If They Are Bombed - They Are Daesh
• October 4, 2015
• 2,100 Words
President Putin is a pirate, no less. In his declaration at the
UN, he stole President Bush Jr’s copyrighted 2001 call to fight
Terror. That’s why the Americans were taken aback: the Russian
President played back at them the best tropes of their own
presidents. This was a clever subterfuge: instead of pointing
out the disagreement between the Russians and the US, Putin took
the whole American discourse and appropriated it. People
conditioned to this talk swallowed it, hook, line, and and
sinker, and even liked it: readers of the popular
NY Daily News preferred Putin’s speech to that of their own
president 95% to 5 %. So did Donald Trump. Putin probably would
take the Republican nomination if he were to run for it, so
Trump wants to take these Putin votes.
And now, the Russians began their war on Terror. George W Bush’s
War on Terror was a sham; would the Russian one be any better?
The Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, by Arabic acronym),
the declared object of the campaign, is an elusive entity, like
al Qaeda, – or like the Snark of Lewis Carroll’s poem. It is a
franchise, a network, rather than a state. It can’t be undone by
airstrikes anymore than al Qaeda was.
Putin said that the US unleashed thousands of airstrikes at
Daesh, and nobody knows where those bombs landed and whether
they had any impact. The West says the same about the Russian
strikes. The British Minister of Defence promptly estimated that
5% of the Russian bombs hit Daesh, while the rest landed on
other fighting units a.k.a. “the moderate opposition”. Though
this number of 5% could only be achieved by divination or by
reading tea leaves, it is plausible that the Russians will use
the war on Daesh for their own purpose. What is the Russian
They do not want to present Assad with an unlimited victory. The
Russians want to sort out the Syrian mess created by the
Assad-must-go mantra, and force the sane opposition to
negotiate with the Syrian government, eventually restoring the
Syrian state. Forcing someone to negotiate is Russian know-how;
they applied it recently in the Ukraine. The Kiev regime was
unwilling to negotiate and settle with the Donbass, hoping to
win the war. Then crack Russian troops entered Eastern Ukraine
to the south of Donbass and moved for the sea port of Mariupol.
Their speed, mettle and success were so overwhelming that they
could have taken Mariupol and proceeded unhindered to Kherson
and Odessa. The Kiev regime sued for peace, the Russians
accepted the plea, their troops went home to the barracks,
Mariupol remained under Kiev rule, and the Minsk agreements were
Probably the Russians will use the same routine, first in
Western Syria, the most populated part of the country. The
opposition will have a choice of (a) negotiating and entering a
coalition with the government, (b) being bombed to smithereens
as Daesh, or (c) escaping to the deserts of Eastern Syria,
Turkey or Iraq. The US, French, British and the Turks say that
Russians are bombing the moderate opposition rather than Daesh.
From Russian point of view, those who refuse to negotiate are
Daesh by definition, and so they deserve to be bombed. In short,
if they are bombed they are Daesh.
Daesh has strong propaganda value: they make videos of chopped
heads and blown up antiques and drive around in dashing new
jeeps. They are called the Ultimate Evil by President Obama,
President Putin and the Pope. Such an Ultimate Evil has its
useful application as it justifies military action. For Obama,
Daesh provides a licence to bomb Syria forever. For Putin, Daesh
provides a chance to pressure the opposition for compromise.
Does Daesh exist in a normal way, or is an apparition of smoke
and mirrors? We do remember that the dreadful al-Qaeda of 9/11
fame turned out to be an almost virtual entity, and eventually
became an ally of the US under its new name of Jabhat al Nusra.
This is a moot point.
Just consider that the neighbours—Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia,
the Emirates—do not fight Daesh.
Daesh says it wants to free Palestine, but they have never, ever
harmed an Israeli. The Israelis would fight them if they
considered them being dangerous to Israel. Israeli officials
have said privately to the Russians: “Daesh are bad guys, but of
little importance. Why are you obsessed with them?”
Daesh says they will liberate Mecca and send the the Saudis back
to desert, but they never did anything against the Saudis. As
the Russian bombs fell, the Saudis were the first to cry “Stop
The Turks said they will fight Daesh, but instead, they bombed
the Kurds. Thierry Meyssan, the French journalist based in
Damascus, considers Daesh a Turkish creature and says Daesh
sells oil to the Turks. The Turks denied that. Turkish officials
told me that Daesh sells its illegal oil to Bashar al-Assad and
that Bashar does not fight Daesh. Bashar’s people say they do
not fight Daesh because they were told to keep away by the US.
Back to square one.
This line was confirmed by Russian officials. They said that in
September 2014 they were approached by the Americans who warned
them that they would begin bombing Daesh-held areas. They asked
the Russians to pass a message to the Syrian government saying
that the bombing campaign was not aimed against Damascus, and
they should sit tight and would not be hurt. The US did not want
to speak directly to Bashar al-Assad.
The Russians refused to pass the message. If you have a message
for the Syrian government, try Western Union, they said, or do
it yourself. And the Americans did it. They told Bashar directly
that they will bomb Daesh positions and he should stay out and
keep his cool.
It appears that at the face-to-face Putin-Obama meeting at the
UN HQ, this argument was aired again. President Obama said that
Assad does not fight against Daesh and President Putin retorted
that this was the US demand: stay out and do not meddle. Assad
waited for a whole year, and so did we, said Putin, and
meanwhile the territory under Assad’s control shrunk down to 30%
or even less.
Obama demanded more transparency regarding Russian plans and
intentions. Putin retorted he also could use more transparency
regarding American plans. What do you want to achieve in Syria,
asked Obama. Putin asked the same question, and got no answer.
Obama said Russian involvement in the war with Daesh would
fortify Assad. Putin asked: whom will your involvement fortify?
We do not want to liberate territories for Assad, said Obama.
For whom, pray tell me, do you do to liberate the territories?,
asked Putin, and received no answer. Who will rule the
territories after your victory? Again there was no clear answer.
This is the difference between the Russian and American
approach: the Russians want to save the Syrian state, while the
Americans want to rejoice in the fall of the tyrant. Russians
stress that they are not committed to Assad’s rule. They “aren’t
married to Assad”, as they say. To Obama’s Assad must go,
Putin did not reply with Assad must stay. This is not
your business, he said, and it is not Saudis’ business neither.
This is an internal Syrian affair. We do not want to remove or
appoint presidents in other countries, said Putin.
Indeed, Putin could have removed the Georgian president in
August 2008, he could have saved the Ukrainian president
Yanukovych in February 2014; he could have changed or replaced
presidents in other neighbouring states like the US removed
Noriega of Panama, but, for good or for ill, he did not do it.
Regime change is as American as apple pie; Putin does not go for
it. Many Russians think this adherence to international law is
Putin’s fault; perhaps, nobody is perfect.
Putin reminded Obama that at G8 summit in Northern Ireland it
was decided to arrange a meeting of all the Syrian parties
against terrorism. However, the US proposed to form a united
Syrian coalition government and only afterwards to proceed to
fight terrorism. The Russians proposed to do this by parallel
tracks, forming a coalition and fighting terrorism, but they
could not prevail. Russians are committed to the Geneva-1
agreement calling for the negotiations of all Syrian parties of
the conflict. The US are co-signatories of Geneva-1, but they
refused to act.
Russians made a huge effort to get the opposition together for
negotiations, but in vain. The opposition is fragmented into
thirty or more groups, and they can’t even sit together, let
alone sit with the Syrian government. When the Russians proposed
a conference, the opposition refused. They said: the government
has a position, but we have thirty differing positions, how can
we negotiate? The Russians asked the powers to produce at least
a short list of moderate opposition groups. Only Turkey came up
with a list, but this list was totally unacceptable to Egypt, as
it contained mainly Muslim Brotherhood splinters. Other powers
did not even propose a short list.
A month or so ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made
the last attempt to convince the opposition saying “if you do
not work together, Syria will cease to exist. There will be no
Assad, and no Syria. Damascus will fall to Daesh”. It did not
have an impact either.
Russia made a great effort to build consensus around its actions
in Syria. It appears that
the recent British killing-by-drone of two British subjects
in Syria has influenced the Russian mind. The Brits justified
this killing in a foreign land, in breach of international law,
by Article 51 of the UN Charter (self-defence). Sergey Lavrov
was overheard fuming: if having two Brits among Daesh volunteers
justifies a British airstrike on the grounds of self-defence,
aren’t the Russians entitled to similar recourse as there are
three thousand Russian volunteers with Daesh? It seems that this
comparison has been made by President Putin. He was also sick
and tired of being lectured and restrained while everybody else
enjoyed a marvelous freedom of action.
A Daesh victory was unacceptable for the Russians as the
traditional custodians of Syrian Christians, for Daesh is very
bad for Christians. Some were slaughtered and some had to flee.
From this point of view, al Qaeda, al Nusra and similar extreme
groups are not better. Russia is committed to preservation of a
Syrian state tolerant to religious and ethnic minorities (not
necessarily a laic state), but certainly Russia would never
allow the majority Sunnis to be discriminated against, either.
Russia is home to some twenty million Sunni Muslims (and very
few Shia) who are fully integrated and occupy all walks of life
and important positions in the Russian state. One of the more
fervent and outspoken Russian Muslims is Ramzan Kadyrov, the
head of warlike Chechnya. He expressed his support for the
Russian airstrikes and offered to lead his fighters into battle
in the Syrian hills in order to save the Syrians from the wrath
of Takfiris (=those who call other Muslims “Kaffir”, “infidel” –
a name for Daesh and other Muslim extremists). So for the
Russians, this is not a Crusade of Christians against Muslims,
but a war of Christians and Muslims against
Russians are also worried by possible influx of takfiris and
jihadis into Russia proper. The US would not mind such a
development, as it would keep Russia occupied at home.
The Russians would like to build a grand coalition for saving
Syria, a coalition that includes the Western states as well as
Muslim states. That’s why President Putin reminded everyone of
the grand coalition against Hitler’s Germany. However, there is
no chance for such a consensus. The US wants Syria to be utterly
destroyed, and certainly it wants the Russians to fail in their
That’s why the Russian planes were still on the ground warming
their engines while the social networks already went abuzz
showing photos of Syrian children killed by Russian bombs. We
may expect more of the same in the next few days. If Russians
will be successful, their adversaries are likely to set up an
atrocity: the downing of a civilian airliner, the bombing of a
school,and suchlike. We should be ready for such a development.
Israel Shamir reports from Moscow. He can be reached at
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