Thursday 23 October 2014

Strong anti-ISIS stand 'a responsible move'

But it may also make Singapore a target for extremists, says Masagos
By Toh Yong Chuan In Irbid (Jordan), The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE is taking a firm stand against militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because it is the responsible thing to do, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

But the move may also make Singapore an ISIS target, he added.

Mr Masagos, who is on an official visit to Jordan, made the point at a closed-door dialogue on Monday in Irbid city, barely 20km from Jordan's border with Syria and less than 100km, or two hours' drive, from where ISIS is fighting in Syria.

"Singapore has to be a responsible player on the world stage," he told about 70 Singaporean students studying in Jordan.

"It is about the rule of law... They (ISIS extremists) are acting as a non-state player, they obey no rules that the world has set for itself."

For example, ISIS does not comply with the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war and it executes "people who are probably innocent", he added.

But while Singapore's stand "will have consequences", he believes that "whether or not we participate (in the fight), Singapore is a prized target".

His comments follow Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's statement in Milan last Friday, after the Asia-Europe Meeting of country leaders, that Singapore is seriously considering how it can be a helpful partner in the fight against ISIS.

Despite the ISIS attacks in neighbouring countries, Singaporean Taufiq Yahya, who is studying Arabic in Jordan's capital Amman, feels safe in the country.

"The reason is that Jordanians take security seriously," said the 30-year-old, a former enrichment centre owner who attended the dialogue with Mr Masagos.

He moved to Jordan this year with his wife and two children, aged four and one.

The dialogue was not part of Mr Masagos' official itinerary, which includes meetings with Jordan's ministers.

On Monday, he met Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs Nasser Judeh.

Yesterday, he called on Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, who is also the Minister of Defence.

He also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Singapore Civil Service College and Jordan's Institute of Public Administration on training Jordanian officials in Singapore.

Today, he visits the city of Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories, where he will meet Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki.

They will discuss areas where Singapore can help Palestine in capacity building.

Last week, Singapore announced a US$100,000 (S$127,000) contribution to a United Nations Children's Fund programme to help provide water and sanitation in Gaza.

Tomorrow, Mr Masagos will head to the city of Petra in southern Jordan that is famed for its rock-cut architecture, to explore tourism cooperation between Singapore and Jordan.

What's at stake in confronting ISIS
Editorial, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE played its part in the international campaign to neutralise terrorist bases in West Asia after the 2001 attacks unleashed by Al-Qaeda on the United States. As events have shown, fighting organised mayhem fuelled by a distortion of religion is an unending mission. The civilisational challenge now posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group is one more episode, only deadlier.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that Singapore is studying what might be an appropriate contribution to coalition efforts initiated by US President Barack Obama to weaken ISIS, as had happened with Al-Qaeda. It would be a response born of necessity. After Sept 11, 2001, no country was safe from the machinations of a baleful ideology. This was illustrated by subsequent attacks in Indonesia, Britain and Spain. Singapore also had to thwart terror plots, and there were many scattered incidents around the world attributed to freelance operatives and groups which are rebootings of Al-Qaeda.

A decade later, risks have multiplied in the form of military-scale operations and random killings of individuals by not just ISIS but also other splinter groups in Yemen and the Horn of Africa. No less a comprehensive effort is required to protect the community of nations being threatened by ISIS, the best organised of Al-Qaeda reincarnations. It has claimed dominion over a chunk of Syrian and Iraqi territory, and its propaganda expresses its readiness to sow terror anywhere, any time, in pursuit of its aims.

Singapore regards itself as vulnerable to attack as a good many countries prominent in military operations against deviant Islamic militant groups have assets here. Participating in active containment of the threat has undoubtedly to go hand in hand with eternal vigilance. For the post-9/11 operations launched by the Bush White House in Afghanistan and Iraq, Singapore offered logistical support, including transport planes, tank landing ships and midair refuelling facilities. Police trainers helped in Iraq, and intelligence was shared.

There are about 60 countries now engaged in differing capacities in the campaign against ISIS. Air strikes are carried out by only a handful of them, with the US bearing the load. Supporting nations understandably must weigh the probability of reprisals, but the risk exists whatever is done or not done. Mr Obama has been frank in telling partners this would be a drawn-out campaign, punctuated by "periods of progress and setbacks". The best form of defence is attack, however, by taking the fight to the enemy. Countries which value their peace have to stand ready to tough it out as fighting amorphous forces may not end with ISIS.

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