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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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Don’t Let Iran Have Nukes They’ll Use on US, Israel

In response to the recent exposure of 100,000 Iranian nuclear weapons documents by Israel, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, the Washington foundation, went after the real villain in this drama — Israel! Cirincione took to Twitter to charge, “May I just point out that #Israel had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it tried and failed to hide for years. They repeatedly and consistently lied to US officials when confronted with the evidence.” Cirincione then pointed out, “Iran never actually built a single weapon, unlike Israel.”

This Twitter rant is nothing more than sheer stupidity.

Mr. Cirincione really should understand why the U.S. might have a problem with the Islamic Republic developing nuclear weapons, and not so much with Israel producing them. That is because Iran is technically at war with the U.S. Israel is not.

In 1979, the founding year of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranians violated our Embassy and seized American hostages, whom they mistreated. Every Nov. 4, the Iranian regime continues to celebrate a yearly “Death to America” day to commemorate their seizure of the U.S. Embassy and hostages.

In the 1980’s, Iran set up the terror group Hezbollah, which prior to Sept. 11, 2001, had more American blood on its hands than any other terror organization. Hezbollah bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut and twice bombed the U.S. Embassy there. Almost 300 Americans were murdered. (On May 30, 2003, a U.S. Judge found Iran legally responsible for providing Hezbollah, with financial and logistical support for these attacks.)

Also, Hezbollah grabbed U.S. hostages individually, and oftentimes tortured and killed them. In 1996, Hezbollah bombed the Khobar Towers, and killed 17 American servicemen.

Post-2003, Iran provided explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to Iraqi and Afghani terrorists for use against American soldiers. One study says that at least 500 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were directly linked to these Iranian explosives.

In 2011, when the Obama administration was trying to make nice with the Islamic Republic, an Iranian agent plotted to bomb the Saudi Ambassador at a Georgetown restaurant, which would have resulted in mass casualties among U.S. civilians.

After the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), Iran was aggressive in the Persian Gulf. U.S. forces operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz were “approached by Iranian warships and aircraft” on a “nearly daily basis,” according to a Pentagon official. This happened 35 times in 2016, double the amount from the same period in 2015. And in 2017. At one point in time, American sailors were seized and humiliated in a violation of international law.

Iran has had, and continues to hold, American citizens hostage, sometimes under horrible conditions. Currently, Iran has arrested and imprisoned 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. Other Americans were released for ransom money during the JCPOA negotiations.

Right now, all throughout the Mideast, the Iranians are using the money they gained from the U.S. through the JCPOA to inspire rebellions and mayhem and violence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and to threaten U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and, yes, Israel.

Iran has also jumpstarted its program to test ballistic missiles. On March 8 and 9, 2016, Iran conducted multiple missile tests, and during which it called the U.S. the “main enemy.” Ballistic missiles “only make economic, political, and military sense to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran has not been afraid to support Sunni terror groups too. Iran funds Hamas – annually $60-70 million – and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – annually $70 million. Both organizations have American blood on their hands. Even al-Qaeda got some Iranian assistance; Bin Laden once described Iran as al-Qaida’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication” and Iran has continued this until recently. Iran is supplying and funding weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Iranian leadership continues to refer to the U.S. as “the Great Satan.”

Iranian school textbooks, such as “The Qur’an and Life” (Grade 12, p. 125) prepare Iranian children for an apocalyptic, horrifying, millenarian, military battle against the U.S. and other “arrogant oppressors of the world,” which are ostensibly led by “idolatrous devils.”

Meanwhile, in comparison, Israel has only been a strong friend and ally of the U.S.

Joe Cirincione is a prominent supporter of the JCPOA, so perhaps it is not too surprising that the man is worried that President Trump may follow through with his promises to leave the Iran deal.

But there is no excuse for Cirincione to take leave of his senses; any objective foreign policy observer should understand the difference between a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Israelis, and one in the hands of the Iranians.

Iran might use a nuclear weapon against the U.S. Israel never would.

It is really just that simple.
Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/cirincione-efp-jcpoa/2018/05/08/id/859127/

Photo: Fintastique/Dreamstime

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Syria Gets Us Farther from a Post-War Epoch

The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more. Once again, our computer screens were replete with helpless children, some lifeless and limp, some foaming at the mouth and flinching, some with oxygen masks strapped across their tiny faces.

This attack was the final blow for the last remaining rebels in this Damascus suburb.

