Dr. Jochen Hippler was the research fellow at institute for development and research from 1993 to 1995. Since 2001, he has been researching on political structure of Islamic countries especially their relationship with the west.
His most recent published books are: Peaceful Change and Violent Conflict, the Next Threat; Western Perceptions of Islam and the Democratization of Disempowerment; the Problem of Democracy in the Third World.
By traveling through Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and U.A.E he has analyzed the socio-political structures of the mentioned countries. During his last stay in Tehran, we interviewed him.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jochen hippler,
the Professor of Political Science at Duisburg University
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
How much are you hopeful toward the realization of peace in the Middle East, esp. now that the ISIS has become a regional threat?
I think this for the Middle East is very important, but I’m not very optimistic. I think fighting in different countries will go on for 5 years or longer.
Why 5 years?
I’m just guessing. Maybe it’s 4 or 7, but it’ll go on. If you take the situation in Syria, Libya or Iraq, there is just no political solution now and there is no military solution, either. So I don’t know how at this stage it would come to an end soon.
Do you believe the political arrangements are undergoing modifications in the Middle East?
At the long end, all conflicts will end sometime. The Lebanese Civil War has ended; nearly all wars in Europe ended. There were wars which took 30 years to end and at some time, the wars will end, but at this moment, it is very early to expect that, and after the end of this war, I hope it will be a new positive development in the Middle East, but it’s very early now.
How do you see the role of Germany in the developments of the Middle East?
I think Germany doesn’t play an active role there. Germany has tried sometimes to moderate some things. Remember that in the nuclear talks, Germany is trying to bring countries together. It is providing humanitarian assistance in some cases, like in Syria and other places, but it is not a key, decisive player.
Germany has at times intervened between Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel, hence a more active role. Even in the case of transferring captives after the Gaza war, Germany had a key role. Then why doesn’t Germany highlight its role in the region except for the case of the ISIS?
Well, generally speaking, Germany understands that it is not a global power, but more a regional power. Germany is concentrating very much on the Europeans and direct adjunct areas with their politics. Also because of the history of Germany, and because of WWII, Germany has been for the last decades very restrained in using military force anywhere else. Maybe because it used it too much before. And also we have learned that some military interventions like in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya have not been very promising from the results. Sometimes they make things worse and not better. Having said that, as you probably know, Germany has delivered anti-tank missiles and other weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga against the ISIS, and it is also now starting to train some Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
But we see today that Turkey is not much in favor of training Peshmerga forces. Why is that?
Well, the Turkish government is making a distinction which means the Kurdish groups in northern Iraq, esp. the KDP of Barzani on the one hand, and the Syrian Kurdish group on the other. The Turkish government has cooperated with Barzani, Kurdish groups in northern Iraq for several years now, but it is, you know, an enemy of the Syrian Kurdish groups, because they are often connected to the PKK with whom the Turkish government is an enemy.
Don’t you think this can cause instability in the region when fighting against the ISIS?
It is not increasing the conflict, but it is not doing much to help it either.
Another interesting fact is that religious and youth groups are joining the ISIS in the region from Europe. How is it that different walks and communities are getting attracted to the ISIS?
Well, for now, from Germany, we only have 500 Germans who are fighting with the ISIS, and from all of Europe, there are around 3000-3500 thousand. And in most of the cases, these young men are not necessarily religious, but they are in a situation where they have no perspective in Europe. In many cases, they have relatively little education, they have problems on the job market, and they are not at home in their origin country anymore. But they do not feel all at home in Germany. They have problems with identity and their roles in life. And joining some extremist group gives them the feeling that they are more important than they are in their own society. It also gives them a sense of adventure and strength to their identities. For example, in France or Germany, they are nothing, they have little education and no good job. But now they are fighting the jihad and they think they are important, they are strong, male and very good. But very often, the religious knowledge is very limited.
Why haven’t European intelligence services been able to have them in control?
It is very difficult. If you are a German citizen and want to go to Turkey, you don’t even need a passport. You can go to Turkey by car, ship and plane and won’t need a passport. And German citizens have the right to go wherever they want to go. So there is a very difficult legal situation, and if you are in Turkey, then you can’t get over borders illegally. The thing is that German and Turkish governments should cooperate more. As a German citizen, you only need that ID card. And you can go to Turkey without a passport and that’s difficult to stop them there.
Will it not be a potential threat if these individuals return to Europe?
Well, of these Germans, almost 100-150 have returned to Germany voluntarily. And there are different groups. One group came back because they realized this jihad was stupid, a criminal affair and they were really disillusioned. Sometimes they were just used to fight from the ISIS to other Muslims, maybe because they couldn’t find Muslim insurgents to do so. They are now disillusioned and returning, so they’re no danger to the country. But you have another group which is coming back and has been ridiculed in this kind of fights. Now they have training of weapons and guns, and are now more into violence than before. So, I think these people are potentially dangerous and the government, police and intelligence agency should keep an open eye.
