The Fertile Crescent After ISIS – Between Russia, Iran and Israel
March 13, 2019
Dr. Shmuel Bar served for thirty years in the Israeli government, first in the IDF Intelligence and then in the analytic and operational positions in the Israeli Office of the Prime Minister.
Since the mid 1980s, he has specialized in the ideology and operational codes of Islamic fundamentalist movements and particularly the Jihadi movement that later evolved into al-Qaeda.
He is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad. He holds a Ph.D. in History of the Middle East from Tel-Aviv University.
From 2003 and June 2013, Dr. Bar served as Senior Research Fellow and then Director of Studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzliya, Israel and on the steering team of the annual “Herzliya Conference”.
In addition to being an Adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, he is also a Senior Research Fellow at International Institute for Non-Proliferation Studies, has been (2007) Distinguished Koret Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has lectured at various academic institutions on issues relating to Israeli national security.
Dr. Bar has headed over 25 research projects – many of them for US government agencies – and published over 40 books, monographs and articles in professional journals on issues relating to the Middle East, including strategic issues in the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, deterrence (both nuclear and vis-à-vis terrorist threats), radical Islamic ideology, Iran, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians.He heads “Shmuel Bar- Research and Consultancy Ltd.” and is also Senior Research Fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion University in Haifa. Dr. Bar is also founder and CEO of IntuView Ltd – an Israeli based software company in the area of natural language processing.
He previously spoke at Westminster on the subject of: The Demise of the Arab State, Re-Tribalization, and the Emergence of “Jihadistans” in the Next Five Years.
Robert R. Reilly:
Dr. Shmuel Bar served for thirty years in the Israeli government; first in the IDF intelligence and then in the analytic and operational positions in the Israeli Office of the Prime Minister.
Since the mid-1980s, he specialized in the ideology and operational codes of Islamic fundamentalist movements and particularly the jihadi movement that later evolved into Al Qaeda.
He’s now the Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute. He’s the author of Warrant for Terror: the Fatwas of Radical Islam and the Duty to Jihad. I would say Warrant for Terror came out how many years ago, Shmuel? Okay, say the book came out about eight years ago. Believe me, it is an evergreen. So, go on to Amazon and get Warrant for Terror. It’s a short, powerful piece of analysis of what fatwas say on this subject.
Shmuel holds a PhD in history of the Middle East from Tel Aviv University. He’s been a research fellow, director of studies at a number of institutions, including Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Aside from Warrant for Terror, Shmuel has published more than forty books, monographs, articles, and professional journals and issues relating to the Middle East and all the attendant topics.
Tonight, he’s going to speak to us about, “The Fertile Crescent After ISIS – Between Russia, Iran, and Israel.” Welcome, Shmuel.
So, you’ll forgive me for not having PowerPoint. It distracts me. What I’d like to sort of do is to start with a sort of tour de raison of where we stand and let’s just say now we are at the beginning of 2019 and we are seeing the civil war in Syria winding up as a civil war and entering into a new stage and this I think is important to understand.
People are saying oh, well, yeah, Bashar al-Assad won. No, Bashar al-Assad did not win. Russia won. Iran won. Turkey so-so. The Syrian people lost. But this is not – to paraphrase Churchill, it’s not the end, it’s not the beginning of the end, maybe it’s the end of the beginning.
Because if we start from Syria and we look at the map, Syria will not really be a country again because the Syrian military alone cannot really completely hold all of the territories which are dominated by Sunnis who have lost so many people.
We are talking about a country of over 20 million, which about half the country has become refugees either external or internal refugees. Their homes have been destroyed and many, many of them find that when if they do come back from their status as refugees, their homes have been appropriated and given to Iraqi, Afghan, and other Shiites who have been imported by the Iranians and by the Syrian regime in order to ethnically cleanse the area.
At the same time, the whole Kurdish issue is still waiting and I’ll touch on that because the Kurdish issue is highly relevant to the United States. I think there should be some sort of statute of limitations on how many times you can abandon a certain ally: twice, three times, okay, but there has to be a limit. There has to be a limit.
And I say this as a person who used to train the Kurds, I like them, you know, some of my Kurdish friends say you are an honorary Kurd, you know.
But what we see now is that we are setting the stage for a new situation of on one hand the reemergence of the new Sunni uprising. You could call it ISIS 2.0. You could call it Al Qaeda 3.0.
It doesn’t matter because there’s no way whatsoever after all of this happened that the majority, which is still Sunni in Syria, is just going to lie down and say ok, you know, you won. Blood vengeance is very, very central to Arab culture and you can see this. It will take decades, if ever, for it to wear off.
However, who actually is calling the shots? What is going on? And I want to try to see. Syria is not Syria. In other words, we tend to look at places in the Middle East according to the country’s formal borders because that’s what we see on the maps at Foggy Bottom.
And I remind people that in World War II, I’ve seen maps of World War II from the American command in Europe where the maps there were these borders but they were very, very light. The real map was showing fronts. There was a front. There was an area where there was a theater of operations and Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, what people like to call the Fertile Crescent, this is a theater of operations.
And in this theater of operations we have the Russians. The Russians want something which they call ‘useful Syria’. Useful Syria means we want Tartus. We want Latakia. We want boots on the ground but not too many boots on the ground because we have a trauma of Afghanistan.
And we want to enjoy the economic benefits of having saved Bashar al-Assad. But more than anything what we wanted – we, the Russians, Putin – to collect cards for the big card game he wanted to hold with President Trump.
And he was collecting cards and he says: I’ve got Syria. You care about that. I’ve got Iran and their nuclear program. You care about that. I am trying to cozy up to the Saudis and they’re your allies. I am dabbling a little bit in Libya but you also have cards.
You have your opposition to what I’m doing in Ukraine. You have co-opted countries, which should be part of my near abroad into NATO; Estonia, et cetera. And of course, I have disagreements with you over your missile defense in the former Warsaw Pact. So let’s sit down and see. I put my cards on the table. You put your cards on the table.
So, when we’re talking about Russia, we have to understand these are Russia’s interests. That doesn’t mean that Russia is committed to Bashar al-Assad as Bashar al-Assad and Syrians know that and Iranians know that.
Moreover, Russia has absolutely no interest that Iran feel itself to be the landlord over Syria. The Russians want Iran to understand: we are the landlords, you are the tenants, which is why the Russians really like the idea that Israel is attacking Iran every day and they are telling the Iranians no, we’re not going to do anything about it.
When the Russians first entered Syria, Bogie Ya’alon was our Minister of Defense and he immediately went to Moscow. And Bogie is well known for putting his foot in his mouth and saying things that he doesn’t think about before but this time he said it right.
He sat down there with I think it was with Lavrov and someone else and he said, you know, when I was a young officer, you forced us to shoot down twelve Russian pilots over Sinai because they were flying for the Egyptians. I wouldn’t want to have to do that again.
And his Russian counterpart, the Minister of Defense, said, by no means, we will make sure that that won’t have to happen. In other words, there was this understanding. There is this understanding.