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Israel, Turkey and the Kurdish Question

“I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on the US relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

Are these genuine comments from the Israeli side? Many Kurds feel bitter at Israel, rightly so despite many common interests. The Kurdish sentiment is legitimate. They feel the Israeli government only speaks out when it benefits its own national interests and does not really care about the Kurdish cause. Whatever the motive may be for the Israeli government to speak up, it is certainly time to alter its policy toward Turkey, as Ankara is gradually adjusting its policy toward the Jewish state.

Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric against Israel went as far as comparing the Jewish State’s response to recent Gaza protests to that of Nazi Germany.

“There is no difference at all between the persecution inflicted on the Jews in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality faced by our brothers in Gaza.”

He further added, “the children of people who were tortured in concentration camps in every way during World War II unfortunately today resort to methods against innocent Palestinians that are in no way inferior to those of the Nazis.”

But do these words mean anything to the governments on both sides? Economic ties say otherwise.

Turkey was in fact the first Muslim country to recognize Israel as an independent state in 1948. What followed was a series of gradual economic agreements, which still dominate the relationship between the two states today. Economist Hatice Karahan said Turkish exports to Israel have continued to grow over the last several years. They were at about $2.5 billion in 2016, and in the first 10 months of 2017, Turkish exports to Israel went up another 14%. Turkey’s state air carrier, Turkish Airlines, is also the second most popular airline out of Tel Aviv after El Al, Joseph Dana reported in an opinion piece written for The National.

Due to the lack of hydrocarbon resources in Turkey, the Turkish government has heavily relied on Iraqi Kurdistan for its supplies, and of course is working with Israel to build a pipeline through Cypriot waters. From 1995 to 2015, Turkey’s exports to Israel was on average 4.26 times of its share in the world export, as described in the International Journal of Commerce and Management. Furthermore, chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly Mehmet Buyukeksi called for a tripling of trade volume between the two countries in the next five years. This is after in 2017, Turkish exports to Israel increased by 20% and Israeli exports to Turkey rose by 45%, and trade volume was set to grow to $10b. from $3.9b., wrote Sharon Udasin.

Israel was the only country to recognize the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017, which failed miserably due to the lack of strategy on the Kurdish side and the absence of hard support from the international community.

It seems Israeli support for the Kurds does not have teeth similar to Turkish support for Palestinians. The Palestinians are surrounded by 22 Arab states that all call for an independent Palestinian state in addition to Turkey and Iran. The Kurds on the other hand are left to find partners anywhere they can to push ahead with their aspirations for self-determination, even if it means resorting to Israel’s tiptoeing statements.

If the Israeli government is firm about supporting the Kurds, and truly envisions the Kurdish people as a common ally with common interests in a Middle East rapidly shifting toward Islamist authoritarian governments, it must act quickly.

This can be done by supporting the Kurds in Iraq, dominated by Iranian influence, and in Syria, a fractured state that continues to be dictated by President Bashar Assad and his brutal allies, which include Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and holds over 3 million Kurds who have been the only successful force fighting Islamic State while facing a military campaign from Erdogan’s army.

The more than 20 million Kurds living under the Islamist Erdogan regime in Turkey, and the 12 million Kurds being governed by the dangerous Iranian regime for nearly four decades, are key to Israel’s security in the region. But if Israel continues to accommodate Erdogan’s regime through trade ties, then it may risk losing Kurdish support too.

Originally published at: https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israel-Turkey-and-the-Kurdish-question-559446

Photo: Al Jazeera

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What Will US Do About Turkey’s Bad Behavior?

Recently, Turkey released imprisoned U.S. citizen Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor of a small church in Turkey with about 25 congregants, to house arrest.

Brunson however, is still on trial on charges of aiding terror groups and engaging in espionage. Brunson was grabbed by the Turkish authorities about two years ago, right after an attempted coup against the Turkish President and quasi-dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has spent the past two years in a Turkish prison. Turkey claimed that Brunson has illegal links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, both of which are bitter enemies of Erdogan. If he is convicted of his “crimes,” Brunson may be imprisoned for a term of 35 years.

