Russia’s Syria Gamble

                             by David Parmer

The question is not why are the Russians in Syria now; they have been there since the 1970s. Russia’s last naval base outside its homeland is in Tartus, Syria. And Syria buys Russian weapons, and has done so for a long time. No, the question is why has Russia stepped up in the autumn of 2015, deployed more than 50 aircraft of all types and put 4,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and started a massive bombing campaign in support of the Assad regime that reportedly has exceeded 1,000 sorties? Why?

The simplest reason is probably that Russia sees intervention in the Syrian conflict as being in its self-interest. Putting aside Russia’s natural support for its main Middle East client, which is a “no-brainer”, there are two likely reasons for Russia’s current Syria policy:

1) Foreign Fighters: There are an estimated 7,000 Russian fighters who have joined ISIS in Syria as well as 1700 of Russian origin in Iraq. It is likely that Russia would rather take on and destroy these fighters here (Syria) and now than have them become battle hardened and bring their extremism back to Mother Russia.

2) To Prevent a Failed-State Vacuum: Russia’s (and everybody except ISIS’s) worst nightmare would be Syria turning into another Somalia. A lawless, wild west in Russia’s back yard is simply not an option. So Russia has decided to prop up its client Assad and keep him in the game deciding that the alternative (a failed state and a power vacuum) would be unthinkable. One way of looking at this would be to consider that even though Russia is keeping the house of cards upright for its own purposes, it is doing the region and the world a service, since, in our inner-connected world, there is no more “over there”—in our digi-sphere we are all in it together.

Is Russia’s ploy going to work? Is the Russian variable the one that will stabilize things in this conflict? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but Mr. Putin has put his chips on the table and the wheel is spinning.

Foreign Fighters In Syria:

Putin on Foreign Fighters

Photo: Russian Federation MOD


70 Years Ago – Shanghai’s Refuge For European Jews

 Shanghai Former Jewish Ghetto (Photo: JN)

In September 1945 Shanghai was liberated and the nightmare of WWII ended for some 20,000 European Jews in the Shanghai Ghetto.

From 1938 onward Shanghai had been a haven for Jews escaping Nazi persecution and certain death in Europe. In 1938 the Nazis annexed Austria, and this started the flood of Jews out of Europe. Some were lucky to get to America or other democratic countries, but many had only one hope: to get to Shanghai. Diplomats like Japan’s Chiune Sugihara and China’s Ho Feng Shan issued transit visas to the Jews against the orders of their superiors.

 Once in Shanghai, the Jews had the support of the existing Jewish community, made of an earlier generation of Baghdadi Jews who had come to Shanghai decades before and done well in commerce. These included the Sassoon’s, Hardoons and Kadoories. Help for the refugees was also given by American Jewish organizations, although such aid was cut off after Pearl Harbor.

Jews who had a profession did the best in their new circumstances, and Shanghai was fortunate to get more than 100 European doctors. Others formed businesses and practiced what skills they had. Shanghai Jews also had a rich cultural life despite a lack of resources.

In 1943 the Jews were ordered to move to the “Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees” or what came to be known as the Shanghai Ghetto. From February 18, 1943 until September 3, 1945 Jews were required to live in a one square mile area of Hongkou. There they endured hunger, overcrowding and cold, but they survived. Reports state that the Jews got along well with their Chinese neighbors, and many wrote and spoke of the kindness of the Chinese.

 After 1945 the Jews dispersed, some to Europe, some to America, and some to Palestine. Some might say the fact that Shanghai was refuge to 20,000 people was indeed a lucky “accident” of history, while others might see it as evidence of the work of providence or a higher power. Whichever you choose to believe, it was indeed a welcome refuge from the storm that swept the world during World War II.

Ho Feng Shan: Chinese Official Who Saved Jews

Chiune Sugihara: Japanese Official Who Saved Jews