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Review Category : Middle East

ACTION ALERT: Call Your Senators Today to Ask Them to Vote for S. 3257, the STOP Using Human Shields Act

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on individual members of Hamas or Hezbollah who direct civilians to shield military targets. Unable to defeat the IDF outright, Hamas and Hezbollah cynically locate rocket launchers and weapons caches in homes, schools, clinics, and mosques, knowing that Israel will be held responsible for the resulting collateral damage.

In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah kept many of its rockets in underground bunkers in uninhabited areas nicknamed “nature preserves.” However, over the last decade, Hezbollah has shifted its strategy and located its arsenals in towns and villages throughout Southern Lebanon. The use of human shields will be even more central to Hezbollah’s military strategy in its next war with Israel.

Hamas has not only used civilian infrastructure from which to fire rockets at Israel, during the 2014 conflict Operation Protective Edge, but Hamas leaders also exhorted Gazan civilians to ignore the IDF’s warnings to evacuate the combat zone. So solid was Hamas’s confidence that it would pay no price and bear no responsibility for collateral damage, that they had civilians stand on the rooftops of buildings that housed rockets or were located near rocket launchers.

The bipartisan STOP Using Human Shields Act is a necessary step to hold the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas accountable for the double war crime of targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind their own.

Call Your Senators TODAY to Ask Them to Vote For the STOP Using Human Shields Act!

You can find your Senators’ Numbers Here: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

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6 Challenges for US-Turkish Relations

Russia

It is clear that since Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet in 2015 which flew over Turkish airspace for just under 12 seconds, Vladimir Putin has acted strategically to gradually pull Turkey under his sphere of influence, and Erdogan has taken the bait. Putin has fed Erdogan bits of Syria, like the once stable Kurdish enclave, Afrin. Putin has sold Erdogan the S-400 surface to air missiles, a weapons system incompatible with the NATO security bloc systems. The S-400 is set to be delivered July 2019. Erdogan is also interested in jointly producing the S-500 missile with Russia, “besides [the S-400s], I have made a proposal to Russia for the joint production of the S-500s.” This move will further force Turkey to dependent on Russia, a move Putin is hoping for only to establish a permanent rift between NATO partners.

Iran

Turkish president, Erdogan helped Iran evade US sanctions for violating the Nuclear Deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from 2010 to 2015, allowing the regime in Tehran access to international markets. The witness, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian Gold trader told jurors in New York that Erdogan had personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran. The banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, responsible for taking part in the trading scheme between Turkey and Iran was sentenced to 32 months in prison in Manhattan. Erdogan stated that “if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal.” The Atilla v US case continues to prove that Turkey is damaging US strategy against the Iranian regime and is constantly aiding our enemies.

Incirlik Base

Incirlik Air Base in Turkey has been a strategic point of access for the United States into the Middle East. However, the base has been a thorn on our back, Turkey has constantly attempted to use it against the United States to get its way. Most recently, a group of Turkish lawyers, close to Erdogan’s circle has filed an arrest warrant of US officers based at Incirlik. Reported by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported that lawyers filed a 60 page complaint of names which include top US officials asking for their detention. Included in the names is the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Joseph Votel. Clearly US men and women in uniform are not safe in Turkey, anti-American sentiments continue to surge thanks to Erdogan. The United states should look for alternatives and end our dependency on the airbase, in 2017 Germany made the decision to do so, redeploying its troops to a Jordanian airbase. A heavy US presence in Iraqi Kurdistan would be welcomed by Kurds, and would thwart Iranian influence in the region, disrupting their land bridge to the Mediterranean.

US Hostages

Since the failed coup of 2016, Erdogan has purged Turkish dissidents and foreigners inside the country. As Dr. Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish parliamentarian and current scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) brilliantly characterized it, Erdogan is using “hostage diplomacy” to gain leverage over the United States. Most famously imprisoned and now on house arrest is American Pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for over 20 years, and is accused of having ties to the Kurdish armed group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic scholar, Fetullah Gulen, which Erdogan blames for the coup. Vice President Mike Pence avowed, “to president Erdogan and the Turkish government, on behalf of the president of the United States of America, release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences. If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.” The Trump administration did sanction two top Turkish officials in addition to doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum against Turkey, but Erdogan seems determined to ignore US pressure. Turkey responded by imposing its own sanctions on two US officials. Another hostage is Turkish-American, Serkan Golge, a physicist who worked for NASA’s Mars Program.

Hamas

Hamas has been on the foreign terror list by the United States since 1997, yet Turkey’s Erdogan openly embraces the violent organization. In 2017, Erdogan reiterated his support saying “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.” Erdogan’s hypocrisy of fighting terrorists while aiding and abetting a recognized terrorist organization reflects the path of his neo Ottoman Islamic ideology. Hamas is clearly a threat not only to Israel but as well as the Palestinian people, and Erdogan is banking on the tension in Gaza. His desire to be the custodian of Jerusalem and to become the savior of the Palestinians through the creation of an “army of Islam” to destroy Israel is something the US must wake up to before it is too late.

Islamic State (IS)

Countless reports have been published on linking Turkey to either directly assisting the Islamic State or turning a blind eye. Turkey’s main goal, as it is today, is to weaken the Kurds in Syria at all costs even if it means allowing the brutal terrorist organization to roam free within Turkey and across its borders. In 2014, Turkish forces watched on top of a hill as Kurds were besieged in a small Syrian border town, in Kobane. In addition, Turkey has profited from illicit oil deals with the Islamic State, the deals were not limited to Turkey and IS but Erdogan’s family and the terror organization as well. In 2014, former Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “ISIS is not a terrorist organization. It’s a group of people bound together with discontent and anger.” In a report titled ISIS in Turkey published in May 2018,  it stated that “had Turkey not been so tolerant of ISIS activities within its borders, including recruitment of thousands of foreign fighters, ISIS would not be as powerful as it is today.” Moreover, Turkey continues to undermine US operations in Syria against IS as it targets the Kurds organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF.