This came within a week of President Trump’s pronouncement that “we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

This brings us to the first lesson: Whether or not America wants to enter into a period of isolationism, when we withdraw from the picture the world becomes an infinitely more dangerous place. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when America retreats, all of the moral cockroaches—like Tehran’s mullahs, Syria’s Assad, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdoğan—immediately swoop in to fill the void.

Akin to the period between the two world wars, the American people might say they have no appetite for further military engagement, yet there is something in America’s moral fabric that simply cannot allow atrocities like these to go unanswered. As Winston Churchill once said: “America always does the right thing. After it has exhausted all other possibilities.”

Over the last seven years of the protracted Syrian civil war, the country has been on a slow and steady path towards total implosion. Initially, an alphabet soup of terrorist groups have used this empty playing field, including, but not limited to, Jabat Al Nusra, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham, the IRGC, the Al Quds Force and Hezbollah—many of them proxies for bigger regional players.

Now the big boys are entering the scene, and Syria promises to be the theater in which America and the West might quite soon form a coalition against the regional forces of oppression and their Russian enablers.

The next lesson, therefore, is: If we do not engage ourselves in smaller wars, America might well find itself dragged into a much larger war.

The second major event was the attack on the T-4 air base early Monday morning. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied their involvement, as is characteristic, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his red lines very clear.

On Feb. 10, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone launched from the identical Syrian air base and flown over Israeli territory, he said: “Our policy is very clear. Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty.” He then added that “Iran seeks to use Syrian territory with the expressed goal of destroying Israel.”

Since the singing of the nuclear-trade deal, Iran has used its vastly enriched coffers to empower, embolden and enable its terrorist proxies within the widening Shiite crescent, and has used Syria as part of its ever-widening land bridge stretching from Tehran to Beirut.

This has been enabled by Russia military support. Russia under Putin wants to re-emerge as a world power and has just asked Iran permission to use its air bases in Iran as refueling stations. They have also just vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution to investigate the Syrian chemical attack in Douma.

Which brings us to the final lesson of these recent Syrian events: In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, famously wrote a book titled, The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argues that with the end of the Cold War, we are passing through a period of post-war history, and that we have reached the height of the ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the apex and final form of government.

Democracy might be the best form of government devised, but Russia, though the use of its proxies, has shown that it might want to regress to a period of Cold War alliances. And unfortunately, because sometimes the only way to eradicate pure evil—such as was on display this weekend in Douma—is through the use of military force, we are quite far from a post-war epoch.

Photo: SANA/Handout via Reuters

Originally Published: https://www.jns.org/opinion/syria-gets-us-farther-from-a-post-war-epoch/

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March of Return Nothing More than Terrorists’ Plaything

A version is this was first published in the Washington Jewish Week on April 11, 2018, but it has been updated to reflect more current realities on the ground.

On March 30th, coinciding with the start of Passover, the former and current Hamas Prime Ministers, Ismael Haniya, Yahya Sinwar organized what they called “The March of Return”. Since then, every Friday, there has been a demonstration at the Gaza border. Each week, the demonstrators are getting closer and closer to the actual border with Israel, and each week there are few and fewer demonstrators —the first week they had approximately 30,000 and this week, approximately 3, 000–but they are growing increasingly more violent.

As Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it, “We are fighting an uncompromising battle here, and the other side must understand there is a determined army here”, adding, “Every week there are fewer people, but much more terror activity.”

Although this had been dubbed  by many news outlets throughout the world as a peaceful demonstration,  these two Hamas leaders told their followers to  quote “infiltrate the border”,  and that this will “ mark  the beginning of the liberation of all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” –which encompasses all of Israel

This was not intended therefore, as many media outlets had described it, “ to eliminate the economic suffering in the Gaza Strip”,  but rather,  to eliminate the sheer existence of the Jewish state.

These protestors, many known terrorists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Qassam Brigades, among others came to Israel’s  with the explicit instructions to penetrate through that border into Israel, which would create a security and demographic nightmare for the Jewish state.

Most significantly: They brought wire cutters with them.

The objective was also stated that they would remain there until May 15th, Israeli Independence Day, which the Palestinians and many in the Arab World dub “Nakba Day”, “the Day of the Catastrophe”. May 15this also, (not coincidentally), the day that President Trump and his team have designated for the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. They came with tents, erected to remain there until the 15th.

This “march” was not a peaceful demonstration reminiscent of  the sit ins of Selma Alabama. The protestors sought to storm the border with lethal intent, hurling firebombs, rocks and burning tires at Israeli soldiers. In at least two cases, they fired bullets directly at  Israeli soldiers.

