ISIS beheadings at Palmyra
Photo: Zehavit Shasha
Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman
Photo: Zehavit Shasha

Syria presents Europe with its moment of truth

Op-ed: The West needs to act firmly to end the Syrian civil war and curb the rise of radical Islam, otherwise it's done for.

In 1918, Oswald Spengler’s book ,"The Decline of the West," was published in Germany. It seems that a century later his prophecy is indeed being fulfilled, as Western culture declines. This is occurring despite the fact that the West surpasses the Muslim world technologically, economically and militarily. Erroneous premises, conceptual confusion and an unwillingness to fight have produced global chaos which is being exploited by fundamentalist Islam for a war of jihad that strives to forcibly instate a new world order.



The common denominator between Khomeini’s revolutionaries in Iran, Al Qaeda and ISIS is the fanatic vision they share: to replace the values of modern civilization with those of fundamentalist Islam via a cruel, uninhibited takeover.


Western leaders have failed to understand that radical Islam doesn’t seek partnership. It seeks absolute control in the image of Islam. The West has fallen prey to dogmatic thinking and a misunderstanding of the mentality and cultural-historical DNA of Middle Eastern reality. The current situation is the result of the disastrous attempts of the European leadership to implement policies, the utter failure of which was a foregone conclusion.


I will open with an episode from the recent past, whose harsh consequences are already apparent: former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s policies vis à vis Libya. As foreign minister, in speaking with senior officials in the French government and with confidants of Mr. Sarkozy, some of whom were the driving force behind Sarkozy’s Libya initiatives, I pointed out the illogic and inefficacy of their plans. I asked them a simple question: what will happen the day after Muamar Qaddafi’s ouster? What is the governing alternative? Who will take responsibility in Libya?


I suggested the importance of thinking about the consequences this will have on Libya itself and on the entire region, rather than just about the current headlines and the effects on President Sarkozy’s popularity in the nearest poll. I cited the example of Iraq and Sadaam Hussein. I tried to explain that overthrowing a dictatorial regime is only half the job while the other half involves a careful preparation of a proper alternative. If the second part isn’t in place, one shouldn’t embark on the matter to begin with, as the worst possible outcome is to do an incomplete job. The response was laconic and quite blunt: “you are a rigid man who lives in the past. We are creating a new and promising future for Libya. We will bring the Libyans modernity and democracy and together with them we will build a better future for them and for the Middle East and you would do well to join this initiative.”


The dismal results of this “modernity and demoracy” are plainly visible today and I have no qualms about assigning direct personal responsibility for this debacle to Mr. Sarkozy. Unfortunately, neither he nor others who supported his policies have the courage and integrity to admit their error and draw the correct conclusions from the utter catastrophe which they subjected Libya and the entire region to.


The current refugee crisis facing Europe is a direct continuation of this mindset and an additional example of the basic lack of understanding in Europe of what is transpiring in the Middle East. Here too we see a confluence of misunderstanding, populism, an attempt to appease public opinion and a fear of losing power due to the voicing of an inconvenient truth that is very unpopular among Europe’s satiated and decadent public. A public that speaks volumes about elevated values but that has absolutely no willingness to pay a price for standing up and defending them.


This lack of understanding and irresponsibility is apparent in the West’s response to the unbridled brutality of ISIS.


The Western coalition against ISIS satisfies itself with aerial attacks when it is eminently clear that such operations serve only to afford a semblance of doing the bare minimum. These operations are insignificant and they have no chance of reigning in this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.


Refugees arriving in Hungary (Photo: Reuters)
Refugees arriving in Hungary (Photo: Reuters)


Those who are unwilling to send troops to fght ISIS on the ground reap the results in the guise of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing the ISIS offensive and flooding Europe. Those who are not ready to send soldiers to fight in the Middle East will find themselves fighting in the future on European soil. While this scenario seems imaginary now, just several years ago the image of hundreds of thousands of refugees marching on Europe also would have seemed imaginary. The murder of 10 journalists and two policemen at Charlie Hebdo would have been thought unreal just as the events in Iraq and Syria would have seemed difficult to imagine going back a decade or two.


Unfortunately, those who do understand are on “the other side.” They who have forged an alternative coalition and are present and fighting on the ground: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, who are thus protecting their interests in the vicinity of the Mediterranean Sea and in so doing are also saving the Assad regime from falling.


Reigning in the “Islamic State” phenomenon which poses a threat to the residents of the Middle East is a necessary, if insufficient, condition for ending the current crisis and for preventing the influx of millions of additional refugees to Europe.


It is impossible to end such a crisis through absurd mediation attempts under the auspices of the UN or through meetings at luxury hotels in Geneva. Victory requires a broad ground operation.


An additional requirement is to understand that the Middle East that was based on the post-WWI Sykes-Picot Agreement, San Remo Conference and resolutions of the League of Nations no longer exists. Bold decisions are required to establish new borders in the Middle East, in order to establish states with a homogeneous majority, enjoying a broad sense of internal identification, reflecting commonalities between the citizens and taking into account religious, ethnic and national components of society.


It is eminently clear today that the artificial boundaries of countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya are unsustainable and that they cannot be expected to serve as functioning states maintaining sovereign rule and affording personal and economic security to their citizens. I have heard similar conclusions from senior UN officials who served for several years in these areas and still maintain a measure of involvement. The expectation that things will simply occur on their own is, at best, escapism. The crisis can be resolved only when world leaders will find the courage to affirm loudly and clearly that new borders must be drawn in these areas. It must begin with a Sunni and Shi’ite state on the territories of Syria and Iraq. And Libya too will have to be partitioned. These are steps which must be taken with great care and a deep grasp of the implications of inaction.


Recent attempts by certain European leaders to include Assad among the relevant factors for a future resolution in Syria are an act of moral bankruptcy. Thus far, chemical weapons were used only twice in human history: the first time was by the Germans in World War one and the second time was by Sadaam Hussein against the Kurdish population of Iraq. But we have never seen a dictator with chemical stockpiles of such magnitude as Bashar Assad’s making such widespread use of them as we have during the civil war in Syria.


The undue pressure being placed by the senior Brussels bureaucracy to achieve an agreed upon formula for refugee absorption quotas among EU states is also destined to failure. Firstly, because there is no way that the EU states will agree on quotas imposed by Brussels and secondly because the very willingness to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom are migrant workers striving to improve their quality of life, will lead to the influx of millions more, that will in turn produce an acute economic, demographic and political crisis within and among the EU states.


The result of these efforts could be the de facto – and perhaps de jure – dissolution of the European Union. There is little doubt that the referendum to be held next year in the United Kingdom on its continued membership in the EU will be heavily influenced by the refugee issue. The greater and more forceful the European efforts to impose quotas, the greater the likelihood that the referendum will result in the UK’s exit from the EU.


Immigrant absorption is not just a matter of numbers. Israel, as a country that absorbed over one million immigrants in recent years, demonstrates that successful absorption is not only about arranging employment and lodging, but is rather about creating a principled ethos of shared life.


Many of the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores reject western values and adhere to Islamic concepts. Anyone familiar with the older generation of Muslim immigrants in Europe knows only too well that many of the second generation immigrants totally reject the European culture in which they were raised and reveal an even more fervent adherence to Islamic heritage than their parents. Some of these exploit the technological advantages to which they have been exposed in order to wage unrelenting war against the West. Thus, the willingness of immigrants to adopt Western values and to be integrated into European society must be an additional criterion for granting them refugee status.


The agreement signed between the great powers and Iran signifies the West’s capitulation to terror and surrender to the bullying of the forces of darkness. Irrespective of the nuclear issue, this policy is a moral nadir which grants legitimacy to a state whose primary foreign policy goal is to destroy the state of the Jews. A policy which the Iranian regime’s leaders see fit to repeat virtually on a weekly basis.


As with the Munich and Molotov-Ribbentrop agreements, which were intended to appease and mollify Hitler, the Vienna agreement too is an attempt to appease the current “world bully”, a step which reflects fatigue and unfounded optimism.


