The Wall Street Journal reports: Turkey’s government — which lost its parliamentary majority last month — bills its new two-front war against Kurdish militants and Islamic State as a much-overdue reaction to terrorism. But, on the third front of domestic politics, this violence could also help President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party regain control.
In the June 7 parliamentary elections, Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost its majority for the first time in 12 years, and has been in coalition talks since. If these negotiations fail in coming weeks, Mr. Erdogan has said he will send the country back to the polls.
A rise in nationalist feelings amid the bloodshed and an unfolding crackdown on the government’s Kurdish political foes could bolster AKP’s chances in such a new election, many analysts say.
A two-percentage point shift from the last election could restore AKP’s absolute majority, making concessions demanded by its potential coalition partners on press freedom, corruption prosecutions and foreign policy unnecessary. This could also allow Mr. Erdogan to proceed with controversial plans to turn Turkey into a presidential republic and solidify his personal power.
“Turkey’s domestic policy and foreign policy have become messily mixed together. It’s now very difficult to separate the domestic political considerations from the security and strategic considerations of those who have started the air strikes,” said Soli Ozel, a Turkish political commentator and professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. [Continue reading…]
The Observer reports: When US special forces raided the compound of an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria in May, they made sure not to tell the neighbours.
The target of that raid, the first of its kind since US jets returned to the skies over Iraq last August, was an Isis official responsible for oil smuggling, named Abu Sayyaf. He was almost unheard of outside the upper echelons of the terror group, but he was well known to Turkey. From mid-2013, the Tunisian fighter had been responsible for smuggling oil from Syria’s eastern fields, which the group had by then commandeered. Black market oil quickly became the main driver of Isis revenues – and Turkish buyers were its main clients.
As a result, the oil trade between the jihadis and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.
The estimated $1m-$4m per day in oil revenues that was thought to have flowed into Isis coffers over at least six months from late 2013 helped to transform an ambitious force with limited means into a juggernaut that has been steadily drawing western forces back to the region and increasingly testing state borders.
Across the region, violence has been spreading across borders, scattering huge numbers of refugees and contributing to the turmoil in neighbouring regimes. Few countries – from Turkey to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel – remain unscathed by the tide of chaos spreading out from Syria.
Despite one year of air strikes aimed at crippling the group’s spread, Isis remains entrenched in northern and eastern Syria, in control of much of western Iraq and camped on Lebanon’s eastern border. Its offshoots are gathering steam in north Africa and now, more than at any time since the latest incarnation of Isis emerged, its leaders claim to be positioning the group for strikes well outside the territory that it now controls.
In the wake of the raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, suspicions of an undeclared alliance have hardened. One senior western official familiar with the intelligence gathered at the slain leader’s compound said that direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking Isis members was now “undeniable”.
“There are hundreds of flash drives and documents that were seized there,” the official told the Observer. “They are being analysed at the moment, but the links are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.” [Continue reading…]
Rudaw reports: Turkish airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in the Kurdistan Region destroyed a health clinic in Duhok province Thursday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Turkish warplanes have been launched a string of air raids on PKK sites in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan since Friday. Thursday’s attack struck a clinic in the Amediye district of Duhok.
The warplanes thrice struck the Geli Baze region in Amediye on Thursday, said Bakhtiyar Kadir, Rudaw’s reporter in the region.The destroyed clinic had been serving several villages, including Shinaw and Hiraspi. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: By the time Mohammad Omar’s death in 2013 was confirmed Wednesday, he had long been the ghost leader of the Taliban. His Afghan acolytes had not seen or heard from him in more than two years, even as they continued to fight and die in the name of the Islamist movement he founded two decades before.
Like Osama bin Laden, confined to watching TV in a Pakistani safe house before he was killed by U.S. commandos in 2011, Omar was still an inspiring symbol for his followers but he was no longer calling the shots. All the messages he sent out were scripted by someone else — props in a campaign to keep the splintering insurgents united.
