workers Ben Cohen and Winston Pickett.
- Additional good assessments of the difficult reality of the situation in Iraq from the always perceptive journalist Dexter Filkins and strategic analyst Nicholas Gallagher. Plus a comment on Ramadi and US Strategy from the Wall Street Journal.
- Two top Israeli experts discuss the aftermath of the Summit last weekend between US President Obama and the Gulf Cooperation Council, focused on the latter’s concerns over Iran and the emerging nuclear deal.
- Isi Leibler writes about the latest, much-reported, “Breaking the Silence” report.
by Jonathan Spyer
PJ Media, May 18, 2015
The fall of Ramadi to the fighters of the Islamic State is a disaster for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The taking of the city brings IS to just over 60 miles from Baghdad. In addition to showcasing the low caliber of the Iraqi security forces, the events surrounding the fall of the city lay bare the contradictions at the heart of Western policy in Iraq.
Prime Minister Abadi had ordered the garrison in Ramadi to stand firm. He hoped to see a successful stand in the city as a prelude to a government retaking of Anbar province, over half of which is still in IS hands.
But in a manner reminiscent of the fall of Mosul in June 2014, Iraqi security forces ignored orders to defend Ramadi, and fled eastwards to the neighboring town of Khalidiyeh. This left Ramadi to the tender mercies of the fighters of the Islamic State, who have reportedly since slaughtered at least 500 people. It is important to note that even U.S. airstrikes were not sufficient to prevent the debacle.
As of now, Shia militias are heading for the city’s outskirts. A militia-led counterattack is expected in the coming days. A further advance eastwards by the Sunni jihadis, at least in the immediate future, is unlikely.
So what is behind the failure of the Iraqi security forces and the continued advance of the jihadis?
On the simplest level, the greater motivation and determination of the IS fighters explains their continued successes against the Iraqis. The jihadis are all volunteers. Not all of them are highly skilled fighters, but their level of motivation is correspondingly very high.
By contrast, Iraqi soldiers are often serving far from home, defending communities for whom they have little concern. Most joined the army for the salary. Their unwillingness to engage against the murderous jihadis of the Islamic State is not hard to understand or explain.
However, this problem has now been apparent for nearly a year, ever since the Sunni jihadis first crashed across the border from Syria last June. So why has it not been addressed? The blame for this cannot be placed at the feet of low ranking Iraqi soldiers.
The blame lies at the policymaking level. The United States is committed to the territorial unity of Iraq. It therefore is determined to relate to the government of Haider al-Abadi as the sole authority in the country.
The problem with this stance is two-fold.
Firstly, it precludes providing arms directly to the elements who are most willing to use them against the Islamic State (namely, the Kurdish Peshmerga and further south, the elements among the Sunni tribes whom the U.S. aided during the “surge” in the 2006-2007 period).
In the north, this has not prevented the Kurds from successfully defending the area west of Erbil (with the vital assistance of coalition air power). But it has served to keep the Kurds militarily dependent on the coalition, thus reducing the possibility of their making a bid for independence from Baghdad in the immediate future.
Secondly, and more importantly, the U.S. commitment to the territorial unity of Iraq is leading to a willful blindness regarding the actual nature of the government in Baghdad and its true sources of strength and support.
The supposedly legitimate armed forces of Baghdad are, as has been witnessed again in Ramadi, not fit for the purpose. The true defenders of Baghdad and of the government are right now heading toward Ramadi. They are the forces of the “Hashd al-Shaabi” (popular mobilization). They are the Shia militias, supported by Iran. These militias are the wall behind which the Amadi government shelters.
The West insists on maintaining the illusion that the government in Baghdad is something other than a Shia sectarian-dominated entity in the process of entering a de facto military alliance with the Iranians. This stubbornness is producing the current absurd situation in which Western air power is being used in support of Shia Islamism.
