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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 187599 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1050 on: January 20, 2018, 12:45:49 PM »

Though many interesting points are made and valid questions raised, I find this piece rather empty when it comes to what I see as a central geopolitical issue-- the Iranian drive for a land bridge to the Mediterranean.  The merits of keeping the Kurds strong also seems to go unconsidered.   The cautions at the end of the piece may well prove prescient however.

==================================

Another Long War Unfolds in Syria
By Charles Glass
Board of Contributors
Charles Glass
Charles Glass
Board of Contributors
Children survey the damage to a building just outside Damascus that sustained a missile attack from forces loyal to the Syrian government Jan. 18.
(ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images)
Contributor Perspectives offer insight, analysis and commentary from Stratfor’s Board of Contributors and guest contributors who are distinguished leaders in their fields of expertise.
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The war in Syria should be ending. The Islamic State has lost all the territory it seized in 2014. The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, has confined other anti-government rebels to besieged pockets in the south, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus and in the northwest. Opposition hopes of removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad have vanished. But the war refuses to die. It just takes new forms.

The latest phase has little to do with Syria, apart from the fact that it's taking place there. The antagonists are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the United States, which has declared a post-Islamic State mission that will keep American advisers and their local surrogates in Syria for years to come. The mission calls for the United States to train, arm and advise a 30,000-strong, mostly Kurdish border security force. Following the announcement of the project Jan. 14, Erdogan pledged "to strangle it before it's even born." He has moved Turkish military units to the border and launched artillery shells at Kurdish positions in their western enclave of Afrin.

Aware that his opposition to the U.S.-backed Kurdish force pits him against his largest NATO ally, Erdogan told members of parliament from his Justice and Development Party, "Hey, NATO! You are obliged to take a stance against those who harass and violate the borders of your members." The mission threatens to tear the military bloc apart and to commit the United States to a long-term presence in a country where it has no strategic interest.  (Marc:  What about stopping Iran's drive for land bridge, positioning itself to go after Israel?)

Irreconcilable Differences

Erdogan sees the backbone of the proposed border security force — a Kurdish militia known as the Yekineyen Parastina Gel (YPG), or People's Protection Units — as an arm of the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane (PKK), or ‎Kurdistan Workers' Party. Turkish security forces have been fighting the PKK off and on since 1984. In fact, Turkey regards the group as a terrorist organization and long ago persuaded the United States and European Union to do the same. No one doubts the PKK's influence over the YPG or the role its fighters played, alongside other Kurdish groups, in defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. To pull off its plan, the United States must either take the PKK off the register of terrorist groups or sell its NATO allies on the idea that the group is a terrorist organization in Turkey but not in Syria.

Erdogan's resistance to a prolonged U.S. presence in Syria under the guise of the new force has received support even from Turkey's adversaries in the Syrian civil war — namely al Assad's government, Russia and Iran. These three entities undoubtedly see the U.S. scheme as a pretext to keep a military presence in Syria, deprive Syrian authorities control over large swaths of the country and gain leverage over the war's putative victors.

A Precedent for Peril

In his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 11, David Satterfield, the State Department's senior bureau official for near eastern affairs, explained the new border force. Satterfield described it as an effort "to not only diminish Iranian foreign influence in Syria generally, but to protect our allies from the very real threat Hezbollah poses in southwest Syria to our allies." But that raises the question: How often have Hezbollah or other militias backed by the Syrian government attacked Israel across the cease-fire lines Henry Kissinger negotiated in 1974?

The answer is never. Israel is capable of protecting its border with Syria, where a U.N. disengagement force has been in place for 40 years. A U.S. presence in the form of a Kurdish-dominated militia, particularly one that is overextended in areas with Arab majorities, is unlikely to increase border security. It will, however, present a tempting target for attacks by groups loyal to the Syrian government, which will do everything in its power to remove the United States and its clients from Syrian territory. Tensions have already surfaced in the Kurdish-occupied town of Manbij, where members of the Arab al-Bouna tribe protested the death by torture of two young Arabs held by the Kurds.

One of the leading American experts on Syria, Joshua Landis at the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies, wrote:

    "By controlling half of Syria's energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria's best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced... The US should be helping the PYD [Partiya Yetikia Demokrat, or Democratic Union Party, the civilian wing of the YPG,] to negotiate a deal with Assad that promotes both their interests: Kurdish autonomy and Syrian sovereignty. Both have shared interests, which make a deal possible. Both see Turkey as their main danger. Both need to cooperate in order to exploit the riches of the region. Both distrust radical Islamists and fear their return. Neither can rebuild alone."

In the absence of U.S.-Russian-Syrian cooperation to end the war in Syria, U.S. troops on the ground will be hostages to guerrilla warfare against them. There is a precedent for successful Syrian covert action against the United States and Israel. It was set in Lebanon after Israel's 1982 invasion when assassination, suicide bombings and direct attacks drove the United States out in 1984 and forced a total Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon 16 years later. The current U.S. administration may be unaware of this history, but Damascus isn't. And this time, its agents will be operating in their own country with the full support of Iran and Russia, and with Turkey's acquiescence. Syria would thus join Iraq and Afghanistan as the locale of a long, unwinnable American war.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1051 on: January 20, 2018, 08:43:42 PM »

https://us12.campaign-archive.com/?e=9627475d7f&u=b7aa7eddb0f2bb74bfa4f6cb5&id=3d9f28d05f
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1052 on: January 21, 2018, 07:59:56 AM »

Updated Jan. 20, 2018 8:44 p.m. ET

Turkish jets began airstrikes on a Syrian Kurdish force allied with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State, opening a new front in the seven-year Syrian war.


The assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria follows weeklong threats from the Turkish government to crack down on the main Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. The militia has proven to be the most effective partner on the ground in Syria to the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State. But Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally, is troubled that the Kurds have gained strength, land and a greater degree of autonomy in a region along the Turkish border through their role in battles against Islamic State.

Turkey has fought the separatist Kurdish movement PKK at home for decades and views the YPG as an extension of the PKK, branding both terrorist organizations.

While the YPG has been a strong American ally, the U.S. says it doesn’t directly support the Kurds in Afrin. Nevertheless, U.S. officials warned over the past week that a Turkish incursion into the area risked escalating tensions in northern Syria.  The top U.S. military commander in the region said Saturday he feared that the Turkish action could distract from efforts to counter Islamic State and urged a quick resolution and end to the hostilities.

“The fight against ISIS continues in Syria,” said Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command. “We’re still involved in day-to-day fighting with our partners against ISIS, trying to liberate the remaining parts of the terrain that they control.”

Gen. Votel said he spoke earlier Saturday with Turkey’s deputy defense chief, though he offered no details. “We would urge the parties to try to resolve this quickly and avoid escalation on it and try to get back to our common threat, which is ISIS,” he said.

Earlier Saturday, before the strikes began, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a military operation had “de facto” begun. He pledged to expand it to Manbij, another semiautonomous Kurdish area in northern Syria.

“Later we will, step by step, clear our country up to the Iraqi border from this terror filth that is trying to besiege our country,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Turkey has been an erstwhile support of the Syrian rebels throughout the conflict that began nearly seven years ago as an uprising against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey stepped up its military foray into northern Syria in 2016, occupying parts of northern Syria with their allies in the Syrian rebel group Free Syrian Army.

A main objective of the Turkish mission, dubbed “Euphrates Shield,” was to capture the Kurdish enclave of Manbij, which Mr. Erdogan still swears he will do. While the Turkish mission was aimed both at defeating Islamic State and blocking the expansion of the Syrian Kurds, Turkey has recently turned its attention more narrowly to containing the Kurds.


This weekend’s strikes are the latest example of how the defeat of Islamic State in most of Syria and Iraq has rekindled old rivalries that were set aside temporarily to defeat a common enemy.

Russia’s Defense Ministry, whose troops control the area around Afrin as part of a de-escalation agreement with Turkey and regime ally Iran, said it had moved its forces from Afrin to the Tel-Adjar area “to prevent possible provocations, to exclude any threat to the lives and health of Russian service members.”

The withdrawal came after Turkish top military and intelligence officials on Thursday visited Moscow, which backs the Syrian regime in the country’s multisided war, to seek support for the operation.

The Russian Defense Ministry, In a separate statement, blamed “provocative steps” by the U.S., including “uncontrolled deliveries of modern weapons by the Pentagon to pro-American formations in the north of Syria,” that it said were aimed at segregating off territories with a predominantly Kurdish population. The ministry said that U.S. actions harmed peace negotiations “in which the Kurds should play a full part.”

The Turkish military said it had launched the offensive, called “Operation Olive Branch,” against Kurdish fighters in Afrin. Members of the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group Free Syrian Army entered areas around Afrin in northern Syria close to the Turkish border, according to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

“Nearly all targets have been destroyed. As of tomorrow, in accordance with developments, our ground forces will also conduct necessary operations,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Saturday. Turkish officials claimed their forces were also attacking Islamic State militants in the Afrin area.

However Sam Heller, a research fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said earlier this week that the U.S. doesn’t support the YPG in Afrin because Islamic State fighters aren’t present in the area. “There is no ISIS there,” he said.

Urging the Turks not to attack Afrin, the State Department drew a distinction between the Kurdish territories and Islamic State.




“We don’t want them to engage in violence, but we want them to keep focused on ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday of Turkey.

The Turkish government intensified its rhetoric against the Syrian Kurds after the U.S. proposed about a week ago the creation a border force of 30,000 troops in northern Syria, a majority of whom would be Kurds.

Turkey views American backing for the Syrian Kurds as support for a Kurdish drive for independence and a threat to Turkish sovereignty. After Turkish protests, the Pentagon backtracked on its announcement about the proposed border force.

The Turkish military said the operation was being conducted within the framework of Turkey’s rights under international law and United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on fighting terrorism, the U.N. charter’s right to self-defense and in respect of Syria’s territorial integrity.

“In the planning and execution of the operation, only terrorists and shelters, control areas, weapons and equipment are being targeted,” the military said.

According to the opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 10 Turkish aircraft carried out simultaneous strikes on Afrin and its outskirts at the start of the operation. More than hundred targets were hit according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

The Observatory also said the attacks caused civilian casualties, but didn’t provide any numbers.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed on Turkish NTV channel that those who were injured were “PKK/YPG terrorists.”

Mr. Cavusoglu said the Syrian regime in Damascus was provided with written information regarding the Afrin operation.

According to Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency, the chief of missions of the U.S., Iran and Russia in Turkey have been summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry in relation to the latest developments on the operation.