Now that the truth is out, analysts in Kabul said Wednesday, two questions loom for the Taliban and the future of Afghanistan. First, with no immediate successor in place, can anyone else keep the fractured insurgency unified, or will disillusionment and power struggles pull it apart? Second, with peace talks just beginning to gain momentum, will the sudden leadership vacuum bring them to a chaotic halt? [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The Taliban have chosen late supreme leader Mullah Omar’s longtime deputy to replace him, two militant commanders said on Thursday, as Pakistan announced that peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government had been postponed.
Pakistan cited reports of Omar’s death as the reason for the delay in negotiations, amid fears they could trigger a potentially bloody succession battle and further deepen divisions within the militant movement.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was appointed leader at a meeting of the Taliban’s top representatives, many of whom are based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to the sources who were present at the shura, or gathering.
“The shura held outside Quetta unanimously elected Mullah Mansour as the new emir of the Taliban,” said one commander at the Wednesday night meeting.
“The shura will release a statement shortly.”
Siraj Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani militant faction, will be a deputy to Mansour, both commanders added. [Continue reading…]
Al Monitor reports: Support for Palestinian groups has been one of the unchanging principles of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. Iran’s support for various Palestinian groups and figures has ebbed and flowed with the changing political realities of the region but has never dropped off completely. In his latest speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on the country’s foreign policy, said that even with a nuclear deal, Iran’s support of “resistance groups” would continue.
However, it is no secret by now that since the unrest in Syria began in 2011, relations between Hamas and Iran have deteriorated. Iran pushed the Sunni militant group to politically back its ally President Bashar al-Assad, while Hamas was on the defensive, denying accusations of supporting Assad’s armed opposition. Relations between Hamas and Iran have not recovered since Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal left his longtime base in Damascus in 2012 for Qatar, one of the main sponsors of Assad’s armed opposition.
There were rumors in the Iranian media that Meshaal would visit Iran and meet with Khamenei, but those rumors failed to materialize. It is understandable then that when Hamas leaders, including Meshaal, visited Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud on July 18, the Iranian reaction was swift. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: Iranian aid to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has drastically decreased, a senior Hamas official said Monday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Iran’s aid “greatly helped the resistance in Palestine; without this assistance it will be hard for us to cope.”
“The relations between Hamas and Iran are not advancing in a direction in which the organization (Hamas) is interested and aren’t improving to the degree the organization wants in order to help the Palestinian issue,” Abu Marzouk said. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: During the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia has hosted a number of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated leaders, including Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda party in Tunisia; Abdul Majeed Zindani, the leader of al-Islah party in Yemen; and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas.
Such meetings would have been unthinkable at any other point in the past couple of years, as Saudi rulers threw their weight behind Egypt’s brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In March 2014, the kingdom designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group.
But since Saudi King Salman‘s rise to power following the death of King Abdullah last January, Saudi policy seems to have shifted from a full-on battle against the Brotherhood and their respective offshoots across the region, to a sharper focus on the supposed rise of an Iranian regional threat. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution to create an international tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the Malaysian airliner MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The lone “no” vote cast on Wednesday by Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, effectively blocked the resolution. Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers.
Eleven of the 15 members of the council voted in favour of the resolution, which had been drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.
China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.
In his statement following the vote, Churkin accused other countries of politicising the vote, and accused Ukraine of blocking Moscow from being involved in the investigation.
Just an hour before the Malaysia-backed resolution was put to a vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposed the plan. [Continue reading…]
Fred Kaplan writes: Jonathan Pollard, who’s been in prison the past 30 years for selling secrets to Israel, will be released on parole this November. Two things are worth noting. First, contrary to many skeptics, his release is not a political ploy to relax Israel’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Second, contrary to claims by Pollard’s supporters, his punishment has been completely justified; he ranks as one of the 20th century’s most appalling American spies.
The first myth is easy to puncture. Pollard’s life sentence came with a mandatory-parole clause after 30 years. He started serving time in November 1985. So, 30 years is up in November 2015. It’s math.
The second myth takes longer to unravel. At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security.
Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitted, listing the range of sensitive secrets that he’d stolen, pointed to one of the items, and said, “What about this?” Pollard was silenced. Robinson sentenced him to life. [Continue reading…]
The recent surge of violence in Turkey following the massacre of socialist activists in Suruc has brought Turkey perilously close to an all-out conflict with the Kurds.
Turkey has begun regular air strikes targeting the bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas as part of its broader “war on terror”, which has also included action against Islamic State (IS) and the left-wing Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKPC). So far, more than 1,000 people have been detained in Turkey. That number includes many trade unionists – and there are growing fears that non-violent dissidents will be targeted.
Turkey’s effort to tie its campaign against the PKK to the international campaign against IS is widely seen as a ploy to make its actions against the Kurds more internationally legitimate. Turkey seems to have convinced the US of the need to create a de-facto safe zone on the border with Syria, a long-held Turkish plan to prevent Kurdish autonomous regions from joining one to another. The Kurds view that plan with deep suspicion, seeing it as a push to undermine their achievements in Syria.
While the trigger points of Turkey’s conflict with the PKK in the past year have all been connected to the developments in Syria, it’s worth remembering that the conflict has a much deeper history.
The Associated Press reports: Turkish jets hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq overnight and the government said strikes would continue until the rebels lay down their arms, despite calls Wednesday by the pro-Kurdish opposition for an immediate end to the violence and the resumption of peace efforts.
Turkey’s air raids against the Kurdish rebels, which came at the same time as Turkey began cracking down on the Islamic State group, are reigniting a 30-year conflict with the insurgents and leave a two-year-old, fragile peace process in pieces.
The airstrikes on IS follow intense U.S. pressure on Turkey to more actively join a coalition against the extremists, but Turkey’s actions against the Kurdish rebel group pose a conundrum for U.S. President Barack Obama, who is relying heavily on the insurgents as allies in Syria. [Continue reading…]
Amnesty International: On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.
On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.
In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.
In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).
The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. [Continue reading…]
Michael Weiss writes: “It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,’ to conceive of a greater harm to the national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.”
Thus spake U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986 in a still largely classified declaration, more or less sealing the life sentence handed down to Jonathan Pollard, a former analyst at the U.S. Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center who over a 17-month period in the mid-1980s passed along enough classified intelligence to Israel to fill, by his own admission, a 6x6x10-foot room.
After decades of trying in vain to get out of jail, Pollard will be released on November 20 after serving 29 years in a federal prison. The timing, coming so soon after the U.S. helped ink an arms control agreement with Iran, has raised eyebrows not least because anonymous U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal last week that the Obama administration was planning to release Pollard as a salve to Israel to try and convince the Jewish state to tone down or abandon its fierce criticism of the Iran deal.
The administration has repeatedly denied that any such quid pro quo arrangement was being brokered and insisted that Pollard’s fate was entirely up to an independent parole board. “I haven’t even had a conversation about it,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Tuesday.
However, while it’s true that Pollard was in any event due for a mandatory parole hearing this year under the terms of his sentence, the Journal scoop proved uncannily prescient. [Continue reading…]
Noah Feldman writes: I’m relieved that the nightmare of Jonathan Pollard’s imprisonment is about to be over. Not because I feel any sympathy whatsoever for the convicted spy who will be paroled in November after spending 30 years in prison. No, what relieves me is that, once he’s freed, we’ll be spared the spectacle of respectable American Jewish leaders calling for his early release. Those requests have been harmful to the principle that American Jews can be totally loyal Americans and also care about Israel. The end of this whole shameful episode is therefore cause not for celebration, but for relief.
Even at this distance of time, it remains stunning to me that anyone outside Israel would think Pollard was unfairly treated. Those who advocated the release of the former Navy analyst advanced a variety of reasons. The most significant and consistent argument was that Pollard had been the victim of a U.S. government deception: First the Department of Justice told him they would seek something less than a life sentence. Then the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, wrote a letter to the sentencing judge asking for the maximum sentence on the grounds that Pollard’s stolen secrets had badly damaged the country’s security.