Brunson is clearly being railroaded by the Turks.

An expose of the charges against the pastor revealed that among them are that:

  • Brunson received a picture of a dish that is the signature dish of a terrorist organization in Turkey;
  • Brunson appeared in a photo with a man with a yellow, red, and green scarf, which are the PKK colors;
  • Brunson published Bibles in the Kurdish language.

In other words, this is nothing more than a kangaroo court trial. Which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that in Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison, and even school children have been prosecuted.

Then again, the Turkish President has made it clear that Brunson is not really an accused criminal at all; he is a political hostage. Erdogan has offered to trade Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan has accused Gulen, Erdogan’s former ally, of being the instigator of the attempted Turkish coup. But he has produced no convincing evidence for the U.S. to mandate an extradition of Gulen.

Needless to say, allied nations don’t take as hostage citizens of their allies. For that matter, civilized nations don’t take hostages, period.

President Erdogan is not really a U.S. ally, however. He has been in power since 2003, and in those fifteen years, he has aided the Shia Islamist regime of Iran in evading international sanctions; facilitated ISIS’ expansion through oil smuggling and being a conduit for new ISIS recruits and supplies; and threatened U.S. troops with violence for their assistance to the Kurds. Under his leadership, as noted by the former U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Turkey has taken on a “new role” as a main sponsor of funding for radical Islamist ideology. Included in this is that Turkey has developed good relationships with federally designated terror organizations such as Hamas, and the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Erdogan has also demonstrated his lack of trustworthiness as an ally by purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia, which is a violation of Turkey’s duties as a NATO member. The missile system cannot be made interoperable with NATO and U.S. assets deployed in Turkish territory. It also conflicts with Turkey’s purchase of 100 F-35 fighter jets. These jets, which are the latest in NATO technology, would have to be connected to the S-400 system. But this would compromise the jet’s security, as any data collected by the S-400 system and obtained by Russia could help expose the joint strike fighter’s vulnerabilities. To make things even worse, Erdogan has proposed that Turkey and Russia work together on the S-500 missile system.

President Trump and other U.S. officials lobbied Turkish officials for months to release Brunson, and Trump himself tweeted about it, saying that the situation was a “total disgrace,” and threatened sanctions if Brunson was not released. Congress, in a provision in the final National Defense Authorization Act, also called on Turkey “to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizens including Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge.”

Finally, a deal was made at the NATO summit, which would pair the release of Brunson (from all legal jeopardy) with the release of a Turkish terrorist in Israel. But then Erdogan reneged on that deal. (Although Erdogan claims there was no deal).

So, the question is, what is the U.S. planning to do about Turkey’s hostage taking and other bad behavior?

There needs to be real consequences to Turkey’s persecution of Andrew Brunson, and any other American unfairly held in a Turkish prison. Both the Trump administration and Congress are considering sanctioning Turkey if Brunson is not released. They should do so, immediately.

At some point, however, the U.S. is going to have to address the elephant in the room — Turkey’s continued membership in NATO. Unfortunately, the NATO Treaty has no way to remove any members, unless the nation in question is willing to leave (as France once did).

But NATO allies don’t behave like Turkey has, under Erdogan.

Just ask Andrew Brunson.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/turkey-erdogan-nato/2018/08/01/id/874925/

Photo: Mike Hutchings/AFP/Getty Images

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Time for Some Reality Therapy on the Golan Heights

As I write these words, news just broke that ISIS launched its first major attack in Syria, targeting a town occupied by Druze, on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, killing 100 innocent civilians. Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet last week that entered Israeli airspace, and two mortar shells launched from the Syrian side of the Golan landed near the Sea of Galilee (miraculously resulting in no injuries).

And this is just within the past 24 hours.

After the seven-year civil war, Syria is failed state. It has been given oxygen to survive from Iran and Russia.

Its inherent instability provides fertile territory for an entire array of terrorist groups from Jabhat al Nussra and ISIS on the Sunni side, to Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the “Al Quds Force” on the Shi’ite side.

Syria depicts the Hobbesian state of war of man against man. The tragic events in Syria have led to at least a half-a-million casualties, approximately 6 million refugees and at least that many internally displaced people.

Iran, with its hegemonic aspirations, has taken advantage of the situation as a pretext for entrenching its military infrastructure into Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad has enabled this by giving the Iranian terrorist proxies Syrian military uniforms.

It is determined to build a land bridge stretching from Tehran to Beirut to Damascus to the Mediterranean Coast.

Earlier this month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei repeated his ominous exhortation that Israel is “a cancerous tumor that must be removed.”  And Hossein Salami, the deputy Commander of the IRGC in Syria, said he is “awaiting orders to eradicate the evil regime of Israel,” and that Israel has “no strategic depth”; therefore, “this can easily be achieved.”

Contrast this with the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, which provides an island of stability in a sea of chaos.

The Golan Heights—an area that Israel captured during its defensive 1967 Six-Day War and then retained from invading Syrian forces again in its defensive war of 1973—affords Israel a unique topographical and intelligence, affording it the eyes and ears to stare down into Syria and Lebanon.

All of this intelligence is shared readily with the United States.

There is a 1974 agreement mandating the separation of Syrian and Israel forces, which thins out the forces on both sides of the disengagement line.

In 1981, the Israeli government formally annexed the region. The annexation of the Golan Heights is a consensus issue that almost every Israeli, whether politically on the left, right or center agrees with.

As Major Gen. (ret.) Giroa Eiland of the Israel Defense Forces has recently written, “Israel does not possess a plausible solution to its security needs without the Golan Heights.”

The demarcation line of the Golan Heights represents the demarcation of freedom against tyranny—of a failed authoritarian regime against a vibrant, healthy state based on Western democratic values.

That is why tens of thousands of Syrians would love to flee into Israel, if given the opportunity.

That is why 422 Syrians who are part of the White Helmet Groups, a humanitarian volunteer organization, were rescued by the Israelis and given safe passage way into Jordan.

That is why the IDF was able to provide tons of truckloads of supplies to the Syrian refugees, including medicines, baby formula, food, feel and shoes.

And that is what enabled the IDF to clandestinely arrange for approximately 4,000 Syrians wounded in Syria’s protracted civil war to be treated in Israeli hospitals, without asking which side they were fighting for or why.  And then, the healed were clandestinely delivered back to the Syrian side of the border.

It is in America’s best national security interests to recognize the annexation of the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Israel provides an island of tranquility in the chaotic world of the Middle East, and the line between chaos and stability cuts right through the demarcation line.

After all, after Friday prayers throughout Tehran, the chant is not only “Death to Israel,” but “Death to America.”

By keeping the Golan Heights as part of the lexicon of “occupied territories,” the international community simply perpetuates the conflict and the Syrian-Iran-Russians axis the pernicious delusion that this area is still in play. It keeps Israel’s northern front as a possible area of conflict that can flare up at any point.

American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will finally put an end to these dangerous delusions. In an age when Iran constitutes the greatest menace to the region and one of the greatest to the world, it would constitute an effective and potent form of “reality therapy.”

Originally posted at: https://www.jns.org/opinion/time-for-some-reality-therapy-on-the-golan-heights/

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Nothing Secret or Surprising About Stark Danger Iran Poses

 

Iranian Foreign Minister — and chief propagandist — Javad Zarif is very upset with the U.S. and the Trump administration.

We know this because of the long, rambling letter he produced, responding to a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that outlines the U.S.’s twelve conditions for a new nuclear deal with the Iranian regime. In his letter, Zarif compiled a total of twenty-seven conditions for any deal with the U.S. Many of these requirements are absurd on their face.

One of Zarif’s criticisms was as follows:

The United States must abandon its policy of resorting to the threat or use of force — which constitute a breach of the preemptory norms of international law and principles of the Charter of the United Nations — as an option in the conduct of its foreign affairs with or against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other states.

If only Iran followed its own foreign minister’s advice.

Just last week, Iran made it very clear that it believes strongly in using both threats of force and force itself.

