Making enemies faster than we can kill them
By Claude Salhani-Trend:
Recent history of Middle East conflicts shows that there is only one success story but many failures.
In all the wars -civil and otherwise - all the insurgencies, uprisings, revolutions and counter-revolutions that have taken place in the Middle East since the end of colonialism, only one Arab leader - Sultan Qaboos of Omani -- had the foresight to address the issue in a comprehensive and positive manner. Rather than relying solely on the military option, the Omani leader also addressed the social issues that were at the root of the insurgency.
As Egypt faces a mounting insurgency in the Sinai from pro-al-Qaida Islamists, it would benefit the Egyptian military and government to take a closer look at the Arab world's sole success story and hopefully benefit from it rather than embark upon a road that will lead towards greater strife and offer no viable solution.
It would also benefit the US military and the Obama administration and hopefully teach them a thing or two about dealing with insurgencies, particularly now as the United States plans to resume arms delivery to Egypt as soon as the US Congress approves the move expected to take place early this week.
Under existing US law the United States is banned from providing weapons to countries where legitimately elected governments were removed by the military. Although the Obama administration pussy footed around this issue, avoiding to call the forceful removal of President Mohammad Morsi a military coup, it nevertheless was a military coup.
Al-Qaida is on the offensive and on the rise in a number of countries across the region. They are certainly gaining ground in the Egyptian Sinai, where about 350 members of the security forces and the military were killed since the July 2013 reversal of Morsi's election. And in an unprecedented move in Egypt, terrorists used a car bomb to kill the Egyptian Interior minister. In Egypt the Interior minister is responsible for the country's internal security.
There has also been a daring attack against a ship crossing the Suez Canal by jihadi militants using rocket-propelled grenades. Thankfully the attack failed and the ship sailed on. A serious attack on the Suez Canal would be disastrous for Egypt, which receives 10 percent of its foreign currency income from ships crossing the waterway. The canal is a major source of income for Egypt. During the first six months of 2013, from January to June, the Canal brought in $2.436 billion for Egypt, according to the Suez Canal authority.
Egypt's reply to the crisis has been to turn the problem over to the military. They are going about it in a heavy-handed manner, arresting and killing suspected terrorists. The Egyptians are using their weapon of choice, the Apache attack helicopter.
The Egyptian army is to receive ten more Apaches from the United States in the next few weeks. The Apache is the next generation of the Cobra helicopter. It can fire 16 laser-guided precision Hellfire missiles, 70mm rockets and 30mm automatic cannon with up to 1,200 high-explosive dual-purpose ammunition rounds. It comes equipped with laser, infrared, and target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensor to locate, track, and attack targets. In other words the sight sensor and machine guns turns automatically as the pilot turns his head and aims where the pilot is looking.
There are two potential problems in so doing. First, in killing the targeted terrorist the Egyptian armed forces usually end up killing innocent bystanders as well. Collateral damage in military parlance. But who do you think will be blamed when the families and friends of those killed by the Apaches see this amazing flying machine made in the USA?
The second problem is that in turning to the military option alone the core issues are not addressed and the problems are accentuated.
Again, let's turn look at more to Oman in the early 1970s. Along with the throne he had forcibly grabbed from his father before exiling the old man to England, Sultan Qaboos had inherited an insurgency in the southern province of Dhofar. The manner in which the young sultan handled that crisis was exemplary.
In the years leading up to the overthrow of the old sultan, there were few miles of paved roads in a country the size of the state of Kansas. Eyeglasses were banned. Girls could not obtain an education and there was as single hospital in the country. The old city gates were closed shut at sunset and reopened only after sunrise the next morning and security forces were under orders to shoot anyone caught out after dark without a lantern held up to his face.
By relying solely on the military and without a plan on how to address the social issues in the country the Egyptian government is further alienating more residents of the Sinai and pushing them in to the arms of Islamist groups. And of course the U.S. will be blamed once more for providing the means that is helping an authoritative regime.
While confronting the military challenge head-on the new sultan addressed the root causes of the conflict. With oil money starting to pour into the country, Qaboos built hospitals, schools for boys and girls, constructed roads and turned Oman into a modern, vibrant country.
Rather than jail and torture surrendering rebels he offered them amnesty, financial rewards and a position in the "firkats,'" the newly created militias patrolling in the Dhofar so that the residents would not feel occupied by the presence of the army, which was commanded from the capital, Muscat. Within a short while the revolt dried up and died.
This can be an important lesson for Egypt and for the United States who is about to give the Egyptians the weapons they need to combat the terrorist threat. They need to understand that weapons alone are not going to solve the problem at hand because no matter how fast and how many they kill at the end of the day there will always be others ready to replace them and then some more to avenge them, and all the more so if they have nothing left to lose in a social economic crisis with no visible end in sight.
Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. He is senior editor of the English service of the Trend Agency in Baku,
Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani.com