Israel Shamir: An “Oscar” for the PR Department Of “Al-Qaeda”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


It is necessary to joke more carefully! When “White helmets”, a group of militant discourse-mongers, or to put it simpler — the PR department of “Al-Qaeda” in Syria, was nominated in put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize, witty Maria Zakharova, the press attache of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proposed to give them an “Oscar”, because their numerous videos about rescuing Syrian children dying from Russian bombs were, as a rule, vulgar dramatisations filmed in other countries with the help of professional actors. Her joke was heeded in Los Angeles — and they gave it.

The documentary about “White helmets” received an “Oscar”, embedding the old mantra “Assad must go” in the minds of the audience of this show. And the second half of show happens at a time when in Geneva the envoy of the UN Staffan de Mistura tries to carry out a new round of negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition.

It is difficult to believe that there will be results, for three reasons:

1. The opposition isn’t capable of making a united delegation at negotiations, and de Mistura spends more time on trying to unite their factions than on actually negotiations.

2. The opposition refuses to sit in one room with representatives of the Syrian government, and de Mistura conducts “shuttle diplomacy”, running from room to room.

3. The opposition is by and large emigrants who are constantly living in Europe and the countries of the Arab East.

As an emigrant with great experience, I will tell you — it is very difficult to come to agreement with emigrants. As a rule, they take extreme positions and try to surpass each other in regards to irreconcilability. Not only Syrian ones. In Soviet time Russian emigrants competed in how to call Russia, Sovdepiya or Savraska. In Post-Soviet times, Russian political emigrants in Riga and London call today’s Russia “the bloody regime”, and not in any other way. And Syrian emigrants are not at all better. If one dares to even hint at peace, the other shouts at them: “Peace with the bloody executioner??!!”

Nevertheless the history of Syria is being defined in Syria. Emigrants so far agree to speak only about Assad’s departure, and this is so actual, like negotiations between Parisian emigrants and Bolsheviks on their voluntary leaving after the victory over Wrangel. History went in another direction. These days there is a reformatting of the Middle East. One of the most westernized countries of the region, Jordan, refused the slogan “Assad must go” and took a course for rapprochement with Syria.

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Israel was, and remains in a more difficult position. Let’s suppose that Assad remains, but only as the governor of Damascus and Alawistan, the coastal canton of Syria. That’s why the Israeli aircraft the other day once again bombed the location of units of the Syrian army, having accurately flown around ISIL’s location. Israel maintains relations with “Al-Nusra”, which Russia and the UN consider as a terrorist organization, and considers as terrorists the Lebanese Hezbollah, the ally of Assad and Russia. This complicates an already complex picture.

The situation is also complicated in Turkey, which is afraid of the strengthening of positions of Iran in Syria, and even more so doesn’t want to allow the joining together of the Kurdish enclaves into one territory. The Free Syrian Army connected with Turkey attacked the Syrian army near the Al-Bab, which was just retaken from ISIL. But Turkey, under the agreement with Russia, reconciled with the fact that Assad will remain in power.

Saudi Arabia is the most reliable pillar of the irreconcilable anti-Assad opposition. But it’s not easy for her too. Jordan turns away from it. Egypt already turned away and took a pro-Russian position. This was influenced not only by the expectations of Russian tourists (because they also want to go to warm Sharm El Sheikh!), but also by Saudi excess. Having used the weakness of General Al-Sisi, the governor of Egypt, Saudis demanded and received the islands in the Tiran strait, which are situated between Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Probably, Al-Sisi didn’t realize to what degree the obedient people of Egypt will be outraged by his step. Egyptians with great difficulty won these islands from Israel, and now they have to simple give them back to the rich neighbor? That’s why between Cairo and Riyadh a sharp cooling happened, despite that Saudi helped the Egyptian military the most to banish President Morsi and to put General Al-Sisi in the Presidential chair.

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But the worse thing for Saudi and the opposition is that President Trump still hasn’t showed the desire to fight for Damascus. Saudi Arabia, with pain, feels that she stopped being the favourite wife of Washington. It is already good that she still wasn’t placed on the list of seven banned countries. It’s true that Israel receives Donald Trump’s sympathy, but it isn’t clear how he will be able and will want to intercede for Saudi.

But America still hasn’t defined yet what she will do. Along with strikes on ISIS, Americans, together with England and France, decided to support the draft resolution of Security Council that condemns and imposes sanctions on the government in Damascus. The reason is old — allegedly Damascus used the chemical weapons against rebels, although Syria handed over and destroyed all stocks of chemical weapons. Russia promised to veto this resolution, which will become, in this way, the first Russian veto in Trump’s cadence [this has now happened, both Russia and China vetoed it – ed]. So, for now the ship “America” moves by inertia on the same course of Obama, though with smaller conviction and determination.

In this regard, delegations of opposition in Geneva asked Russia for help. They want Russia to pressure Damascus. But possibilities of Russia in this area aren’t boundless. And moreover it isn’t obvious whether it is worth pressuring Damascus while oppositionists aren’t capable of either uniting into one delegation, sitting down with Damascus at one negotiating table, or to refuse plans to overthrow Assad. The only thing that oppositionists want is the termination of military pressure on them, and a truce without obligations from their side. We already saw this cinema in Aleppo — it had a sad ending.

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For now the only reality is the format of Astana, where Turkey, Iran, and Russia try to bring together some elements of the opposition and the ruling regime together with some positive result. And in parallel — a continuation of military operations against those forces that refuse to enter a ceasefire regime and don’t assume certain political obligations.

As a result of the Syrian war Russia became the most important factor of Middle Eastern policy. Everybody addresses her. This is a new central place of Russia in the region, strengthened by a decreased profile of America — a large gain of the policy of Putin. Although Russia is the most important, it is not the only player on this field. And the game still hasn’t reached its conclusion.

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