First, an Iranian diplomat and other Iranian nationals were arrested for plotting a bomb attack on a rally held by an exiled Iranian opposition group in France. The Belgian authorities found 500 grams of the powerful homemade explosive TATP and an ignition mechanism hidden in a toiletry bag in a car.

The rally, which attracted thousands of participants, took place in Villepinte, just outside of Paris. Many prominent Americans attended this event, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The Iranian diplomat arrested was the “third counselor” based in Vienna, Austria.

Then, Iran threatened the world’s oil supply. After supposed “moderate” Iranian President Rouhani hinted at it, not one, but two, prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) leaders explicitly threatened the oil supply. “If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” IRGC commander Ismail Kowsari said.

And Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC Quds force commander wrote in a letter to Rouhani that was made public that the IRGC “is ready to implement a policy that hinders regional oil exports if the United States bans Iranian oil sales.”

It is particularly important to stress that in both of these cases, Iran is targeting nations and people who are actually sympathetic and catering to it. Iran threatened the oil supply because of the U.S. decision to remove itself from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) and reimpose sanctions in May.

Much of the oil that comes through the Gulf is going to European and Asian nations, four of whom — China, France, Germany, and the UK — are still participating in the JCPOA, and virtually all of the other nations support the JCPOA. And the bombing could have killed or injured hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Europeans in Villepinte, presumably mostly French.

Then again, none of this should be a surprise, as, contrary to Zarif’s statement, Iran has a long history of “resorting to the threat or use of force.”

As is well-known, the Iranian regime organizes rallies every February to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, arranges June rallies during its celebration of al-Quds day, and also organizes demonstrations every November to commemorate the taking of the American hostages in 1979. At all three events, the crowds shout “Death to America” and “Death to (Israel).”

Even when the U.S. was trying to make nice with the Iranians, under the Obama administration, the Iranians didn’t let up. During that time, the Iranians chanted “Death to Obama,” and “Death to Kerry.” Also, Iranians set up a booth to throw shoes at President Obama, hung Obama in effigy, and used an image of Obama to throw darts at.

And, certainly, Iran is not known for making idle threats. During the 1980s, Iran previously attacked international ships carrying oil through the Persian Gulf. During the 1980s and 1990s, it used its proxy Hezbollah to kill and injure hundreds of Americans and others.

During the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Taliban controlled Afghanistan, Iran supplied Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP’s) and other weapons to Iraqi and Afghani terrorists that killed more than 1100 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. These EFP’s also killed British troops.

Today, Iran is bankrolling the Syrian regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people, Shia militias in Iraq, Yemen’s Houthis, and Hamas. Today, Iran is training Sunni Muslim Taliban on the condition that they “should put more focus on attacking American and NATO interests in Afghanistan . . . ”

Zarif can say whatever he wants. But facts are facts, and Iran’s record of threatening other nations and attacking other nations (sometimes through proxies) is easily available for all to see.

There is a reason that Iran has been called the leading state sponsor of terrorism for the last three decades.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/efp-jcpoa-kerry/2018/07/12/id/871420/

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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

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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/

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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

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Turkey’s Thirst for Power Threatens Water War with Iraq

Iraq, already ravaged by decades of ethnic and sectarian warfare, has quietly suffered a water shortage over the past decade.

Including the Kurdistan region, Iraq relies on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers for 98 percent for its drinking, irrigation and sanitation supplies. The majority of the country also lives along the two historic rivers, which originate in Turkey. Turkey has built 22 dams and 19 hydropower plants through its Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) in the region where the majority of its Kurdish population live.

Lacking hydrocarbon resources within Turkey, the government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has realized water is the ultimate weapon, not oil.

This all began as a national project by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, aiming to better “integrate eastern Anatolia into the rest of Turkey and generate economic development through the construction of irrigation projects.”

However, what we are witnessing is a devastating effect on Iraq’s population. Ankara attempted to increase the number projects in the southeast to provide a better quality of life for the impoverished people there who are suffering from the Turkish war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But “the government’s securitization of the Kurdish issue has created grounds for mistrust, prompting some to wonder whether Turkey is looking to its own grand political objectives – securing electricity supplies, boosting agricultural exports, assimilating the Kurdish population, etc. – rather than truly looking after its constituents’ needs, as it claims,” Ilektra Tsakalidou, an analyst on European energy security at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, wrote in 2013.

Turkey's Ilisu dam
Turkey’s Ilisu dam. Image: dsi.gov.tr

Mismanagement by the central Iraqi government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region administration surely plays a role, but the root of the water shortage lies in Turkey. According to Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, Hassan al-Janabi, water levels have dropped by 40 percent over the past few years, largely due to storage facilities in Turkey.

GAP has failed to bring stability to not only Turkey’s own Kurdish population but also towards its Kurdish and Arab neighbors too.

The most recent controversial project is Turkey’s Ilisu Dam, named after Ilisu village. The project began in 2006. Ilisu dam also threatens Hasankeyf, a historic city more than 12,000 years old which sits along the Tigris River.

Hasankeyf
The historic Historic central Mosque in Hasankeyf, a town Image: Poyraz 72/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Hasankeyf is considered to be one of the oldest inhabited settlement in the world. It is currently home to about 78,000 residents, and is on the brink of becoming a sunken treasure due to the Ilisu Dam. The destruction of the ancient town according to Turkey’s top constitutional court is at the “discretion of the state.”

When complete, the dam will increase the level of the Tigris at Hasankeyf by 60 metres, submerging 80 percent of the town as well as nearby villages.

The construction of the dam has also reduced water flow to southern Iraq’s marshlands, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2016. During Saddam Hussein’s rule the government drained the same marshlands to drive out Shiite rebels sheltering among the local population.

Iraq marshlan Arabs in a mashoof
Marsh Arabs poling a traditional mashoof in the marshlands of southern Iraq. Image: Hassan Janali, US Army Corps of Engineers

Turkey’s recent actions have resulted in a similar outcome but one affecting the entire country. The marshes produce food and provide water for animals of local farmers. However, Ilisu Dam has the potential to reduce the water flow into Iraq by 56 percent, and is likely to affect neighboring Iran too.

It is highly unlikely that Iraq has the strength and ability to push back against Turkey. Like Iran, Turkey has undermined Iraqi sovereign territory. Ankara has built nearly 20 military bases in northern Iraq. Turkey has been working with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Masoud Barzani, to target and eliminate its longtime enemy, the PKK, which is headquartered in Qandil mountain.

As Ahmed al Jabouri, the Iraqi foreign relations parliamentary committee member has stated, the “water shortage in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers is the most dangerous historic problem that Iraq is confronting [because of] the dams Turkey is constructing.”

Turkey has taken advantage of the ongoing chaos in Iraq, instability which allows the Turkish government to maneuver as it wishes without being confronted by either the Kurdish Peshmerga or the Iraqi security forces.

Iraq has yet to recover from the 2003 war, let alone the fight against Islamic State. Demanding that Turkey behaves in an amenable manner is far beyond Baghdad’s reach, unless it convinces the United States to act against its NATO partner.

Most recently, Iraqi prime minister Haidar al Abadi stated, “Ankara deliberately chose the timing [of the completion of Ilisu dam] to exploit the issue for political and electoral purposes.” Nevertheless, the worst-case scenario would be another armed conflict, this time by the Popular Mobilization Units, factions of which are linked to Iran, against Turkish armed forces in Iraq, which would push Ankara to further reduce the water flow.

Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose Sairoon bloc won the recent Iraqi elections, has declared, “we give the government a few days to look into the issue of water and electricity or to allow us to regain our rights.” Sadr, known as a nationalist, may be forced to take matters into his own hands. One option could be to prevent oil from flowing from Kirkuk to Turkey.

As long as Baghdad is fractured, and is undermined by Iranian influence, Turkey will use its control over water to take advantage of Iraq’s weakened state.

This will allow Turkey to push back against Iran – its regional rival – while also fighting its nemesis, the PKK. Tehran has thrown its weight around, and gained influence over the Shiite-led government in Baghdad by dominating the military and political sectors since 2003. The Iranian presence increased after the Obama administration scaled down the number of U.S. forces in 2011.

