Syria Crisis

In Syria, The Next War Has Already Begun

Russia, Iran and U.S. are all looking beyond the defeat of ISIS in Syria. But the little game the great powers are playing is becoming increasingly risky.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu last month in Moscow
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu last month in Moscow
Luis Lema

GENEVA — The war against ISIS is in full swing. In Mosul and in Raqqa — the terror group's respective Iraqi and Syrian strongholds — a deluge of fire that grows less and less respectful of civilian life has meant that the presence of jihadists is gradually disappearing — at least under their current organization. But already it seems, preparation for the next war has begun. The Syrian army, but also those of Russia and Iran, are now applying themselves to provoking the Americans, all of them considering that the U.S. presence in Syria like a body that must be expelled.

Virtually direct confrontations are becoming more and more frequent, though they still remain limited for now. It is in nobody's interest for such a showdown to explode. Yet, a first Syrian warplane was shot down by the Americans on Sunday, and as Tehran fired missiles for the first time to better mark its territory, we are getting a taste of the risks that come when the great powers start playing a game of chicken.

Will future historians look back at the victory over ISIS as a simple episode in a bigger war, one that had started long before and that will continue long after its destruction? Most of all, they'll need to decipher what, for now, remains an almost absolute mystery: What goals are the U.S. pursuing, and more particularly the current administration?

Much more than Iraq, Syria is hostile ground for the U.S.

While Donald Trump continues to flounder, as he has been doing since entering the White House, his Syrian ambitions seem to merely come down to the "annihilation" of ISIS as promised in last year's election campaign. A take-no-prisoners war will not only contribute to feeding tomorrow's extremists, but also forgets one fundamental fact: In Syria, far more than in Iraq, the Americans are operating on hostile territory, both in terms of diplomacy and pure violence.

Whereas everybody is already considering their next move, the U.S. president switches between inflammatory comments against Iran, short-lived retaliatory measures (such the bombing of a Syrian base in April) and a strategic void that sends shudders of fear through both the seasoned diplomatic professional and the average citizen of the world. One plane shot down here, a weapons delivery there and a great Twitter tantrum in the middle of it all. In Syria, the U.S. Army is not operating from a position of strength. Is its commander-in-chief even aware what's happening?

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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