In northern Syria, outside powers have exploited Arab-Kurdish tensions to consolidate counter-revolutionary interests

Michael Karadjis writes: A week after the United States rushed to defend its Kurdish allies, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), against the Assad regime in Hassakeh, Washington supported the intervention of the Kurds’ Turkish nemesis to expel IS from the border town of Jarabulus.

These events suggest the outlines of a regional understanding over a reactionary solution in northern Syria.

It follows the recent diplomatic back-flips by Turkey’s Erdogan government – including Ankara’s reconciliation with Russia and Israel (who themselves have formed a very close alliance over the past year), the further strengthening of relations with Iran (which have remained strong despite Tehran’s backing of Assad), and the declaration by Prime Minister Yildirim that Turkey was no longer opposed to a role for Assad in a “transitional” government consisting of elements drawn from both the regime and opposition.

The YPG – connected to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – has had a long-term, pragmatic non-aggression pact with Assad, sometimes leading to minor conflict, while at other times collaborating more closely – including during the recent siege of rebel-held Aleppo.

However, Hassakeh was the first time Assad launched his airforce against the YPG, possibly in response to Turkey’s feelers. An official from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently noted that Assad “does not support Kurdish autonomy… we’re backing the same policy”. Despite YPG pragmatism, Assad has forcefully rejected Kurdish autonomy, while the rise in the Kurdish struggle in Iran suggests recent Turkish-Iranian meetings are likely anti-Kurdish in content.

Both Russia and the US have been key backers of the YPG. Russian airstrikes helped the Afrin YPG in February seize Arab-majority towns from the rebels in northern Aleppo, including Tal Rifaat. But Putin’s reconciliation with Erdogan suggests that Russia has dropped the YPG. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s intervention in Syria, with tacit Russian backing, has raised tensions with Washington

The Daily Beast reports: Russia and Iran have raised no serious objections to Turkey’s intervention. The Political Directorate of the Syrian Arab Army now speaks of the Kurdish guerrilla force [the YPG] as the “PKK.”

As Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center observes, “Over the past five years, Damascus has more often referred to the pro-PKK factions in Syria by simply using their official names (such as YPG, Asayish, and so on) or by some quaintly patriotic workaround, such as ‘loyal Kurdish citizens.’ It is rare for them to employ the ‘PKK’ term and even rarer to blast it across state media.” The shift is obviously meant as much for Turkish ears as for Syrian ones.

Also remarkable is how Russia’s English-language propaganda outlet Sputnik has unblinkingly about-faced on who’s who in this war.

This week, it took the unprecedented step of referring to the Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army as having “liberated” villages in Aleppo from “terrorists,” citing the Turkish General Staff’s press release. As for the terrorists, Sputnik left it an open question as to whether or not these were ISIS militants or the YPG.

Washington, meanwhile, appears to have been outflanked. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the U.S. and Turkey had been discussing a joint intervention in Syria but that President Obama had delayed approving Pentagon plans.[Continue reading…]

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Iran deploys S-300 air defense around nuclear site

The Associated Press reports: Iran has deployed a Russian-made S-300 air defense system around its underground Fordo nuclear facility, state TV reported.

Video footage posted late Sunday on state TV’s website showed trucks arriving at the site and missile launchers being aimed skyward. It did not say whether the system was fully operational.

Gen. Farzad Esmaili, Iran’s head of air defense, declined to comment on the report in an interview with another website affiliated with state news. “Maybe if you go to Fordo now, the system is not there,” he was quoted as saying Monday. He added that the S-300 is a mobile system that should be relocated often.

Russia began delivering the S-300 system to Iran earlier this year under a contract signed in 2007. The delivery had been held up by international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, which were lifted this year under an agreement with world powers. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Iran said on Sunday that a person close to the government team that negotiated its nuclear agreement with foreign powers had been arrested on accusations of espionage and released on bail.

The disclosure, reported in the state news media, appeared to be the latest sign of the Iranian leadership’s frustration over the agreement, which has failed so far to yield the significant economic benefits for the country that its advocates had promised. Iranian officials have blamed the United States for that problem.

Despite the relaxations of many sanctions under the accord, which took effect in January, Iran faces enormous obstacles in attracting new investments and moving its own money through the global financial system.

The Iranians are still blocked from using American banks, an important transit point for international capital, because of non-nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Iran rebukes Russia for showing ‘ungentlemanly’ attitude by publicizing use of air base for bombing Syria

The Associated Press reports: Russia has stopped using an Iranian air base for launching airstrikes on Syria for the time being, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday, just hours after the Iranian defense minister criticized Moscow for having “kind of show-off and ungentlemanly” attitude by publicizing their actions.

There was no immediate response from Moscow, which had used the Shahid Nojeh Air Base to refuel its bombers striking Syria at least three times last week.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters in Tehran that the Russian airstrikes on militants in Syria were “temporary, based on a Russian request.”

“It is finished, for now,” Ghasemi said, without elaborating. [Continue reading…]

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Continued inaction in the face of an abomination shaped by Assad, Iran, and Russia is exacting too high a price

Fred Hof writes: No one in the history of the Syrian conflict has counseled Mr. Obama to invade and occupy Syria, fighting Iranian forces in the process. Fifty-one conscience-stricken State Department officers recently pressed upon him a variation of what others, in and out of government, have urged him for years to do: use limited military means to exact a price for mass homicide in an effort to deter it. For years the president has said no. The consequences for Syrians, their neighbors, and European allies have been staggering, as a country that began the war with 23 million people gradually empties itself. And ISIS — the author of heinous atrocities abroad — is in large measure a consequence of Assad regime mass homicide unchecked by the civilized world.

Yet whenever presented with modest proposals for measured pushback, Mr. Obama and his communications mavens deploy an army of straw men to counterattack. They have exploited the understandable, if misguided reluctance of Americans to do anything at all of a military nature in the Middle East after the experience of Iraq.

ISIS — partly the result of Assad-induced state failure in Syria — is the exception. But Assad himself — a protégé and employee of Iran — has been spared entirely, even though a straight line runs from his practice of mass homicide in Syria to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the United Kingdom and the rise of Vladimir Putin lookalikes in the politics of the West. Iran is the key to understanding why the Obama administration immolated its own reputation in the 2013 ‘red line’ fiasco, and why it continues to look the other way while Assad and his enablers enjoy an unrestrained crime spree. [Continue reading…]

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Strikes from Iranian air base show Russia’s expanding footprint in the Middle East

The Washington Post reports: Russian bombers flying from an Iranian air base struck rebel targets across Syria on Tuesday, Russian and Iranian officials said, dramatically underscoring the two countries’ growing military ties and highlighting Russia’s ambitions for greater influence in a turbulent Middle East.

The long-range Tu-22 bombers took off from a base near Hamadan in western Iran and launched raids in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Idlib, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said the bombers were accompanied by Russian fighter jets based in Syria.

Both countries are staunch allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but the flights marked the first time Russia has launched strikes from Iranian territory.

Iran has long banned foreign militaries from establishing bases on its soil. But the raids appeared to signal a budding alliance that would expand Russia’s military footprint in the region. [Continue reading…]

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Russia uses Iran as base to bomb Syrian militants for first time

Reuters reports: Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

In a move underscoring Moscow’s increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran’s Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution. [Continue reading…]

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Swiss court backs Iran in decades-old oil row with Israel, ordered to pay $1.1 billion plus interest

Reuters reports: The Swiss Federal Tribunal rejected an appeal, citing lack of due process, against an arbitration ruling last year. The verdict, dated June 27, was available on the Lausanne court’s website.

It also awarded Iran 450,000 Swiss francs ($461,302) in court costs and lawyer fees.

It remains unclear whether Israel will pay up given restrictions its “trading with the enemy” laws.

Lawyers for each side had been locked in an arbitration over the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co (EAPC), a joint venture set up in 1968, when the two nations were friendly, to transport Iranian oil to the Mediterranean.

For a decade, the pipeline successfully carried oil from the Red Sea for export to Europe. But since the Islamic revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power, Iran has been demanding its share of revenues and assets that remained in Israel.

Since the partnership collapsed, EAPC has grown into a complex of energy assets, now mostly handling oil from former Soviet states.

How much profit it has made or how much it is worth is unknown, largely because it is protected in a similar way to Israel’s intelligence agencies, including by gag orders restricting coverage of its activities. [Continue reading…]

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Iran says it executed nuclear scientist for spying

The Washington Post reports: Iran has executed a nuclear scientist who mysteriously turned up in the United States six years ago and returned to Tehran a few months later, authorities said Sunday, in the first official confirmation of the researcher’s fate since he arrived back in his homeland.

