Erdogan’s Fire and Fury: Robert Ellis, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 22, 2018— Under the bizarre name “Olive Branch,” Turkey has launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria.

Don’t Abandon the Kurds to the ‘Mercies’ of Turkey’s Tyrant: Ralph Peters, New York Post, Jan. 22, 2018— The United States has been the protector and ally of the Kurds for a quarter-century.

Turkey, the Arab World Is Just Not That into You: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 14, 2018— He runs around in a fake fire extinguisher's outfit, holding a silly hose in his hands and knocking on neighbors' doors to put out the fire in their homes.

Erdogan's Israel Obsession: Prof. Efraim Inbar, Israel Hayom, Dec. 24, 2017— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hostility toward Israel can be puzzling at times.


On Topic Links


Trump Sharply Warns Turkey Against Military Strikes in Syria: Gardiner Harris, New York Times, Jan. 24, 2018

Watching Turkey's Descent into Islamist Dictatorship: Andrew Harrod, Algemeiner, Jan. 2, 2018

Turkey is Becoming New Hub for Salafist-Jihadi Exodus from Syria: Metin Gurcan, Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2018

Turkey’s Expansionist Military Policies in the Middle East: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, Jan. 24, 2018





Robert Ellis

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 22, 2018


Under the bizarre name “Olive Branch,” Turkey has launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria. This operation had been expected for the past week and only needed Moscow’s blessing to begin.


US support for the struggle by Kurdish forces to drive Islamic State (ISIS) from northern Syria has long been a thorn in Turkey’s side, as has the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region (Rojava). The backbone of the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is considered by Turkey to be part and parcel of Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).



Matters came to a head on January 13, when the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) announced the formation of a 30,000-strong “Border Security Force,” half of which would consist of SDF veterans. The force would be deployed along the border with Turkey, the Iraqi border and along the Euphrates River Valley, an area which contains two of Rojava’s three regions. This was a red flag to Turkey’s already belligerent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who threatened to “strangle” this force “before it’s even born.” The Pentagon said this was “a mischaracterization of the training that we are providing to local security forces in Syria” and instead it was a “kind of security or stabilization force” or “some sort of hold force.” According to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “Some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.”


Erdogan warned that Turkey would destroy all terrorist nests in Syria, starting from the Afrin and Manbij regions, and that it would do so in about a week. In August 2016, a month after the attempted coup in Turkey, the Turkish army crossed the Syrian border and in Operation Euphrates Shield occupied most of the area west of the Euphrates and east of the third Kurdish region, Afrin, effectively blocking any attempt to create a Kurdish corridor south of the Turkish border.


But Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates, was captured by the SDF from ISIS in 2016 and is a thorn in Turkey’s eye. The Pentagon immediately distanced itself from Afrin and stated it did not support YPG elements in Afrin and did not consider them part of their fight against ISIS. “We are not involved with them at all,” the Pentagon’s spokesman added.


The Syrian government has warned Turkey that combat operations in the Afrin area would be considered an act of aggression which would be met by Syrian air defenses. However, as Syrian airspace is controlled by Russia, on Thursday Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and head of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) Hakan Fidan were sent to Moscow to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov to pave the way for the operation. In August a Russian Center for Reconciliation was set up near the city of Afrin, but the personnel have now been withdrawn “to prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and well-being of Russian military [personnel].”


On Saturday the Turkish General Staff announced that it had launched “Operation Olive Branch” to establish security and stability on Turkey’s borders, to eliminate terrorists and to save “our friends and brothers” (a reference to opposition forces backed by Turkey) from oppression and cruelty. It also claimed the right to self-defense while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern and called on the sides to exercise constraint.


However, the Russian Defense Ministry put the blame for Turkey’s “extremely negative reaction” fair and square on “the provocative US steps aimed at the separation of regions with a predominantly Kurdish population” and “the Pentagon’s uncontrolled deliveries of modern weapons to the pro-US forces in northern Syria.”


Nevertheless, Russia’s attempts to include Syria’s Kurdish minority in an overall settlement for Syria have suffered a major setback. A draft constitution for Syria put forward by Russia in Astana a year ago safeguarded the status of what it termed “Kurdish cultural autonomy.” With regard to the National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stated, “The Kurds are definitely part of the Syrian nation and we need to take their interests into consideration.”


Furthermore, the opportunity for what Lavrov has called “a constructive dialogue” with the US has also been sacrificed on the altar of President Erdogan’s ambition. Former Turkish foreign minister Yasar Yakis believes an accommodation over the Kurdish question in Syria is a possible area of convergence between the US and Russia – if political and military developments do not get out of control. Which is what they at present show every sign of doing.               




Ralph Peters

New York Post, Jan. 22, 2018


The United States has been the protector and ally of the Kurds for a quarter-century. And the Kurds have proven to be, man-for-man and woman-for-woman, the best fighters in the region. Without Kurdish boots on the ground, we would not have made the sweeping progress achieved against the Islamic State caliphate. Now, with ISIS crushed (but still wriggling and snapping), we’re turning our backs on our Kurdish allies in Syria as they’re attacked by a NATO ally gone rogue — Turkey, which is led by an Islamist strongman, the odious “President” Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


The Kurds are fighting for freedom and a state of their own. There are at least 30 million Kurds divided between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, and possibly 10 million more — none of the states where they’re captive have allowed an honest census. Kurds have been butchered en masse, denied fundamental rights, imprisoned, tortured, raped, cheated and scapegoated. (All of which should sound unnervingly familiar to those who know Israel’s backstory.)


After letting the Kurds down at Versailles a century ago, when we acquiesced to denying them a state, we finally stepped up to do the right thing in the wake of Desert Storm — after Saddam Hussein had used poison gas on Iraq’s Kurdish population. In return, the Kurds have fought bravely beside us in a succession of conflicts. Outside of Israel, no one has done more to support our priorities — especially in combatting Islamist terrorists. Now we’re on the verge of permitting another slaughter of Kurds. To please Turkey. We should be on the side of the underdogs, not of the rabid dogs.


As Turkish tanks roll into Syria’s Afrin Province to kill Kurds, it’s time to recognize that Turkey’s no longer an ally and no longer belongs in NATO (Erdogan is even buying Russian air-defense systems). Turkey’s dictator-in-all-but-name has gutted democracy, imprisoned tens of thousands on false charges, suppressed the free media, rigged the courts, backed Islamist hardliners in Syria — and, for political advantage, reignited a conflict that had gone quiet with Turkey’s internal Kurdish population. Oh, and Erdogan’s a prime supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, in Turkey and abroad.


Why on earth are we permitting his attack on our Kurdish allies? It really comes down to two related issues. First, inertia. Turkey has been our ally (if a difficult one) since the early Cold War, so we blindly accept the notion that it must remain an ally forever — even as Erdogan works against our strategic interests. Second, restricted use of a single air base has paralyzed our Turkey policy. Unquestionably, Incirlik air base, in southeastern Turkey, has a prime strategic location. Our operations would be more challenging without it. And Turkey uses that as leverage. It’s time to call Erdogan’s bluff. We should not sacrifice the future of 30 million to 40 million pro-American Kurds for the sake of a couple of runways.


Erdogan’s excuse for sending his air force and army across the border into Syrian territory liberated by Kurds is his bogus claim that the Kurds we’ve backed — who fought ISIS house to house — are all terrorists. In the alphabet game of the Middle East, Erdogan insists that Syria’s Kurdish YPG forces — our allies — are indistinguishable from the PKK, a Turkish domestic resistance group that had abandoned terror to seek a political accommodation. While oppressed Kurds everywhere do feel a measure of solidarity with one another, claiming that the YPG is the same as the PKK is like blaming Rand Paul for Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.


What should we do to stop Turkey from using US-supplied, US-made weapons to kill our only dependable regional allies outside of Israel? It’s time to embrace the future rather than clinging to the past. It’s time to imagine a strategy without Incirlik air base and with Turkey suspended from NATO until it returns to the rule of law and honest elections. It’s time to recognize that the Kurds deserve and have earned a state of their own. And, right now, it’s past time to draw a red line for Erdogan, who cannot be permitted to slaughter Kurds who have been fighting beside us and for us. The Kurds aren’t terrorists. The terrorist sits in his president’s chair in Ankara.               




Burak Bekdil

Gatestone Institute, Jan. 14, 2018


He runs around in a fake fire extinguisher's outfit, holding a silly hose in his hands and knocking on neighbors' doors to put out the fire in their homes. "Go away," his neighbors keep telling him. "There is no fire here!" I am the person to put out that fire, he insists, as doors keep shutting on his face. That was more or less how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's neo-Ottoman, pro-ummah (Islamic community), "Big Brother" game has looked in the Middle East.


After years of trial and failure Erdogan does not understand that his services are not wanted in the Muslim neighborhood: The Iranians are too Shiite to trust his Sunni Islamism; the (mostly Sunni) Kurds' decades-long dispute with the Turks is more ethnic than religious; and Sunni Arabs do not wish to revisit their Ottoman colonial past. Still, Erdogan insists.


Turkish textbooks have taught children how treacherous Arab tribes stabbed their Ottoman ancestors in the back during the First World War, and even how Arabs collaborated with non-Muslim Western powers against Muslim Ottoman Turks. A pro-Western, secular rule in the modern Turkish state in the 20th century coupled with various flavors of Islamism in the Arab world added to an already ingrained anti-Arabism in the Turkish psyche. Erdogan's indoctrination, on the other hand, had to break that anti-Arabism if he wanted to revive the Ottoman Turkish rule over a future united ummah. The Turks had to rediscover their "Arab brothers" if Erdogan's pan-Islamism had to advance into the former Ottoman realms in the Middle East.


It was not a coincidence that the number of imam [religious] school students, under Erdogan's rule, has risen sharply to 1.3 million from a mere 60,000 when he first came to power in 2002, an increase of more than twenty-fold. Erdogan is happy. "We are grateful to God for that," he said late in 2017. Meanwhile, the Turkish Education Ministry added Arabic courses to its curriculum and the state broadcaster, TRT, launched an Arabic television channel.


Not enough. In addition, Erdogan would pursue a systematic policy to bash Israel at every opportunity and play the champion Muslim leader of the "Palestinian cause." He has done that, too, and in an exaggerated way, by countless times declaring himself the champion of the Palestinian cause — and he still does it. Erdogan's Turkey championed an international campaign to recognize eastern Jerusalem as the capital city of the Palestinian state, with several Arab pats on the shoulder.


His spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, happily said that the dispute over Jerusalem after President Donald Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital "had in fact united the Muslim world." A united Muslim front around the "Palestinian capital Jerusalem" is a myth. Iran, for instance, renounced Turkey's Jerusalem efforts because, according to the regime, the entire city of Jerusalem, not just eastern Jerusalem, should have been recognized as the Palestinian capital. Before that, Turkey accused some Arab countries of showing a weak reaction to Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.


The Turkish-Arab fraternity along Muslims lines is an even bigger myth. For instance, the Saudi-led Gulf blockade of Qatar imposed in June came as a complete shock. One of his Sunni brothers had taken out the sword against another?! Turkey's Sunni brothers had once been sympathetic to his ideas but no longer are. Only two years ago, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were mulling the idea of a joint military strike in Syria.


For the Sunni Saudis, the Turks were allies only if they could be of use in any fight against Shiite Iran or its proxies, such as the Baghdad government or the Syrian regime. For the Saudis, Turkey was only useful if it could serve a sectarian purpose. Meanwhile, as Turkey, together with Qatar, kept on championing Hamas, Saudi Arabia and Egypt distanced themselves from the Palestinian cause and consequently from Turkey. Both the Saudi kingdom and Egypt's al-Sisi regime have viewed Hamas, an Iranian satellite, with hostility, whereas Turkey gave it logistical and ideological support. Another reason for the change in Saudi Arabia's position toward Turkey — from "friendly" to "semi-medium-hostile" — is Saudi Arabia's newfound alliance with Egypt's President el-Sisi. El-Sisi replaced the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in Egypt, while Turkey and Qatar, have effectively been the embodiments of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. Erdogan offered to build a Turkish military base in the Kingdom, for example, but in June, Saudi officials turned him down.


