In the past week, the media have been inundated with photos and videos of an endless line of machine-gun-mounted pick-up trucks flying black flags roaring across the desert, with masked men, swathed in black, riding in their wells brandishing AK-47s, rocket launchers and other weapons of choice. These videos have been carefully crafted to convey an overwhelming impression of ruthless, unstoppable force. Apostates beware! Retribution approaches and these are the angels of death whom you will shortly meet. The success of this psychological offensive, which was launched before a single town had fallen, is attested to by the way in which three full divisions of the new Iraqi army have thrown away their weapons and surrendered or run away without firing a shot.
But look at these videos and photo more closely, and other questions spring to mind. Where did this army spring up from? Who armed them? And who provided them with the pick-ups, and the anti-aircraft and heavy machine guns mounted on them? Why are all of them seemingly from one manufacturer, of one colour, and virtually brand new? The answer is that they were purchased by Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, landed at the port of Antakya in Southern Turkey, and sent with the blessings and active support of the US and the European Union to ‘rebels’ who, they fondly imagined, wanted to topple Bashar al-Assad and usher in democracy and respect for human rights in Syria. Instead, they have opened the gates of Hell in Iraq and, if they are not stopped, will carve out parts of Iraq and Syria to create the modern world’s first terrorist state.
The wheel has thus turned full circle. In 2003, George W Bush invaded Iraq supposedly to stop Saddam Hussein from turning it into a base for al Qaeda. In February 2011, Obama conspired with irresponsible European nations, notably France and Britain, to destroy Libya, another supposedly ‘tyrannical’ state predisposed to sheltering terrorists. And a few months later, the US and its European allies joined Sunni sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf to do away with Assad. Today, the US and, reluctantly, Europe have begun to discuss ways of meeting the dire threat posed by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) with the same States they once attacked, tried to destroy economically and militarily, and excoriated from every pulpit — Iran, Syria and Russia.
To those who have not followed recent developments in the Mideast, the change appears a hasty knee-jerk reaction. Former Presidential hopeful John McCain has demanded that the US should never seek the help of Iran and Syria to defeat the ISIS. Israel’s prime minister has not said a single word about the eruption of ISIS in Iraq, an event that he and his government have done everything to make possible. Instead, he has dismissed a claim by ISIS affiliate Dawlat-al Islam, that it was they who had kidnapped three Israeli teenagers in Hebron, and continues to insist that Hamas, his old enemy, was the culprit.
However, in the following pages, Sharmine Narwani points out that the change has been in the making for some time and describes how a group of Arab nations have taken the initiative in fashioning a response to the Jihadi threat and safeguarding their own future.