On Saturday before the strikes, the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces warned that a Turkish attack on the Kurdish fighters could hamper the fight against Islamic State.

“The sudden and unjustified threats of offensive operations from Turkey into Afrin, Syria, threatens to breathe new life into Daesh,” the group’s spokesman Mustafa Bali said.

In a separate development in the war on Saturday, Syrian government forces captured the Abu al-Duhur air base in northern Idlib province—an advance in the regime’s offensive to retake the last rebel-held province in Syria. Turkey, which faces the possibility of a new influx of Syrian refugees if fighting in Idlib escalates, urged Iran and Russia to calm the Syrian government campaign there.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #1053 on: January 22, 2018, 09:18:23 AM »

More on this here: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/01/turkey-upend-us-syria-strategy-attack-ypg-aleppo.html

Who is our allly here, turkey or the Kurds?

Who is Turkey's ally, the US or Russia?

Why is turkey still in NATO? They aren't an ally of the US.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1054 on: January 22, 2018, 12:18:25 PM »

At the more fundamental end of the spectrum, I am struck with just how much of an error it was for Obama to invite the Russians back into the Middle East , , , and before that to withdraw from Iraq.  Now it just looks like we are in the eternal wars of the Middle East.  If we leave, Iran (and the Russian-Iranian axis) gets the land bridge to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, thus setting up a possibly nuclear war with Israel and if we stay, well we are drained by strategies based upon the shifting sands of the region.

 tongue tongue tongue angry angry angry
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DougMacG
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« Reply #1055 on: January 23, 2018, 02:19:58 PM »

"I am struck with just how much of an error it was for Obama to invite the Russians back into the Middle East , , , and before that to withdraw from Iraq.  Now it just looks like we are in the eternal wars of the Middle East.  If we leave, Iran (and the Russian-Iranian axis) gets the land bridge to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, thus setting up a possibly nuclear war with Israel and if we stay, well we are drained by strategies based upon the shifting sands of the region.
 tongue tongue tongue angry angry angry
-----------------
That's right.  (   We don't want to be the world's policeman, but Russia will act in our best interests??!  This former President is highly regarded?  It reminds me of the basic argument Romney couldn't make to Obama's voters, do you support him for his failed economic policies or for his awful foreign policies?  What a disaster!
----------------
More on the Turkey versus Kurd conflict, this from the YFG Kurd leader:
https://anfenglish.com/rojava/sipan-hemo-russia-betrayed-the-kurds-but-victory-will-be-ours-24350

"Russia betrayed the Kurds, but victory will be ours"

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DougMacG
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« Reply #1056 on: January 24, 2018, 10:46:20 AM »

I heard Sen Dan SUllivan, R-Alaska, Marine combat veteran, this morning tout what a great US ally Turkey has been, especially pre-Erdogan. 
http://www.hughhewitt.com/wp-content/uploads/01-24hhs-sullivan.mp3
My recollection was how they refused accessand made us fly around Turkey to launch the 2003 Iraq action, but they have been helpful in other ways.

Note USAF use of Incirlik Air Base:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incirlik_Air_Base  A very strategic location, map at link.

Something like this is part of the leave-behind we should have insisted on in Iraq and would likely have prevented the genocidal ISIS occupation.

The relationship reminds me of the Glick piece on Jordan.  Our interests with some of these allies(?) only partly overlap.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1057 on: January 25, 2018, 08:49:29 AM »



Turkey Invades, NATO Benefits
Jan 25, 2018
By Xander Snyder

Less than a week after Turkey began its invasion of Afrin – the northwestern pocket of Syria that borders Turkey and is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG – NATO has voiced its consent of the operation. On a visit to Istanbul, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told a Turkish newspaper that NATO recognizes the threat terrorism poses to Turkey. While the language Gottemoeller used wasn’t highly specific, she was referring to the threat posed to Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an internationally recognized terrorist group. Over the past three decades, the PKK has led an insurgency that has caused the deaths of roughly 40,000 people.

Turkey sees Afrin as a security threat due to the presence of the YPG, considered by Turkey to be a branch of the PKK. The YPG having control over an area that sits on the border with Turkey means it could potentially launch more destructive attacks on Turkish soil. For Turkey, any concession to a Kurdish group – militant or otherwise – is a slippery slope that could lead to greater Kurdish demands for independence.

NATO’s announcement sheds some light on an underlying reality: that NATO benefits from Turkey’s intervention. While the NATO deputy secretary general said the threat
posed to Turkey was from terrorism, NATO’s true fear is Russia. If President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally, were to reassert control over Syria, it would place Russia in a stronger position in the Middle East. A Syria fully controlled by Assad – no longer in need of Russian military support – would also let Russia withdraw its forces from Syria. While Russian President Vladimir Putin would desperately like his declared victory to be real, to secure his public relations boon and get out, a war that continues to threaten Russia’s ally continues to threaten the purported success of Russia’s intervention. Meanwhile, Europe is quite content to keep Russia tied down in the Middle East, drawing at least part of Russia’s focus and military hardware away from its European borders.
 
(click to enlarge)

Of course, NATO would like to keep Russia tied down with minimal or preferably no involvement of its own. But the elephant in the room whenever a NATO ally is threatened is Article 5, the lynchpin of the NATO alliance, which stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, and therefore warrants a collective military response. Article 5 has been invoked only once – when the U.S. was attacked in 2001 by al-Qaida. Many will question whether the PKK attacks on Turkey are a substantial threat and, therefore, are asking: Could Turkey make the argument to invoke Article 5 and involve the rest of the alliance in Afrin?
 
(click to enlarge)

The answer is simpler than it may seem at first: It doesn’t matter. Neither Turkey nor the rest of Europe wants NATO to get involved in Turkey’s Afrin operation. As Turkey’s power grows and enables greater projection of power into the Middle East, it will try to take advantage of opportunities to act on its own. The key for Turkey is independence of action; it does not want its options dictated to it by others, whether the U.S. or NATO. If NATO were to get involved in the Afrin operation, even if it were supporting Turkey, it would nevertheless introduce a myriad conflicting command structures and interests. It would complicate Turkey’s freedom to maneuver and ability to unilaterally pursue its own military objectives, which include not just eliminating the threat of terrorism on its border, but also checking Iranian and Russian ambitions in Syria.

NATO also benefits from Turkey’s intervention in Afrin. Much like the U.S., NATO fears Russian expansion. It also fears Iranian expansion but to a lesser degree than the U.S. does (in part due to the business opportunities presented by an open Iranian economy). If Turkey takes Afrin – which currently seems like the most likely outcome given the balance of forces between Turkey and the Afrin defenders – that would put in Turkish control (including its proxies) a contiguous swath of territory that surrounds Aleppo on three sides. Even if Turkey did not immediately move to capitalize on this tactical situation following the acquisition of Afrin, the fact that this land would be in Turkish possession still poses a risk to Assad, Russia’s regional proxy. NATO is more than happy to let Turkey do this on its own and not have to risk its soldiers in the process.

Notably, NATO’s interests in Turkey’s intervention align closely with those of the United States. For the U.S., despite its public rhetoric urging Turkey to take caution in its intervention, ultimately it is content to let Turkey check the powerful position that Iran has acquired in the course of the Syrian civil war. The European contingent of NATO is predominantly concerned with Russia, and Turkey capturing Afrin would place Russia in a difficult situation. Russia has no desire to confront Turkey directly, at least not right now (and, for that matter, neither does Turkey want to confront Russia directly). But Russia wouldn’t mind a situation in which Turkey and Iran challenge one another in Syria, as long as Turkey remains tied down in the struggle and doesn’t emerge victorious.

Turkey’s operations in Syria, however, depend heavily on a number of proxy groups in the west of the country – such as the Free Syrian Army – that Russia has continually identified as one of the core security threats to the Assad regime. The FSA has therefore been one of Russia’s primary targets. If Aleppo were to become surrounded, Russia would be compelled to continue supporting Assad by attacking Turkish proxies, but would be careful to avoid attacking Turkish soldiers. Most important for Russia, such a scenario would further ruin the image of a victory that Putin was hoping to walk away with, and would risk tying Russia down in the Middle East for an indefinite amount of time.

Russia’s prolonged involvement in the Middle East with no easy out would be a clear win for NATO, especially if it doesn’t need to commit any of its own forces to bring this about. Clearly, this wouldn’t eliminate the security threat that Russia poses to Europe’s eastern flank, but it would be an ongoing financial strain on Russia, which is already struggling with economic challenges. NATO’s inaction will amount to tacit support of Turkey’s intervention in Afrin. But it’s happy to sit this one out.

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1058 on: January 25, 2018, 09:17:01 AM »

Second post:

Here the WSJ has a wildly different take on things from GPF.   Is it being simplistic here in not distinguishing the YPG from the rest of the Kurds?  Or?


By The WSJ Editorial Board
Jan. 24, 2018 6:57 p.m. ET




The U.S. and its allies have all but defeated Islamic State in Syria, but the Trump Administration is in danger of squandering the strategic gains. Witness the unfolding fiasco there, with invading Turkish forces battering America’s Kurdish allies and threatening an area close to U.S. troops. This is what comes of muscular talk without the will or strategy to enforce it.

President Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, and it must have been tense. Mr. Erdogan’s troops are pounding Kurdish positions in northern Syria, and on Wednesday he threatened to attack the city of Manbij, where U.S. forces are based. Mr. Erdogan is vowing to clear the Kurds out of those enclaves, and the danger is that U.S. and Turkish soldiers, two NATO allies, could soon clash.


Mr. Erdogan claims to be furious at U.S. media reports that the Pentagon plans to train a 30,000-troop Kurdish-led force in northeast Syria that he claims is aligned with the terrorist Kurdish PKK. The U.S. has tried to soothe Mr. Erdogan that the Kurdish border force would pose no threat.


But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed in a speech last week that the U.S. does plan to keep some military force in Syria for the foreseeable future. The goal is to support the Kurds and Sunni Arabs who fought with us against ISIS, block Iran from dominating post-ISIS Syria, and retain some leverage in talks to end the Syrian civil war. U.S. forces would turn the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including Kurds and Arabs, into a “stabilizing” force.

The idea has merit. The U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria, known as the YPG, fought valiantly to defeat the Islamic State and deserve training and protection until they can protect themselves. So do local Arab groups who fought alongside the SDF.

Turkey would also benefit from a stable border zone supervised by U.S.-backed forces. Ankara has accepted millions of refugees during the Syrian civil war and doesn’t need more. A Kurdish safe zone, rich with energy resources, could also create goodwill between Ankara and the Kurds.