Erdogan might benefit by being reminded of a few facts and shaken out of his make-believe world. For instance, he might recall, that his worst regional nemesis is an Arab leader, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not an "infidel king." He must realize that he is no longer the "rock star" he was in the streets of Amman or Beirut that he once was – when the only currency he could sell on the Arab Street was his anti-Semitic rants. Turkey does not even have full diplomatic relations with the most populous Sunni Arab nation, Egypt. More recently, a tiny sheikdom had to remind Erdogan that his expansionist, "ummah-ist" design for the Middle East was no more than a fairy tale he persistently wanted to believe. In December, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan shared a tweet that accused Turkish troops of looting the holy city of Medina a century ago. In response, Erdogan himself lashed out: “Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery … What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has.”


But that was not the end of what looks like a minor historical debate. The row symbolized the impossibility of what Erdogan has been trying to build: An eternal Arab-Turkish fraternity. Anwar Gargash, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said there was a need for Arab countries to rally around the "Arab axis" of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Did Erdogan hear that? If not, he should have heard this one: Gargash also said that "the Arab world would not be led by Turkey." In what better plain diplomatic language could the idea have been expressed? Meanwhile Erdogan keeps living in his make-believe world. Last summer, as part of his futile "euphemizing Arab-Ottoman history" campaign, he claimed that "Arabs stabbed us in the back was a lie." Not even the Arabs claim they did not revolt against the Ottomans in alliance with Western powers.


If none of that is enough to convince Erdogan he should read some credible polling results. Taha Akyol, a prominent Turkish columnist, recently noted some research conducted by the pollster Zogby in 2016. The poll found that 67% of Egyptians, 65% of Saudis, 59% of UAE citizens, and 70% of Iraqis had an unfavorable opinion of Turkey. Do not tell Erdogan, but if "polling" had existed a century ago, the numbers might have been even worse.                                            




Prof. Efraim Inbar

Israel Hayom, Dec. 24, 2017


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hostility toward Israel can be puzzling at times. When his Justice and Development (AKP) party rose to power through democratic elections in 2002, ties with Israel had been solid for a number of years. Erdogan visited Israel himself in 2005. His government purchased weapons from and held joint military maneuvers with Israel. Under Erdogan, Turkey attempted to serve as mediator between Israel and Syria and expressed interest in collaborating with Israel on projects to benefit Palestinians. Economic ties between the two countries continue to flourish, and Turkey's official airline operates around 10 flights per day between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. The reasons for the change can be found in Erdogan's personality and Turkey's strategic environment. Erdogan has acquired status and unprecedented political power, and he is fearlessly working to realize his personal preferences in both Turkey's domestic and foreign policies.


Erdogan's treatment of the Jewish state stems from his negative opinion of Jews in general. Erdogan had issues with anti-Semitic remarks in the past, which stem from his Islamist education and the anti-Jewish atmosphere in Islamist circles in Turkey. Many in those circles believe that the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was secretly a Jew. They see Jews as having been a central agent in Turkey's process of secularization under Ataturk, a process they consider destructive. Therefore, Jews are the bitter enemy sabotaging Turkey's Muslim identity. A shrewd politician, Erdogan is aware that his anti-Semitic positions earn him praise that translates to votes come election time. Opinion polls from the previous decade indicate that around half of all Turks do not want a Jewish neighbor and believe Jews are disloyal to the state. In Turkey, anti-Semitic sentiments are no longer politically incorrect.


Another important factor behind the poor relations between the two countries is Turkey's desire to wield influence in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. Turkey's foreign policy has broken off from the Kemalist outlook that saw ties with Middle Eastern states as a cultural and political burden, and Turkey now draws more from its imperial Ottoman heritage. Under Erdogan, Muslim identity plays a large part in Turkey's foreign policy. The desire to become a regional and global leader demands that Turkey lower the profile of its relations with Israel.


At the same time, Turkey is distancing itself from the West, and the United States in particular. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there is less strategic need for NATO membership, especially given EU opposition to Turkey joining the organization. Alongside a weakened EU, America's diminished presence in the Middle East under former President Barack Obama and now under President Donald Trump has bolstered the Turkish trend of deviating from the West in its policy on Israel. And yet Turkey maintains diplomatic ties and excellent financial ties with Israel, which has a vested interest in ties with as important a Muslim state as Turkey. While Israel cannot let Erdogan's attacks slide, its response must differentiate between Turkish society and its popular but problematic leader.


The struggle for Turkey's identity is not over. Only half of all Turks voted for Erdogan in the last elections. In the Middle East, countries that can afford to oppose Erdogan are few and far between. Turkey and Iran are historic rivals, and tensions between them also stem from the Sunni-Shiite divide. Today, Turkey cooperates with Iran, largely out of both countries' concern over Kurdish nationalism and the Muslim character of their foreign policies. In the future, Turkey may decide to oppose Iran's expansion and as a result improve ties with Israel. The international reality is fluid, and Israel must keep all options open.



On Topic Links


Trump Sharply Warns Turkey Against Military Strikes in Syria: Gardiner Harris, New York Times, Jan. 24, 2018—Simmering tensions between Turkey and the United States spilled into the open on Wednesday as President Trump warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against the growing risk of conflict between the two nations. The Turkish president, for his part, demanded that the United States end its support for Kurdish militias.

Watching Turkey's Descent into Islamist Dictatorship: Andrew Harrod, Algemeiner, Jan. 2, 2018—"Deep trouble" in Turkey's relationships with Europe and the United States was a recurring theme in the December address of Michael Meier — representative to America and Canada for Germany's Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), or the Foundation for Social Democracy. His introduction to the Middle East Institute (MEI) and FES' eighth annual Turkey Conference, at Washington, DC's National Press Club was an appropriately gloomy preface to the discussion of Turkey's troubled past and present.

Turkey is Becoming New Hub for Salafist-Jihadi Exodus from Syria: Metin Gurcan, Al-Monitor, Jan. 8, 2018—As the Islamic State (IS) has lost territory in Syria and Iraq, and as efforts are being made to separate radical elements from moderate Sunni opposition groups in and around Idlib, the violent Salafist-jihadi networks are migrating to Turkey.

Turkey’s Expansionist Military Policies in the Middle East: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, Jan. 24, 2018—While Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East have been under the world’s magnifying glass, Turkey has been silently projecting its military presence in the area to such an extent it has become a source of worry to the “moderate” Arab states and specifically to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.






ISIS and the US Warning to Turkey Against Attacking Syrian Kurds: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2017 — An Islamic State attack at dawn on Tuesday killed some two-dozen people in a Syrian town on the Iraqi border.

Israelis Learn to Live With a New Neighbor: Islamic State: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27, 2017— On one side of a fence that snakes through eucalyptus-covered ridges is a swath of Syrian villages held by Islamic State.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Show the Limits of Arms Control: Rebeccah Heinrichs, National Review, May 4, 2017 — Arms control failed to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using weapons of mass destruction against noncombatants, and this should serve as another hard lesson in its limitations.

A Strike in Syria Restores Our Credibility in the World: Tom Cotton, New York Times, Apr. 8, 2017— After President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again attacked his own citizens with poison gas, the civilized world recoiled in horror at images of children writhing in pain and suffocating to death.


On Topic Links


Iran's Ambitions in the Levant: Ehud Yaari, Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2017

How Iran Enables Syria’s Chemical Warfare Against Civilians: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2017

The Syrian Sarin Attacks of August 2013 and April 2017: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Apr. 26, 2017

Will Jordan Confront IS in Southern Syria?: Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor, Apr. 18, 2017






Seth J. Frantzman                                     

Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2017


An Islamic State attack at dawn on Tuesday killed some two-dozen people in a Syrian town on the Iraqi border. Many of the victims were refugees who were fleeing ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria on their way to Kurdish-held Hasakah, Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters. The SDF and US soldiers who support them are in the midst of an offensive to take Raqqa, ISIS’s Syrian capital, and have recently made significant gains against the extremists in Tabqah. However, recent attacks by Turkey against Kurdish areas in Syria have threatened to distract attention from the offensive against ISIS.


On April 25, Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish positions at Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and at Karachok Mountain in northeastern Syria. Turkey claimed it targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which it views as a terrorist group and has repeatedly asserted is working with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria, against which Turkey appeared to threaten further action.


For the US this is a red line. The YPG is part of the SDF, with which the US has partnered in the war against ISIS. US forces on the ground have cultivated a close relationship with the Kurds in Syria over the last two years. Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said on April 25 that the US was “deeply concerned” about the Turkish air strikes, which he said were made “without proper coordination either with the US or the broader global coalition to defeat ISIS.” Toner said the strikes caused a “loss of life of our partner forces” and that the safety of coalition personnel must be ensured.


On April 30, after visiting the site of Turkish air strikes in Syria, the US sent its forces to patrol alongside the YPG – flying US flags – on the border with Turkey. The decision to display the colors and patrol along the border was intended by its visible show of force to deter further Turkish attacks. The US did the same thing in early March, around the northern Syrian town of Manbij. The SDF took Manbij from ISIS in 2016, but Turkey threatened to attack the town in March alongside its Syrian-rebel allies. The US flag-waving patrols deterred Turkey in Manbij and the tactic appears to have deterred Turkish forces again.


The deeper meaning of the patrols is, the US is warning off its older ally in favor of its Kurdish relationship. Turkey and the US have 70 years of close relations, formed during the Cold War. But the war on ISIS has led the US defense establishment to conclude that the best bet to defeat ISIS lies with Kurdish forces and the SDF. The Turks have a different agenda which focuses on the PKK and its affiliates. Turkey has often accused the YPG of being in the same terrorist category as is ISIS. The Turkish view sees every step toward Raqqa by the SDF and the Americans as empowering the YPG, .


While career diplomats in the State Department and CIA may prefer their traditional relationship with Turkey, the US Defense Department – and those who listen to it in the White House – have settled on defeating ISIS the fastest way possible. That means defending the Kurdish region from air strikes so its forces and allies can focus on Raqqa. Nothing would be more disastrous for the US than a war between Turkey and the YPG while ISIS gets breathing space to carry out attacks as it did on Tuesday.


Turkey will continue to challenge US policy in Syria in the coming months and try to find allies in Washington who will listen to its point of view. Turkey views a permanent US presence in northeastern Syria as highly problematic and a provocation against its sphere of influence. At the same time, the US must decide if its relationship with the Kurds in Syria is merely one of convenience – until ISIS is defeated – or if it will build on it in the coming years.







Yaroslav Trofimov

Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27, 2017


On one side of a fence that snakes through eucalyptus-covered ridges is a swath of Syrian villages held by Islamic State. On the other, Yitzhak Ribak grows his Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs. “My grapes are just 10 meters from the border fence. Sometimes I hear the booms on the other side. Sometimes I see people on the other side. They look like shepherds, but who knows,” said the Israeli winemaker. “It’s crazy.” So far, Islamic State hasn’t bothered his vineyard. “I am here all alone on my tractor at night and I am not afraid.”


While most attention has focused on Islamic State’s shrinking but still vast territory in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, the extremist group has also proved surprisingly resilient in the pocket of land it controls just outside Mr. Ribak’s vineyard. The area sits at the confluence of Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Known as the Khalid bin Walid Army, the local Islamic State affiliate has rebuffed repeated offensives by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army and other moderate rebels. The porous nature of Syria’s front lines and corruption within FSA ranks have allowed Islamic State personnel and weapons to infiltrate the area known as the Yarmouk Basin, said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a security analyst who follows the group.


The presence of Islamic State so close to Israeli-populated towns and villages along the demarcation line in the Golan Heights poses an obvious threat—albeit one that so far hasn’t materialized into cross-border attacks. “The Golan is still the quietest place in the whole country,” said Yoni Hirsch, chairman of the municipal council of Nov, an Israeli community of some 800 people about 2 miles from Islamic State-held areas. “But we know what is happening across the border, and we are getting ready for what may happen,” he added. “We know that in one day with the decision of one person on the other side, our lives can change.”


