A unifying enemy in the Middle East

While a great deal of news are circulating about ISIS, it is still unbelievable that such a group of beheaders could move the world, forcing the old giant to change its position, from one side to the other, first on its back than on its belly.

Also yesterday, all the fronts have been mobilized: in the Vatican and in Belgium (where a terrorist attack has been thwarted), all the international police forces are on the move, the Pope is at risk. In the US, Obama delivered a speech, alongside with the Security Council now chaired by the US, through which he transmitted another double message. He is determined to defeat ISIS, but, instead of carefully identifying a strategy, he speaks about diplomacy: “We already are more than forty countries”, he said. “This is not an American war”, and so on, even if – as he states – the US have a leading role.

At this moment, America and France are undoubtedly the more active allies with their drones (Hollande boasted about dozens of terrorists killed by his Rafale aircrafts), but right now the situation in the Middle East, and in its surroundings, is changing, being molded like clay, drawing unmanageable geopolitical scenarios, where there is no mind that has actually control nor, at least, understanding. In the background, there is the displacement of fourteen million people, pushed by war and hunger, with half of the Syrian people and one tenth of Iraqis rambling through deserts and mountains.

Three events shaped yesterday’s chaos: Turkey, which had refused the coalition, and even denied its bases despite the fact that it is a NATO country, managed yesterday to recover its forty nine hostages from ISIS’ hands. Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, says that no ransom has been paid: so it is logical to think that it somehow had something to do with the country’s political position.

The Sunni extremists, of which, on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is part in its own different way, and of which Erdogan is a universal leader, seem to repay the courtesy. In the meanwhile, Lebanon, which has about ten soldiers still being held captive by ISIS, and which already saw the second one killed just Friday, asked Turkey to mediate for their release.

There really is a fascinating plot making Turkey a nest for intrigues: the wily Erdogan just opened the gates for forty-five thousand Kurdish refugees (an ethnic group engaged in an eternal controversy with Turkey). In the meanwhile, Kurdish Peshmergas are asking Obama to help the villages that ISIS occupied over the last few days in Syria amid the hysteria about the American action, passing through Iraq in Syria.

The unimaginable is now stealing the show: ultra-Islamic Saudi Arabia led the Council of Senior Scholars with its chairman, Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, to condemn terrorism. The activities through which it economically supports Western madrasas and mosques are more than ever in question. Qatar defenestrated its usual guests of the Brotherhood, the same ones it had financed until yesterday, and it is in the coalition. Can we trust it? No, but we will see if the expulsion of Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas, will be confirmed.

So, the US could now have the occasion to sketch a true front of “moderates”, finally asking Islam to speak, to bring out the partnership with Israel in an authentic “peace process”. The shared interest here – it must be said – is, specifically, to defeat terrorism. Moreover, that coalition will never be a moderated one if Iran, the very symbol f terror and Assad, is part of it. While it is true that Iran is fighting both on the Iraqi and the Syrian territory, it is unconceivable that it would do it as an ally. Nonetheless, yesterday Kerry legitimized it.

A mistake that is worrying Saudis, Egyptians, the Gulf countries, Jordan… What kind of moderate front has Obama in mind? Or, as a matter of fact, has he nothing in there, like during the Arab Spring?

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (September 21, 2014)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.