It’s hard to imagine anyone less well placed to complain about a government trick than a person who deceived that very government, his employer to whom he had sworn an oath of loyalty. Even if the government’s approach was sneaky, it pales next to Pollard’s actions.
Then there’s Pollard’s refusal to disclose all the information he had stolen, to say nothing of the distinct probability that some of what he passed to Israel was then traded to the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. [Continue reading…]
Faisal Al Yafai writes: Four days before US troops invaded Iraq for the first time, on January 13, 1991, Saddam Hussein issued a small but vital law.
It concerned the flag of Iraq, a red, white and black tricolour with three green stars. The new law changed the flag, adding the Arabic words “God is great” between the stars.
A small law issued in the midst of a gathering storm. But 25 years on from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that triggered the first Gulf War, it is apparent that this law, and particularly the political philosophy behind it, began a process that created the conditions for ISIL’s success.
The road map that leads from the centralised Iraqi state of the 1990s to the disintegrating Iraq of today, starts in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s regime began to stutter.
The astonishing development of the 1970s began to slow under pressure from Saddam’s ill-conceived war against Iran.
Saddam was particularly concerned about religious challenges to his rule during this period. Aside from the war against Iran, launched at least in part because of the fear of a new revolutionary Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood was also gaining support in Iraq, as it was in other Arab countries.
Saddam’s response was to seek to co-opt religion for his own political purposes. By engaging with Salafism, a more austere version of Islam, Saddam believed he could find a way to control a revivalist Islam and exploit it for his own aims. [Continue reading…]
Hassan Hassan writes: For Turkey, defeating ISIL remains a lower priority than preventing Syrian Kurds from establishing the infrastructure for a future state in the north and the downfall of the Assad regime. Ankara is unlikely to change its priorities on ISIL unless there is understanding about these other issues. Also, the West is more interested in fighting ISIL than the Assad regime. But they require the help of Syrian rebels, who have the reverse priorities.
With such a divided coalition, who needs enemies? ISIL will continue to reap the benefits of such confused priorities until all the parties agree to work towards one goal under one strategy. That is possible and it starts in Aleppo.
Over the past few months, a momentum has been building among the Syrian rebels to fight ISIL: for the first time since it was established in early 2014, the usually-quiet Syrian Islamic Council issued a fatwa in June to fight ISIL. In the same month, a large coalition of rebels on the ground met in Antakya and concluded that fighting ISIL was a priority for all the rebels. Even Jabhat Al Nusra’s leader made it clear that ISIL was an enemy in an interview with Al Jazeera. [Continue reading…]
Rudaw reports: Turkish jets launched fresh attacks on military bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region on Tuesday, a Rudaw reporter on the scene said.
The attacks on Tuesday again targeted the PKK’s Qandil Mountain base in the Kurdistan Region. Turkey carried out airstrikes on the base on Saturday and Sunday, and pounded the positions with artillery on Monay.
The attacks signal a breakdown of peace talks between the Ankara government and the PKK.
The airstrikes coincide with nationwide raids inside Turkey against the PKK, as well as Islamist groups such as the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]
Time reports: Last week, the Turkish government announced it was joining the war against ISIS. Since then it has arrested more than 1,000 people in Turkey and carried out waves of air raids in neighboring Syria and Iraq. But most of those arrests and air strikes, say Kurdish leaders, have hit Kurdish and left wing groups, not ISIS.
They say Turkey is now hindering, rather than helping, the fight against ISIS. “Most of our forces that have been targeted were forces that were preparing themselves to go to fight against ISIS,” says Zagros [Hiwa, a spokesman for the Kurdish PKK forces]. [Continue reading…]
Aron Lund writes: The meat of the speech [Bashar al-Assad gave on Syrian public television on July 26] was neither the attempt to co-opt Western-inspired “antiterrorist” discourse nor the nationalist rah-rah. Far more interesting was Assad’s lengthy discussion of the recent setbacks suffered by his army. After advancing for much of 2014, the government ran out of steam over the winter, as the economy started to sputter and rebels received additional support. This spring, Assad’s fortunes took a sharp turn for the worse.