The Israeli government is taking no chances. Over the past three years, it has replaced the old security fence in the Golan Heights, a plateau seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, with a new structure some 20 feet high and equipped with modern sensors. It is also erecting a new fence further south along the border with Jordan. “As the dangers go up, so does the fence,” Mr. Hirsch said.


Islamic State, like other jihadist groups, has repeatedly pledged to eliminate Israel as part of its plan to build a world-wide Islamic caliphate. “We don’t have any doubt about their ideology and their dedication to destroying Israel,” said retired Israeli Brig Gen. Effie Eitam, a former cabinet minister and a resident of Nov. But Islamic State also has priorities and in southern Syria, the militants have focused on fighting more moderate rebels. “They are cleverer than attacking Israel. They know Israel has an army and can launch airstrikes and they don’t want to open another front line,” said Free Syrian Army Maj. Issam al-Reis, a spokesman for the coalition of rebel groups known as the Southern Front. “They are not interested in killing Israelis. What they are interested in is killing us.”


Such an unexpectedly peaceful coexistence with Islamic State next door helps explain Israeli perceptions of the Syrian conflict. The U.S. and its European allies view Islamic State, which has carried out terrorist attacks in the West, as the principal threat. Israeli officials, by contrast, are far more alarmed by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Preventing Iranian proxies from getting close to the Golan has emerged as a key Israeli priority in the Syrian conflict.


Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, “is not powerful enough to make us fear,” said Ayoob Kara, the only Arab minister in the Israeli government who says he is in regular contact with various Syrian factions. “Daesh is going to lose,” he added. “There is no way it is going to be successful and by the end of the year, we won’t see it in any state around here. The problem of the Middle East is the capital of extremism that is Iran.”


On Thursday, Syria said Israel had launched a strike near the international airport in Damascus, where nearby buildings are believed to hold Iranian-supplied weapons bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Israel neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the blast. Later Thursday, Israel’s military said its Patriot missile defense system struck a drone over the Golan Heights that entered Israeli airspace.


For Mr. Ribak, who moved to Eliad in 1973 a few months before Syrian tanks attempting to recapture the Golan were stopped outside the village, the growth of Islamic State across the fence carries a clear message. Israel was lucky, he said, that its lengthy attempts at peace talks with Syria, based on trading the Golan Heights for a peace treaty, finally collapsed in 2010. “If we had given the Golan to Syria then, it would have all become ISIS-land,” Mr. Ribak said on a drive along the border fence, the minarets of a Syrian village across the valley glistening in the sun.


Like many people in the region, Mr. Ribak, who markets his wine under the Chateau Golan brand, said he has developed his own answer to the Middle East’s intractable problems. “I know how to solve it,” he said, proffering his peace plan. “Very simple. If all the people here start to drink wine, they will become happy and then there is no problem.”






Rebeccah Heinrichs

                                                National Review, May 4, 2017


Arms control failed to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using weapons of mass destruction against noncombatants, and this should serve as another hard lesson in its limitations. Civilized nations have sought to abolish the use of chemical weapons (CWs) for nearly a century, as evidenced by the 1919 Versailles Treaty, the Geneva Protocol, and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibited not only the use of chemical weapons but the production and stockpiling of them as well.


The CWC was negotiated by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, who signed the multinational treaty in 1993. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty during the Clinton administration in 1997, but the objections to it then have proven prescient. One such objection to it was the inability to truly verify compliance, a necessary condition for any useful agreement, lest the “agreement” serve as a restraint only to the states that are already self-restraining.


Assad’s chemical weapons attacks certainly underscore this problem. After President Obama drew his infamous red line regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then failed to persuade the Senate he had planned a prudent military response, Putin and Obama set out to strike a deal with Assad. This deal would entail Assad ratifying the CWC, something Syria had previously refused to do.


But believing that Assad would fully cooperate with inspectors and comply with the CWC was obscenely, willfully naïve. Assad clearly believed that it was in his country’s interest to possess and use chemical weapons, and he had just witnessed Obama’s unwillingness to quickly and decisively retaliate with force in response to several CW attacks. And, undoubtedly, he had noted how utterly unable the American president was to persuade senators who were inclined to support using force that he had a clear military plan in response. In other words, Assad knew threats of force were empty, and he did not fear them. Thus, it was foolish for Obama-administration diplomats to have any measure of confidence that Assad would comply with the treaty when they had provided no credible incentive for him to do so.


Sure, he declared enough of his chemical weapons to please his patron, Putin, who was exploiting the international crisis for Russia’s gain. But it never made sense that Assad had suddenly changed his calculus and concluded it was in his interest to forgo all CWs. This didn’t stop Obama officials from asserting that he did, and then they took credit for it.


On July 20, 2014, in a Meet the Press interview, Secretary John Kerry said of Syria, “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.” On August 18, 2014, President Obama said, “Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical-weapons stockpile.” Then, remarkably, after subsequent chemical-weapons attacks by the Assad regime, President Obama’s national-security adviser, Susan Rice, said on January 16, 2017: “We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. . . . We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”


The audacity of these statements became all the more apparent when Tony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and former deputy national-security adviser under Barack Obama, told the New York Times, “We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration.” Raising the obvious question: Why would so many in the administration and those in the arms-control community who advocated for the administration’s “diplomatic accomplishment” continue to be enthusiastic about a deal that was only partially followed by the other side? Their support stems from a belief that arms control is a worthy end in itself, rather than a potential means to achieve peace or mitigate the effects of an enemy’s aggression. And it reveals an unrealistic devotion to diplomacy absent the credible threat of military force.


But, as history shows, this kind of dogged devotion to the “give peace a chance” slogan often leads to war and human suffering. Assad’s willingness to flout the Obama-Putin deal certainly demonstrates this in our day. To be sure: Restraining the employment of chemical weapons is a worthy endeavor. Chemical weapons, like nuclear weapons, are strategic in nature. Chemical warfare in the First World War led to renewed, immediate efforts to restrain their use even though they killed far fewer people than conventional arms, as is the case in the contemporary Syrian war. But there is more to war than body counts. There is a psychological side to war — a moral side to war, and chemical weapons fall outside the norms of what the most battle-hardened soldiers from civilized nations are willing to accept.


Chemical weapons cause long, agonizing deaths and, for those who survive them, a life of suffering. Chemical clouds, sometimes a ghoulish color, although often invisible, sweep silently, secretly, and indiscriminately across enemy lines . . . and across homes and schoolyards and hospitals filled with hapless noncombatants: the elderly, women, and children. Death for the victim is often preceded by seizures, foaming at mouth, and other disturbing effects that traumatize the witnessing loved ones. They are, by their very nature, weapons of terror. The United States should not — cannot — permit their use, lest they become a normalized and conventional weapon of war. And to the Trump administration’s great credit, the United States demonstrated what we can and should do if they are used. Just as verification is a necessary condition to a useful arms-control deal, so is enforcement. For just as President Obama said in his famous 2009 disarmament speech in Prague: “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” Obama proved unwilling to enforce this sentiment, but his successor certainly seems willing.


The U.S. military strike against Syria’s Shayrat Airfield in response to Assad’s most recent chemical-weapons attack was carefully planned, limited in its military objective, and brilliantly executed. It seems to have achieved its desired tactical and strategic outcomes. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, the attack “severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.” It also communicated to Syria and every other nation in possession of chemical weapons that the United States has the ability and the will to make it known that any use of chemical weapons is not worth the cost.


Assad and those like him certainly don’t care about “international norms” let alone notions of what civilized nations deem inherently immoral. But they do care that the world not see them as weak, and they care about their own survival. They do care if we embarrass them by showcasing their weakness, and if we threaten their survival by using force. And the more credible the U.S. threat of force is, the less we will have to use it.                                                            




A STRIKE IN SYRIA RESTORES OUR CREDIBILITY IN THE WORLD                                                                  

Tom Cotton                                                                                                                    

New York Times, Apr. 8, 2017


After President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again attacked his own citizens with poison gas, the civilized world recoiled in horror at images of children writhing in pain and suffocating to death. President Trump voiced this justified outrage at a news conference on Wednesday, and the next day he took swift, decisive action against the outlaw Assad regime. But these strikes did more than simply punish Mr. Assad and deter future attacks; they have gone a long way to restoring our badly damaged credibility in the world.


It’s hard to overstate just how low the standing of the United States had fallen because of President Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” against Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013. I was one of the few Republican members of Congress who supported strikes against Syria then. Because of that, I’ve heard from dozens of world leaders expressing their doubts about the security commitments of the United States. These doubts originated from surprising places. Of course our longtime Arab allies expressed their misgivings. Yet European and even Asian leaders have privately wondered to me whether the red-line fiasco called into question America’s security alliances in their regions. While far removed from the Middle East, they still depend on the United States and the threat of force to defend our mutual interests.


It wasn’t only Mr. Obama’s refusal to act in the moment that undermined our credibility. The fig leaf to justify inaction was an agreement with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, which Russia and Syria plainly violated from the outset. Yet Obama administration officials continued to celebrate it as a triumph. It’s also worth remembering that Mr. Obama backed down partly because he so badly wanted a nuclear deal with Mr. Assad’s patron, Iran. But his weakness in Syria only emboldened Iran, ultimately producing a worse deal while encouraging Iran’s campaign of imperial aggression in the region, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.


In one night, President Trump turned the tables. He showed the world that when the United States issues a warning, it will back up its words with action. There was no hand-wringing, no straw-man choice between doing nothing and launching a massive ground invasion, no dithering for consultations with others who do not have the power to act. The American president voiced his disapproval, conducted an orderly and secret process at the National Security Council, and then delivered a retaliatory strike many years overdue.


The world now sees that President Trump does not share his predecessor’s reluctance to use force. And that’s why nations across the world have rallied to our side, while Russia and Iran are among the few to have condemned the attack. The threat of the use of force — and its actual use when necessary — is an essential foundation for effective diplomacy. Mr. Obama’s lack of credibility is one reason the United States watched in isolation as Russia and Iran took the lead at recent Syrian peace conferences. It’s also why Iran got the better of us in the nuclear negotiations and North Korea has defied us for years.


With our credibility restored, the United States can get back on offense around the world. In Syria, Mr. Assad knows that we have many more Tomahawk missiles than he has airfields. So do his supporters in Moscow and Tehran. Further, leaders in Iran must now question the risks of being put “on notice” earlier this year by President Trump. After all, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo are noted Iran hawks. If they recommended decisive action in Syria, the ayatollahs have to wonder if they may be next…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





On Topic Links


Iran's Ambitions in the Levant: Ehud Yaari, Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2017 —In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the administration of President Donald Trump is currently “reviewing ways to confront challenges posed by Iran.” This most likely means looking for ways in which to curb Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East.

How Iran Enables Syria’s Chemical Warfare Against Civilians: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 17, 2017—The 59 Tomahawk missiles the US fired at the Shayrat Air Base served to punish dictator Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons against civilians. The strikes on April 6 also helped shine a spotlight on Iran’s role in Assad’s repeated use of nerve agents, because the mullahs’ Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were at Shayrat.

The Syrian Sarin Attacks of August 2013 and April 2017: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Apr. 26, 2017—Although the accumulating evidence is not yet formally conclusive, it appears that chemical weapons (CW) containing the sarin nerve agent were employed by the Syrian regime’s air force against Khan Shaykhun during the massacre of April 4.

Will Jordan Confront IS in Southern Syria?: Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor, Apr. 18, 2017—Jordan could be preparing for joint military operations with US and British special forces against Islamic State (IS) militants in southern Syria following King Abdullah’s meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on April 5. The talks dealt with a number of issues but centered on the US-led fight against the terrorist group, the creation of safe zones in Syria and Jordan’s role in both. In his interview with The Washington Post the same day, the king alluded to Jordan’s readiness to deal with threats to the kingdom’s northern borders, saying that “non-state actors from outside coming toward our border are not going to be tolerated.”

















