Can the Kurds Build a Second Democratic Nation-State in the Middle East?

While Iraq and Syria collapse, the Kurds of these two countries have rallied together and stood their ground against Islamic State (IS)—despite considerable odds. Haviv Rettig Gur speculates about the possibility that they will create an independent state of their own, and the potential affinity of such a state with the Jewish one:

The Kurds have learned the same lesson as the Middle East’s Jews: solidarity and clarity of purpose are military assets as crucial to survival and victory as ammunition and warplanes. . . .

If ever a people deserved to carve out a homeland from the wreckage of the collapsing Middle East, [the Kurds] do. . . . [P]erhaps, if they eventually emerge from the wars of Syria and Iraq victorious, prosperous, and democratic, the Kurds can . . . [set] a precedent that legitimizes moderation and liberal nationalism in a region that has largely lost its faith in the redemptive power of ideas.

I don’t know much about the Kurds, but I know Israel. Israel’s democracy and prosperity did not originate in a generation of founding philosopher-fathers or in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of limited monarchy. Israel is democratic despite its Jews’ hailing almost entirely from dictatorships, despite its lack of a constitution, despite its birth and development in the shadow of war, despite the prominence of its military elite, despite deep and abiding ethnic divides. Its democratic roots, in other words, were not carried here from other lands or inherited from its intellectual heroes. Rather, Israel’s democracy was born in the ethos of national solidarity given to us by the Jewish intellectual tradition and the architects of modern political Zionism.

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More about: ISIS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli democracy, Kurds, Middle East, Nationalism, Syrian civil war

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy