There are far more questions than answers.
There may be a new country being formed. It won't be a welcome addition, as judged by the various governments sending units of their armed forces to attempt an abortion.
Those associated with the movement, variously called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) or more simply the Islamic State (IS), are talking about a caliphate that will begin with large parts of Iraq and Syria, and eventually control the world.
So far the record of the new regime is barbaric, proud of shooting prisoners in front of cameras, perhaps to send a message about what is in store for all non-Sunni Muslims, as well as Sunni Muslims who do not qualify for acceptance.
The development has spread concern far and wide.
It is far from clear what is happening. However, there are signs of the following.
No one outside of what goes by the name of the Iraqi government is declaring war and sending in a fully equipped army. However, Russia is upping its shipment of equipment, including a new supply of warplanes. The United States is sending advisers and equipment, including helicopters, that will have to stay out of the way of the Russian planes. Iran is sending units, perhaps to work with Shiite militias not part of the Iraqi army. Jordan is training Iraqi troops, but has signaled that it does not want to continue. The official Syrian air force has bombed supply lines, while some units of the anti-Assad Syrian rebels are fighting ISIS personnel who also started out as anti-Assad rebels. Saudi Arabia is sending money to groups in Syria opposing the ISIS fighters, and putting its troops on alert.
There is much to wonder about in the reports about Iran, Russia, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States helping Iraq deal militarily with rebels seeking to create a Sunni religious regime.
Among the problems is coordinating operations between military units who in other contexts are adversaries or enemies. Keeping helicopter gunships and warplanes that answer to different commanders and use different communications from colliding is one problem. Others occur on the ground where most of the fighters wear no uniforms, and lines of command are unclear..
No less difficult are questions of strategy and politics.
What does it all mean for the foreign policy of Barack Obama and the fading concept of pax America?
And for those close to these fingers, the primary question is the classic, What's in it for the Jews? We have issues with all of the participants. Some of them have us high on their list of who should be downsized or done away with entirely.
There are enough competing agendas to befuddle any effort to assess prospects.
- What about American-Russian antagonisms on Syria and Ukraine?
- What about the animosity between Iran and the American ally Israel?
- Does this portend something good or bad about Iran's effort to keep its nuclear program on track, even while agreeing to some modifications demanded by those who have imposed sanctions?
- Can anything stay on course that has the Shiite center of Iran and the Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia on the same side?
- The Kurds of Iraq and Turkey both have good reasons to cooperate against ISIS, but what does this mean for Turkey's chronic fear of strengthening anything akin to Kurdish nationalism?
- The Israeli Prime Minister has talked about recognizing an independent Kurdistan, but the Kurd leader is distancing himself from Israel's blessing, perhaps not wanting to appear too close to the regional outsider. He talked about Israel's relations with the Kurds occurring for a brief period, years ago.
- Will the joint efforts help the Assad regime survive by weakening one of the forces opposed to it, and currently controlling Syrian territory?
The weakest link in all of this may be the ostensible Iraq government, currently led by Nuri al-Malaki. He is digging in his heels against complying with demands from the United States and others to expand his government to include senior posts for the range of Iraqi ethnic and religious groups, beyond his own Shiite constituency. Some of his military units have run away rather than fight, reflecting the GW Bush policy of tearing down the entire government establishment of Saddam Hussein and the failures of the United States to build a new regime, despite expenditures of unknown billions.
The army is not the only Iraqi force opposed to ISIS. There is a vaguely known cluster of Shiite militias anchored in regions and tribes, whose linkages to various outsiders, one another, and the official army are as muddied as anything else in a setting where confusion is prominent.
What does this say about Obama as manager of foreign policy?
Is he any more savvy about saving the world from the Islam as practiced by ISIS than when delivering that Nobel winning speech in Cairo that helped spur the Arab spring? Instead of producing democracy, that set in motion what has become the religious barbarity of ISIS.
Is the Commander-in-Chief doing anything more than scratching his head and asking for advice?
Obama is talking about supporting the moderate rebels against Assad, all the while his efforts in Iraq may be helping Assad.
Can the Americans know for sure who are the good guys among the numerous militias, in a setting of no uniforms and no obvious lines of command, patrons who in other settings are competitors, and a lack of anything akin to openness, candor, or transparency?
Israel and Jordan are hunkering down, hoping to avoid trouble, and perhaps discussing how they may cooperate, but keeping their cooperation quiet in order to preserve the image of Jordanian animosity to Zionism.
Israel is having its own problems with the Palestinians. Some see the start of Intifada #3 in the rioting sparked by the killing of the Arab boy, and the continued drizzle or rain of missiles from Gaza.
Palestinian complexities approach those of Iraq.
Both the West Bank and Gaza leaderships are beating the drums against Israeli aggression and the killing of the Arab boy. Both consider it the height of insult to suggest that the killing was anything other than Jewish terror. However, the police have not decided if the killers were Jews intent on revenge for the three boys killed by Palestinians, or if it was a criminal act within the Palestinian community.
No matter what the police and courts conclude, the killing is well established in the Palestinian narrative as unprovoked Jewish terror.
Despite the shrill nature of Fatah and Hamas assertions, and continued violence in the West Bank and missiles from Gaza, neither seem inclined to a full scale revolt and the destruction that it would bring. Yet both have trouble controlling their people, including the various elements under their own Fatah and Hamas umbrellas, as well as more radical nationalists and Islamists who often seem at least as intent at rebelling against the Palestinian establishments as against Israel.
While angers leads Israelis to demand onslaughts against Gaza as well as the more unruly Arab localities of Israel and the West Bank, that will do nothing but buy a bit of time until the next commotion. Ranking military and political officials have learned to wait and see if, with modest attacks to remind the Palestinians what can happen, things die out. Then we're back to a period of quiet without having to spend lives and resources to obtain it.
There is no end of dispute among officials and the public about the appropriate levels of Palestinian violence to tolerate, and police and military actions needed to keep things quiet.
"Final solution" is not only a nasty phrase in the lexicon of the Jews. It's also unattenable in this context.
Click here to return to Blog home page