It is important to understand that this is not taking place because there is no other option for stopping the advance of the Islamic State. There is another, more effective option: direct aid to the Kurds, and to the Sunni tribes further south.
This support of Shia Islamism is taking place because of the conviction in Western capitals most importantly, of course, Washington, D.C. that the advance of Iran and the building of Iranian strength in Lebanon and in the collapsed states of Iraq and Syria is not a phenomenon to be prevented.
Rather, Western capitals believe that growing Iranian influence can be accommodated and perhaps even allied with.
This conviction combined with the desire to maintain the fictions of “Iraq” and “Syria” are the foundations of current policy. For these reasons, in the coming days we will witness U.S. and Western air power, astonishingly, supporting Shia Islamist militants as they battle with Sunni Islamist militants. Meanwhile, overtly pro-Western forces further north lack arms.
The Islamic State just took Ramadi. In Western capitals where Middle East policy is made, folly is engaged on a similarly triumphant march.
Jonathan Spyer is Director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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The Iraqi defeat at Ramadi is a warning, but no more of a warning than the supposed Iraqi victory at Tikrit last month or all of the other signals that are coming out of the U.S. engagement in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. urgently needs to reappraise its current strategic posture in both Iraq and Syria. It needs far more realism in shaping its military efforts and far more honesty and transparency in assessing the risks of those decisions. The current level of U.S. military intervention may be too limited and too constrained to succeed, but the risk of failure will be high even if the U.S. uses added force more effectively.
A major defeat like Ramadi is only part of the problem. The U.S. cannot focus on the Islamic State, or ISIS, as if Iraq and Syria were not failed states with far deeper problems. The divisions in Iraq between the Shiite-led, Arab central government, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds remain critical.
Tikrit was not a victory, simply because ISIS was driven out at great cost. It was as much a defeat because it was fought by an Iraqi Army that had to rely on Shiite militias that most Sunni Iraqis fear, have ties to Iran, show limited concern for civilians and collateral damage, and can take revenge on the innocent. The Tikrit battle was one more case where the Iraqi Army was committed too soon. It showed that Iraq requires a far larger and more effective U.S. train-and-assist effort. Such an effort, in which U.S. advisors are embedded in forward combat units, could help develop Iraqi leaders, help make the supply and reinforcement system work, and use U.S. and allied air power effectively.
The Obama administrations limited U.S. effort did keep Americans from suffering casualties, but they also did more in Iraq to empower Iran than win support for the U.S. Worse, Tikrit was a campaign that failed to give Iraqs Sunnis the reassurance they needed that the central government would support them in resisting ISIS or following-up an ISIS defeat with immediate efforts to secure Tikrit and allow its Sunni Arab population to return.
The defeat at Ramadi simply should not have happened. Key Iraqi political leaders like Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did try to bring Iraqi Sunnis into the fight and gave them support and arms. It seems clear that there was an effort to provide Iraqi Army reinforcements and U.S. air support. But Abadi and his government face serious if not fatal problems in making the efforts to build and support Sunni forces effectively. The many media warnings that the Iraqi Army and Ministry of Defense are still broken, unmotivated, and incompetent proved all too true.
The collapse and near panic of the Iraq Armys 8th Brigade and the Iraqi police again showed that a far stronger and forward-deployed U.S. advisory effort is needed and U.S. advisors should be put in critical positions where they can help assure that competent Iraqi commanders are given proper supplies and reinforcements and incompetent ones are removed. It is brutally clear that the warnings senior U.S. officers gave in the spring of 2014 that former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had left the Iraqi Army so broken it would take two to three years to fix even to the level of 12 effective brigades were all too true.
At the same time, a U.S. military effort cannot work unless Abadis government becomes strong enough to heal the gap between Arab Sunni and Arab Shiite, limit the role of Shiite militias and Iran in dividing the country. It also cant work if Iraqs Sunnis have lost faith in the central government, will not provide local forces, and are largely bypassed with the Iraqi Army.
