Exclusive for THE LEVANT NEWS – By General(ret) Elias Farhat* —
i-There is much talk about terrorism, but little action. Some of the measures taken have not been sufficient , while others either raise suspicions as to their real aims or are clearly supportive of terrorist organizations.
ii-Terrorist organizations are being used to achieve the interests of foreign powers, such as overthrowing regimes or destabilizing a country or creating civil and sectarian wars.
iii-The argument that religious and confessional disputes are the cause of the growth of terrorism is false and misleading .These disputes are fourteen centuries old and did not cause such terrible wars as is the case in Syria ,Iraq and other countries.
When we listen to the political discourse of many countries we feel that they denounce terrorism and disapprove all terrorist attacks anywhere. Yet if all these countries denounce or fight terrorism, why do we still witness terrorist organizations` grow and expand in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle east and attack in Europe and the United States? There are questions that should be raised to explain the issue and show the reality.
Brief History of Terrorism in the Levant
In September 2001, following the surprising and horrific attacks of AL Qaeda in Washington and New York, the then president George Bush declared war on terror and launched an offensive against Afghanistan , occupying that country and toppling the Taliban regime and forming a NATO force (International Security Assistance Force ) ISAF which deployed in Afghanistan .This war was justified as a response to the 9/11 attacks.
Two years later in 2003, the United States along with a coalition of other countries , and without a resolution from the UN security council, launched an attack against Iraq under the pretext of possession of WMD s, sponsoring terrorism and constituting a threat to its neighbors. Neither of these pretexts proved to be correct, especially with the UN inspection team not finding any WMDs.
All the evidence that former secretary of state Powel presented in front of the Security Council proved to be false.
So, operation Iraq Freedom instead of undermining terrorism or wiping it out, promoted terrorism in Iraq. That country under Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship, was at odds with AL Qaeda and all its affiliated groups. Under US occupation, terrorism spread in Iraq and the region, mostly in places where it has never existed before.
Terrorism in Iraq was restricted to sleeper cells, with a few strongholds in some towns such as Fallujah where the majority of people protested the policy of the Iraqi government and accused it of confessional discrimination between Sunnis and Shia and depriving Sunnis of their rights.
In Syria, the crisis started on March 15 ,2011with mass demonstrations in most of the cities. In the beginning of 2012 Al-Qaida groups entered Syria from Iraq and were reinforced later by numerous multi-national fighters from Turkey. Jabhat Al Nusra, an army of Alqaeda affiliated groups led by Abo Mohamed Aljolani (initial name Husein AlSharaa), deployed on the Syrian side of the Turkish- Syrian borders. The notorious Abo Baker Albagdadi was the leader of Alqaeda in Iraq under the name the Islamic State in Iraq, Aljolani was his subordinate and reported to him. In April 2013 Alqaeda affiliated groups crossed the Turkish-Syrian borders and occupied Raqqa , the first regional capital of a Mohafaza (province) to be under the control of terrorists.
Baghdadi entered Syria from his stronghold in Iraq and declared the formation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Jolani refused to obey him, and therefore a war erupted between the two organizations which resulted in the killing of nearly six thousand from both sides.
In June 2014 , ISIS invaded Iraq , with a surprising shock and awe, and within two days occupied four provinces: Nineva, Salaheddine , Anbar ,Diyala and parts of north Babel, all of which are comprised of majority Sunni inhabitants. Soon Baghdadi declared Khilafa Islameya (a model state like the recent Ottoman Khilafa and others in the medieval ages) and declared himself Khalifa ,meaning the spiritual, political, military leader .The Khilafa attracted Moslem youth ,thus many Al-Qaida affiliated groups defected and joined ISIS all over the world .A new savage fundamentalist organization was born .Both Al-Qaida and ISIS promoted terrorism in failed states such as Syria ,Iraq ,Libya, Somalia and Yemen, conducting terrorist attacks in west and north Africa , the Arab peninsula, Indian subcontinent , Europe and the USA.
Terrorist organization usually operate as sleeper cells. After overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, there were no safe havens for terrorism. Only the Waziristan mountains offered refuge for the Taliban. Baghdadi and Jolani formed a terrorist safe haven in North Iraq and Syria, i.e along the borders with Turkey.
Thousands of fighters calling themselves “Jihadists” from all over the world reached Syria and Iraq via Turkey, to practice what they believe a divine duty. Many of them came from the Caucasus region, Central Asian countries, and the Xinjiang province in China (Uighur fighters). This was not an individual act, no doubt there were organizations and states that mobilized those people and ensured their freedom of movement until they arrived in Turkey. An army of AL Qaeda therefore established its presence in Northwest Syria while an ISIS army established its presence in the Northeast. Thus there were no more borders between the two countries.
Each of the two armies consists of leadership, staff, Sharia men, Islamic courts and army units, where soldiers have received training on several kinds of arms and on preparing IED s(improvised explosive device ),booby traps, mines and other explosives. The Command and Control system was very sophisticated, and communication sets were immune to listening or jamming, at least by the Iraqi and Syrian Armies. Hundreds of four wheel, brand new Toyota jeeps, often appeared on satellite TV stations carrying on board ISIS and Al-Qaida fighters. This raises many questions:
- The structure of command and control and the organization of units, must have been the work of professional officers who are familiar with the geography of the region, the enemy’s resources and capabilities, along with the people, culture and the environment of operations. “Jihadis” have come from different countries and different ethnicities, with different languages and cultures that require special experienced people in order to build the structures of command and units.