Syria – the Beginning of the End?: Sarit Zehavi, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2017— In the past two months, several things happened in Syria that oblige us to examine the question of where this five-year civil war is going.

Pitting Russia Against Iran in Syria? Get Over It: Frederick W. Kagan, Fox News, Feb. 15, 2017— Faced with the Syrian debacle, Trump administration officials, among others, claim that the U.S. can exploit the weakness of the growing strategic coalition between Russia and Iran…

Trump’s Bid to Keep Syrian Refugees Safe — at Home: Benny Avni, New York Post, Feb. 8, 2017— President Trump’s refugee restrictions dominated days’ worth of news cycles, but it’s only half of his approach to Syria.

Syrian Refugees Are the New Jews. So Who Are the Nazis?: Lee Smith, Tablet, Feb. 2, 2017— For the last week, protestors have been filling American airports from JFK to LAX…


On Topic Links


Iraq Takes the Fight Against ISIS to Syria: Ben Kesling, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2017

The Fall of Aleppo: Fabrice Balanche, Middle East Forum, Feb. 7, 2017

A Journey Through Assad's Syria: Fritz Schaap, Spiegel, Feb. 20, 2017

Syria and the Failure of the Multicultural American Left: Yoav Fromer, Tablet, Feb. 12, 2017



                                                Sarit Zehavi                            

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2017


In the past two months, several things happened in Syria that oblige us to examine the question of where this five-year civil war is going. Namely the fall of Aleppo, followed by the cease-fire declaration and the peace talks in Astana. Seemingly, the talks are just another failed attempt at halting the fighting while the regime and the Russians continue to attack areas and organization that have signed on to the cease-fire. Despite this, why is it that we are now able to point to a changing trend in contrast with the previous cease-fires that were signed?…


Much has been written on the numerous deaths that have resulted from Russian and Syrian bombing. Aleppo was the symbol of this carnage. But very little has been written about the implications of the convoys of buses that evacuated the rebels and their families from the city and the resulting demographic and geopolitical ramifications. The fall of Aleppo symbolizes Syrian President Bashar Assad’s victory. This was the largest city in Syria, with some 2.5 million inhabitants prior to the civil war. Aleppo possesses a history and heritage dating back thousands of years; it is in fact one of the world’s most ancient cities.


Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was considered to be the commercial center for the region lying between Mesopotamia in northern Iraq and the Mediterranean. However the city descended from its high position over the past several decades, mainly due to the development of alternative commercial routes as Damascus evolved into the capital of the A-Sham (Levant) region.


Aleppo residents were primarily Sunni, while the city also had a Christian quarter. The city’s demographics reflect a process that all of Syria underwent prior to the civil war. The Sunni population has grown significantly over the years. However, this sizable population lived in poverty and oppression. This is in contrast with only a moderate increase in the population of the minorities. Thus, the Sunnis became an absolute majority in the country, and therefore endangered the coalition of minorities headed by the dictatorship of the Alawite Assad family.


As in many cases of revolutions in history, the phenomenon of people taking to the streets is linked with socioeconomic conditions among others; often, this serves as fertile ground for the sprouting of ideological, religious and other conflicts. In mostly Sunni Aleppo, with the city’s magnificent history etched in the DNA of its residents, the poor neighborhoods rebelled, while the revolutionary movements were much less successful in the rich neighborhoods.


After a sustained siege of the city’s rebel- controlled quarters and virtually indiscriminate killing of citizens, the largest human evacuation of the Syrian war took place in Aleppo. In an interview with Fatma, the mother of Bana, a seven-year-old girl who last year told the entire world of the happenings in Aleppo via Twitter, she said: “I left my soul there, they make us leave our country. I don’t want to be like a refugee in other countries.” From Fatma’s words it appears that she doesn’t envision the possibility of returning to Aleppo in the foreseeable future. The evacuation of Aleppo residents, under UN protection, is not really aimed at saving their lives; rather, it is aimed at vacating the city of its Sunni rebel residents and bringing about a change in its demographic composition.


A website identified with the Syrian opposition’s Southern Front (Al-Jabha al-Janoubiya) aptly described it this way: “Control of this historic and important city…has been taken by Iran, the Persian state, together with the Assad regime. This conquest is of a totally clannish hue.” Even if it is not entirely clear how many Sunnis remain in Aleppo, the tour of the city’s streets by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Suleimani after the city’s fall only strengthens this perception. This method was also used in other areas of Syria prior to the fall of Aleppo. However, it was particularly effective after the city’s collapse because Aleppo has become a model. That being the case, the war in Syria has not ended with the fall of Aleppo as there are highly active pockets of resistance in the large cities.


However, the fall of the city enables the regime to fulfill its goal in a far more methodical and easy manner – to bring about a demographic change in Syria and create a 50-100 km. wide “strip” in western Syria, from north to south. The strip comprises the large cities, which would have a less than 50% Sunni minority facing a coalition of minorities headed by Shi’ites of different varieties. Thus, for example, Shi’ites were settled in villages along the Syria-Lebanon border from which Sunnis were expelled/evacuated in order to create a Shi’ite continuity between the Lebanese Bekaa Valley and Shi’ite villages on the Syrian side of the border. Several Arab sources have coined the term “La Syria Utile” for this policy, taken from the term used by the French Mandate following the First World War.


In his speech of July 2015, prior to Russia’s intervention in the fighting, President Assad stated: “The Syrian army must withdraw from certain areas in order to protect other, more important areas.” Then, Assad was ready to temporally forgo Aleppo as part of this policy to ensure his control in western Syria, however Russian intervention two months later allowed him to expand the boundaries of his ethnic cleansing and include Aleppo…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Frederick W. Kagan

Fox News, Feb. 15, 2017


Faced with the Syrian debacle, Trump administration officials, among others, claim that the U.S. can exploit the weakness of the growing strategic coalition between Russia and Iran, ultimately using Russia to contain Iran in Syria and throughout the Middle East. The Obama administration had this idea too, and it remains wrong. Circumstances could arise that might split the partners, but American outreach to Moscow won’t do it. A bigger question for the U.S. right now is whether we can prevent other nations vital to our interests from shifting toward the new Russian-Iranian orbit.


There are reasons why the Russia-vs-Iran fantasy is attractive. Historical tension between Iran and Russia is real, and neither state knows how to be a good ally. Russia sees itself as a superpower and disdains to treat other states as equals. Iran sees itself as the natural hegemon of the Middle East and leader of the vast Shi’a Muslim denomination. Marginalization and persecution of Shi’as over the centuries makes it hard for the Islamic Republic to trust outside powers. Tehran also has had tensions with Russia over Caspian Sea resources and oil.


Thinking too much about these historical disagreements, however, obscures the deep commonality of aims shared by Moscow and Tehran–driving the U.S. from the Middle East being the chief of these common goals. Iran’s leaders constantly assert that the Middle East should be free of the influence of outside powers. They never point that argument at Russia or China, but rather at the U.S., Britain, and their allies. Russia’s leaders and doctrines assert that the U.S. must abandon its position as a global power and yield to a multipolar world order in which Russia is its equal.


Russia and Iran also share allies and goals around their periphery. Both back Armenia over Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. Russia has kept a military base in Armenia since the end of the Cold War, while Iran fears that Azerbaijan could attempt to stir up separatism within Iran’s large Azeri population. Both seek stability in Afghanistan and prefer to work with local Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras rather than Pashtuns. Both have, however, worked with, and even supported, Taliban factions when it suited them.


Only extreme circumstances will split the Russo-Iranian coalition in Syria—if the Assad regime faces defeat, or the pro-regime coalition succeeds enough that it can move on to consider its next goals. Neither is likely. Vladimir Putin would give up on Bashar al Assad long before Ayatollah Khamenei would, but right now Putin needs an Alawite government like Assad’s to let him keep his new military base on the Mediterranean. Ayatollah Khamenei needs the Assad regime to give the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force and its Hezbollah allies a secure rear-area from which to confront Israel. Russia needs Iran in Syria at least as badly as Iran needs Russia.


The Assad regime and army are kept alive artificially by tens of thousands of Iranian, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’a militia, and Afghan and Pakistani militia troops, all provided, paid for and commanded by Iranians. The Russians neither can, nor would, replace these forces with their own. If the Russians agreed to drive the Iranians from Syria, the Assad regime and Russia’s position would collapse. Russian and Iranian aims in the region diverge significantly on two points. The Islamic Republic is committed to destroying Israel and containing or collapsing Saudi power. Moscow shares neither goal. But Moscow has done nothing to protest or contain Iran’s harassment of Israel using Hezbollah and Hamas.


The Russians have also reached out to the Saudis and Gulf states to mitigate damage their support for Iran has done to their position in the region. Moscow would prefer a Sunni power to balance Iran, where Tehran prefers unquestioned hegemony. There is some surprising overlap even in this divergent effort, however. Egypt is drifting away from the Saudi bloc and toward Moscow and even Tehran. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi voted for Russian initiatives in Syria at the U.N. and even sent a small number of Egyptian troops to Syria on behalf of the Russo-Iranian coalition.


The Iranians have no quarrel with Sisi, and have never directed against him the kind of vitriol they reserve for the Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies. Russia and Iran may, in fact, come to see Cairo as a mutually acceptable contender for leadership of the Sunni Arabs in the region at the expense of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. This would be a formidable new challenge to American strategy and statecraft. American policy-makers must get past facile statements about the supposed limits of Russian and Iranian cooperation and back to the serious business of furthering our own interests in a tumultuous region. The Russo-Iranian coalition will no doubt eventually fracture, as most interest-based coalitions ultimately do. Conditions in the Middle East and the world, however, offer no prospect of such a development any time soon.





Benny Avni

New York Post, Feb. 8, 2017


President Trump’s refugee restrictions dominated days’ worth of news cycles, but it’s only half of his approach to Syria. The other half is designed to keep Syrians from becoming refugees in the first place. The idea of creating “safe zones” in Syria was high on the agenda Wednesday when Trump spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish sources tell me the two leaders didn’t get into details, but CIA Director Mike Pompeo will visit Turkey on Thursday to try to flesh it out.


Trump vowed back in November to build “a big beautiful safe zone,” where, he said, Syrian refugees will “have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier.” And in his first week at the White House, he once again promised to “absolutely do safe zones in Syria.” That’s where Erdogan comes in. He’s long advocated carving out an area in Syria where refugees can feel safe under Turkish protection and stem the tide of migrants into neighboring Turkey and on to continental Europe.


But President Obama shot the idea down. He was wary of any serious American involvement in the Syrian crisis, and, just as importantly, he had soured on Erdogan by the time the idea was broached. That was a big change from early in his presidency, when Obama consulted Erdogan more than any other regional leader and cited Turkey as proof that democracy can flourish under an Islamist ruler.


Erdogan liked to brag about Turkey’s foreign-policy doctrine of “no problems” with its neighbors, but even Obama eventually woke up to the reality that Turkey was in fact at war with each of its neighbors — and that Erdogan methodically suffocated Turkey’s democracy. Erdogan, meanwhile, was angry with Obama for supporting the YPG, a Kurdish faction that became our only fighting ally in Syria. (Turkey considers it a terrorist organization.)


For better or worse, Trump’s leadership style prioritizes transactional realism over America’s traditional moralism. As such, he might have more patience with authoritarians like Erdogan. Erdogan is also working with Vladimir Putin on Syria because, with Iran, Russia is the most powerful foreign actor in the conflict. And Putin doesn’t necessarily oppose creating humanitarian safe zones. And why not? Half of Syria’s population is homeless. Its neighbors — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — carry most of the burden of handling the refugees.


And they’re exhausted. Europe is facing a populist backlash against its permissive refugee resettlement. Same here, though Obama took in just a minuscule number of Syrians to begin with. Hence, despite the obvious challenges in getting under control a bloody civil war that has so far killed a half-million, keeping Syrians in Syria is starting to look like it’s worth the effort. With nearly 2 million Syrians in camps inside Turkey, Erdogan would love to move them back into Turkish-controlled areas inside Syria. Meanwhile, Trump could answer critics of his immigration ban: Safe zones, he’ll argue, will alleviate the humanitarian crisis better than taking in asylum seekers.