The question is whether the Trump Administration is prepared to do what it takes to execute such a policy. That would mean explaining to Mr. Erdogan, at the highest military and diplomatic level, how this can serve Turkey’s interests in a more stable Syria. This seems to have been a diplomatic afterthought for team Trump.

It would also mean dropping illusions about Russia’s malign influence. Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seem to believe that Russia wants to broker an end to the war—and it does, but only on its terms. If America’s Kurdish and Sunni allies control no territory in Syria, the U.S. might as well be Guatemala in the peace talks.

Speaking of malign, Russia continues to provide political cover for chemical-weapons use in Syria, almost certainly by Bashar Assad’s forces. Another chlorine gas attack occurred Monday in the rebel stronghold of East Ghouta. Russia dismissed the reports, which is convenient because late last year it blocked an extension for the U.N. group investigating such claims. Russia is also supporting Mr. Erdogan’s military campaign against the Kurds, the better to embarrass the U.S. for not being able to defend its allies.




All of this is setting up Mr. Trump for an Obama-sized strategic embarrassment. The President showed resolve in punishing Assad for his chemical attack last year and by stepping up the military campaign against Islamic State. That signaled to the region’s bad actors that the days of American retreat might be over.

But now that the U.S. and Kurds have done the dirty work, Russia, Syria, Turkey and al Qaeda want to push the U.S. out. If they succeed, Mr. Trump will pay a price in lost credibility on par with Mr. Obama’s failure to enforce his famous red line on chemical weapons. The White House has to show the diplomatic and military will to sustain a safe zone in Syria, or tell our allies they’re on their own so they can make their our accommodations with the bullies of Ankara, Tehran and Moscow.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1059 on: January 25, 2018, 02:36:38 PM »

Third post!

http://www.breitbart.com/jerusalem/2018/01/25/caroline-glick-us-playing-lose-win-turkey/
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1060 on: January 26, 2018, 06:13:59 PM »

Iraqi Kurdistan's Post-Referendum Isolation Boosts Iran
by Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Post
January 20, 2018
http://www.meforum.org/7183/iraqi-kurdistan-4-months-after-the-referendum
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1061 on: January 28, 2018, 12:08:20 PM »

https://www.memri.org/reports/russian-political-analyst-isaev-assad-liquid-asset-russia-will-demand-steep-price-him
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1062 on: January 30, 2018, 08:51:18 AM »

Welcome to Syria 2.0
by Jonathan Spyer
Foreign Policy
January 25, 2018
http://www.meforum.org/7188/welcome-to-syria-20
 

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1063 on: February 11, 2018, 11:16:34 PM »


Caroline Glick: Syria – The War Everyone Must Fight and No One Can Win
Caroline Glick 10 Feb 2018
 
Saturday morning’s violent clashes along the Israeli-Syria border between Israel on the one hand and Iran and Syrian regime forces on the other occurred against the backdrop of multiplying acts of war and violence among a seemingly endless roster of combatants.
To understand the significance and implications of the clashes – which saw Israel destroy an Iranian drone that penetrated its airspace and destroy the drone base in Syria from which the drone was deployed, and the downing of an Israeli F-16 by a massive barrage of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles – it is necessary to understand the basic logic of violence in Syria.



There are a dozen or so actors fighting in Syria. The US is fighting in coalition with the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurdish YPG militia is part of the SDF. Political representatives tied to the YPG have denied it, but the YPG is widely considered to be allied with the Turkish PKK group, which is listed as a terrorist group by the State Department and the Turkish government.

Russia is fighting with Iran, the Syrian-regime forces, Hezbollah and Iranian-organized Shiite militias that include fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Russia also sometimes acts indirectly with Israel against its coalition partners. On the basis of understandings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian forces in Syria do not interfere with Israeli air strikes against Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian-regime targets which directly threaten Israel’s strategic interests.

The Turks are fighting largely independently. Sometimes they are supported by the U.S., sometimes they are supported by the Russians.



Turkey belatedly joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the U.S. But the Turks’ main target in Syria is the Kurdish forces. Three weeks ago, the Turks launched yet another campaign against the Kurds in Syria. Their current operation is focused on the Afrin province controlled by YPG. But Turkey is also threatening Manbij, where US special forces are deployed in support of the SDF.

Non-ISIS rebel forces are being destroyed systematically by regime forces in Idlib province and in the Damascus suburban area known as Eastern Ghouta. According to a New York Times‘ summary of recent violence in Syria, regime forces have reportedly killed four hundred people, including a hundred children in Eastern Ghouta since December. Since the start of 2018, the Syrian regime reportedly carried out three chlorine gas attack against civilians in Ghouta.

As the New York Times noted, Ghouta was the site of the regime’s 2013 sarin gas attack which killed 1,400 people including 400 children. Then-president Barack Obama had said a year earlier that such an attack would be a red line that would provoke US action against the regime. Obama’s refusal to attack regime forces after the sarin gas attack empowered Russia, which deployed forces to Syria for the first time since the end of the Cold War in 2015.

Finally, there are ISIS forces. ISIS continues to control territory along the Syrian border with Iraq and pockets of territory in the vicinity of Deir Ezzor and Palmyra. Perhaps more importantly, ISIS forces from areas seized by coalition forces have melted away and are viewed as responsible for a spate of bombings in Damascus and elsewhere in recent months and weeks.