In March, Assad’s troops were forced to surrender the provincial capital of Idlib to Islamist rebels, as well as the southern city of Bosra al-Sham. In April, the army’s last real foothold in Idlib was lost with Ariha and Jisr al-Shughur. Then the last remaining border crossing into Jordan went the same way, which slashed overland trade. In May, the extremist group known as the Islamic State took Sukhna and the strategic city of Palmyra, isolating the city of Deir Ezzor. It then began to seize or destroy parts of Syria’s energy infrastructure. In June, more moderate rebels took out an important army base in the southern Daraa Governorate, although the ensuing offensive to capture Daraa City then seemed to stall. The Islamic State jihadists have also given Assad’s forces a bad bruising in Hasakah, although the army has so far held out thanks to an alliance of convenience with local Kurdish fighters.
The government has advanced in the Syrian-Lebanese border region of Zabadani, where it is backed by the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, but the situation now looks quite grim for Assad. Much of the official Syrian Arab Army has been supplemented or replaced by militias, but even then, pro-Assad forces are spread dangerously thin on the ground. Iran, now flush with confidence after its nuclear deal, recently signed on to a $ 1 billion credit deal to aid the Syrian economy—but as things stand, Assad simply seems to be trying to hold more territory than he can defend. [Continue reading…]
Oxfam: Since the start of the conflict, nearly 25,000 additional people are going hungry each day in Yemen as the blockade and fighting restrict food, fuel and other vital supplies, Oxfam warned today.
One in two people – nearly 13 million people – are now struggling to find enough to eat, and half of them are on the brink of starvation. This is an increase of 2.3 million people since the escalation in fighting and beginning of the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition in March 2015. In a country that has historically faced food shortages, this is the highest ever recorded number of people living in hunger.
Philippe Clerc, Oxfam Country Director in Yemen said: “Since the start of the conflict every day that goes by without a ceasefire and full resumption of imports sees nearly 25,000 additional people going hungry in Yemen. As the warring parties continue to ignore calls for a ceasefire, the average family in Yemen is left wondering when their next meal will be – if they survive the bombs, they’re now running out of food.“ [Continue reading…]
Frederic C. Hof writes: With Iran circling the wagons around an ever-shrinking Syrian statelet nominally headed by Bashar al-Assad, a key question is coming into sharp focus: Who might ultimately replace the ruling clan if Tehran cannot keep its clients afloat? The answer is both complex and hopeful: Self-government at local levels is taking root in Syria and forms the basis for what should come next.
One of the few uplifting experiences to be had in any Syrian context these days is to meet with young Syrian activists, as I recently did in Gaziantep, Turkey. A young lawyer said something striking: “This is not just a revolution against Bashar al-Assad. It is a revolution for self-government. Replacing Bashar with someone else issuing decrees from Damascus — even someone much better than Bashar — is not acceptable.”
From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, unarmed activists have formed, under the worst security conditions imaginable, local councils to provide governmental services to their neighbors. This is revolutionary. For 40 years the Assad family had concentrated in its own hands, in Damascus, the direct governing of all Syrians. Officials assigned to Syria’s outback were, at best, order-taking clerks. At worst they were active members of a clan-dominated police state and terror network. Unless Iran helps its client re-subjugate Syria, the days of Damascus-dominated governance are done.
There are today hundreds of local councils throughout non-Assad parts of Syria. Some operate clandestinely in areas overrun by the so-called Islamic State. Some operate in areas where the Assad regime — with Iran’s full support — unloads helicopter-borne “barrel bombs” onto schools, hospitals and mosques. Some operate in neighborhoods subjected to Iranian-facilitated starvation sieges. These local councils are supported by a vast network of civil society organizations — the kinds of voluntary professional associations that undergird Western democracies. All of this is new to Syria. It is the essence of the Syrian Revolution. [Continue reading…]