The catch: Moscow, always fearing an American occupation and US military “mission creep,” won’t bless any of this before seeing the details. Ah, the details. “We have in history different examples of safe zones, and some of them were tragic,” new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently. Specifically, the United Nations is traumatized by Srebrenica, a supposedly “safe” zone in Bosnia, where in one 1995 week, 8,000 Muslims were massacred as UN guards helplessly watched. Would anyone have better luck in similarly bloody Syria? Can any zone, no matter how well guarded, be completely safe? Also, occupying a slice of Syria could turn expensive and bloody. Trump indicated that Gulf states would finance the project. Turkey, which already occupies parts of northern Syria, would shoulder most of the military burden. But America would still need to take a larger military and diplomatic role, which was more than Obama was willing to do.


Done right, safe zones could ease one of the biggest challenges the Syrian war presents to the West. Yes, it’s a complex operation, but not necessarily undoable. Question is, can Trump (or more likely Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis and the rest of the team) work out the details? Because, good or bad, no idea will succeed unless it’s well-planned and well-executed. For that to happen, the chaotic early days of the Trump presidency will have to give way to competence and order — and soon.





Lee Smith

Tablet, Feb. 2, 2017


For the last week, protestors have been filling American airports from JFK to LAX, demonstrating against President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban”—the executive order that in fact suspends for 90 days the issuance of visas to seven countries that are either major state sponsors of terror, or failed states without functioning governments where terror groups like ISIS, Al-Qaida, and their various off-shoots are flourishing. But the EO also suspends indefinitely the issuance of visas for Syrian refugees. And the opinion of protesters, as well as much of the press, is that Syrian refugees are like the Jews—fleeing genocide in search of safe shores: How can we have forgotten the past so completely that we deny entry to those whose suffering and want must serve as a reminder of our past failures to protect others, like the Jews that America so coldly turned away in the 1930s and 1940s?


In December, my Tablet colleague James Kirchick warned that “invoking the Holocaust for contemporary political debates is an inherently tricky business.” Nonetheless, it’s become the consensus take in the media, as seen with The Washington Post, Politico, Cokie Roberts on “Morning Joe,” and, of course, The New York Times, including a signature Nicholas Kristof column arguing that “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” Former President Barack Obama may have been among the first to make the comparison. In a December 2015 address to newly minted American citizens, Obama said: “In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.” Obama’s conviction that the suffering of Syrian refugees is directly similar to that of Europe’s Jews is perhaps why he appointed his former top lieutenant Ben Rhodes to the Holocaust Memorial Council, responsible for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Maybe Rhodes will ensure that the Museum commemorates the trials of the Syrian people, a people who suffered, as the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis, at the hands of…


Wait, at whose hands did the Syrian people suffer something like genocide? If they are like European Jews fleeing the Nazis, then who are the Nazis? In the various articles, statements, tweets, Facebook posts making explicit comparisons between Syrian refugees and Jewish refugees, no one, it seems, has bothered to identify the agents responsible for the murder, suffering, and dislocation of so many Syrians. So where are the Nazis? Who are they? It has to be Trump. Well, it is true that the new president has indefinitely suspended issuing visas to Syrian refugees, but the Nazis didn’t simply turn Jews away, they murdered them—and the analogy was popular well before Trump became President. Trump is rather more like FDR in this scenario, the American president who refused to provide sanctuary for victims of a genocidal regime.


So who has actually been exterminating Syrians—Syrian men, women, children and the elderly—as if they were insects, as the Nazis exterminated Jews? It is true that ISIS murders Christians and other minorities and has also killed members of its own Sunni sect, but the vast majority of those who have been murdered in Syria are Sunni Arabs. The Sunnis have been the target of a campaign of sectarian cleansing and slaughter since the earliest days of the nearly six-year-long Syrian conflict. The Sunnis therefore also make up the preponderance of those seeking refuge the world over, from Turkey and Lebanon, to Europe and North America.


At first, the Sunnis were fleeing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but Assad has become a relatively insignificant factor in the war. In this scenario, Assad is rather like Mussolini, a dictator in charge of incompetent and dwindling forces incapable of holding ground. The Alawite sect (around 11 precent of a country with a pre-war population of 22 million) that Assad depended on for his survival was too small to ensure his survival against the country’s Sunni majority, 74 percent of the population, 80 percent of which are Sunni Arab. Hence, Assad needed to mobilize his allies, especially the regime’s chief protector, the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Iran sent in its crack troops, the Quds Force, led by Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit. Also at Iran’s disposal was a large number of regional organizations, ranging from the elite Lebanese militia Hezbollah to less prestigious fighting outfits, like Iranian-backed paramilitary groups from Iraq, or ragtag bands of Shia fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan and trained by Iran. It was these groups, later joined by Russia, that hunted Sunni Arabs like animals and slaughtered them or sent them running for their lives. These are the Nazis. That’s who sent the Syrians running for their lives like Jews fleeing Hitler.


It is terrible that Syrian refugees are suffering. It is wrong that the Trump Administration has cruelly shut America’s doors on children who have known nothing in their short lives except to run from the jaws of a machine of death. But America’s shame is much, much worse than that. For in securing his chief foreign policy initiative, Barack Obama made billions of dollars and American diplomatic and military cover available to Iran, which it has used to wage a genocidal war against Syria’s Sunni Arab population.


Not only have we failed so far to protect today’s Jews by stopping today’s Nazis, the 44th president of the United States assisted them in their campaign of mass murder. That’s why when people liken Syrian refugees to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, no one dares to complete the analogy and identify today’s Nazis—it’s Iran. America’s shame is worse than anything that the protesters at airports imagine. Donald Trump is a latecomer who has arrived mid-way through the final act of a tragedy which has been unfolding for the past five years, and in which the US has been something more than an idle or disinterested bystander. The refugees are real, the genocide they are fleeing is real, and the Nazis are also real. What we have done is unspeakable.




On Topic Links


Iraq Takes the Fight Against ISIS to Syria: Ben Kesling, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2017—Iraq’s air force on Friday carried out its first-ever strikes against Islamic State in neighboring Syria, the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, marking a dramatic escalation in its effort to roll back the insurgency by pounding a sanctuary across the border.

The Fall of Aleppo: Fabrice Balanche, Middle East Forum, Feb. 7, 2017—The fall of Aleppo was a turning point in the Syrian civil war. In an impressive feat, the Russian-backed Syrian army dealt a crushing blow to the rebel forces, driving many of them to entertain a compromise with the Assad regime.

A Journey Through Assad's Syria: Fritz Schaap, Spiegel, Feb. 20, 2017—On an icy January evening in eastern Aleppo, a grotesque scene of destruction, five men are standing around a fire in a battered oil drum in a butcher's shop.

Syria and the Failure of the Multicultural American Left: Yoav Fromer, Tablet, Feb. 12, 2017—Among the countless heartbreaking images that came out of the earthly inferno of Aleppo, one remains particularly haunting: that of a grief-stricken mother cradling the lifeless body of her child emerging out of the rubble and raising her face to the heavens in a deafening cry of despair. The human tragedy in the war-ravaged Syrian city mercilessly bombarded by Russian jets operating in the service of Bashar Assad was so disturbing because it was so familiar.





Should Israel Maintain Its Policy of Non-Intervention in Syria?: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, Jan. 26, 2017— Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War.

Putin's Syria: Success Through Strength: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017— The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will.

Palestinians of Syria: A Year of Killings and Torture: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017— 2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians.

Obama’s View of Syria Threat Level Shaped Legacy of Caution: Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017— President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.


On Topic Links


Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017

Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017

New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017

Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017 




Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA, Jan. 26, 2017


Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War. The Commission not only censured Israel’s elite for its failure to discern the coming Egyptian and Syrian attack, due to a set of uncontested assumptions that proved totally false, but advocated the establishment of a variety of independent institutional sources of information to assure that such an event would not occur again.


That has proved easier said than done. Groupthink again seems to prevail over Israel’s position on Syria. All praise Israel’s current policy, which limits Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war to clearly defined red lines: to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah that threaten the balance of power, and to prevent the establishment of a Hezbollah/Iranian Revolutionary Guard military presence in southern Syria bordering the Israeli Golan Heights. Israel has acted forcefully to maintain both of these red lines.


But the balance of power between Syria and its ally Iran against their opponents has changed significantly since the Russian intervention in September 2015. The defeat of the rebels in Aleppo restored complete regime control over that city, the country’s largest and arguably richest city before the civil war. The regime has also made gains in the southern outskirts of Damascus. The Iranian-Hezbollah alliance in Lebanon has succeeded in placing its candidate in the presidential palace. Above all, ethnic cleansing is taking place in southern Syria bordering Israel’s Golan Heights, and in areas east of Damascus bordering Lebanon (where the Syrians and Hezbollah are driving out Sunnis and replacing them with Shiites from Iraq and Lebanon[i]). These are sufficient developments to seriously question the sagacity of Israel’s “hands-off” approach to Syria.


Syria, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, is creating the physical underpinnings of an imperial, Iran-dominated, Shiite-Alawite crescent extending from Tehran to Beirut to Syria’s south. This is to the detriment of Israel’s long-term strategic interests, as well as to the interests of moderate Sunni states such as Jordan. Recall that these gains supplement Iran’s success in securing the nuclear deal. It is also worthy of note that Saad al-Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s largest, mostly Sunni party and the fiercest opponent of Hezbollah and its allies in the political arena (an international court ruled that this alliance assassinated Saad’s father, Rafik, the prime minister of Lebanon, in 2004), felt compelled to support the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah-backed candidate. This demonstrates how Hariri, Israel’s silent partner, perceives the changing balance of power. He did it only out of fear.


Just as Hariri perceives the threat, so should Israel. Yet Israel’s security establishment, major politicians, journalists, and commentators are failing to take note of the strategic threat these developments collectively pose to Israel and the need to debate the existing strategy. The threat has far-reaching geo-strategic implications that transcend by far the “technical” perception of the Syrian civil war that pervades the Israeli establishment’s groupthink.


The question is, what should Israel’s strategy be towards Syria? The most important issue is to initiate a serious debate over Israeli objectives, which of course will have to take into consideration relations with Russia, a possible understanding between Presidents Trump and Putin over Syria, and even Turkish interests in the country. Still, the following objectives might be included:


Israel could publicly declare that the political future of Syria impinges on Israel’s security and therefore justifies a more proactive posture to assure an outcome favorable to Israeli interests. The major Israeli interest is to see a democratic regime in Syria. This means the removal of Assad and his supporters, who cannot possibly allow democracy to emerge in Syria. Announcing this objective must naturally take into account its possible repercussions in terms of Israeli-Russian relations. Israel could declare the position that if a democratic regime proves impossible, the Sunnis, after fifty years of oppression, deserve a state of their own in most of Syria. Israel should publicly state that it will cooperate with the Syrian opposition and the moderate Sunni Arab states to achieve either the second or third objective and will support the moderate rebel groups to thwart Assad’s ethnic cleansing.


It is important to note that Hariri acted as he did in part because the Sunnis in Syria and supporters of democracy from other sects, including the Alawites, are not getting nearly the backing the Assad regime is getting from its allies. Israel, a much more powerful state than it was in the past, should play a role in redressing this imbalance.


Israel cannot possibly be a king-maker after the US failure in Iraq or its own failure in Lebanon in 1982 to create a Maronite-dominated Lebanon. But that does not mean the Jewish State cannot work with Syrian forces towards creating a geo-strategic scenario in its favor in Syria. Just as doing too much can be costly, so can passivity prove dangerous. It is not in Israel’s interest to allow its major enemies to carve out the Syria they want. At the very least, a debate should take place over Israel’s present policies on Syria.