- – The equipment employed by these Jihadists included weapons, vehicles and logistical material crossing the border from Turkey, a NATO member state, to Syria. Turkish authorities were no doubt aware of the flow of fighters and arms in order to grant them access to many resources in the border areas, and allow them to cross the borders into Syria.
- Thousands of brand new vehicles were imported from Japan and other countries and fell into the hands of ISIS and Al-Qaida. They were shipped and brought across oceans and seas to the Turkish ports, before being transported to Syria and Iraq. This is not mere smuggling; it is a logistical operation which requires the assistance of sovereign states in order to be accomplished. Furthermore, shipping the vehicles involves international shipping companies, and transferring the price involves banks violating UN security council resolution 1373(counter terrorism measures). None of these measures was uncovered by the international community, and no one justified the rapid growth of these armies.
- ISIS occupied numerous oil fields in Northern Syria. Politicians and reporters from all over the world talked about ISIS selling crude oil and funding itself from its revenue. The question is who bought that oil? And how was it paid for? The party responsible for buying this oil should be held accountable for at least buying stolen goods and funding terrorism. The Turkish government must be aware of most of the buyers, mainly the refineries, which are under its control.
- Thousands of European nationals of Islamic origin joined ISIS as well as Al-Qaida and enjoyed freedom of movement all the way from their countries to Syria. They should have been identified by the security authorities and arrested before joining terrorist organizations. So far there are no serious measures to stop the flow of Jihadis from Europe to Syria via Turkey.
Media ,Culture,and Confessions
Media, politicians, and research centers often use the term terrorism, but what is terrorism? So far there are many definitions but there is no common international definition for terrorism to be followed by the UN member states .Any state can label any organization as terrorist ,for example the US supports the YPG forces in North Syria and recently equipped them with arms and military vehicles , while Turkey ,a US ally and NATO member state labeled them as A terrorist organization.
The UN security council adopted resolutions in which some organizations were labeled terrorists such as ISIS and Al-Qaida and its branch in Syria Jabhat Al Nusra.
Therefore, it is the interests of countries that define terrorism and not the principles and values of the United Nations.
Given the situation in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, terrorism is sponsored by states and it is not a result of practicing religion and cultures.
Without Pakistan there would never be a Taliban and without Turkey there would never be ISIS and other Al-Qaida affiliated groups deployed in Syria. It is not a coincidence that these terrorist organizations grew on the Syrian side of the Turkish- Syrian borders, the support of Turkey is a must to create these organizations.
Some researchers see a relation between terrorism and religion and culture, they focus on the slogans that demand to establish an Islamic state. These slogans and ideas are dug deep in history and go back centuries in time, when the Levant was under Islamic Caliphate rule when some fanatic and fundamentalist religious groups, unlike the then mainstream ,considered other schools and confessions as infidel . In spite of all that, people from different religions and ethnicities lived together in the Umayyad’s, Abbasids and Ottoman Caliphate. That was because the religious texts and script encouraged the coexistence of people and equality between all citizens and all the fanatics misinterpreted the text.
Over a period of fourteen centuries, people from different confessions: Sunni, Shia, Druze, Ismaili’s, Alawites, Christians, Jews and others coexisted and built a civilization in the Levant. This stands in sharp contradiction to the practices of ISIS and Al-Qaida in terms of rejecting any other religious sect or confession and destroying the symbols of the current civilization and the antiquities of the past.
Some scholars point to the Sunni Shia conflict which took place 13 centuries ago. They consider the current war as a part of that conflict. This may be correct, to a certain extent in central Iraq, but when it comes to Northern Iraq the conflict turns out to be ethnic between Arabs and Kurds, with both sides adhering to the same Sunni sect. In Egypt the conflict is political between people of the same religious sect, Army supporters and the Moslem brotherhood (both of whom are Sunni). In Libya and Somalia, the conflict is between tribes that are all Sunni. So confessional strife is not the reason for terrorism. Terrorism is not the creation of ideologies or confessions, rather it is the creation of states that use it to achieve their interests mostly through black channels i.e. intelligence.
Terrorism as a Proxy Force
During the bipolar world order, there was the cold war. In that war both poles fought each other through proxy organizations or states. Conflicts usually end when the two super powers agree to settle their disputes on that issue.
Nowadays we do not know if the world order is bipolar or still unipolar with one super power ,the United States .In this grey time ,it is likely that some countries use terrorist organizations as an instrument to achieve political aims, and when a terrorist attack takes place and causes damage to people or the country s economy ,terrorists are accused without any hint to those who are behind them .At the same time states who sponsor terrorism pretend to fight it and at the same time they fight those who really combat terrorism and impose sanctions on them. Yet they still avoid to answer crucial questions such as who brought the Toyotas to ISIS?
The current war on terror which former US president George W Bush declared in 2001, is not going in the right direction. Terrorism is expanding, more countries are coming under threat, and terrorist organizations now operate an army in addition to sleeper cells.
There should be sincere efforts to fight terrorism seriously because the danger is real. Any cover up for terrorists under terms like “rebels” or “revolutionaries” to achieve political interests would harm more people and jeopardize international security.
*Elias Farhat is a Lebanese retired General and military expert. His email: email@example.com and tweets as @farhat1122