A stronger U.S. advisory effort can at best help Iraqi forces inflict tactical defeats on ISIS. It cannot win on a strategic level without far more Iraqi unity, it cannot create secure areas in the west where Sunnis can live a secure and normal life, and it cannot bridge the growing sectarian gap between them.
The U.S. also cannot help Iraq recover Mosul and the lost areas in Ninewa unless it can create an equally effective forward-based advisory presence for both the Iraq Army and Kurdish forces and can do so in a political and economic climate where Iraqs Arab and Kurds cooperate in recovering the north, and are willing to compromise over how to govern the liberated areas and restore some kind of normal life and economy.
The areas ISIS holds in the north are far more populated than Anbar in the southwest, and largely by Arab Sunnis that have sharply competing claims from the Iraqi Kurds. At the same time, they are populations that will never be loyal or stable if they feel Iraqs central government and oil wealth are dominated by Shiites and Iran at their expense. As a recent Crisis Group report on the Iraqi Kurds shows, the Kurds themselves are deeply divided, and present major problems in creating some kind of stable government and life in the north.
Mosul and Ninewa, not Ramadi and Anbar, are the strategic prize that is the key to Iraqi unity, and creating some form of federalism that gives Iraqs Sunnis status and security. But, this fact reveals a gaping hole in U.S. strategy. No one in the Obama administration has ever explained how the Iraqi Army can both liberate and secure Mosul and Ninewa if the civil war in Syria continues just across the border, and if ISIS or some other form of Sunni Jihadist movement remains active. There is no solution to Iraq without a solution to Syria, and sporadic bombing and training up to 15,000 volunteers over the next three years is scarcely going to do anything to provide such a solution.
And this brings us to a far broader problem in the Obama administrations approach. As is the case with Afghanistan and earlier with Yemen, the administration has failed to provide any honest transparency about the impact of the limits to its present strategy, the train and assist mission, the real world course of the fighting, and the risks and cost benefits of the present form of U.S. military intervention. There have been no substantive plans, risk assessments, or progress reporting just spin, positive claims and vacuous reports like that of the lead inspector general over the conflict, which totally failed to say anything meaningful about the progress of the war.
It is all too clear that the present U.S. air and train and assist campaigns are not enough. What is totally unclear is that administration has a viable strategy, that the risks of becoming involved in Iraqs deep divisions and the Syrian civil war can be overcome, and that the administration is prepared to be honest in presenting the cost-benefits and risks to either the American people or the Congress.
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Todays anti-Semitism is a product of a new civic religion that could be termed “Palestinianism.”
By ROBERT S. WISTRICH
Jerusalem Post, 05/20/2015
On Sunday, Robert S. Wistrich the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem emailed the following column to Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, asking that it be published in the coming week. Wistrich died suddenly on Tuesday. We dedicate his last column to perpetuating his memory. May his words live on.
There are few topics of more pressing concern today to Jewish communities around the world than the current resurgence of anti-Semitism. Thus, there could have been no more appropriate time for the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism to meet than last week in Jerusalem. It was a large and impressive gathering of participants from all over the world, initiated by the Foreign Ministry, together with its Diaspora Affairs Department.
In my own remarks to the conference I emphasized the need to free ourselves from certain outdated myths. My first point was that even today, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are fixated on the dangers of far-right traditional anti-Semitism - whether racist, religious or nationalist. While neo-fascism has not altogether disappeared, it is in most cases a secondary threat.
Second, there is an illusory belief that more Holocaust education and memorialization can serve as an effective antidote to contemporary anti-Semitism. This notion, shared by many governments and well-meaning liberal gentiles, is quite unfounded. On the contrary, today Holocaust inversion (the perverse transformation of Jews into Nazis and Muslims into victimized Jews) all-too-often becomes a weapon with which to pillory Israel and denigrate the Jewish people. Hence the approach to this entire subject requires considerable rethinking, updating and fine-tuning.