Iraq has become a breeding ground for regional powers to bolster their influence beyond their borders. But in the end, as Fadel Al Zubi, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, has said, “the one that pays the price is always the country where the river ends – in this case Iraq.”

Originally published at: https://thedefensepost.com/2018/06/07/turkey-water-war-iraq-kurdistan-opinion/

Photo: dsi.gov.tr

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Iraqi Elections: A Loss for the US, an Even Bigger Loss for Iran

Iraq just held its first elections since the defeat of the so called Islamic State. The victory over the terror group was led by Prime Minister Haider al Abadi as he affirmed, “our forces fully control the Iraqi-Syrian border, and thus we can announce the end of the war against Daesh.” This was in December 2017, five months before the elections took place. Prime Minister Abadi had the full backing of the United States, and was commonly known as “our guy in Baghdad.” For Abadi, the US did all it could to strengthen his position, the current administration even went as far as supporting Abadi during the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017 and ignored Kurdish calls to stop the Iranian funded, legalized Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) incursion into Kirkuk, just a week after President Donald Trump designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The US was willing to do anything to keep another Maliki type figure from regaining power in Iraq. US strategy was clear, keep Iraq physically united, keep the Kurds tied to Baghdad, and ultimately weaken Iranian influence.

However, the US missed a key component of Iraqi politics, its devious foe, Muqtada al Sadr. Al Sadr is a Shiite but is also heavily nationalistic and has challenged both Iran and the US. Al Sadr has been accused numerous times by the Pentagon for American deaths during the height of the 2003 war. The Mahdi Army, led by Al Sadr, was the first Shiite militia to target US forces in Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein. At one point, the Pentagon stated, “the Mahdi Army had replaced al Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence.” Muqtada al Sadr himself will not hold the prime ministerial position but will have the ability to appoint one which align with his views.

Al Sadr’s Sairoon (The Marchers) bloc, in alliance with Iraq’s Communist Party and a handful of other parties, composed of both Sunnis and Shiites including a Kurdish faction, was victorious. Iranian backed Fatah Alliance came in second while Abadi’s Al Nasr, despite his victory against the Islamic State and retaining control of the Kurds, established a weak third and Maliki came in fourth. Turnout for the election was at an all-time low, 44.52% compared to 60% in 2014. So, what does this mean for the US?

Although Al Sadr continues his anti-American rhetoric, he is still not Iran. He has transformed himself from a former Iranian ally to nothing short of an Arab nationalist. He has met with Sunni heads of states, including the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in July 2017. If anyone can push Iranian influence out of Iraq, it is al Sadr. This may be enough for the United States’ long term policy in Iraq. But there is one catch, al Sadr demands for the total withdrawal of all US troops in Iraq, now numbering at a little over 5,000. For American policy, the hope still lies with Abadi, a possible coalition with al Sadr may convince him to allow the presence of a small footprint to continue the training of Iraqi forces and play a strategic role against Iran’s continued expansion into Iraq and beyond.

The Fatah Alliance, a pro-Iranian coalition, is backed by the PMF and Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the IRGC who surprisingly lost to Al Sadr. Iraqi’s seem unsatisfied with a strong Iranian presence within their state, and feel they’ve lost their country to the neighboring Shiite theocracy. Nonetheless, Soleimani is dedicated to pressuring the fractured lists in uniting with Iran, strengthening Tehran while undermining Baghdad. The loss comes shortly after the US withdrew from the infamous Iran nuclear deal and recent successful Israeli attacks against IRGC bases in Syria, further isolating the Islamic regime.

The alternative path for the United States in Iraq is to pivot back towards the Kurds in the north. After a feeling of betrayal among the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government and those who voted for the independence referendum, the Kurds are always willing to accept US support. The Kurdish house has been in disorder dating back to the 2017 referendum, and the recent elections proved no different. Mass accusations of election fraud, system hacking, threats, and gun fights in party headquarters quickly ensued. The main faction, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) align closer with al Sadr. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is deeply influenced by Iran, as are the rest of the Kurdish groups including New Generation, Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ), Change Movement, and the two small Islamic parties. The alternative path may not have a solid foothold in Baghdad, with only 58 seats but can be reconstructed that the KRG are playmakers once again as they were prior to the referendum. If the US does not strengthen the KRG, Kurds will likely shift towards either Iran or al Sadr.

