The fighters who seized a patrol of UN Peacekeepers across the border on the Golan Heights explained their actions by the assertion that the UN as well as Bashar al-Assad and his soldiers are agents of Israel.
In the eyes of some, made important at least momentarily by their weapons and putting themselves in the world's headlines, Israel is the arch enemy, manipulating all. Even those viewed by Israel as enemies (Assad) or adversaries (UN), are nothing more than tools of the Jews.
You may view their claims as material for Chapter 2 of my recent note, So many expectations.
Or even better, as material for an updated and more detailed version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
On a practical level, for those of us who do not take seriously the proclamations of all those speaking for armed gangs, the incident ought to recall those maps from the Middle Ages and earlier that labeled large sections of the world Terra incognita (unknown land) or Mare incognitum (unknown seas}.
Now suitable for large areas of the Middle East is whatever is the Latin equivalent for Unknown people.
Reports are that the group holding UN soldiers hostage and claiming that all are tools of Israel is an extremist band, perhaps associated with al Quaida, which is fighting against other anti-Assad rebels as well as against Syrian troops. They may also be the source of the occasional munitions lobbed into the Israeli portion of the Golan Heights. These incidents caused the IDF to upgrade its forces in the area, return fire on a couple of occasions that have reached the news, and planning for who knows what contingencies.
Those ancient maps often portrayed the unknown areas as populated by monsters of land or sea, which clarified the warning that all would enter the areas at their peril.
The condition of unknown land and people is most apparent in Syria, but is relevant also for Iraq, Afghanistan, and even tiny Palestine. In each there are numerous groups of fighters who claim inspiration and direction from the Koran, but do not agree on what that holy book says, or who are their allies and enemies.
No one who is familiar with the contrary interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the many shelves of writing about both should express surprise about current claims and warfare among Muslims. There is virtually no deadly mayhem among those who make contrary interpretations of Jewish or Christian doctrine, but the present generation of Muslim fighters differ largely or perhaps only in the weapons they use from the Jews who fought one another in the time of Josephus, or the Christians who battled among themselves up until the modern period. One still hears Protestant preachers referring to the Catholic Church as the whore of Rome. The Internet and my mailbox demonstrate the ongoing production of material expressing great certainty for what murky passages in ancient texts mean about today and tomorrow. However, Jews and Christians have, for the most part, kept their doctrinal warfare in the realm of verbiage.
The seizure of the UN Peacekeepers is best viewed as further testimony of what produced western frustration in Iraq and Afghanistan. To paraphrase once again the epigram of Moshe Arens, the Middle East is not the Middle West.
Forreigners who enter the region with expectations of helping whoever they think are the good guys are likely to be over their heads, fishes out of water, or whatever other metaphor seems appropriate for worthies who do not know what they are doing. John Kerry's latest contribution to ongoing aspirations likely to end badly is a claim that the US is careful of which groups in Syria it decides to aid.
Kerry and his colleagues had better operate with superior better filters than used elsewhere in recent years. And hopefully, they now know how to prevent the passage of individuals and equipment from one organization to another.
The issue is serious, and cannot be dismissed with a few clever words.
Neither the US, Russia, China, Iran, France, Germany, Britain, nor other aspirants to influence will lightly abandon the Muslim Middle East.
The British called their 19th century competition with Russia over Afghanistan and Central Asia as the Great Game.
Nobody won that game.
We have something similar today. Arab spring has unleashed a variety of long existing tensions among ethnic groups, religious communities, extended families, tribes, and their subdivisions. Aspiring fighters are moving from country to country and joining the cluster that most appeals to them. The deadliest battleground at the moment is Syria, with claims of more than 70,000 deaths in two years and a million refugees gone over the borders, but Mali, Libya, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine are also in play.
A few days ago student protesters at Birzeit University prevented a British diplomat from delivering his lecture.
You say that the British government is friendly to Palestine?
Those students have long memories. It was the British who started it all with the Balfour Declaration.
Some outsiders may know which groups are currently located at various points along the spectra of reliability, military prowess, religious and nationalist doctrine. Note that there are several spectra, at least partly independent from one another, requiring analysis.
The fluidity as well as the opaqueness of language, doctrine, and culture should make any outsider wary of the advice that goes from intelligence agents to the political leaders who decide about military, logistic, or humanitarian aid.
It is Terra incognita. There are monsters roaming those lands. Outsiders enter at their peril.
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