Iran says it doesn’t join the coalition to fight the ISIS, because it doesn’t trust its intent. What do you think?
Well, let me tell you something first. In regard to Iran and Syria coordinating with the coalition, sometimes they are cooperating without voicing it publically. For example, the Syrian government is bombing in the morning and the US is bombing in the evening. That is a coordination not to get in conflict with each other. And I’m sure something similar is happening with the Iranian government. But then to answer this question, what is necessary to solve the problem of the ISIS? The problem is not that the ISIS is so strong. The problem is that the governments in Libya, Syria and Iraq are so weak. The governments in these countries; I must say I hate it, but respect it. They behave very badly. Hence people are hating or disrespecting their own governments. So the ISIS could go in, because there was an empty space. This summer, in June, when the ISIS moved into northern Iraq, it had only 3000 people, while the Iraqi army had around 30000-35000 individuals at service. But the Iraqi soldiers didn’t fight and fled. So my point is if you want to beat the ISIS, you have first to create a functional and legitimate states in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The point is the key to the problem is to build governments which are accepted and respected, and the military attacks are only buying time. They will not beat the ISIS and buy time and that helps build a government.
Israel is believed to be the most profited state in this game, meaning no matter how much Assad’s government is hitting the ISIS, it is weakening as time goes by and perhaps what will finally remain of that is the parts of the current Syrian government which can be slashed at the end by Israel.
I don’t think so. I think from the Israeli side, it’s very complicated. On the one hand, all the attention is on the ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya, so people don’t pay much attention to Gaza and what goes on there; that is true. On the other hand, in the past, Israel and Syria were enemies, but they needed each other. Because Syria then was stable and controlling in Palestinian groups which would have attacked Israel. Even if Israel was the enemy of Bashar al-Assad, it wanted him to stay in power and control those who could harm it.
You mean Israel wants Syria to remain a hurdle in the way of the ISIS becoming a neighbor?
From the Israeli side, they want stability. And the civil war in Syria and the rise of the ISIS is creating instability and no one knows what the results will be. Will Syria break in different parts? Will there be an extremist Sunni government in Syria which is more against Israel than Assad was? No one ever knows. So Israel is not very happy with the situation.
Israel seems to enjoy advantages, meaning when the ISIS forces wanted to get near the Golan Heights, they were lethally cracked down, and that kind of shows a hidden coordination between Israel, the US and the developments in the region.
Well, I don’t see it at the moment. But you can look at the past. There is the Israeli government and the Syrian government. They were just two parties and can informally make some deals as if no one did anything and on the surface, they still hate each other. It was the old situation. Now, in Syria, you have 500 armed groups who are fighting each other and most of them also would like to attack Israel. That’s not an advantage for Israel.
On a strange basis, the Intelligence Service of Iraq provides its US counterpart with enough intel to foresee anything. How is it that the CIA couldn’t anticipate such a thing in Iraq?
I know that in many cases, American and European intelligence made very serious and stupid mistakes. Supporting the mujahidin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union was one of these mistakes. Israel has supported Hamas in early 1990s to weaken the PLO.
Then why didn’t Israel ever recognize Hamas?
I was just offering a few examples to answer your question. But we can get back to that later if you want. When I look back in Iraq in 2003 to 2007, you know, the precursor of the ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq was one of the key enemies which was not supported by the Americans but the Americans never meant to destroy them. It is possible, but in the case of the ISIS, it hasn’t been so.
Do you agree that the US advocated the anti-Assad opposition in Syria? Even Sen. McCain took a trip to Syria and met with Takfiri terrorists.
Well, the platform was that the Syrian government had treated its own country like a private property and made its people rebel against the government. That is the responsibility on Bashar al-Assad and his family. Then the Syrian civil war began and soon after that, all these groups started to break into different pieces. Instead of having 2 sides of the war, there were hundreds of sides. This created conditions in which the ISIS could be very successful. I think the problem with the American, European and Western policy was that they were helpless and could not do anything. They had no plan or concept.
Then why did it not happen in Lebanon despite the presence of different religious offshoots? After the Civil War there, we saw that with the help of the French, German and American Intelligence Service, the conditions came under control. But there was nothing of the sort in Syria.
Well, the war wasn’t over, but it was just beginning. They did it after the Lebanese war. They didn’t do it before or in the middle. If they had tried it like that, they would’ve failed. They tried it after the Lebanese war, and maybe they can try it after the Syrian war, too. But the war just started.
So everybody is waiting to see what comes next once the war is over.
That’s what is happening. The waiting is the problem in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is now going on for 35 years and it’s not ending and outside attempts to deal with it have failed completely. The Iraqi war has failed again by the US. Because the Americans couldn’t control it. In Libya, too. And that is why people are not interested in going to Syria before the war ends. Sometimes politicians are stupid, but they are not that stupid.