Originally published: https://securitystudies.org/6-challenges-for-us-turkish-relations/

Photo: Twitter

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Potential Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights

Syria claimed to capture a key position overlooking the Golan Heights – an area in the northeastern part of Israel that was taken by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during the 1967 Six-Day War. In May, Iranian forces fired rockets from Syria targeting the Golan Heights, and Iran and its proxy Shi’ite militia groups are expanding their presence in southwestern Syria, attempting to establish military bases on the border.

The Iranian expansion-backed by the Assad Regime- could be catastrophic; the Golan Heights provides Israel with a strategic advantage, and if Israel was attacked from Syria, the Golan Heights would give the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) the ability to withstand ground offensives.

Israel annexed the territory in 1981, and the US has previously assured Israel that it supports the annexation, but has not fully recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. But members of Congress are now encouraging the Trump Administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in order to counter the presence of terrorist groups in the region, and prevent Iran from taking over the territory.

What are the strategic interests of the U.S. in recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights? How would recognition of Israeli sovereignty potentially help stabilize the region? Our expert panel of Sarah Stern, Zvi Hauser, and Michael Doran explores these questions and more.

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America Cannot Afford to Lose the Kurds

Kurds have a saying, ‘no friends but the mountains.’ This stems from a sense of betrayal by the international community since the end of World War I and a promise that saw no traction in creating an independent state called Kurdistan. In the 21st century the Kurds once again fear they will be given the cold shoulder in Iraq and Syria, this time by the United States.

The US has developed a historical relationship with the Kurds in Iraq, following the first Gulf War. Under President George Bush, the US set up a no-fly zone which allowed the Kurds a space to govern themselves protecting them from Saddam Hussein. Soon after, in 1992 the Kurds established the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which set the stage for self-determination, from the Kurdish perspective at least. Fast forward to the 2003 Iraq War, the KRG became the most important and reliable ally of the US inside Iraq. Let’s not forget that not one American life was lost in the Kurdistan Region during the entirety of the war.

On September 25, 2017 the Kurdish government decided to make a unilateral decision and pushed forward a referendum calling for independence. As warned prior to holding the vote, the entire international community, and the US included took a hard stance against the Kurdish decision. Perhaps the Kurdish decision stemmed from the idea that the US and the rest of the world would finally reward them with a state after successfully disintegrating the Islamic State (IS) while the Iraqi army collapsed. But this hope was short lived and what followed was a disaster. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRCG) general Qassim Soleimani visited Sulaimania province to warn the Kurds against calling for independence. Iranian backed Shiite militias, specifically the Popular Mobilization force (PMU) overran Kurdish held oil rich Kirkuk, a disputed territory under the Iraqi constitution. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened military action. Iraqi Prime Minster Haidar Abadi warned of consequences, and he kept to his word.

With all this, in the eyes of the Kurdish regional government, the US was nowhere to be found. The Kurds found themselves isolated and alone.

In Syria, the Kurds in the northeast sense betrayal is looming, again from the United States. Prior to the rise of IS, the Kurds in Syria played a defensive role as Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad pounded his opponents. The Kurds neither took the side of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) (which today is fractured, unreliable and fighting Turkey’s war against the Kurds), or the Assad regime. The Kurds were simply protecting their historical territories in the north of the country. As IS rose and declared Raqqa to be its capital, the tides turned against the Kurds. IS saw all as its enemy, including the secular and “atheist” Kurds. Despite the push from the terror organization, the Kurds successfully organized fighters both men (People’s Protection Unit YPG) and women (Women’s Protection Unit YPJ). In alliance with the United States which later established the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military force made up of the YPG, YPJ and Arab populations of north Syria. The SDF swiftly brought IS to its knees, liberated Raqqa and the rest of its territories east of the Euphrates River with less than 5% territory remaining.

Today there are about 2,200 US troops in northern Syria aligned with the SDF. The US plays many pivotal roles with its presence, which include but not limited to training and equipping the SDF, continue the fight against IS, prevent Russia, Iran and Assad forces from crossing the Euphrates river, help in reconstruction efforts in liberated areas and to patrol the Turkish-Syrian border to prevent Turkey from triggering a war against the Kurds, in what President Erdogan views as terrorists. However, President Donald Trump is adamant about withdrawing from Syria, a move if implemented, would be parallel to President Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

A hasty US withdrawal from Syria would leave a giant gap for Russia, Iran and Turkey to fill and would ultimately leave the Kurds abandoned forcing them to make amends with Assad. This would undermine all progress made by US forces with the SDF and would further legitimize Assad’s dictatorship over all of Syria. The withdrawal is unnecessary as the Americans are welcomed by Syrians east of the Euphrates.

In Iraq, the United States risks losing the Kurds to Russia and Iran following the independence referendum due to lack of reliable US backing. US presence in the Kurdistan Region is critical as Iraq finds itself deeper in Iranian regimes sphere of influence.

The Kurds have proven to be reliable, honest partners time and time again both on the battle field and in the political arena. It is long overdue for the United States to distance itself from the status quo policy of keeping failed states of Iraq and Syrian intact. The US must implement a policy in the interest of our Kurdish partners so that we don’t lose them to the dangerous regimes in the unforgivable neighborhood that is the Middle East.

Originally published at: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-america-cannot-afford-lose-kurds/

Photo: James Gordon

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Capitol Hill

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

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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