Lessons for Syria from the Man Who Taught the Haganah

June 20 2018

Early on in the Syrian civil war, the U.S. lent its support to rebel groups fighting Islamic State by giving them arms, funds, and military training. While the efforts were likely hamstrung by the Obama administration’s unwillingness to annoy Iran, to Aaron Eitan Meyer the very premise that allies can be bought with so-called “train-and-equip” programs is flawed. He points instead to the example of Orde Wingate, the British officer who led efforts to suppress the Arab revolt in Mandatory Palestine, trained the Haganah in counterinsurgency warfare, and directed campaigns in Ethiopia and Burma during World War II:

The dominant theory [in Wingate’s time]—which has, disturbingly, persisted into present thinking—was that local forces could be induced to fight by offering them arms and materiel, which is to say the methods by which the British supported the Hashemite anti-Ottoman Arab revolt during World War I. To say that Wingate was opposed to [this] model (which came to be largely associated with T.E. Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia”) is a severe understatement. . . .

What then was Wingate’s method? [T]o invite the assistance of local chieftains by demonstrating the commitment of his own forces first.

Prior to departing Sudan, [where he led Ethiopian forces to victory over the Italians], Wingate wrote a memorandum in which he explained that the local fighter “must see us first, not fighting by his side, but in front of him. He must realize not only that we are brave soldiers but devoted to the cause of liberty. Cease trying to stimulate revolt from without; . . . let’s do something ourselves.” At the risk of extreme oversimplification, Wingate’s method relied not on transient loyalty bought with weapons but on demonstrably committing one’s own forces to a given struggle, and thereafter permitting local forces to play a part of their own accord.

In our cost-conscious world, we are ever more steered toward offering armaments from the shadows and loud proclamations in public, and then [expressing concern] that we must be careful in providing assistance lest our present allies later turn on us. . . . The U.S. must begin by asserting that the cause for which others fight, whether it be in Syria, Kurdistan, or any of the regions within Iran where people are struggling against a tyrannical regime, is its own. Once committed, Washington will need to follow through, but with the knowledge that the correct calculus lies in both thwarting the regional ambitions of hostile state actors and in supporting fundamental human rights sought by those who could—and should—be its natural allies.

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More about: Ethiopia, Haganah, History & Ideas, Orde Wingate, Strategy, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey