Resources

Review Category : All

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Capitol Hill

EMET on Capitol Hill hosted Congressman Gus Bilirakis, FDD scholar and former Turkish parliament member Dr. Aykan Erdemir, the pro-Kurdish opposition US representative of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Giran Ozcan, and EMET’s Director of the Kurdistan Project, Diliman Abdulkader. The panel was moderated by EMET founder and president Sarah Stern. Our panel analyzed the implications of the June 24th Turkish elections called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Leading Turkey since 2002 with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), internally Erdogan has tilted state institutions to further solidify his position, he has targeted political opposition groups, academics, journalists, and the Kurdish minority all while labeling those speaking against his rule as “terrorists.” Erdogan has distanced himself from his short-lived “zero problem with neighbors” policy as he has made more foes than friends in the region. He has threatened Greece with military action while continuing to have a foothold in Northern Cyprus. His incursions into Syria targeting US-backed Kurdish forces has created a diminishing of relations with the United States. Under Erdogan, Turkey has pivoted towards Russia by purchasing Russian missiles incompatible with NATO defense systems. The panel examined the outcome of the elections, what Turkey’s future holds under Erdogan and how this will affect US-Turkish relations.

Read More →

Sarah Stern Featured on “Jews You Should Know” Podcast

July 9th, 2018

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Sarah Stern considers herself shy and unassuming, but when it comes to Israel she is a fierce warrior for truth and righteousness. A lifelong Zionist, who worked in major pro-Israel organizations, ultimately determined to strike out on her own to promote messages she wasn’t hearing elsewhere.

Along the way, she has encountered great defenders of Israel both within and without the Jewish community; her annual “Rays of Light” gala deliberately honors courageous non-Jews – including Arabs and Muslims – who go against the tide in their writing or activism, offering perspectives that promote Israel as a beacon of democracy and light.

Sarah embodies these values no less, and has earned a broad following behind her passion and unwavering, unapologetic commitment.

——————–

ABOUT THIS PODCAST

Jews You Should Know introduces the broader community to interesting and inspiring Jewish men and women making a difference in our world. Some are already famous, some not yet so. But each is a Jew You Should Know.

The host, Rabbi Ari Koretzky, is Executive Director of MEOR Maryland (www.meormd.org), a premier Jewish outreach and educational organization. MEOR operates nationally on twenty campuses and in Manhattan; visit the national website at www.meor.org.”

Originally published on: http://jewsyoushouldknow.libsyn.com/episode-041-the-emet-founder-a-conversation-with-sarah-stern

Read More →

“When Going to War with Syria, Are We also Going to War with Russia & Iran?”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dr. Mordechai Kedar discusses recent developments in the Middle East since the horrific use of chemical weapons by the brutal dictator, Bashar al Assad of Syria, which killed at least 48 innocent people and injured some 500 more. The United States responded with its allies the United Kingdom and France, with precision targets aimed at destroying the nuclear weapons facilities and research labs. Syria’s seven-year long civil war has diminished smaller non-state actors and has cleared the way for larger states and their proxies to grab a piece of the shattered state. Turkey with its FSA and Al Qaeda supporters attacked our allies the Kurds in Afrin Canton, and Iran and its Hezbollah proxies have set up bases across Syria and are well under way in completing a land bridge towards Israel’s northern border. Meanwhile, Russia has continued to undermine US strategy, protect Assad’s horrific crimes and is now intending on selling the dictator S-300 missiles which will ultimately threaten Israel’s sovereignty and security. Dr. Kedar analyzes and assesses the potential for a direct conflict between Russia and the United States in Syria.

Read More →

Time to Wake Up to Erdogan’s Turkey

On June 25, we awoke to the somber news that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had secured a victory in Turkey’s presidential elections. The reason this news is so grim is because he is a very dangerous man who wants to establish a Turkish Islamist caliphate, as he has simultaneously been eroding human rights inside Turkey and grabbing more power for himself.

On April 17, 2017, Erdoğan held a referendum that greatly expanded and consolidated the powers of the presidency, eliminating the office of prime minister, meaning foreign policy is now part of his portfolio.

In the meantime, he has arbitrarily arrested approximately 50,000 people, including dissidents, intellectuals, professors, journalists and anyone that he might possibly conceive of as being in the opposition. The prisons in Turkey are so full of dissidents that they have released common criminals and convicted felons onto the streets.

A dear friend and colleague, Aykan Erdemir of the Foundations of Defense of Democracies, who had been a member of the opposition in the Turkish Parliament, told me that every Saturday night his friends gets together over Turkish coffee and read the newspaper to see who, among their friends, will be arrested—and whether or not they can make bail.

Among those arrested is Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American who has is in his second year of a seven-year sentence. The Turkish government contends that his evidence is based on the testimony of a “secret witness.” There is absolutely no habious corpus in Turkey, and no attorney working on Brunson’s behalf that can see the “evidence” and defend his client.

Turkey has one of the lowest rankings in the world in terms of freedom of press. The regime continues to trample on the right of its citizens, including freedom of speech, of association, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Turkey is also now the world’s No. 1 jailer of journalists.

In particular, the Christians of Turkey, who are a tiny minority, have been under increasing assault. Anyone who cannot trace his roots back to Sunni Islam is under suspicion, which has resulted in a flurry of violent attacks against Christian churches throughout this newly xenophobic country.

In foreign policy, we have seen Erdoğan’s forces enter into Syria and massacre what had been an autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin. Throughout Europe, we are seeing the emergence of cash-rich Turkish, Islamist parties. Erdoğan is emerging on the continent as a defender of a sense of victimization of Muslims against Islamophobia.

And in Jerusalem, in an attempt to win influence among the Palestinians, the Turkish autocrat has been showering the natives of eastern Jerusalem with funds. In an article in last week’s Haaretz, officials from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority expressed concern that Turkey is trying to establish itself as “the guardian of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Muslim world.”

He has also called for an “Islamic army to invade Palestine.”

What emerges is a picture of a totalitarian brute with imperialistic designs. What is equally disturbing is that Turkey under Erdoğan has already purchased the all-powerful S-400 long range, anti-aircraft defense system. He has been cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has worked to prevent the Russian-Iranian constellation from leaving Southern Syria.

All of this does not fit the usual description of an “ally.”

Yet Lockheed Martin plans to sell Turkey 100 F-35 Lighting II fighter jets—one of the most sophisticated stealth fighter jets yet to be developed.

Congress has weighed in, in both chambers. On the House side, the National Defense Authorization Act specified that before the transfer of F-35s is made to Ankara, both the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense must write a report that Turkey is behaving as an ally. The Senate side seeks to hold up Turkey’s possession of the F-35s unless it revokes its purchase of the S-400s, so it does not threaten NATOs defense capabilities and put an end to detaining American citizens.

The bill has yet to go to Conference Committee to be law.

Because Turkey is a member of NATO, many people would still like to regard it as an “ally.” Yes, it is formally in NATO. However, NATO (which has no mechanism to expel a member), had originally been established during the Cold War for smaller countries to defend one another against the Soviet threat.

From the way things appear now, Turkey appears to be far closer to Russia than to its other NATO partners. And America certainly does not want our most sophisticated stealth jet fighter ending up in Russian hands.

Yet despite the congressional action, on June 21, Lockheed Martin held a roll-out ceremony presenting the Turks with two F 35s. The jets will be remaining on American soil for at least a year while Turkish pilots are trained to use it.

That gives us a bit of time for folks to wake up to sample Erdoğan’s particular brew of Turkish coffee.

Originally published on: https://www.jns.org/opinion/time-to-wake-up-to-erdogans-turkey/

Photo: Twitter

Read More →

Erdogan is the Winner, Now What?

As expected, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the Turkish presidency and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained a majority in the parliament by aligning with the ultra-nationalist, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the path Erdogan has taken his country since the failed coup of 2016. Turkish society is very much polarized among Turks themselves and between Turks and the Kurdish minority. In his victory speech, Erdogan cried “one state, one country, one flag, one nation” while holding up four fingers echoing his words. This is a direct message to the 20 million-strong Kurdish population inside Turkey, who have been historically oppressed. Erdogan’s rhetoric is clear, Turkey is a state for Turks and no other nation, anyone else thinking otherwise will be dealt with in the harshest terms and will be labeled a terrorist.

Turkey’s shift from being a model state for the rest of the Middle East has slowly pivoted first towards Islamism, then fascism, and now a full-fledged dictatorship. This proves Erdogan’s commitment to his claim that democracy to him is really “like a train, you get off once you have reached your destination.”

It is unlikely that Erdogan will change for the better. He will now hold full executive powersuntil 2023 and likely after until the 100th anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey. The balancing prime minister’s position will be abolished. Erdogan will have control over the country’s banking and judicial system. No institution is beyond his reach including the media. Turkey under Erdogan is now the world’s number one jailer of journalists, surpassing China.

Erdogan’s win is a blow to democracy, one that the western world had an opportunity to prevent but failed to prevent. Erdogan was emboldened to call for early elections by his multiple military campaigns against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, by his invasion of Afrin against the US-allied Kurdish Peoples Protection Unit (YPG), and by getting away with his recent threat to attack Manbij, where US forces are positioned.

Why has Erdogan been able to get away with so much with such little consequence?

European Union states no longer have leverage against Erdogan. Before, the EU had the weight to shove Turkey in the right direction and if it failed to do so, then EU accession talks were suspended. Today, Erdogan would still like to join the EU, however it is not a priority. In other words, if it happens it happens. Erdogan has something better than EU accession, a leverage that can swing any state within the economic bloc to its favor, namely 3.5 million Syrian refugees. During the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, Erdogan threatened “You [EU] started asking what you would do if Turkey would open the gates. Look at me — if you go further, those border gates will be open. You should know that.” This week he repeated his threat, “in the past we have stopped people at the gates to Europe, in Edirne we stopped their buses. This happens once or twice and then we’ll open the gates and wish them a safe journey.” In response, the EU offered Erdogan 3 billion euros to prevent the “flooding” of refugees. EU’s response to Erdogan’s threat is preposterous and only encourages Erdogan’s aggressive tactics.

Unfortunately, many US politicians still have a naive understanding of Turkey, treating it as if it is the same country from the 90s when relations were at its peak. US foreign policy has failed to adapt to Erdogan’s gradual shift away from genuine democracy. Erdogan has strong relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and together they have signed a deal to contradict NATO defense systems and have gone ahead with the S-400 missile transaction set to be delivered July 2019. Erdogan is even open to the idea of jointly producing the S-500 with Russia, another missile system incompatible with NATO technology. Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal is to create a rift between NATO partners and Erdogan has taken the bait.

Meanwhile the US Defense Department is keen on selling Turkey US technology such as the F-35 striker jets, a dangerous move that Russia will surely take advantage of. Not to mention Erdogan’s constant threat to NATO ally Greece and its neighbor Cyprus, which still occupies since 1974. The US is tied to Turkey through NATO, but until there is a mechanism of phasing out partners in the security bloc, the US must overlook this barrier and protect its partners like the Kurds, allies in the region and national security interests in Syria, which Erdogan is moving against.

If the United States continues to accommodate Erdogan and his aggressive behavior, then we shouldn’t be surprised where Turkey will end up within the next 5-years. Erdogan managed to invade a neighboring country, force out indigenous populations in Syria, attack his own dissidents all with somewhat limited powers. The US must adapt quickly to Erdogan’s election win, his dream of reviving the old expansionist Ottoman map no longer seems so impossible if he thinks he has the greenlight from major powers.

Originally published at: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-erdogan-winner-now/

Photo: Reuters

Read More →

Can Erdogan be Thrown from the Democracy Train?

On June 24, the voters of Turkey will presumably have their last and best chance to oust their Islamist and sometimes unhinged leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Two things seem to have endangered Erdogan’s campaign to extend his sixteen-year tenure as leader. Turkey isfacing a full-blown currency run, jeopardizing its economic prosperity, and the normally fractured opposition parties have finally begun to coordinate their hostility to Erdogan. The opposition coalition, however, excludes the Kurdish leftist party,People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose candidate for presidency is behind bars on false charges.

There should be no doubt that it is in the United States national interest to see the Turkish opposition succeed.  Over the past two decades, Erdogan has transformed Turkey from a good and faithful ally of the U.S. and the West to a loud and consistent opponent.

Turkey, under Erdogan, has become increasingly hostile to the U.S.  For example, Turkey isholding two Americans on dubious charges, one of which is a pastor. Turkey may be trying to trade to the U.S. for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamist whose Gulen Movement was originally allied with Erdogan.  Erdogan had a falling out with Gülen after the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, which Erdogan blamed on Gülen.  Erdogan also blamed two American critics of his, whom Turkish prosecutorshave issued arrest warrants for, and placed bounties on.  Turkey hasthreatened to attack U.S. forces in Syria for their willingness to work with the Kurds.  During multiple Erdogan visits to the U.S., Turkish security forces have attacked Americans who were peacefully protesting him.