PUTIN'S SYRIA: SUCCESS THROUGH STRENGTH                                                                        

Prof. Eyal Zisser

Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017


The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will. Despite this, the talks are an important step in the right direction, and were inconceivable a few months ago. They are a meaningful diplomatic accomplishment, thanks entirely to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most powerful man in the Middle East today.


Putin's accomplishments demonstrate just how hollow and void of meaning the slogans and cliches are that have been repeated by many in Israel and around the world on the need to find a "fair mediator," one that will act to achieve a "just peace" as a condition necessary to achieving regional peace between Israel and its neighbors, first and foremost between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, the peace Putin is pushing in Syria is not a "just peace," but rather a peace of the powerful, completely based on force and interests. Apart from that, Putin is far from being a "fair mediator." He is a mediator with interests who took a clear stance on one side of the conflict, President Bashar Assad's side, and even joined the fight with him.


Regardless, Putin succeeded where the hypocritical international community failed. They preached, but did nothing for the civilian population or to advance the values of justice and morality. Indeed, the war in Syria would have continued in full force if things were up to Washington alone, to New York (where the U.N. General Assembly meets), or to Brussels (where the EU sits).


What is surprising is how over the past year Putin hit the Syrian rebel faction with all his might, killing thousands of their people and supporters. He flattened villages and towns mercilessly and sowed destruction and ruin that caused tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, of civilians to flee, whether they supported the rebels or were just caught in areas of conflict. And now the rebels are crawling on their bellies to kiss Putin's striking hand, or perhaps the soles of his shoes.


What is even more surprising is that the military presence Washington maintains across the Middle East — soldiers, planes and warships — is 10 times as big as the Russian military presence in Syria. The Russians only had to send several dozen planes and a small fleet of ships, and America's standing in the Middle East reached an unprecedented slump. Everyone ignores them, as U.S. President Donald Trump saw fit to bring to light. Putin, on the other hand, is respected and held in awe in the Middle East.


By the way, the other side of the coin is that Putin, unwavering in his method and interests, does not ascribe much importance to Assad, even though Putin sent Russian planes and soldiers to Syria to protect him. Assad was not even invited to talks in Moscow last month, where Russia agreed along with Turkey and Iran on a road map to end the fighting in Syria. Even in his partnerships with Iran and Turkey, Putin acts on the principle of divide and conquer, taking advantage of the animosity and competition between the two for his own interests and to raise the standing of Russia.


The lessons of Putin's successes — the military and of late also the diplomatic — are worthy of being learned and incorporated also in Israel. The key to success in our region is not eloquence, sweet talking, flattery or trying to appease the listener, but standing up for our interests resolutely and showing strength. Whoever wishes to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and maybe even achieve a breakthrough, should pay attention to these things. If U.S. President Donald Trump wants to push for a treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, he would do well to ignore those who call on him to distance himself from Israel and renege on his campaign promise of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. This is not the way to win the hearts of the Arabs, and not the way to promote peace and stability in our region.






Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017


2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians. It was tough not only for those Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority (PA) regime, or the Gaza Strip under Hamas. When Westerners hear about the "plight" and "suffering" of Palestinians, they instantly assume that the talk is about those living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Rarely does the international community hear about what is happening to Palestinians in the Arab countries. This lapse doubtless exists because the misery of Palestinians in the Arab countries is difficult to pin on Israel.


The international community and mainstream journalists only know of those Palestinians living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Of course, life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is no box of dates, although this inconvenient fact might be rather unpleasant to the ears of Western journalists and human rights organizations. In any event, mainstream media outlets seem to prefer turning a blind eye to the plight of Palestinians living in Arab countries. This evasion harms first and foremost the Palestinians themselves and allows Arab governments to continue their policies of persecution and repression.


The past few years have seen horror stories about the conditions of Palestinians in Syria. Where is the media attention for the Palestinians in this war-stricken country? Palestinians in Syria are being murdered, tortured, imprisoned and displaced. The West yawns.


Foreign journalists covering the Middle East swarm by the hundreds throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Yet they act as if Palestinians can only be found in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These journalists have no desire to go to Syria or other Arab countries to report about the mistreatment and trespasses perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. For these journalists, Arabs killing and torturing other Arabs is not news. But when Israeli policemen shoot and kill a Palestinian terrorist who rams his truck into a group of soldiers and kills and wounds them, Western reporters rush to visit his family's home to interview them and provide them with a platform to express their thoughts.


Palestinians living in Syria, however, are less fortunate. No one is asking how they feel about the devastation of their families, communities and lives. Especially not the hundreds of Middle East correspondents working in the region. "The year 2016 was full of all forms of killings, torture and displacement of Palestinians in Syria," according to recent reports published in a number of Arab media outlets. "The last year was hell for these Palestinians and its harsh consequences will not be erased for many years to come. During 2016, Palestinians in Syria were subjected to the cruelest forms of torture and deprivation at the hands armed gangs and the ruling Syrian regime. It is hard to find one Palestinian family in Syria that has not been affected."


According to the reports, Syrian authorities are withholding the bodies of more than 456 Palestinians who died under torture in prison. No one knows exactly where the bodies are being held or why the Syrian authorities are refusing to hand them over to the relatives. Even more disturbing are reports suggesting that Syrian authorities have been harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians. Testimonies collected by some Palestinians point to a Syrian government-linked gang that has been trading in the organs of the victims, who include women and children. Another 1,100 Palestinians have been languishing in Syrian prisons since the beginning of the war, more than five years ago. The Syrian authorities do not provide any statistics about the number of prisoners and detainees; nor do they allow human rights groups or the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and detention centers.


The most recent report about the plight of Palestinians in Syria states that 3,420 Palestinians (455 of them females) have been killed since the beginning of the war. The report, published by the Action Group For Palestinians of Syria, also reveals that nearly 80,000 Palestinians have fled to Europe, while 31,000 fled to Lebanon, 17,000 to Jordan, 6,000 to Egypt, 8,000 to Turkey and 1,000 to the Gaza Strip. The report also mentions that 190 Palestinians died as a result of malnutrition and lack of medical care because their refugee camps and villages are under siege by the Syrian army and armed groups.


Alarmed by the indifference of the international community to their plight, Palestinians in Syria have resorted to social media to be heard in the hope that decision-makers in the West or the UN Security Council, obsessed as they are with Israeli settlements, might pay attention to their suffering. The latest campaign on social media, entitled, "Where are the detainees?" refers to the unknown fate of those Palestinians who have gone missing after being taken into custody by Syrian authorities. The organizers of the campaign revealed that in the past few years, 54 Palestinian minors have died under torture in Syrian prisons. The organizers noted that hundreds of prisoners and detainees, after they were apprehended by the Syrian authorities, remain unaccounted for…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Carol E. Lee

Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017


President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. As he leaves, his adherence to that promise is muddying his foreign-policy legacy because of how he handled another Mideast crisis: Syria. For almost six of Mr. Obama’s eight years in the White House, the conflict in Syria has repeatedly evolved—and the president’s cautious decision-making has appeared one step behind.


Mr. Obama has emphasized the use of diplomacy first, coalition building and assisting local forces on the ground rather than deploying large numbers of U.S. troops. He aimed to avoid putting American troops in harm’s way in potentially open-ended conflicts when he didn’t see a direct threat to U.S. national security. That was his early assessment of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, and he has maintained it through his last day in office on Friday.


That view—that the conflict wasn’t a direct threat to U.S. national-security interests—led the Obama administration to a series of delays or rejections of policy prescriptions and led the president to repeatedly conclude that military intervention would put America on a trajectory toward another full-scale war in the Middle East. That view was also the impetus for Mr. Obama’s rejection of a recommendation early in the war from top national security advisers to train and arm rebels fighting the Assad regime. It dissuaded him from creating a no-fly zone in Syria as some of his advisers and U.S. allies repeatedly urged him to do. And it helped inform his decisions to seek congressional approval for military strikes in Syria after Mr. Assad crossed the U.S. president’s self-imposed “red line” by using chemical weapons, and—before Congress voted—to pull back from using force and agree to a Russian plan to remove most of the Syrian regime’s stockpile.


As Mr. Obama hands over a metastasized crisis to his successor, the question looms of whether Syria could have turned out differently. “There are a lot of people that bear responsibility for what happened, and I think the United States included,” said Leon Panetta, who served as Mr. Obama’s defense secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was one of the advisers pressing the president to arm the rebels early in the conflict. He pointed to whether Mr. Obama should have authorized a no-fly zone, aided opposition forces earlier in the conflict and enforced his red line with force in 2013. “That’s the lesson of these last three years: that ultimately the consequences of not taking action are going to represent a threat to our national security,” Mr. Panetta said.


Mr. Obama acknowledges that his Syria policy hasn’t been effective in resolving the conflict. But he also argues it has kept the U.S. out of another protracted conflict in the Middle East that would put tens of thousands of U.S. troops at risk and cost potentially billions more dollars. “Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that…it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap,” the president said at a news conference last month. As Mr. Obama adhered to his approach, Syria evolved from an internal civil war in 2011 to a breeding ground for the Islamic State terrorist group, the source of the largest migrant crisis since World War II and a shift in regional power structures with the increased military role of Russia.


As pressure from Republicans in Congress, U.S. allies in the Middle East and the Washington foreign-policy establishment mounted on Mr. Obama to take stronger military action, aides say the president would sum up his doctrine during meetings in four words: “Don’t do stupid shit.” Some see in his approach a steadfastness to support a principle. “It says a lot about his view that he never buckled to the pressure just to ‘do something,’ ” said Philip Gordon, who served as the president’s adviser on Middle East and North Africa in his second term. “That took a real amount of discipline on his part.”…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017—On January 12, eight days before the end of the Obama administration, a last-minute, “too late too little” move was taken in the form of sanctions against 18 Syrian individuals and one organization involved in the military use of chlorine against Syrian civilians in 2014-15. (Notably, more chlorine attacks were carried out by the Bashar Assad regime in 2016.)

Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017—Syria’s political fate comes down to a man, his extended family and his political entourage. When President Bashar Assad decided in March 2011 on a violently brutal response to peaceful protest, he separated himself from the interests of his citizenry. When he embarked on a survival strategy featuring mass homicide, he facilitated the rise of the Islamic State group as a political foil and created a humanitarian abomination that made Syria’s problems the problems of all its neighbors and western Europe.

New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017—With the emergence of Iranian hegemony from Afghanistan to Beirut, Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is watching not only threats from Gaza and Lebanon, but also other areas of potential instability, including locations that have been quiet for years; the Golan Heights and Jordan.

Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017—UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura praised the Russian-brokered Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which ended Jan. 24, as a “concrete step” toward implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Syria, commending Russia, Turkey and Iran for setting up a mechanism to ensure compliance with the cease-fire announced last month.








Eight Years of Obama’s Foreign Policy Disasters Recapped in Only Two Horrific Weeks: Editorial, National Post, Dec. 30, 2016— It is sad to see the foreign policy of the United States being carried out in such gasping, feeble whimpers.

Out with the Old, In With the New: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Jan. 16, 2017— One cannot help but admire the American public, which eight years ago elected Barack Obama as the country's first African-American president.

A Disaster He's Proud Of: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Jan. 16, 2017— The Obama chapter in American foreign policy ends like the climax of an action movie—with a fireball growing in the distance and filling the screen as a man in silhouette approaches in slow motion and then veers off camera.

The Ancient Foreign Policy: Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, Dec. 20, 2016 — For the last eight years, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and Susan Rice have sought to rewrite the traditional approach to foreign policy.


On Topic Links


In Final Remarks, Obama Says Chance for Two-State Solution Passing By: Eric Cortellessa, Times of Israel, Jan. 18, 2017

The American Epoch is Over. It Ended on Obama’s Watch: Terry Glavin, National Post, Jan. 18, 2017

Barack to the Future: Christopher Caldwell, Weekly Standard, Jan. 9, 2017

Obama’s Legacy is Crumbling Before Our Eyes: Derek Burney & Fen Osler Hampson, Globe & Mail, Jan. 7, 2017







National Post, Dec. 30, 2016


It is sad to see the foreign policy of the United States being carried out in such gasping, feeble whimpers. But it is no longer surprising. The last two weeks have been a microcosm of the failures of the last eight years. They will not soon be forgotten, or the damage quickly undone. First and foremost, of course, was the appalling decision of the United States — of President Barack Obama, let’s be clear — to not use America’s UN Security Council veto to strike down a heavy handed resolution levelled at Israel; more specifically, settlements it has established (and may expand) in portions of the disputed West Bank.


The settlements are undeniably controversial, nowhere more than in Israel itself. One can support Israel while questioning Israeli government’s settlement policies. But this resolution did more than just question the settlements. It called into question Israel’s right to control, after a future final peace agreement, even those sections of disputed territory that are by demography and history indisputably Jewish, including some of Judaism’s holiest sites. The resolution also attempted to do what generations of U.S. leaders have resisted doing — force an essentially bi-lateral process between Israel and the Palestinians into international fora that offer no solutions. Obama’s decision to permit the resolution to stand is an enormous black mark on the already shredded tatters of his foreign policy legacy.


It was also, incredibly, just the beginning of the Obama White House’s decision to unleash a parting salvo at a steadfast American ally. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry also unloaded on Israel, slamming the settlements, defending Obama’s lacklustre record of support for Israel, and asserting that friends must be honest with each other. Of course. But friends also need to carefully consider how and where such messages are delivered. Apparently in an attempt to show America’s continued goodwill toward Israel, despite his rhetorical assault, Sec. Kerry also announced that the White House was prepared to back a push for peace.


Really, Mr. Secretary? Is this a joke? Nothing says “committed to peace” like stabbing a friend in the back, while simultaneously proposing to launch a massive international process to address a generations-long impasse … with all of three weeks left in your term. This hardly rises to the level of token. But that is par for the course with the Obama administration. Russia threatening NATO’s eastern flank? Send a battalion and some tanks, while imposing a few sanctions. China gobbling up and militarizing territory in the Pacific without legal cause and despite pledges not to? Sail the odd warship past a newly built island fortress for a look-see. Syria devolving into a hellhole of civil war and sectarian slaughter? Send some equipment — nothing too lethal, of course, because that might be controversial — and try to train a few fighters (but don’t break a sweat).


And, obviously, when the Assad regime nerve gasses its own people in direct defiance of your own declared “red line,” well, just pretend you never said that and walk away, whistling a merry tune. The less said about the nuclear deal with Iran, which freed up billions in frozen Iranian assets and lifted sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s unverifiable promise to briefly not build nuclear weapons, the better.


We could go on but the point is made. From Israel, to Syria, to Russia, to Iraq and through to the Pacific, America’s allies and partners have been forced to re-evaluate how useful an ally the United States really is, while its enemies and opponents discover just how far America can be pushed. Even when America’s interests have been directly and clearly challenged, for example, by Russia’s recent cyber adventurism, the best the White House can muster is an appeal to “knock it off” and a belated, half-hearted round of sanctions and diplomatic expulsions that could be described, if one were in a generous mood, as mostly symbolic.


America remains a great country — the only country truly capable of leading the free world. But for the last eight years, its commander-in-chief has not had any interest in that job, preferring to “lead from behind” when he led at all, and more keen on pursuing futile resets with rival powers than working with allies in pursuit of common Western interests. The state of the world today is proof of the failure of those policies — and leaves Mr. Obama’s successor in a very deep hole he may not be equipped to easily escape.         



OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW                                                          

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror                                          

BESA, Jan. 16, 2017


One cannot help but admire the American public, which eight years ago elected Barack Obama as the country's first African-American president. The genuine elation and joy in the streets of New York City, where I was when he was sworn in, reflected the change American society had undergone.


Obama assumed office with a very solid worldview. He believed many of the challenges the US was facing globally stemmed from its forceful conduct and ability to impose its will on other nations. In his view, many of Washington's international failures stemmed from the fact that it had not tried to improve ties with its adversaries. This drove Obama to visit the Middle East – not including Israel – in 2009 and deliver his famous Cairo speech. He believed that addressing the people from the heart would be reciprocated. This was also the logic that drove his attempt to promote a new rapport with Russia.


Eight years later, it is hard to say the world has repaid Obama in kind. The world is not a better, more democratic place; nor does it favor the US in any way. This is especially true in the Middle East, but the sentiment is shared elsewhere as well. Moreover, the US rollback on its role in different regions has made its allies wary of their aggressive neighbors. This is so much the case that in some countries, there has been talk of replacing the dwindling American nuclear umbrella – by which the US, as a nuclear power, guarantees the protection of its non-nuclear allies – with independent atomic abilities. Should this become reality, it would spell a horrific nuclear race.


Obama is leaving behind a world far more dangerous than the one with which he was entrusted as leader of the most powerful country on earth – a title he managed to seriously compromise. As far as Israel-US relations go, the eight-year Obama administration has been complex. On the one hand, Israel had a sympathetic ear in Washington with regard to its security needs. The landmark $38 billion defense aid package signed with the US, and the fact that Israel, of all nations, was the first to receive the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet, speaks to the American commitment to the Jewish state's security for decades to come.


The relationship between the Israeli and American intelligence agencies continues to be excellent, a state of affairs that would not be possible without direction from the White House. Israel has also received vital US backing in the international arena more than once. Still, Washington and Jerusalem were at odds under Obama on four important issues. The first was nuclear nonproliferation. In 2010, the administration failed to keep its promise to Israel and gave in to Arab demands for supervision of Israel's alleged nuclear capabilities. This was done as part of the American effort to maintain consensus at that year's nuclear nonproliferation conference in Vienna.


The Americans may not have explicitly admitted that they broke a promise to Israel in this regard, but they understood that it was perceived that way by Israel and the world. Judging from the limited foreign reports on the issue, Israel's complaints were justified. The US ultimately took action to help Israel overcome the difficulties incurred as a result of that mistake, but that blatant breach of promise made a dent on the collective Israeli consciousness, even if its overall effect has dimmed.


The second issue is the settlement enterprise. The outgoing administration turned settlement construction in Judea and Samaria into the key issue with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was nothing short of an obsession, and the issue by which any progress would rise or fall. Washington refrained from pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in any way, even when he failed to agree to the 2014 US framework to reignite the talks. The US deemed Abbas too politically weak to be pressured, while any Israeli construction, in either Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem, was denounced as an obstacle to peace. The administration thereby lost an opportunity of possibly historic proportions to advance the peace talks, while the Israeli government – and a Likud government at that – was more willing than ever to promote it.


The dissonance in the administration's responses was so jarring that it eroded the effectiveness of US condemnation, as the majority of the Israeli public, and some around the world, began to perceive it as one-sided, unjust and unwise. Moreover, the way in which the Obama administration handled the issue of settlements made Abbas climb up a very tall tree. It will be hard for him to climb down from such a height toward future negotiations. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 denouncing the settlement enterprise, passed in the last month of Obama's presidency, has only made things worse, and is likely to stall negotiations even further. The outgoing president appears to have decided to hinder his successor as much as possible, even at the expense of an interest he allegedly wants to promote…


The third issue of discord between Jerusalem and Washington was the Iranian nuclear program. Some would say this disagreement culminated in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress in March 2015, perceived as an affront to Obama on his own turf. Truth be told, the crisis was of the administration's making. Contrary to how things are generally handled between allies, the White House made a conscious choice to deceive Israel and conceal the fact that it was holding intensive nuclear negotiations with Iran – an issue that has direct bearing on Israel's very existence. This move was especially jarring as it involved a dramatic shift in US policy, which resulted in a very bad deal. Even those who believe the deal is solid have a hard time justifying the winding road walked by the US administration to reach it – even more so when some top officials within the administration itself thought it was wrong to hide the talks from Israel…


The fourth issue at odds is the chaos in the Middle East. This was particularly evident after the 2011 ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, when the Obama administration favored the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi as the representative of authentic sentiments among the Egyptian people over the military's countercoup. Israel preferred Egypt not be ruled by the radical ideology propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood, even if the alternative was Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, who maintains an iron grip on Egypt as president. In this case, the lack of consensus between Washington and Jerusalem over the dangers of political Islam was at the heart of their dispute. The American approach is ideological, in that it refuses to recognize that radical Islam is an authentic side of Islam. The very phrase "Islamic terrorism" was stricken from the politically correct vocabulary employed by Washington during the Obama years…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                            






Lee Smith

Weekly Standard, Jan. 16, 2017


The Obama chapter in American foreign policy ends like the climax of an action movie—with a fireball growing in the distance and filling the screen as a man in silhouette approaches in slow motion and then veers off camera. Barack Obama has set the Middle East on fire, and now it's spreading. The Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran has emboldened the world's leading state sponsor of terror, which now makes war openly in four Arab states (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen) and is a growing threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia. The deal with Tehran that Obama boasts of as his signature foreign policy initiative guarantees, as the president himself acknowledged, that Iran will have an industrial-scale nuclear weapons program within 15 years.


After a 40-year absence from the Middle East, Russia has returned to the region, where it bombs Syria's schools and hospitals as America and Europe watch helplessly. Washington's traditional regional allies are scrambling to adjust to the new reality, which for the likes of Israel, Jordan, and Turkey means an opportunistic power on their borders that is allied with their existential enemies.


For Europe, the millions seeking refuge from the conflagration are agents of potential instability on the continent in the years to come; some in their midst are terrorists plain and simple. In just four years, or one presidential term, a civil uprising that started in Syria became a great Middle Eastern war over a host of sectarian, religious, and political hostilities dating back centuries. Critics and even admirers of the president say that Syria will be a stain on his record. But that's not how Obama sees it. The death and suffering of so many undoubtedly pains him, as he says. He says he wonders if he could have done anything else. Of course he could have, but he believed he had better reasons not to.


There is probably no other president in the post-World War II period who would not have committed significant resources to toppling Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, by 2013, all of Obama's national security cabinet advised him to support the rebels. They believed that the United States had, first, a stake in helping to end a humanitarian catastrophe and, no less important, a vital interest in preserving a 70-year-old order that the conflict threatened to undo.


America's Cold War strategy was relatively simple in outline: We would preserve stability on the European continent, contain Moscow, and protect the resource-rich Persian Gulf, which ensured the free flow of trade on which American prosperity depended. Obama disregarded those principles. Assad's war sent millions to a quickly overwhelmed Europe. Putin's gambit in Syria eliminated Israel's air superiority in the eastern Mediterranean and positioned Russia on NATO's southern border. Iran's harassment of the U.S. Navy in the Gulf signaled to the oil-producing Arab states that since the nuclear deal was more important to Obama than American prestige and the safety of American servicemen and women, they were on their own.


By normal bipartisan American standards, Obama's foreign policy record is disastrous. But that's not how he sees it. For Obama and his closest aides, the last seven years represent a revolution, a transformative period in American foreign policy engineered by a transformative figure.


Obama's foreign policy issued in part from his understanding of global realities but more from his interpretation of the American character. He believed that Americans tend to make a mess of things around the world. Obama is like a narrator in a Graham Greene novel; in our relations with the rest of humanity, as he sees it, we are 300 million naïfs abroad, whose intentions may be good but who lack the tragic sense that the rest of the world feels in its bones. Americans, until Obama came along, had been in the grip of a triumphalist fantasy—American exceptionalism—thinking there was nothing wrong with the world that couldn't be fixed by pointing our guns at it. A shoot-first America was especially dangerous in the conflict-prone Middle East, where everything looks like a nail to a nation that thinks it's a hammer. For Obama, it was vitally important to get the country he was elected to lead off of what he called a "perpetual war footing."…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                





Victor Davis Hanson

National Review, Dec. 20, 2016


For the last eight years, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and Susan Rice have sought to rewrite the traditional approach to foreign policy. In various ways, they have warned us about the dangers that a reactionary Trump presidency would pose, on the assumption that their new world order now operates more along the lines of an Ivy League conference than according to the machinations and self-interests of the dog-eat-dog Manhattan real-estate cosmos.


