Who Wins and Loses From Syrian Ceasefire Deal?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, July 9, 2017— A cease-fire went into effect on Sunday in southern Syria along the border with Israel and Jordan that covers the provinces of Deraa, Quneitra and Suweida.
America Needs a Post-ISIS Strategy: John R. Bolton, Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2017— The headlines out of Syria are eye-catching: There are signs the Assad government may be planning another chemical attack.
Kurdistan: From Referendum to the Road to Independence: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, June 24, 2017— After WWI, the victorious powers promised independence for the Kurds.
Mosul Is Liberated—But Not Yet Free: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tablet, July 11, 2017 — There are joyous liberations.
How Long Will the Southern Syria Ceasefire Last?: Elizabeth Tsurkov, Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2017
Israel a Key Player in Syria Ceasefire Deal: Alex Fishman, Ynet, July 9, 2017
Despite Ceasefire Deal, Iranian Stronghold in Syrian Golan Still Possible: Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet, July 9, 2017
After the Defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Iran Prepares for Regional Domination: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, July 13, 2017
Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem Post, July 9, 2017
A cease-fire went into effect on Sunday in southern Syria along the border with Israel and Jordan that covers the provinces of Deraa, Quneitra and Suweida. US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster provided the usual boilerplate reasons behind American support for the move, saying the United States is committed to “helping to end the conflict in Syria,” and that this agreement would be an “important step toward common goals.”
The deal is unique in that it was signed by the US, Jordan and Russia and came amidst G20 talks in Hamburg. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the cease-fire as relating to the “de-escalation zones” that had been agreed to in Astana in May. The cease-fire in southwest Syria shows that Russia and the US are capable of working together in Syria – at least for the moment. After the Astana talks in May, Syria rejected US monitoring of the four “de-escalation zones” around Idlib, Homs, East Ghouta in Damascus and southern Syria.
Hamidreza Azizi, an assistant professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, wrote in the Middle East journal Al-Monitor on May 24 that Iran supported the de-escalation zones to enhance its prestige because doing so would bring Tehran and Moscow closer together. Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies were outraged at Iran’s participation in Astana. Today we see the fruits of that outrage in this separate deal. It also represents the US “buying in” to southern Syria, where the US already has interests at its base in al-Tanf and in supporting Israel’s concerns in the Golan. The US won’t work with Iran, but it can work with Moscow.
Jordan has emerged as a key US ally in all of this. The king of Jordan was in Washington for his third visit with Trump administration officials, according to reports, in the last days of June. In March, Abdullah II told Trump that Jordan wanted an end to the conflict in Syria, according to a White House statement on the meeting. The June visit came as fighting flared along the Golan Heights border with Syria. On July 6, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly phoned Trump in Europe to discuss ramifications of the cease-fire. This comes amidst Israel’s warnings against Iran’s and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and Syria.
Israel can’t be a signatory on the cease-fire memorandum, for obvious reasons, since countries involved with the Syrian civil war would reject official Israeli involvement, and Israel doesn’t want to be officially involved. But Jordan and Israel’s security interests in southern Jordan dovetail, and Jordan was a key player in this deal. “We’ll continue working with US and Russia to ensure success of cease-fire deal in south Syria and final de-escalation area plan,” tweeted Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on July 7. The goal is a comprehensive cease-fire “and political solution accepted by Syrians that safeguards integrity, independence and sovereignty of Syria,” he wrote.
So who wins and loses in the latest cease-fire? Jordan is the big winner. The kingdom has forged a unique bond with Trump’s administration, which listens to Amman. It was an observer at the Astana talks on July 4-5, but appears to have been working the whole time on a separate cease-fire for the south with the US and Putin. For Jordan, the situation in southern Syria is key to security. It wants the million Syrian refugees who have fled to return to their homes – only peace and cease-fires can achieve that.
The Syrian rebels of the Southern Front also seem to be winners. They distrust Iran’s role at Astana, and Jordan is their lifeline for humanitarian aid and other supplies. Also, Jordan and the US likely want to eradicate an ISIS pocket bordering the southern Golan. Air strikes there last month killed two ISIS leaders. The US is a winner if the cease-fire works because it shows that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump can accomplish something on the ground. Putin and Trump have a complex relationship because of accusations of Russian meddling in the US elections. Any kind of official success they can have at achieving peace in Syria might change the conversation and show Trump’s Putin relationship to bear positive fruit.
For Israel, this is a test of who guarantees the cease-fire and whether there is an opening to move Iran away from the Russia-Syria access. Weakening Iran’s role in Syria, and therefore Hezbollah’s role, would make Jerusalem less concerned. It could also cause Hezbollah to lash out to sink the cease-fire. Turkey is also making noises about the Kurds in northern Syria, which could cause a crisis. The US and Russia have invested in this cease-fire; if it works, it could prove Tillerson’s July 8 comment about “other areas where we can work together” prescient. That would mean the Syrian civil war is turning a new corner. But six years teaches us not to be so hopeful.
John R. Bolton
Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2017
The headlines out of Syria are eye-catching: There are signs the Assad government may be planning another chemical attack. American pilots have struck forces threatening our allies and shot down a Syrian plane and Iranian-made drones. The probability of direct military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia has risen. Yet the coverage of these incidents and the tactical responses that have been suggested obscure the broader story: The slow-moving campaign against Islamic State is finally nearing its conclusion — yet major, long-range strategic issues remain unresolved.
The real issue isn't tactical. It is instead the lack of American strategic thinking about the Middle East after Islamic State. Its defeat will leave a regional political vacuum that must be filled somehow. Instead of reflexively repeating President Obama's errors, the Trump administration should undertake an "agonizing reappraisal," in the style of John Foster Dulles, to avoid squandering the victory on the ground.
First, the U.S. ought to abandon or substantially reduce its military support for Iraq's current government. Despite retaining a tripartite veneer of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs, the capital is dominated by Shiites loyal to Iran. Today Iraq resembles Eastern Europe in the late 1940s, as the Soviet anaconda tightened its hold. Extending Baghdad's political and military control into areas retaken from ISIS simply advances Tehran's power. This cannot be in America's interest.
Iraq's Kurds have de facto independence and are on the verge of declaring it de jure. They fight ISIS to facilitate the creation of a greater Kurdistan. Nonetheless, the Kurds, especially in Syria and Turkey, are hardly monolithic. Not all see the U.S. favorably. In Syria, Kurdish forces fighting ISIS are linked to the Marxist PKK in Turkey. They pose a real threat to Turkey's territorial integrity, even if it may seem less troubling now that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plans have turned so profoundly contrary to the secular, Western-oriented vision of Kemal Atatürk.
Second, the U.S. should press Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies for more troops and material assistance in fighting ISIS. America has carried too much of the burden for too long in trying to forge Syria's opposition into an effective force. Yet even today the opposition could charitably be called "diverse." It includes undeniably terrorist elements that are often hard to distinguish from the "moderates" the U.S. supports. Getting fresh contributions from Arab allies would rebalance the opposition, which is especially critical if the U.S. turns away, as it should, from reliance on the Iraqi forces dominated by Tehran.
Third, the Trump administration must take a clear-eyed view of Russia's intervention. The Syrian mixing bowl is where confrontation between American and Russian forces looms. Why is Russia active in this conflict? Because it is aiding its allies: Syria's President Bashar Assad and Iran's ayatollahs. Undeniably, Russia is on the wrong side. But Mr. Obama, blind to reality, believed Washington and Moscow shared a common interest in easing the Assad regime out of power. The Trump administration's new thinking should be oriented toward a clear objective: pushing back these Iranian and Russian gains.
Start with Iran. Tehran is trying to cement an arc of control from its own territory, through Baghdad-controlled Iraq and Mr. Assad's Syria, to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon. This would set the stage for the region's next potential conflict: Iran's Shiite coalition versus a Saudi-led Sunni alliance. The U.S.-led coalition, enhanced as suggested above, needs to thwart Iran's ambitions as ISIS falls. Securing increased forces and financial backing from the regional Arab governments is essential. Their stakes are as high as ours — despite the contretemps between Qatar and Saudi Arabia (and others) — but their participation has lagged. The U.S. has mistakenly filled the gap with Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias.
Washington is kidding itself to think Sunnis will meekly accept rule by Iraq's Shiite-dominated government or Syria's Alawite regime. Simply restoring today's governments in Baghdad and Damascus to their post-World War I boundaries would guarantee renewed support for terrorism and future conflict. I have previously suggested creating a new, secular, demographically Sunni state from territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. There may well be other solutions, but pining for borders demarcated by Europeans nearly a century ago is not one of them.
At the same time, the U.S. must begin rolling back Russia's renewed presence and influence in the Middle East. Russia has a new air base at Latakia, Syria, is involved in combat operations, and issues diktats about where American warplanes in the region may fly. For all the allegations about Donald Trump and Russia, the president truly in thrall to Moscow seems to have been Mr. Obama…
Russia's interference, particularly its axis with Mr. Assad and Tehran's mullahs, critically threatens the interests of the U.S., Israel and our Arab friends. Mr. Assad almost certainly would have fallen by now without Russia's (and Iran's) assistance. Further, Moscow's support for Tehran shatters any claim of its truly being a partner in fighting radical Islamic terrorism, which got its modern start in Iran's 1979 revolution.
