The many hidden dangers in Arabs’ help

For the first time, the echoes of the war in Syria are being heard in the garden of the White House. From there, mounting on the helicopter that will bring him to the General Assembly in New York, Obama carefully gives his address a shy and modest tone, perhaps too much so for a war: “We will hunt down terrorists wherever they are, we are operating with a coalition of five Arab friendly states fighting with us”.

In his cold expression, always a bit snobbishly annoyed when he is forced to speak about war, you cannot see the real apocalyptic scenario of the battle: a Middle East with fourteen million refugees, where in these hours hundreds of thousands Kurds are fleeing, chased by ISIS’ madness, where hunger is gripping everyone, and death goes around swinging its scythe.

The terrorists’ grim passion for the grim reaper does not clash with an enthusiastic torch of life blazing on the other side, but with a spurious coalition, already conscious that a war cannot be won just from the air.

For three years, Obama tried to stay out of Syria, even at the cost of losing points in front of Russia, his historic enemy. But the beheadings, the territorial and economic escalation of ISIS, along with all those Western young people gone to war that generated the unrestrained whiplash of the media, forced Obama to do something he would have never wanted to do: make people hear the noise of the Tomahawks exploding on Raqqa. He has two consolations though: five Sunni countries that he described as “friends” (this is suitable for him), and the second of the two targets that have been hit yesterday.

The first one, ISIS’ technical infrastructures, destroyed by fourteen bombings from the air and from the Red Sea. The second one, the raid against the Khorasan group, a network of Al Qaeda veterans who were “plotting an imminent attack to the US”.

The bombings have been harsh, harsher than those of the last few weeks in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, the Emirates, Qatar, are all countries with good reasons to fight ISIS, an oil-rich territorial identity by now, damaging their credibility as Sunni states that take into account the West. Some of them are more straightforward, as Jordan, others have an imperial and diplomatic goal as Saudi Arabia.

The balancing act of this coalition is made evident by the presence of Qatar, which many accused to be the sponsor of all the more extremist groups, ISIS itself included.

From Egypt, the most natural ally, the president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi expressed himself with extreme caution in an interview to the Associated Press: he is available for sure, but he is not on the ground, and he speaks about the excessive delay in understanding the situation. And Israel, which yesterday found itself in the unpleasant necessity to shoot down a Syrian warplane that, from the airspace of Kuneitra, had trespassed on the Israeli sky, is de facto helping the coalition with a huge effort in terms of information, and goodness know what else. But you can speak of it only in a mere whisper, or the Arab countries may raise a brow; not for real, of course.

Turkey said “no”, but now, given the flow of Kurdish refugees coming from Syria under ISIS’ attack, perhaps it will change its mind. But the real issue here is Assad’s Syria with its allies, Iran and Hezbollah. It is a known fact that, even if Washington does not want to admit it officially, the US army obtained Assad’s permission to fight ISIS.

It has his full approval and, probably, his help as well. But the US said that Assad is not an ally: nevertheless, if Obama wins, Assad wins too, and, together with him, Hezbollah, and, above all, Iran.

The Islamic Republic is already in force on the ground, both in Iraq and in Syria, two countries that serve as a rear guard for its politics as an atomic power. All the bowing and scraping about Kerry’s invitations, and all the broken pacts are simply a façade. Truth is that the actual alliance draws together Obama and Rouhani, while now also David Cameron is planning a meeting with the president in order to ask him to join the coalition, and bail out on Assad. A foolish act. On the contrary, what is realistic is that the deadline of November, when Iran should clarify its stance on the nuclear issue, becomes a faraway horizon against which the centrifuges will keep working busily. In short: the extremist Sunni front cannot be defeated by promoting the extremist Shiite front. The only way is a front of moderates. As usual, Obama is not part of it.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (September 24, 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.