And unfortunately, it has resulted in a number of Palestinian fatalities, who have constantly  been manipulated by  their leaders to despise the state of Israel.

However, considering the inflammatory potential of the situation, the IDF has got to be commended for training their young men and women to act with such amazing discipline and restraint.

It is also important to remember that Gaza is not under Israeli occupation.

In 2005, in a heart-wrenching, politically divisive move, the Israeli government decided to uproot any remnant of a Jewish presence in Gaza and withdrew to the pre-1967 lines, giving the Palestinian people there total independence. Jewish philanthropists actually bought the greenhouses to give to this “nascent Palestinian state.” Some rabbis wanted to leave the synagogues in Gaza, arguing “After all, we all pray to the same God.”

Many of my friends who were for the Gaza withdrawal explained to me, “This will finally prove to the world just how far Israel is willing to go for peace.”

Do you think the world remembers any of this today?

As soon as the blue and white flag was lowered, and the IDF closed the gate, those greenhouses and synagogues, and any other vestige of Jewish life, were all destroyed in a heightened display of hate-infested anarchy and mayhem.

And then in 2007, after a bitter internecine war between Fatah and Hamas, Hamas, an organization that is totally created for the imminent destruction of the state of Israel, took over the Gaza strip.

The result of this magnanimous gesture of the Gaza withdrawal was that over 10,000 missiles have rained down on Israel, provoking Israel to have to fight three wars: Cast Lead in 2008, Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, with each successive war the range of the rockets was extended.

By now, the Palestinians in Gaza have missiles that can reach all of Israel’s main population centers. And just in case the missiles do not do the trick, the Gazans have been assiduously digging underground tunnels.

Yet there are many powerful voices in Washington, DC, that have not learned the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal. They want a precipitance withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, or the West bank, and try to delude themselves into thinking that that will solve the problem. They are looking at today’s difficulties with the impasse with the Palestinians, and as difficult as this situation is, many want to seize upon a solution, any solution, not realizing the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal.  These people chose to willfully blind themselves to what their leaders say to their own people in Arabic, and prefer not to entertain the notion that in today’s volatile Middle East, power changes hands very quickly. And assuming that the PA was a peaceful entity, which it most definitely is not-that does not mean that tomorrow Hamas will not be at the helm.

 

 

Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Originally Published: http://washingtonjewishweek.com/45435/march-of-return-nothing-more-than-terrorists-plaything/editorial-opinion/voices/

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The End of the Era of Palestinian Deception

For a quarter of a century, the Palestinian Authority has cynically wrapped itself inside a fig leaf dubbed as the “Peace Process.” The naked truth, however, is that it has been using every means available to incite for, incentivize and reward terrorism. With Friday’s passage of the Taylor Force Act, which aims to deduct payments to Palestinian prisoners and martyrs, fissures are finally emerging in its iron wall of deception.

The phrase “Peace Process” served as an ingenious linguistic sedative, lulling the international community into the dream of a peaceful P.A. The harsh reality is that the objective of the P.A. has never been peace, but the gradual, staged elimination of the State of Israel. The P.A. has been consistently teaching their children that Jews and Israelis are odious, detestable creatures, and their final elimination would be of huge benefit to the Palestinian people, the Arab world and all of humanity.

The Palestinian National Covenant was adopted on May 28, 1963, in which most of the 33 articles invoke an “armed struggle” until “the Zionist entity is totally wiped out and Palestine is liberated.”

Note that this happened four years before the 1967 Six-Day War, so it had nothing to do with the disputed territories that followed that war, and everything to do with the 1948 War of Independence and the sheer existence of Israel.

In April 1996, amid the euphoria of the signing of the Oslo Accords and under much political pressure from the Clinton administration, the Palestinian National Council had a well-publicized vote to discuss whether to “revoke the covenant.” Despite the fanfare, they voted simply to extend the period of time to decide on what to do.

P.A. spokesperson Marwan Kanfani emerged from the meeting, saying: “This is not an amendment. It is a license to start a new, to found a new resolution, a new charter. This is really a vote to form a committee to look into it.”

The committee never was formed; the members never appointed; no meetings were subsequently announced.

Yet the international media was ablaze with headlines of how the P.A. had renounced the charter. Peter Jennings, the anchor of “World News Tonight” began his broadcast with: “They said it couldn’t be done. The P.A. has revoked its charter calling for the destruction of Israel.”