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Dr. Edy Cohen
BESA, June 24, 2017
After WWI, the victorious powers promised independence for the Kurds. This did not materialize, however, mainly due to the opposition of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Since then, the Kurds have suffered persecution and oppression in the countries where they reside: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds now constitute the largest national group in the world without a state to call their own.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds have enjoyed a broad autonomy that has rekindled their aspiration for independence. This aspiration gained great momentum due to the considerable assistance provided by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military militia, to the war effort against ISIS, without which the Iraqi army would not have succeeded in liberating the Mosul area from the Islamist terrorist organization. But there is a certain irony to the Iraqi victories in Kurdistan: they led to a mini-crisis between the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the revival of Kurdish national aspirations.
On this subject, it seems there has been no change in the position of the current Iraqi government in relation to that of its predecessors. According to the central government and Iraqi public figures who oppose Kurdish independence, the Kurds – like Assyrians, Yazidis, and Turkmens – are an inseparable part of Iraqi society who must not disengage from the Iraqi motherland. Moreover, harsh disputes exist between the KRG and the Iraqi government over oil ownership in Kurdistan and the reimbursement of funds demanded by the government for the sale of that oil. Unexpected support on this matter was recently received from Saudi Arabia, which sought to take revenge on Ankara for its support of Qatar.
As for Israel, while there is a thunderous official silence on the subject, there is no doubt that Jerusalem would support an independent Kurdish state. About three years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared Israel’s support for the establishment of such a state in the part of Iraq where Kurdish autonomy is today. “We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it,” Netanyahu declared in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
This statement received a harsh response from Nuri al-Maliki, former prime minister of Iraq (2006-14), who repeatedly told the media pejoratively that Kurdistan would be a “second Israel.” When Israeli reporters arrived in Iraq to cover the war on ISIS, Maliki did not hide his anger. Many other Iraqi leaders besides Maliki accuse the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, of collaborating with Israel, thereby hinting at the military assistance given by Israel in the 1960s and 1970s to the Kurds under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani (Massoud’s father) in their war against the central government.
Few countries support a referendum and the granting of independence to the Kurdish people in their state. The Kurdish region, which has no sea outlet and is surrounded by enemies, shares a border with Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. These countries, especially Iran and Turkey, all strongly oppose the establishment of a Kurdish state. They fear, like Maliki, that Kurdistan – which has managed to build a friendly island of calm and stability in an area surrounded by enemies and war – will indeed become that distasteful thing, a “second Israel.” This expression has been used extensively in recent years whenever the issue of Kurdistan’s independence has made headlines. It is entirely possible that the Iranians and the Turks will try to derail the referendum and divide the Kurdish factions.
For its part, Israel has an economic and security interest in supporting a Kurdish state. In view of the profusion of jihadist militias in Syria and Iraq, Jerusalem must be involved in developments in Kurdistan. It would be in Israel’s interest for the IDF to train and instruct Peshmerga soldiers in any future Kurdish state. One could go further – it might be sensible to build an air force base in Kurdistan for the state’s protection. Moreover, the independent Kurdish state may well allow the restitution of its former Jewish population, driven from Iraq for its plundered property, thus setting an important precedent for future Arab-Israeli peace agreements.
Beyond these vital interests, the people of Israel greatly sympathize with the just struggle of the Kurds. There are many commonalities between the Kurdish people and the Jewish people, both of whom have suffered continuous long-term persecution and are scattered throughout the world. Iran, Turkey, and the Arab states will never support the independence of Kurdistan. The Kurds must lose no time after the referendum in declaring their disengagement from Iraq and the establishment of the independent state of Kurdistan.
In all probability, the state of Kurdistan will be an island of stability that is respectful of human rights. It will therefore differ substantially from the countries surrounding it. The Trump administration should support the referendum and the independence of the Kurdistan region and its disengagement from Iraq, since this development is of interest to the entire region. The Kurdish people must have a state of their own, and the sooner the better. The international community should support the independence of Kurdistan, not only the establishment of a Palestinian state. Self-determination and independence should be the prerogative of all peoples, not a principle selectively applied.
Tablet, July 11, 2017
There are joyous liberations. Of Paris in 1944, for example—a liberation insurrectionary and exultant. And then there are leaden liberations: Warsaw’s in 1944; Berlin’s in 1945; and, more recently, Sarajevo’s. The liberation of Mosul obviously falls into the second category. There is a sense of relief, of course. There is, too, the elation of victory—and, for someone who experienced some of the most terrible phases of the battle from the inside, there is intense emotion.
But, seeing the images of survivors emerging from the city, their faces frightened and drawn from eight months in hell; viewing the field of ruin to which one of the oldest cities in the world has been reduced; reckoning up the numbers of those killed, those displaced, people from whom the Islamic State took everything while losing this war, it is hard not to feel great dismay.