Despite the United States having major setbacks due to the conflict, it remains a key player. The US invested heavily in Abadi while crippling the Kurds, only to keep a failed state intact. The unpredictability of Muqtada al Sadr may force Abadi on the sidelines to further isolate the United States. Iran, however, suffered the most and will continue to undermine the Iraqi security forces by bolstering the PMF. We may also find Iran resorting to sectarianism to delegitimatize Al Sadr’s unity coalition in the near future.

Originally published: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-iraqi-elections-loss-us-even-bigger-loss-iran/

Photo: Middle East Eye

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The Media Perpetuates Hamas’ Narrative, Supports Terror Group’s Goals

Hamas terrorists, and Hamas-backed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, have initiated violent riots against Israel and attempted to breach the Gaza border, but according to the mainstream media, Israel is aggressively killing innocent “protestors” and children.

Hamas’ “March of Return” launched against the Jewish State that began several weeks ago is a violent attempt to infiltrate Israel, massacre Israelis, and further diminish Israel’s image among the media and international community.

Hamas is using rocks, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and wire cutters as weapons, and have purposely placed children and the disabled in the line of fire. Thus far, Hamas has sent approximately 40,000 people to breach the border with Israel to kill innocent Israeli civilians. Monday was Israel’s deadliest day in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas; Gaza’s health ministry stated that 52 people were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded.

These casualties are a direct result of Hamas inciting its people to kill Jews. Hamas is solely responsible for the violence, while using Palestinians as hostages and human shields. Video footage shows Palestinians with machetes breaking through the border fencer saying, “Oh Jews, we come to slaughter you!”

Furthermore, Hamas member Salah Bardaweil said Wednesday that 50 out of the 62 dead were members of the terrorist organization.  And senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahhar stated, “This is not ‘peaceful resistance.’ Has the option of armed struggle diminished? No. On the contrary, it is growing and developing, that’s clear.  So when we talk about ‘peaceful resistance’ this is deceiving the public.”

The White House correctly held Hamas responsible for the deaths. White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters, “We believe Hamas bears the responsibility.  This is a propaganda attempt.” Shah added that the Trump administration supports Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

The media, however, in its true form, jumped on the opportunity to place the blame on Israel for the casualties, and ignore the facts on the ground. The media refers to the Hamas campaign to kill Israelis as “protests.” An NPR segment inaccurately reported, “Israeli troops killed many people yesterday as they were trying to leave.”

An editorial in The Guardian claims, “It is inexcusable for soldiers of a military, especially those under democratic civilian control, to shoot and kill protesters, almost all of whom were unarmed, and who pose no credible threat.” The examples of misreportingand media bias against Israel are endless.

This is not the first, and likely, not the last time that Israel will lost the PR battle to Hamas terrorists.

While Israel and her supporters around the globe need to create and implement a strategic and coordinated campaign to win the war of ideas, the responsibility also lies with the media to provide accurate and truthful reporting.

Former Ambassador and Deputy Minister Michael Oren, during an interview with CBC radio, was asked, “How do you think that looked to the world yesterday when all those [Palestinian] people were shot dead at their border?”

I think it looked to the world the way Hamas wanted it to look to the world.  You’re doing just what they want you to.  Even your line of questioning is just what Hamas wants, Oren replied. “And, frankly, Carol, you’re complicit in further damage and even deaths of Palestinian kids.

“Because Hamas is going to conclude from listening to this interview that it works,” Oren added. “And people like you in the media will turn around and say it’s great, and Hamas are going to wake up tomorrow morning and do it again. I hope you’re proud of it.”

As Amb. Oren pointed out, the media’s perpetuation of Hamas’ narrative is not only a disservice to Israel and the world at large, but also, ironically enough, harms the Palestinian people who are suffering under Hamas’ rule.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/media-hamas-supports-terror-groups-2881/

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