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True national reconciliation and inclusiveness are necessary ingredients for ending the cycle of statelessness and radicalization that has created a fertile ground for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to flourish in Libya, according to a new Atlantic Council report.

“People who fought in Syria, we call that the undergrad for jihad, they went to Libya to get their post-grad degree in jihad,” said Jason Pack, founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya and executive director of the US-Libya Business Association.

“By coming from what they gathered in Syria to their post-grad in Derna and Sirte they founded their own brigades,” said Pack referring to mostly Tunisian jihadis who initially trained in Syria where a civil war has raged for the past six years. “The porosity of the Tunisian-Libyan border has been a real plague for Libya, and it has been a plague for Tunisia,” he added, pointing to high-profile terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015 at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and on British holidaymakers in Sousse.
The Arab world is in a sorry state. The spat between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Qatar is but the latest symptom of an enduring serious rot in governance and a destructive power struggle in the wake of the Arab Spring. This situation is compounded by a lack of constructive dialogue on addressing the challenges that face most countries of the region.

Qatar’s excommunication from the GCC is the latest schism to hit what has seemed, at least since 2011, to be a stable and unified bloc. On June 5, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with Qatar and cut off air, land, and sea transportation links. On the surface, it appeared that Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism was at the heart of the dispute. Certainly, US President Donald J. Trump’s tweet, sympathizing with the action taken against Qatar, implied that this was his understanding. It took reminders from the Pentagon and the US State Department of US national interests in Qatar and its strategic interest in Gulf stability to get Trump to pull back on his original impulse to take sides and instead advise Saudi King Salman to seek unity and harmony within the GCC rather than allow a dangerous escalation in rancor.
A horrific suicide bombing in Manchester has put a spotlight on Libya—the North African nation where the chaos that has prevailed for the better part of the past six years has become a fertile breeding ground for a mélange of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

“What Manchester shows is that it is possible for a radicalized kid to go to Libya and potentially receive the kind of training that would allow him to return to his home country and commit an act of terrorism,” said Karim Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

On May 22, a bomber identified by British authorities as Salman Abedi, the twenty-two-year-old British-born son of Libyan immigrants, detonated explosives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena, killing himself and twenty-two other people. Fifty-nine people were wounded. Abedi had earlier traveled to Libya to see his parents who have moved back; he also visited Syria. The British government on May 23 put the entire country on the highest level of alert—a sign that another attack “may be imminent.”
The Washington Post reported on May 15 that US President Donald J. Trump disclosed highly classified information to two Russian officials—Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak—in their White House meeting on May 10.

“The information the president relayed had been provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government,” the Post reported, citing unidentified current and former US officials.
US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to arm Kurdish rebels in Syria, despite objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, indicates that the new administration’s Turkey policy is secondary to winning the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

This decision “would suggest to me that Trump really doesn’t have a Turkey policy,” said Aaron Stein, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “Turkey policy is secondary to the need to prosecute the war against ISIS quickly,” he added.

“The key actors in the US bureaucracy are not on team Turkey,” said Stein. “They don’t care. They are elevating different priorities now.”
The proposal for de-escalation zones in Syria, which will enter into force at midnight on May 5, is unlikely to be effective in the long term, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“Maybe” the agreement will temporarily have a demonstrable effect on lowering the number of civilian deaths in Syria, said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, speaking in an interview with the New Atlanticist. However, he added, “I don’t see the thing lasting.”

The de-escalation zones, a Russian and Turkish-led initiative, backed by Iran, were agreed upon in a deal signed on May 9 as part of the ongoing United Nations Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. However, few details regarding implementation and monitoring of these zones have been released. The United States is not party to the agreement, and has expressed initial skepticism.

White Helmets seek safe zones to protect civilians

As US sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have failed to end the war in Syria, the international community must exercise the political will to do so—and, in the meantime, establish safe zones that would put civilians out of harm’s way, according to two members of the Syrian Civil Defense (SCD), also known as the White Helmets.  

“The sanctions are not having the intended effect of stopping the war,” said Jehad Mahameed, a liaison officer for the SCD. Manal Abazeed, a volunteer with the White Helmets, called for world leaders, particularly US President Donald Trump, to exercise “the political will to stop this conflict.”
While Russia was “probably surprised” by the US missile strike on a Syrian air base, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will respond with escalatory force, according to a former deputy secretary general of NATO.

“They’re surprised, but I don’t necessarily think their reaction will be to escalate the situation,” said Alexander Vershbow, who now serves as a distinguish fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “The Russian reaction, while harsh in rhetoric… they’re going to try to draw a line around this incident,” he said.

“For the Russians, and I would hope for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, they would not provoke an open-ended conflict with the United States,” said Vershbow. However, he said, this incident “might convince the Russians to reign in their client more effectively than they ever have.”

US missile strikes cannot be a one-off response, said the Atlantic Council’s Frederic C. Hof

US missile strikes on a Syrian air base from where a deadly chemical weapons attack is believed to have been launched send a clear message that the United States is now “directly engaged” in addressing the mass homicide perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The president’s top priority in Syria will continue to be the defeat of the so-called Islamic State, but in the wake of the chemical attack, the president realized that the Bashar al-Assad side of this problem is closely related to his top priority,” said Hof, noting that Assad’s brutal crackdown has helped recruitment for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Hof, who served as special adviser for transition in Syria in US President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012, has been calling for a stronger US response to the war in Syria, both in and out of government. The war, which erupted in March 2011, has killed more than 450,000 people and created more than five million refugees.
The United States has limited options when it comes to responding to the deadly chemical attack likely carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s Idlib province on April 4, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

The international community has so far imposed sanctions on Syria, which haven’t worked, said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “There is diplomacy, which in fairness we’ve been trying for a long time… That leaves the military option, or the military option combined with diplomacy. That’s something we haven’t done.”

If the military option is chosen, “We would either have to build an indigenous proxy force that can fight properly, or [the United States] and our allies have to do something in the country,” said Itani. The alternative to military and diplomatic action, he said, is “nothing. Those are our options.”

[UPDATE: The United States on April 6 carried out a missile strike in Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack. US President Donald J. Trump said he ordered the strike because it is in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”]


    

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