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Over the past several weeks, numerous articles have appeared analyzing the recent rise in violence in Syria. The main question is: why is the violence continuing? The prevailing sense in the West had been that, following ISIS’s loss of most of the territory it had held, the war had wound down. The U.S. and its allies had made their peace with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s survival and with Russia’s newfound role as powerbroker on the one hand. And, on the other hand, the Russians and their Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah allies had made their peace with Kurdish control over large swathes of former Syrian territory and their alliance with the U.S.




Israel, the U.S., and Turkey were seen as actors with specific issues which could be remedied with intermittent tactical strikes that wouldn’t challenge the overall post-civil war order.

This assessment was false because there is nothing tactical or limited about any of the parties’ interests and concerns relating to Syria.

Consider the Turks and the U.S. The Turks oppose Syrian Kurdish control over territory along the border with Turkey because they view it as a strategic threat to Turkey. Turkey’s Afrin offensive – which Ankara envisions as the first stage of a broader offensive which will include Manbij – also has implications that far exceed the borders of Syria or the wider Middle East.

Russia is supporting the Turkish anti-Kurdish offensive for reasons that have nothing to do with Syria and everything to do with Russia’s strategic rivalry for great power status with the US.

By supporting Turkey’s anti-Kurdish offensive, Russia is placing NATO member Turkey in direct confrontation with the US. If the US stands with the Kurds and Turkey fails to back down, then the likelihood that American and Turkish forces will fight one another in battle grows to near certainty. If this happens, Turkish membership in NATO will effectively end.



On the other hand, if the US doesn’t stand with the Syrian Kurds, the U.S. will lose its residual credibility as an ally in the region. The stakes in Syria are critical in light of the U.S.’s failure to defend its Iraqi Kurdish allies last October, when the US-trained Iraqi military wrested control over the oil-rich Kirkuk province from the Kurdish regional government in Erbil.

For the US then, Syria is a moment of truth. It can stand with its allies on the ground and so assure its long-term ability to work with allies in the Middle East and beyond. Or it can betray its allies on the ground and preserve the idea of its strategic alliance with Turkey, even though, on the ground, that alliance no longer exists.

This then brings us to Israel, and Saturday morning’s violent clashes with Iran.

Although Bashar Assad still holds the title President of Syria, to all intents and purposes, he is an Iranian puppet. His forces take their orders from Iran and Hezbollah. He has no independent power to make decisions about anything in Syria.

Israel has eyed this development with great and growing concern over the years. Iran’s assertion of control over Syria has massive implications for Israel’s national security. And, over the years, Israel has set and enforced specific red lines in Syria designed to prevent Iran’s effective control over Assad’s regime from passing specific limits. Israel’s red lines include blocking Iran from transferring precision-guided missiles, other advanced weapons systems and non-conventional weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria territory including the Damascus airport. Israel’s red lines also include blocking Iran from setting up permanent bases in Syria. To enforce these and other red lines, over the years Israel has conducted repeated air attacks against targets in Syria.



Immediately after Putin first deployed his forces to Syria in 2015, Netanyahu flew to Russia to coordinate Israel’s air operations with him and prevent direct confrontations between Israeli and Russian forces. Since their first meeting, Netanyahu has flown to Russia on ten subsequent occasions to develop a working relationship with Putin with the aim of weakening his strategic commitment to Iranian power in the region and cultivating his perception of shared strategic interests with Israel in Syria and beyond.

Netanyahu’s last meeting with Putin was on January 29. In media briefings before and after their meeting, Netanyahu said that he spoke to Putin about three issues. First, due to Israel’s success in blocking Iran from transferring precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria, Iran is now building missile factories for Hezbollah inside of Lebanon. Netanyahu pledged to destroy those factories.

In his words, “Lebanon is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we cannot accept this threat.”

Second, Netanyahu warned Putin that Israel will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria through the construction of permanent bases, among other things. Netanyahu explained, “The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it.”

Third, Netanyahu spoke to Putin about improving Obama’s nuclear deal with the Iranian regime.

Russia is both a resource and a threat to Israel. It is a resource because Russia is capable of constraining Iran and Hezbollah. Israel treated Russia as a resource Saturday, when in the wake of its violent confrontations with Iran, which included Israel’s Air Force’s first combat loss of an F-16 since the 1980s, Israel turned to the Russians with an urgent request for them to restrain the Iranians.

Russia is a threat to Israel because it is Iran’s coalition partner. Until Russia deployed its forces to Syria, it appeared that the regime and its Iranian overlords were losing the war, or at least unable to win it. After Russia began providing air support for their ground operations, the tide of the war reversed in their favor.





At any rate, Israel is in no position to persuade Russia to abandon Syria. Russia’s presence in the region limits Israel’s actions but also guarantees that Israel will continue to act, because its vital interests will continue to come under threat and intermittent attack.

In all, the situation in Syria is and will remain unstable and exceedingly violent for the foreseeable future. Syria is not only a local battlefield where various Syrian factions vie for control over separate areas of the country – although it remains such a local battlefield.

And it isn’t only a regional battlefield where Iran and its proxies seek to expand and entrench the Shiite crescent while preparing the ground for wars against Israel, and Israel is engaged around the clock in efforts to block their progress and curb their entrenchment. But it is a critical regional battlefield.

Syria is also a fight between superpowers. Russia owes its reemergence as a superpower in the Middle East to its entrenchment in Syria. And the U.S.’s ability to continue to assert its superpower status in the region is largely dependent on its willingness to stand its ground in Syria by among other things, blocking the Turks from defeating the Kurds.

None of the sides to the conflict can depend on their deterrent posture to prevent attacks or escalation because for deterrence to work, the warring sides need to acknowledge one another’s spheres of authority. This cannot happen because all of these battlefields represent wars that no side can lose – and as a result, no side can win. So the war will go on, indefinitely.

In Israel’s case, the best outcome at this point is that its responses to Iranian aggression, including its response Saturday, are powerful enough to convince the Iranians that they have no interest in a full-blown war. Ultimately, if Iran is defeated, it will likely be the result of developments on battlefields outside of Syria.

And it isn’t only a regional battlefield where Iran and its proxies seek to expand and entrench the Shiite crescent while preparing the ground for wars against Israel, and Israel is engaged around the clock in efforts to block their progress and curb their entrenchment. But it is a critical regional battlefield.

Syria is also a fight between superpowers. Russia owes its re-emergence as a superpower in the Middle East to its entrenchment in Syria. And America’s ability to continue to assert its superpower status in the region is largely dependent on its willingness to stand its ground in Syria by among other things, blocking the Turks from defeating the Kurds.

None of the sides to the conflict can depend on their deterrent posture to prevent attacks or escalation because for deterrence to work, the warring sides need to acknowledge one another’s spheres of authority. This cannot happen because all of these battlefields represent wars that no side can lose — and as a result, no side can win. So the war will go on, indefinitely.

In Israel’s case, the best outcome at this point is that its responses to Iranian aggression, including its response Saturday, will be powerful enough to convince the Iranians that they have no interest in a full-blown war. Ultimately, if Iran is defeated, it will likely be the result of developments on battlefields outside of Syria.
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« Reply #1064 on: February 12, 2018, 02:26:30 PM »



Israel, Iran and the War for Syria
Feb 12, 2018

 
By Jacob L. Shapiro
For years, Israel and Iran have attacked each other with words and through their proxies. In Iran, calls for Israel’s destruction are routine, and support for militant groups in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip intentionally challenges Israel’s security. For Israel, meanwhile, “the year is 1938 and Iran is Germany.” Those are the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the second-longest serving leader in the country’s history. He has held his position for so long in part because of his ability to convince Israelis that he is best suited to lead Israel in this existential battle with Iran.

It is not surprising, then, that this past weekend’s events seem like a watershed moment. On Feb. 10, an Iranian drone crossed into Israeli territory and was shot down. Israel responded to the Iranian incursion by dispatching fighter jets to attack targets in Syria, including the Tiyas air base, near Palmyra, where the Iranian drone reportedly took off from. Syrian anti-air systems retaliated, striking an Israeli F-16, which crashed after making it back to Israeli territory. This prompted Israel to hit eight Syrian targets and four Iranian positions, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The war of words and proxies seems to be turning into a war between nations.
 
(click to enlarge)

Lost in this sequence of events is the broader context. Israel is not the only country to have military aircraft shot down by enemy fire in Syria recently. Last week, Russia intensified airstrikes in Idlib province after al-Qaida-linked militants brought down a Russian fighter jet. On the same day the Israeli F-16 went down, Syrian Kurdish fighters reportedly brought down a Turkish military helicopter that was part of Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. Israel, Russia and Turkey all lost military aircraft during operations in Syria in the past week, and all three are currently working at cross purposes. The Israel-Iran showdown is about far more than just Israel and Iran. It is one aspect of a much larger war for regional power that is being waged more openly with each passing day.

Hazy Alliances

Last week’s crucial developments were not confined to downed military aircraft. On Feb. 6, pro-Assad forces attacked Turkish military forces attempting to set up an outpost close to the city of Aleppo. Some sources reported that an Iranian-backed militia was also involved in the attack. Just two months ago, Turkey and Iran were coordinating a cease-fire in Syria. Now, they are at each other’s throats.

Then on Feb. 7, pro-Assad forces attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria, resulting in U.S. airstrikes. Just two months ago, pro-Assad forces and the SDF were coordinating an offensive against the Islamic State. Now, they too are at each other’s throats. The war in Syria has become more than simply a civil war; it is now a regional war featuring Israel, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the United States.

If this seems confusing, that’s because it is. Allegiances are in a constant state of flux, dependent more on what various sides can do for each other in the short term than on long-standing arrangements or promises of trust. Consider that the U.S.-backed SDF, made up primarily of Syrian Kurdish fighters, is cooperating with the Assad regime so it can send reinforcements into Afrin to combat Turkish troops. In effect, the SDF is cooperating with Assad in one part of Syria and coming under attack from Assad in another part of Syria. Consider too that Turkey, officially part of a tripartite agreement with Russia and Iran to bring an end to the Syrian war, has invaded Syria to protect its interests from Russia and Iran, and yet it is equally hostile to Russia and Iran’s main enemy, the United States, because the U.S. is providing support for Syrian Kurds. The only thing that is certain in this conflict is that no alliance is certain.

Hazy as these strategic arrangements are, they all boil down to one thing: Iran’s attempt to take over Syria. Turkey talked about its invasion of northern Syria for over a year, and its troops entered Afrin with great media fanfare. But while Turkey was talking, Iran was actually doing. Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, Iran has been dispatching soldiers, militias, money and weapons to support the Assad regime. The result has been the transformation of Syria from an authoritarian military dictatorship friendly to Iran to an Iranian proxy in desperate need of Iranian support just to stay alive. For Iran, that is a massive strategic opportunity: It can make its continued support of Bashar Assad contingent on Assad’s allowing Iran to do whatever it wants in Syria. And what Iran wants in Syria is a forward base into the Levant.
 
(click to enlarge)

That is what has Israel so nervous. Despite all the rhetoric, Israel and Iran haven’t fought a war against each other because there is no way for Israel and Iran to fight a war. They are too far apart. That would no longer be the case if Iran can make Syria a staging ground for Iranian attacks against Israel. It is one thing for an Iranian proxy like Hezbollah, with its limited number of fighters, to fire rockets at Israel from Lebanon. It is quite another thing for Iran to start building missiles, massing ground forces and stationing aircraft in Syria, just across the Israeli border. To make matters worse for Israel, it has no comparable position on the Iranian border. Even if it did, Israel cannot expend soldiers the way Iran can in a protracted conflict. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program is concerning, but Syria as a base of Iranian operations is a mortal threat.

Israel’s Advantages

Israel has a few things going for it, though. The Assad regime is not dependent on just Iran but Russia too, and Moscow has no interest in Syria becoming an Iranian protectorate. Russia wants to preserve Syria as an independent actor and a Russian ally, not as a part of Iran’s plan to project power throughout the region. The Tiyas air base, which was the target of the Israeli strike over the weekend, has also been a base for Russian aircraft in Syria. Russia and Israel have close relations – Netanyahu was in Russia just last month to express Israeli concerns to Moscow – and Russia is not looking to pick a fight with Israel. Israel may not be able to fight a conventional war against Iran, but the Israeli air force is without peer in the Middle East – and that includes Russia’s aerial presence. Furthermore, the U.S. has Israel’s back on this one. It doesn’t want Iran in Syria any more than Israel does. The Russian-Iranian marriage of convenience will fracture the more ambitious Iran gets.

Iran’s moves in Syria also directly threaten Turkey, which also has no desire to see Iranian bases on its border. The more Iran engages in Syria, the closer it pushes Israel and Turkey together. Ties between the two have been strained since the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, but the real reason Israeli-Turkish relations are tense is that Turkey’s position in the Middle East has changed. It went from being a dependable U.S. and NATO ally to a powerful nation-state concerned primarily with securing its own interests, which Israel must view with inherent suspicion. That said, both will see eye to eye on limiting Iran in Syria. If Israel comes to believe Russia is not doing enough to rein Iran in, it will also not hesitate to deepen coordination with Turkey, which would be disastrous from Moscow’s perspective. It would also align with our 2018 forecast.

Last but not least is that the majority of the region’s powers are hostile to Iran. Notably absent from the recent developments in Syria is Iran’s most vociferous enemy, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, who as recently as November were threatening war against Iran, have fallen eerily silent. But make no mistake: Saudi Arabia remains extremely antagonistic to Iran and will support Israeli moves against it (and Saudi Arabia, unlike Israel, is within range of Iran). In addition, Egypt and Jordan remain aligned with Israel. Egypt invited Hamas leaders to Cairo for a meeting this past weekend, perhaps to let them know that their recent willingness to mend relations with Iran is a nonstarter.
Iran is attempting to take control of Syria. Israel does not want that to happen. Israel has been bombing targets in Syria for years to prevent it from happening. It will continue to do so. But Israel’s future depends not on its bombs but on its ability to position itself within a regional coalition that opposes Iran’s ambitions for power. The outline of that coalition is beginning to take shape: The interests of Israel, Turkey and the Arab states are converging. In a sense, Iran is now in the position the Islamic State was mere months ago. The Islamic State’s emergence created strange bedfellows, all of whom cooperated to ensure its demise. Now Iran is seeking to fill the power vacuum left behind by the Islamic State’s defeat. The responses, of which Israel’s attacks over the weekend are just one example, show why in the long term Iran’s gains are likely to be ephemeral. In the short term, however, Iran will press its advantage. The war in Syria has only just begun.

The post Israel, Iran and the War for Syria appeared first on Geopolitical Futures.
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« Reply #1065 on: February 14, 2018, 10:08:09 AM »

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/world/europe/russia-syria-dead.html?emc=edit_na_20180213&nl=breaking-news&nlid=49641193&ref=cta
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« Reply #1066 on: February 14, 2018, 01:43:38 PM »


Luckily, Putin is known for his merciful nature. I'm sure there won't be any sort of payback.
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« Reply #1067 on: February 14, 2018, 02:51:40 PM »

Sarcasm function on:

Like the payback when the Turks shot down one of his jets?

Sarcasm function off  grin
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« Reply #1068 on: February 14, 2018, 03:00:36 PM »

Sarcasm function on:

Like the payback when the Turks shot down one of his jets?

Sarcasm function off  grin

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/turkish-soldiers-syria-russia-air-strike-military-jet-vladimir-putin-erdogan-a7571936.html
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« Reply #1069 on: February 16, 2018, 07:29:19 PM »

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-02-16/russia-attacked-u-s-troops-in-syria
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« Reply #1070 on: February 16, 2018, 07:53:14 PM »


Pretty strange, given Trump being Putin's puppet and all...
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