Iranian officials offered no details about the charges against Shahram Amiri, whose case has left unanswered questions about whether he voluntarily defected to the United States or — as he claimed — was abducted by agents while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in 2009.

Amiri surfaced in 2010 in videos posted online from an undisclosed location in the United States. Later that year, he arrived unannounced at the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and demanded to be sent home. [Continue reading…]

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Can Shia militias be integrated into the Iraqi army?

 

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Iran supports Erdogan in effort to sway Turkey’s approach to Syria

Ali Hashem writes: Within hours after the coup attempt began late July 15, the SNSC [Iran’s Supreme National Security Council] convened to discuss developments in Turkey. Following the meeting, which was chaired by President Hassan Rouhani, Shamkhani publicly condemned the coup attempt, telling local media outlets, “We support Turkey’s legal government and oppose any type of coup — either [initiated] domestically or supported by foreign sides.” Shamkhani said, “What determined the fate of developments in Turkey were the will and presence of the [Turkish] nation and the vigilance of political parties, whose contribution thwarted this coup. Shamkhani concluded, “Our stance is not exclusive to Turkey either. We have pursued the same stance in Syria too. Our position toward all regional countries is that we always prefer people’s votes [to decide governments] rather than tribal, sectarian and hereditary governments, and this means democracy.”

“A coup in Turkey isn’t something Iran can tolerate,” another Iranian politician told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “It’s true that there are differences over Syria, and sometimes in Iraq. Yet the fact is that there is no direct problem between Iran and Turkey; on the contrary, [bilateral] relations are always advancing for the better. Besides, Iran is opposed to any kind of change by force, and especially when the government [in question] is democratically elected.” The Iranian politician added, “The most important thing is that this experience [the coup attempt] might be an opportunity for Mr. Erdogan to understand the situation in neighboring Syria.”

Indeed, multiple Iranian officials, including Ali Akbar Velayati — foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — brought up Syria in their condemnation of the coup attempt in Turkey. While condemning the coup, Velayati — a former foreign minister — said he hopes “the Turkish government will respect the views and votes of the Syrian people and allow them to decide their own government.” It was a clear message from Iran to Turkey regarding Syria and the future of the struggle in the region. For five years now, Iranian officials have on repeated occasions stated that they have been trying to engage the Turks on a path to address the situation in Syria, and while unsuccessful, have never given up on this approach. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian opposition official: ‘Assad is no longer at risk… he has won’

Martin Chulov reports: Just over a month into Syria’s uprising in 2011, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze sect, Walid Jumblatt, travelled to Damascus to visit Syria’s then security tsar, Mohammed Nasif. As well as being the Assad family’s most trusted senior official, he was also the linchpin of Syria’s close ties with Iran and Hezbollah, a man bound more than most to the fate of the regime.

“He said to me at the time, it’s either us, meaning the Alawites, or them, meaning the Sunnis,” Jumblatt recalled. “I knew which way this was going then. He added, ‘even if it cost us a million dead’.”

More than five years later, the toll in the now raging war is well past a quarter of that estimate – international monitors stopped counting last August. The sectarian dimension to the fighting foreshadowed by Nasif is a reality. So is the destruction of much of the country, including the ancient city of Aleppo, which after years of being viewed as the key to Syria’s fate last week slipped from the grasp of the opposition and into the hands of the Syrian regime’s allies, led by Hezbollah.

The encirclement of Aleppo is a significant moment in a war that has led to more unrestrained savagery, international repercussions and unlikely alliances than most others in modern times. Another emerged last week, as Hezbollah and Syrian troops were beating back the al-Qaida-aligned Jabhat al-Nusra from farmlands to the north of the city. As that battle raged, the US was drafting a deal with Russia that would create a joint operations centre to coordinate attacks on al-Nusra and Islamic State.

The move has created despair among the ranks of the Syrian opposition, which insists that a pact between Moscow and Washington will entrench the Syrian leader, whom Russia and Iran have saved from defeat over the past 12 months. Adding to the alarm of the now diminished rebel ranks is a detente, also signed during the week, between Moscow and Ankara, after a seven-month standoff, as well as the Turkish prime minister’s remarks that Ankara was interested in peace with Damascus.

“This all means that Assad is no longer at risk,” said a senior official in the western-backed Syrian opposition. “This means that he has won.” [Continue reading…]

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