The PNC didn’t convene until 2009, in which Fatah spokesman Nabil Shaath said that “the covenant cannot be changed.” Azaam al Ahmed, another P.A. spokesman said “it [the covenant] will remain as is. It won’t be subject to change. We have the right to practice all forms of national struggle.”

Nevertheless, for decades the world convinced themselves that the P.A. was actually a peaceful entity, the moderate alternative to Hamas.

The P.A. has been playing a dubious game. It had used all means available to systematically indoctrinate  their people to despise and murder Israelis and Jews, using textbooks, children’s  television shows, sporting and cultural events to demonize Jews, to praise the shahid, (“martyr”) and to encourage their youth to follow in this “glorious path.”

As Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch writes, “P.A. libels claim that Israel conspires to infect Palestinians with AIDS, spread drug addiction, conspired and successfully murdered Arafat, and more. The P.A.’s goal has been to inculcate hatred to the degree that fighting and murdering Jews and Israelis will be glorified as heroic self-defense.”

After so many years of this systematic indoctrination, it’s no wonder that murdering Jews and Israelis is seen as a heroic act in the eyes of many Palestinians, and a regnant value of the P.A. In 2015, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said: “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood.”

In defiance of the United States, the P.A. just announced that it will now directly pay the prisoners and the families of “martyrs” to the tune of $355 million a year.

Does this not constitute material support for terrorism?

At least, however, so far as the U.S. Congress is concerned, the gig is finally up.

Photo Credit: Flash90

Originally Published: https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-end-of-the-era-of-palestinian-deception/

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US Lawmakers can still undo a wrong in Afrin, Syria

In an unprovoked attack on American Kurdish allies in Afrin Syria, the Turks have continued a two-month long air and ground campaign with no end in sight. The Kurds have partnered with the international coalition including United States in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, most notably in recapturing Raqqa, the capital of the so called Islamic State.

To the Kurds betrayal is ever so common, the most recent example in Kirkuk as the oil-rich city was given to Shiite militias on a silver platter. A city now outside the control of Iraqi forces and riddled with ISIS once again. Just months later in Afrin, a predominately Kurdish region is being attacked by U.S. NATO partner Turkey.

Prior to the Turkish invasion, Afrin was untouched by the Assad regime and ISIS. It acted as a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Arabs, including Kurdish Yezedi refugees from Iraq. Today Turkey is targeting not only the indigenous Kurdish population in Afrin but Christians and Yezedi minorities as well.

The Trump administration has failed to react to Turkish President Erdogan’s aggressive actions against a staunch U.S. ally. The State Department has been cautious, hesitant to step on Erdogan’s toes while Turkey ignores all international laws including a U.N. Security Council cease-fire. But it is not too late for US lawmakers to act on this humanitarian crisis caused by America’s supposed ally. Eight members of Congress have previously signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Ankara, urging to convince Erdogan to stop the incursion due to civilian deaths and injuries.

This was ignored.

Afrin is a humanitarian crisis. As Turkey continues to advance towards the center of the city, the number of civilian deaths will increase. Afrin is a bipartisan cause which demands Turkey to act within international laws and norms. Erdogan has threatened U.S. soldiers in Manbij positioned a little more than a hour away east of Afrin by stating he will “bury and strangle” anyone siding with the Kurds. Erdogan has called on his 90,000 mosques inside Turkey to recite the verse of conquest from the Quran, calling on Jihad aimed at Kurds.

Erdogan is not behaving as an ally of the U.S., but rather is shifting east in partnership with Russia and Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin, soon set to win another term in office, is more than happy to welcome Erdogan into his sphere of influence if it means creating a rift between the NATO alliance.

If Afrin falls, two likely scenarios are to occur. The first is that Turkey will annex the territory. Turkey’s history of failing to return land to its rightful owners is a negative one. Cyprus, an EU partner, has been occupied by the Turks since 1974.

Second, if Erdogan is convinced by the Russians to not annex Afrin, he will be satisfied with forcing the Kurdish population out of their historical lands and allowing the Assad regime to move in, thus legitimatizing the regime furthermore.

It is critical that lawmakers on Capitol Hill fill the void of the administration and the State Department on their failure to act accordingly to Erdogan’s aggressive behavior. The longer the U.S. waits to respond, the more civilians deaths will occur.

Originally published at: http://thenationaldiscourse.com/us-lawmakers-can-still-undo-wrong-afrin-syria-2059/

Photo: AFP

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