Was it really necessary, first of all, to wait three years before deciding to act? Before launching the assault, did we have to give the enemy time to fortify its positions, to acquire sophisticated weapons, to irrigate terrorist networks abroad, to slaughter and then slaughter some more? When the evidence of horror was as manifest as it was in Mosul, could we not have taken the initiative and killed the serpent’s egg, as Ingmar Bergman urges in one of his finest films? And what of the “Day After”? Will the coalition decide that its job is done now that it has finally managed to overcome, with its vast forces, a few thousand badly disciplined fighters who were strong only because of our weaknesses (notably our temporizing)? And will we, once more, brag “Mission Accomplished” as the stragglers from the ragtag Islamist force fall back to Hawija, Tal Afar, Raqqa … or Paris?
What fate will the victors reserve for the million Mosul residents, so many of whom viewed the Islamic State favorably before quickly becoming disenchanted? Will the victors treat those who remained—or who fled very late in the game—as collaborators, or will they see them instead as hostages? Is it possible that we may fail to realize that the behavior of the liberators—whether magnanimous or inspired by revenge—will determine the future face of a city that, with a little work, could be turned into a laboratory of peace and reconciliation? Who will lend themselves to that work of reconstruction, work that if done right will be a second liberation? Iraq? A state that has been in a state of chronic chaos since the fall of Saddam Hussein? Iraq alone, a state governed by Shiites, whose hate for the Sunni majority of Mosul’s population is an open secret?
Instead, might we not imagine, given the high stakes, that the city should come temporarily under international administration? Why not—confronted with this blank slate on which no schools, hospitals, repositories of memory, or social forums remain standing—entrust reconstruction to a pool of donor nations, global institutions, and sovereign funds, Arab and non-Arab? Is it not geopolitically critical that the former Nineveh should become again the cosmopolitan city that it has been since humans began living in cities?
And one last question: the Kurds. It was the Kurdish peshmerga that, in October and November 2016, opened Mosul’s gates for the Iraqis. It is they who, for two long years, held fast (as England alone resisted the Nazis until well into 1941) while the Iraqi army recovered from the rout of August 2014; it is they who held a front line 1,000 kilometers long before ultimately repelling the Islamic State. Fighters, they were, from the very start, sentinels of a free world that everywhere else was buckling under the Islamist surge. And so, the question is this: Will the world, having thanked the Kurds on the eve of the final battle, dismiss the historic role they played?
On Sept. 25, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will vote in a referendum on the independence that was promised them a century ago and to which they believe more strongly than ever that they have a right. In a way, that question is addressed to the world as well; and the world will have to choose between two responses:
• To throw up a great hue and cry, as Ankara, Teheran, and Moscow have already done, to urge this erstwhile ally, no longer needed, to be a good little ally and to cool its heels: Let’s not add chaos to chaos, goes the argument; let’s not pour more powder into the powder keg of the area; no one needs a new state to further inflame a Middle East that is already complicated enough.
• Or to heed the opposing voices contending that Iraq is the factitious state, a state born from the convulsions of World War I, a colonial artifact. And to bring stability to the region nothing could be better, the counterargument continues, than to recognize a nation already endowed with solid democratic institutions, a culture of respect for non-Kurdish minorities and for women, a taste for secularism, a concern for good governance, and a sincere tilt toward the West.
For me, having spent two years crisscrossing these lands of strife and hope, the right answer is as clear as day. Far from destabilizing the region, the emergence of a free Kurdistan would be a potent force for stability and peace. The conclusion of the battle of Mosul challenges us all to make this heartfelt choice for justice and reason.
How Long Will the Southern Syria Ceasefire Last?: Elizabeth Tsurkov, Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2017—The ceasefire negotiated by the US, Russia, Jordan and reportedly Israel covering southern Syria is the latest, but not last ceasefire agreements negotiated by the foreign backers and warring parties in the Syrian civil war.
Israel a Key Player in Syria Ceasefire Deal: Alex Fishman, Ynet, July 9, 2017—Without Israeli involvement, it’s very unlikely that the ceasefire agreement in Syria would have been born.
Despite Ceasefire Deal, Iranian Stronghold in Syrian Golan Still Possible: Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynet, July 9, 2017—From an Israeli perspective, the ceasefire agreement in southwestern Syria, which goes into effect at noon Sunday, is a positive development—but not positive enough.
After the Defeat of ISIS in Mosul, Iran Prepares for Regional Domination: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, July 13, 2017—When the Iraqi army liberated Mosul from ISIS this week, they were joined by the Shiite militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or in Arabic the Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi. Leading the PMF is Jamal al-Ibrahim, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.