Third, we must recognize much more clearly than before that since 1975 (with the passing of the scandalous UN resolution condemning Zionism as racism) hatred of Israel has increasingly mutated into the chief vector for the new anti-Semitism.
By libeling the Jewish state as racist, Nazi, apartheid and founded from its inception on ethnic cleansing, its enemies have turned Zionism into a synonym for criminality and a term of pure opprobrium.
Hence, every Jew (or non- Jew) who supports the totally illegitimate or immoral Zionist entity is thereby complicit in a cosmic evil.
Fourth, todays anti-Semitism is a product of a new civic religion that could be termed Palestinianism.
The official Palestinian narrative seeks to supplant Israel with a judenrein Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. In the case of Hamas, this intent is absolutely explicit. With Fatah, it is partly veiled for tactical reasons.
But when it comes to the Palestinian ideology and the millions around the world who support it, virtually all actions of self-defense by Israel are instantly classified as genocide, demonized and treated as part of a sinister Jewish-imperialist conspiracy. Not surprisingly, then, pro-Palestine demonstrations, beginning in the summer of 2014, were often accompanied by ugly chants of Death to the Jews and anti-Semitic incidents.
My fifth point is closely related to this reality. Since the turn of the 21st century, anti-Semitism has undergone a process of growing Islamicization, linked to the terrorist holy war against Jews and other non-Muslims with its truly lethal consequences.
Yet most debates skirt around the issues of Iran and radical Islam.
However, if we do not confront the prime danger posed by radical Islamist and genocidal anti-Semitism, how can our common struggle hope to succeed? One of the symptoms of this vain policy of appeasement pursued by America and Europe is the almost Pavlovian reflex after every terrorist, anti-Semitic outrage to immediately disconnect it from any link to Islam. Of course, Islamist is not identical with Islam, only a minority of Muslim believers support terrorism, and stigmatization is wrong. Equally, we must empower moderate Muslims wherever we can.
But denial does not work. Levels of anti-Semitism among Muslims clearly remain the highest in the world, and the horrific consequences of jihadi movements like Islamic State for all minorities are impossible to ignore. Nothing can be gained by sweeping this threat under the carpet.
The Islamists are the spearhead of current anti-Semitism, aided and abetted by the moral relativism of all-too-many naive Western liberals.
My sixth observation relates to the need for Israelis and Diaspora Jews to rediscover, redefine and reassess their Jewish identity, core Jewish values and the depth of their own connection to the Land of Israel as well as to their historic heritage. I was privileged to have authored two years ago the exhibition People, Book, Land The 3,500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land for the bold project initiated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center together with UNESCO. Against all the odds and in the face of predictable opposition, it opened at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in June 2014.
In April 2015, the exhibit was even shown at UN Headquarters in New York, and it will soon come to Israel. This is not merely a historical exercise, for it shows the extraordinary tenacity, cultural vitality, spirituality, and metaphysical as well as physical bonds of Jews and Judaism to the Land of Israel. None of this was intended, it should be emphasized, to negate the historical presence and significance of Christianity and Islam in this land.
But it sets the record straight.
My final reflection flows from this experience. I believe that in an age of Jewish empowerment, living in a sovereign and democratic Israeli state, we can and must first clarify for ourselves our vocation, raison dêtre, moral priorities, and the deeper meaning of our near-miraculous return to the historic homeland.
This is the other side of the coin in our essential and relentless fight against anti-Semitism. As we celebrate Jerusalem Day let us be worthy of the scriptural promise that the Torah will come forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Here, in the beating heart of the Jewish nation, where its body and soul come together in the City of Peace, we must be true to the national and universal vision of our biblical prophets. Anti-Semitism, the long shadow which has for so long accompanied our bi-millennial Diasporic tribulations, and nearly 70 years of renewed statehood, is neither eternal nor must it prevent Jews from fulfilling their ultimate destiny to one day become a light unto the nations.