The shameful agreement with Iran is also motivated by an additional cynical consideration: the desire of the European countries to reap the large profits of business with Iran, as at the time of the Second World War, when certain European countries continued to do business with Nazi Germany, including supplying iron and steel. They did this despite the clear knowledge that these supplies served to strengthen the Wehrmacht in its war against the Allies and that the crematoria in Auschwitz, Bergen Beltzen, Mathausen and other camps continued operating at full force.


Then too, large profits blinded the leadership and enabled the machine of destruction to continue operating. The Iran deal gives the Ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guards billions of dollars, when just two months ago the State Department presented a report showing that Iran is the number one sponsor of terror throughout the world.


Within the overall European picture, there is also a “Jewish element”. Unfortunately, prejudice and the need to find a convenient scapegoat have always turned the Jews of Europe into victims of hardships they had nothing to do with. It was thus during the Inquisition, at the time of the Dreyfuss Affair, the Kishinev pogrom, the Beilis trial and of course during and after the Holocaust. Recently, we saw this at a Jewish school in Toulouse, the Jewish Museum in Brussels and a kosher supermarket in Paris.


The election of Jeremy Corbyn, a radical left leader who has never hidden his hatred of the State of Israel, as head of the Labor Party in the UK, must serve as a warning signal to the Jewish community of Great Britain.


Jewish people tend to be optimistic by nature. This is a characteristic which throughout history has caused our people to delay their exit from places where danger emerged, and we have paid a very heavy price for it. It was thus with Hitler’s rise to power, when the prevailing wisdom among the Jewish community was “declarations are one thing, but actions something else entirely.” A similar thing happened during the Khomenei revolution in Iran.


Now again one must shut one’s eyes tightly not to see the writing on the wall and to sense the danger in the air. A series of recent developments constitute a clear warning: the election of Corbyn, who has repeatedly attacked Israel and levelled all manner of aspersions at us, while at the same time expressing great amity towards Hamas and Hezbollah; the EU’s shameful decision to label goods from Judea, Samaria and the Golan (they could perhaps consider the useful suggestion of designating the goods with a yellow star to be in keeping with the best in European tradition…) as well as a litany of other decisions marked by anti-Semitism such as the decision of the Reykjavik city council to boycott Israeli goods; all of these should lead European Jews to reach a clear conclusion: they must leave Great Britain and the other countries of Europe and move to Israel without delay.


I would like to conclude with a quote from the masterpiece “Decisive Moments in History” by Jewish Viennese writer Stefan Zweig, who was known for his ability to analyze history through foundational events that served as pivotal points in human history. Published in 1927, it is as if the words were written as a special warning sign to the leaders of Europe in 2015. In the chapter titled “The Conquest of Byzantium” Zweig describes the climactic moment following the Turkish conquest, when the Sultan entered the Hagia Sophia Cathedral and:


“Immediately he sends for an Imam who goes to the pulpit and proclaims the Mohammedan creed while the padishah, with his face turned toward Mecca, speaks the first prayer to Allah, the ruler of the worlds, in this Christian cathedral. The very next day the workers receive the assignment to remove all signs of the earlier religion. Altars are torn away; the pious mosaics are painted over; and the highly elevated cross of Hagia Sophia, which has spread its arms for a thousand years to gather in all the suffering of the earth, falls rumbling to the floor with a dull thud.


The stony sound rings loudly through the church and far out beyond it. For the entire Western World is shaken by this fall. The news echoes fearfully in Rome, in Genoa; in Venice; like a warning thunder it rolls across to France, to Germany. And with a shudder Europe recognizes that thanks to its dismal indifference, through the fateful, forgotten door, the Kerkoporta, a fatally destructive force has broken in, that will bind and cripple its power for centuries. But in history, as in human life, regret does not bring back a lost moment, and a thousand years cannot buy back what a single hour permits to slip away.”


MK Lieberman is the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu and former foreign minister (2009-2015).


The article was originally published in Die Welt .


פרסום ראשון: 10.08.15, 09:18
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