Turkey has also become an increasingly unreliable NATO ally. For example, Turkey has routinely threatened its fellow NATO allies in Europe with Middle East migrants.  It continues to specifically foment trouble with fellow NATO member Greece.  In 2017 alone, there was a record3,317 airspace and 1,998 territorial water violations by Turkey in the Aegean Sea, where Turkey claims additional islands, and Erdogan has publicly called for a revision of the treaty that defines the borders of the modern Turkish state. Turkey also continues to occupy a portion of Cyprus andhas threatenedGreece over that as well. Turkeyeven purchaseda S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, even though the system cannot be integrated into NATO’s military architecture as is required, which are set to be delivered July 2019.

Turkey has also played games over the U.S. air base at Incirlik in Southern Turkey, where NATO has nuclear weapons.  In 2003, the Turks refused to allow the U.S. to attack Iraq from the base.  In 2015, after initial hesitancy, Turkeygave their support to the U.S. against the Islamic State (ISIS), although that may have been a way to “forestallfurther Kurdish gains in the eastern border region.”  Post-2016 coup, topressure the U.S., power to the base was cut off for 6 days, and later, Turkish troopssurrounded it.  Meanwhile, in 2016, Turkeypreemptively offeredRussia the go-ahead to use Incirlik for its operations in Syria, even though Russia had no need for it.

As noted by the former U.S. National Security Advisor, Turkeyhas taken on a “new role” as a main sponsor of funding for Islamist ideology that targets western interests.  Turkeyassisted Iran in fraudulentlyevadingWestern sanctions.  Turkey aided ISIS, byallowing men and supplies to move across its borders, and also played  a key role in facilitating its’ expansion through black market oil sales – over $1 billion worth.  Further, Turkey is aleading financer of Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, providing $250 million a year, and has allowed leaders of Hamas to operate in the country.

Most recently, under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey invaded Afrin, Syria, perhaps the only area in Syria that was relatively peaceful (until the invasion).  Afrin was targeted by Erdogan because it was controlled by the only real U.S. allies in Syria, the Syrian Kurds; Erdogan is known to be suffering from a harsh case ofKurdophobia, largely because of his fear of the expanding Turkish Kurdish minority.  The Syrian Kurds make up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who, working with about 2000 U.S. troops, have been the main drivers behind the successful campaign against ISIS in Syria, and they have established a generally moderate and democratic form of government in their portion of Syria.  This unfortunately successful Turkish invasion hasresulted in the deaths of hundreds of Kurdish fighters and civilians, theforced resettlement/ethnic cleansing of over a hundred thousand people, the expansion of the Turkish controlled zone in Syria, whichis governed by that nation and its jihadist allies under sharia law, and adelay in the fight against ISIS.  Now the Turks are threatening Manbij, an SDF controlled Arab city where U.S. troops are actually stationed, leaving open the possibility that there could be American casualties.

By the way, Turkey also is “friendly” with other jihadists in the Syrian province of Idlib, including groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In the early years of his political career, Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously said that “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.”  His final destination could be coming up on June 24th. This may be his last opportunity to be thrown off the train before he reaches it.

Originally published at: https://web.archive.org/web/20180612233147/http://thenationaldiscourse.com/can-erdogan-be-thrown-from-democracy-train-2891/

Read More →

EMET Conference Call – “Turkish Elections and Repercussions for U.S. -Turkish Relations”

Yesterday, June 26, 2018, EMET held a conference call featuring Dr. Aykan Erdemir and examined what repercussions the reelection of President Erdogan will have on U.S. -Turkish relations. A recording of the call can be heard here:

https://www.freeconferencing.com/login.html?autoLogin=dHJ1ZQ==&email=amRla2VsQGVtZXRvbmxpbmUub3Jn&pass=SXNyYWVsMTk0OA==&uname=

Read More →

Voices from the Border with Gaza

It seems as though Hamas is itching for another war. No less than 45 rockets were fired in recent days from the Gaza Strip into Israel, two of which landed near a community center and one just outside a kindergarten—the second attack on a kindergarten in the last few weeks. Operatives also launched scores of balloons and kites with Molotov cocktails, firebombs, chemicals and other incendiary devices attached to them. So far, these seemingly innocuous instruments have destroyed more than 7,000 acres of agricultural fields, natural growth and habitation, leading to extreme environmental devastation and an estimated $2 million worth of damage.

We have heard a great deal about the suffering of Gazans living under the ironclad rule of Hamas. It is absolutely tragic that the Hamas leadership has denied the population the opportunity to develop themselves and their region, and insists on using their people as nothing more than artillery in their ongoing war to obliterate the Jewish state. It is absolutely tragic that the textbooks used by UNRWA are highly ideological propaganda screeds that serve to perpetuate the 1948 conflict, rather than teaching their children fundamental skills to better themselves and their people. It is absolutely tragic that Hamas has syphoned off the funds and building equipment going into the area, and used concrete to build more underground tunnels to launch surprise attacks within Israel proper.

One never hears of the suffering of the Israelis living near the Gaza border, however. While in Israel, I have spoken to several.

Adele Reimer, a teacher of English who made aliyah from America in 1975, lives in Kibbutz Norim near the Gaza border. She spoke to me about the “relentless, ongoing stress.” Reimer said “it is not fair to call this post-traumatic stress syndrome. It is a daily, ongoing stress. Our children suffer from nightmares, bedwetting, refusal to go to bed at night, crawling into bed with parents. Many children, and even some adults, are immobilized with fear and refuse to leave the house. Every Friday, we brace ourselves. We hear the ‘Tzeva Adom’ [‘Red Alert’] several times a day, and we don’t know if it’s  a missile coming to our house, to our school or signaling the beginning of yet another war.”

She adds: “I have tremendous sympathy for the people of Gaza. Nobody elected Hamas as their leaders. It came about because of a hostile takeover in 2007, when they threw their opposition off from rooftops. I consider myself left-wing and am still in touch with many Gazans. They are miserable under Hamas and would like it to change, but it is dangerous for them to open their mouths. I have one friend who has spoken out occasionally, but I and he are both afraid he is about to be arrested, tortured and shot.”

“But, she says, it is Hamas who is calling the shots—not only for the people of Gaza, but for the State of Israel. They have manipulated international community to such an extent, so we are perplexed as to how to respond. We care too much about international public opinion.”

Susie Shaul was evacuated from Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005. Her husband worked for 27 years, the bulk of his working life in agriculture helping to develop crops in greenhouses. After the evacuation, they lived with two of the four children in caravans (two of the children were married). She and her husband now live in the Ashkelon region.

She feels that the situation is beyond tragic. She recalls that before the evacuation, when she used to pass the roads that bordered the kibbutzim on the way to her home in Gush Katif, there were signs posted that said: “Jews, out of Gaza. Go home to Israel.”

But today, because of the untold devastation, she only feels tremendous sympathy for those who live on the kibbutzim near Gaza. “They don’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this.”

Shaul recalls that before the Hitnakut (the evacuation from Gaza), former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “Now if they attack, we can go in there and devastate them. We can use our rockets and our missiles. But do you think we can today? Nobody remembers. Nobody cares.”

Originally published at: https://www.jns.org/opinion/voices-from-the-border-with-gaza/

Photo Credit: Jack Guez/AFP

Read More →

Iranian Dictator Blunders with Statement on Mexican Immigrants

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamist clerical dictator of Iran, recently made news by criticizing the U.S. policy of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents when they are caught attempting to enter the U.S.:

You see who your enemies are and how cruelly they stand before, not only the Iranian nation, but the whole of humanity. The matter of separating thousands of children from their mothers [at the U.S. border] is a serious issue. One cannot watch with a sound state of mind these children crying on TV. How can they commit such a crime of separating children from their mothers for the excuse of implementing some policy? This shows how evil they really are.”

This criticism by the Supreme Leader is rich, indeed.

Regardless of what you think about this particular American policy, there can be no doubt that Iran has a truly miserable human rights record. This record is so bad that it is impossible to take Khamenei’s criticism seriously, as his regime has done far worse to people, including its own citizens, including non-citizens who entered Iran legally or illegally, and including children.

Iran has long used child soldiers to fight its wars. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iran — then under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and under the Presidency of Khamenei — brainwashed its own children to clear minefields. These children were given plastic keys and were told that these keys and their martyrdom — by running over the mines and detonating themselves — would allow them to enter heaven. Thousands of Iranian children were killed as a result. More recently, Iran has recruited Iranian teenagers to fight in the Syrian civil war.

Iran has also conducted “a staggering execution spree” under its current figurehead president, Rouhani, despite his supposed “moderate” status. As a result, in 2017, “more than half (51 percent) of all recorded executions in 2017 were carried out in Iran.” Iranian children are among those put to death. Iran once even went so far as to execute the entire adult male population of a village for drug offences.

Iranians are punished not just for what we would call crimes: homosexuals are hung from cranes, women who conduct extramarital relationships are whipped, Iranians who convert to Christianity (or any other non-Shia Muslim religion) are imprisoned, 10 to 15 years in several cases, and atheists may be tortured and given the death penalty for “apostasy.” Iranians don’t have the right to speak out against the government or vote for the candidates they want to support. And, under Iranian law, girls as young as 13 (and sometimes younger) may be married off to much older men.

Iran also has its own immigrant and illegal immigrant community that it oppresses. There are 3 million Afghani refugees in Iran, only about a third of which are UN registered, whom have fled the long conflict in their homeland. Afghanis in Iran may suffer from severe mistreatment by the Iranian government, including summary deportations, physical abuse at the hands of security forces, limited job opportunities outside menial labor, restricted health insurance, and restricted access to education. This includes Afghani children, of course. Further, facing a shortage of manpower for the wars Iran is involved in — see Iraq and Syria — the Iranian government has bribed or even impressed thousands of Afghani refugees into service, threatening them with deportation if they don’t “volunteer.” This, once again, includes children, some as young as 14.

Iran has a history of grabbing foreign or dual citizens as hostages. In 1979, it grabbed Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and held (most) of them for 444 days, humiliating, terrorizing, and sometimes torturing them. It currently holds six U.S. persons, Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi, Nizar Zakka (a resident), Reza “Robin” Shahini, Karan Vafadari (a resident), graduate student Xiyue Wang, and (probably) a seventh, Robert Levinson. These hostages are most likely being abused. Certainly, other U.S. citizens/residents who were held by Iran illegally and ransomed to the U.S. in 2015, such as Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, have reported Iranian brutality. While being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, Rezaian was forced to sleep on the cold floor under harsh bright lights, was refused any medical care, and was threatened with death.

Iran also continues to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism, killing thousands of innocents over the past forty years. It created and/or funds terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah had more American blood on its hands than any other group. Hamas is also responsible for killing U.S. citizens and Israeli civilians, including children. And since the 2015 Iran deal provided it with billions of extra dollars, Iran has doubled down on violence and terror, using its newfound riches to wage wars of aggression throughout the Middle East. This includes in Syria, where the Iranians and their allies have been accused of ethnic cleansing to eradicate Sunni Muslim families and replace them with Shia families.

The record clearly shows that Leader Khamenei is a bloodthirsty Islamist tyrant. There is no way such a person would care in the slightest what is happening to immigrant children half a world away.

This speech just shows that he is a “troll” as well.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/iran-khamenei-mexico-human-rights/2018/06/25/id/868212/

Read More →

Assad’s Bluff May Double as a Gain for Syria’s Kurds

Bashar al-Assad’s regime might soon be targeting northeastern Syria. This oil rich region is primarily composed of Kurds, and is secured predominantly by the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kurds control over 28 percent of Syria and are backed by the United States.

In an interview last month with RT, Assad highlighted his intentions for the northern Kurdish held territory: “The only problem left in Syria is the SDF. We’re going to deal with it by two options. The first one, we started opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigner.”

He added, “we have one option, to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort to liberating those areas by force.”

If Assad decides to resort to forceful tactics, it is unclear whether he will receive backing. It is unlikely that Russia will allow a full military campaign. This move would not only be costly, but lengthy as well, and may risk weakening the advances made by the regime.

Furthermore, an assault on the Kurds could give a basis for the U.S. to move beyond the Euphrates river and into regime territory, forcing Russia into a position it does not want – direct confrontation with the U.S.

Assad is also aware that the Kurds are highly organized and battle hardened, unlike other groups he’s been able to easily defeat within weeks, like in eastern Ghouta. In addition, opening up a new front line along the Euphrates valley could cost billions and will surely prolong the 7-year civil war. In 2016, Assad said that the war had cost $200 billion, but acknowledged that only stability will allow Syria to recover, saying “economic issues can be settled immediately, when the situation stabilizes in Syria.”

Iran has also been protecting the regime since 2011, and is also unlikely to move beyond its current position as they are facing immense pressure from the international community to leave Syria. The Iranian regime has banked on the destruction of Syria since 2011 and has been able to expand, institutionalize its presence, and even threaten neighboring Israel. Most recently, Israel is reported to have convinced the Russians to move Iran away from its northern border, although this was later denied by Assad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Europe in order to gain significant support to pressure Iran to leave Syria. He visited Germany, France and the United Kingdom and said his goal for the trip “was to a large extent, achieved.”

So, if Russia is not willing to move against the U.S.-backed Kurds, and Iran is facing pressure from Israel and the international Coalition to leave Syria altogether, this only means that Assad is bluffing and his threat towards the Kurds is nothing more than the same authoritarian rhetoric he’s been spewing for the last seven years.

Ultimately what matters for Assad is to remain president of Syria. He may be able to succeed if he agrees to give the Kurds greater autonomy, similar to that of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It is critical to recognize that the Kurds have the upper hand here: Assad is only portraying resilience, when in reality he is eager for negotiations only to normalize his rule.

In response to Assad’s threat, the governing body of the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Council sent a delegation to Damascus to pave the way for talks with the regime. Assad’s threat was really a reaching out to the Kurds, and the SDC is embracing the opportunity.

Despite being the most reliable and successful force against the Islamic State, Syrian Kurds are perceived as secondary actors, and are often isolated and excluded from major peace talks including the U.N. sponsored talks in Geneva. Despite this, they have strategically negotiated with Russia, Assad, the U.S., and at one point even Turkey, who the Kurds assisted in moving an Ottoman tomb that was under threat inside Syria.

The Kurds in Syria have approached the situation pragmatically, which has helped them succeed.

There is still much uncertainty on whether the negotiations will have a positive outcome, but one thing is definite – Assad will not have the same control over Syria as he did pre-civil war.

The areas liberated by the Kurds in Deir Ezzor province hold large reserves of oil and gas, which is the primary source of revenue for the region. In 2017, the SDF captured the country’s largest oil field, al-Omar, from Islamic State. Al Omar produced 75,000 barrels per day in 2011 and brought in billions in revenue for the regime.

The SDC has the opportunity to negotiate not only territory but access to the Euphrates river via the Tabqa dam, or Euphrates dam, which is the main source for fresh water for the region, and was previously a major ISIS command center for its nearby capital, Raqqa. Prior to its liberation, a U.S. Central Command statement called the Tabqa dam “a key element of northern Syria’s economy, agricultural and way of life,” and warned that its destruction by ISIS “could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis.”

However, the tip-toeing policy of the U.S. towards the Kurds could be a source of concern. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned during the recent Turkish incursion into Afrin, a predominantly Kurdish region, that the reason for Turkey’s actions in Syria was because “Washington carries out open, and discreet delivery of arms to Syria for transfer to those groups that cooperate with them, especially to the SDF.”

U.S. President Donald Trump also threatened to withdraw from Syria, a move that would hinder the progress made in the war-torn country against ISIS, and would leave a vacuum for Iran and Russia to fill. This would leave the Kurds alone once again. The unpredictable policy of the U.S. towards the Kurds could play into Assad’s hands by giving him the power to claim that the Kurds are unwise to trust the Americans.

The Kurds realize that sooner or later the U.S. will give in to the demands of its NATO ally Turkey. A recent example of this was Manbij, a town near Afrin where U.S. and French forces are positioned along with top SDF military advisors. The town is secured by the Manbij Military Council, a force made up of local Arabs. Turkey demands that the SDF move east of the Euphrates river or they will attack. As expected, the U.S. gave into Turkish pressure and forced the withdrawal of SDF advisors from Manbij under a Turkey-U.S. deal.

Therefore, the Kurds have refined their alliances based on short term gains that will allow them to create a long-term presence, even if it means negotiating with a dictator like Bashar al-Assad.

Originally published at: https://thedefensepost.com/2018/06/21/assad-bluff-syria-kurds-opinion/

Read More →