It would be nice if the international order had safe spaces, prohibitions against micro-aggressions, and trigger warnings that warn of hurtful speech, but is the world really one big Harvard or Stanford that runs on loud assertions of sensitivity, guilt, apologies, or even the cynical progressive pieties found in WikiLeaks?


The tempo abroad in the last eight years would suggest that the answer is no: half a million dead in Syria, over a million young Muslim men flooding into Europe, an Iraq in ruins (though Biden once bragged it would be the Obama administration’s “greatest achievement”), the Benghazi catastrophe, North Africa a wasteland and terrorist incubator, Israel and the Gulf states estranged from America, Iran empowered and soon to be nuclear, Russia hell-bent on humiliating the U.S., China quietly forming its own updated Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, an impoverished Cuba and much of Latin America gnawing the limp wrist of U.S. outreach, and the European Union gradually imploding.


Obama’s lead-from-behind foreign policy has becoming something like the seduction of an old house. Its wiring, plumbing, and foundation are shot, but the majestic structure, when given a thin coat of new paint by the seller, proudly goes on the market as “restored” — at least until the new buyer discovers that the Potemkin façade is about to collapse from lax maintenance and deliberate indifference. In other words, Obama’s periodic declamations, Nobel Prize, and adulation from a toady press are all veneers of shiny paint; the Middle East, Russia, China, Iran, and ISIS terrorism are the insidious frayed wiring, corroded pipes, and termites that are about to take down the entire structure from the inside out. Note that the unrepentant seller is always loudly petulant that the new owner, as he makes endless vital repairs, did not appreciate the paint job he inherited.


It was not always so. Ancient American foreign policy that got us from the ruin of World War II to the most prosperous age in the history of civilization was once guided by an appreciation of human nature’s constancy across time and space. Diplomacy hinged on seeing foreign leaders as roughly predictable — guided as much by Thucydidean emotions such as honor, fear, and perceived self-interest as by cold reason. In other words, sometimes nations did things that seemed to be stupid; in retrospect their actions looked irrational, but at the time, they served the needs of national honor or assuaged fears. Vladimir Putin, for example, in his effort to restore Russian power and regional hegemony, is guided by his desire to recapture the glories of the Soviet Union, not just its Stalinist authoritarianism or geographical expanse. He also seeks to restore the respect that long ago greeted Russian diplomats, generals, and leaders when sent abroad as proud emissaries of a world-class power.


In that context, talking down to a Putin serves no purpose other than to humiliate a proud leader whose guiding principle is that he will never allow himself to be publicly shamed. But Obama did exactly that when he scolded Putin to “cut it out” with the cyber attacks (as if, presto, Putin would follow his orders), and when he suggested that Putin’s tough-guy antics were sort of a macho shtick intended only to please Russians, and when he mocked a sullen Putin as a veritable class cut-up at photo-ops (as if the magisterial Obama had to discipline an unruly adolescent). Worse still, when such gratuitous humiliations are not backed by the presence of overwhelming power, deft statecraft, and national will, opportunists such as Putin are only emboldened to become irritants to the U.S. and its former so-called global order. We should not discount the idea that leaders become hostile as much out of spite as out of conflicting national interests.


Throughout history, it has not gone well for powerful leaders when they have been perceived as being both loudly sanctimonious and weak (read Demosthenes on Athenian reactions to Philip II), as if the nation’s strength enervates the leader rather than empowers his diplomacy. Worse still is when a leader aims to loudly project strength through rhetoric while quietly fearing to do so through ships and soldiers. Think again of Neville Chamberlain at Munich, who gave Hitler everything — including lectures on proper international behavior. Anthony Eden remarked at the time that British statesmen thought Hitler and Mussolini were like typical British elites with whom they could do business; the British diplomats mistakenly believed they could appeal to the dictators’ reason and common interests, and thus they were bound to be sorely disappointed. A man does not reach the pinnacle of Russian power only to nod agreeably when ordered to “cut it out.” And a thug such as Bashar al-Assad does not give up his lucrative family crime syndicate for the gallows because Obama flippantly announces to the world that “Assad must go.” The worst thing about Obama’s red-line threat to Syria was not just that Obama ignored it when it was crossed, but that he then denied he’d ever issued the threat in the first place…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


In Final Remarks, Obama Says Chance for Two-State Solution Passing By: Eric Cortellessa, Times of Israel, Jan. 18, 2017— In his final press conference as president, Barack Obama issued a stern warning to Israelis and Palestinians alike that the chances for a two-state solution could soon fade if serious changes are not made by both parties.

The American Epoch is Over. It Ended on Obama’s Watch: Terry Glavin, National Post, Jan. 18, 2017—“Yes, we can,” they chanted in unison. To hear Barack Obama speak, or just to catch a glimpse of him, roughly 200,000 people had turned out that day, July 24, 2008, filling the broad, tree-lined avenue of Strasse des 17 Juni in Berlin’s glorious Tiergarten Park. It was an audience three times the size of any crowd Obama had drawn back in the United States. The election was still months away.

Barack to the Future: Christopher Caldwell, Weekly Standard, Jan. 9, 2017—They are keening in the Bay Area. "Oh, America, what have we done?" wrote a San Bruno reader to the San Francisco Chronicle the week after November's election. "Many of us feel for President Obama, especially as we watch him gracefully support Donald Trump's transition, knowing Trump's priorities include destroying Obama's legacy."

Obama’s Legacy is Crumbling Before Our Eyes: Derek Burney & Fen Osler Hampson, Globe & Mail, Jan. 7, 2017—If words and erudition were the hallmarks of policy accomplishment, U.S. President Barack Obama would stand tall, but his legacy is crumbling even before he leaves the White House. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria observed, Mr. Obama is “an intensely charismatic politician, but he was not able to build a political base underneath him.” His considerable skills at oratory seldom transcended into an ability to deliver results or a coherent plan of action.












The F-35 is a Supercomputer in the Sky: Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, 18 Dec. 2016— To the joy of many in Israel’s defense establishment, Israel’s most advanced piece of weaponry, a pair of F-35 stealth fighter jets, landed in Nevatim Air Base late Monday after a six-hour delay.

Bombs or Missiles – Which Way Should the IDF Go?: Yossi Melman, Jerusalem Report, Jan. 12, 2017— The defeat of the opposition rebels and the recapturing of Aleppo have boosted the morale of the regime of Bashar Assad and his Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian allies.

Israeli Defense in the Age of Cyber War: Gil Baram, Middle East Quarterly, Winter, 2017— From the early days of statehood, technology occupied a prominent place in Israel's national security concept as it sought to establish a qualitative edge over its vastly more populated and better endowed Arab adversaries.

Israel Divided Over Conviction of Hebron IDF Shooter: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, Jan. 4, 2017 — The fall of Aleppo just weeks before Barack Obama leaves office is a fitting stamp on his Middle East policy of retreat and withdrawal.


On Topic Links


In Israeli Military, Guarded Optimism for 2017: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2016

Women, Faith and the IDF: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2017

The Keyboard Warriors of the IDF: Ami Rojkes Dombe, Israel Defense, Jan. 5, 2017

The IDF’s New Social Contract: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Jan. 10, 2017





Anna Ahronheim

Jerusalem Post, 18 Dec. 2017


To the joy of many in Israel’s defense establishment, Israel’s most advanced piece of weaponry, a pair of F-35 stealth fighter jets, landed in Nevatim Air Base late Monday after a six-hour delay. But the jet fighters, which had been grounded in Italy due to fog, are only the beginning, with Israel expecting to receive a total of 50, two full squadrons, by 2022.


“Israel never had a stealth fighter before the F-35; it is a huge jump and will be a huge challenge,” Brig.-Gen. (res.) Abraham Assael told The Jerusalem Post before the planes landed, adding that “it is a very interesting time for our air force,” as the F-35 “is more like a system than a plane, and it will take time to fully understand the system.” The plane, he said, “is an enigma,” and after years of development of the most expensive plane in history, the advanced jet will, according to senior Israeli officials, give Israel complete air superiority in the region for the next 40 years. Lt.- Col. Yotam, the squadron commander of the Adir, as the Israeli version of the F-35 is called, added that the Adir was purchased “in order to attack places that we are not always able to attack.”


The fifth-generation jet “is a quantum leap in relation to the combat aircraft we have today,” according to Yotam, designed to fly longer and faster than most fighter jets. Its extremely low radar signature allows it to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, evading advanced missile-defense systems like the Russian-made S-300s and S-400s deployed both in Syria and Iran. Those missile-defense systems pose an “obvious risk to Israel’s air force, and we cannot ignore their presence in the area,” Assael said.


But the need for the jet was also a subject of fierce debate in the government, where some wondered whether such an expensive jet was necessary, questioning whether Israel could have spent the $100 million plus per plane on hardware that could be more relevant to the current threats facing Israel. The next conflict that Israel will face against Hamas or Hezbollah is likely not going to be a full-fledged war, and the F-35 will likely not need to use its stealth technology to strike targets, unless Hezbollah gets its hands on Russian-provided S-300 or S-400 surface-to-air missiles in Syria, an unlikely scenario. But Hezbollah is Israel’s most dangerous enemy, known to have a massive arsenal of advanced weaponry, given to it by its Iranian patrons, and technological advances along with battlefield experience gained by the group in Syria.


Another terrorist group on Israel’s borders, Islamic State, continues to fight against Western air and ground forces relatively successfully, downing aircraft over Syria and Iraq. While Islamic State has been losing significant amounts of territory, its branch in the Sinai Peninsula is their strongest, having killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces, downed a Russian passenger plane, fired rockets toward Israel and released videos showing terrorists with man-portable air-defense systems.


But it’s not only terrorist groups that pose a threat to Israel. According to a senior IDF officer, the military buildup in the Middle East is a significant problem. “We see arms deals totaling $200 billion in weapons in the Middle East. We are a small country with a lot of strategic targets, and that is clear to everyone.” In addition to the S-300s and S-400s on Israel’s northern border, to the south, Egypt has signed a deal with France to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. The Saudis and Qataris have also bought the latest, most sophisticated F-15s, and Iran has expressed interest in purchasing Russian- made Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role fighter jets.


According to Yiftah Shapir of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, it was crucial for Israel to refurbish its fleet of aircraft, as the IAF currently relies on the F-15 Baz and F-16 Barak. Israel received the first F-15s in 1977 and the first F-16s in 1980, and the first squadron of F-15s are due to be pulled from service next year. “These planes have now flown for close to 40 years,” Shapir told the Post, and the IAF has chosen the F-35 to replace them. “If you think about our security, we are currently relying on an airplane that is 40 years old. And since we get foreign military aid from the United States, we cannot even think about buying planes from somewhere else.”


Because Israel buys its aircraft using the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Jerusalem and Washington, there was no option to consider buying cheaper jets from European countries, and the possibility of buying from Russia or China is out of the question. As Israel awaited the arrival of the jets, US President-elect Donald Trump said that he would completely reevaluate the costly aircraft program, once he takes office on January 20. Taking to Twitter, Trump said the cost of the Lockheed Martin program was too high and that billions would be saved once he takes office. “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20,” Trump posted.


And if Trump cuts the F-35 program, the cost of the plane would skyrocket, and so would Israel’s bill.


The F-35 is a controversial plane with an expensive price tag of close to $100m. per plane, delays and at least 27 serious safety failures as of the end of October 2015, including one where flaws in the plane’s coolant system led to the United States Air Force grounding the jet a mere two months after they were declared combat ready in August. Eight of the planes grounded by the USAF belong to Israel…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Yossi Melman

Jerusalem Report, Jan. 12, 2017


The defeat of the opposition rebels and the recapturing of Aleppo have boosted the morale of the regime of Bashar Assad and his Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian allies. Now they are contemplating their next move in Syria’s bloody civil war, which in March will mark its sixth year, having already resulted in over 450,000 dead, nearly one million wounded, and 10 million who have been uprooted from their homes. Assad’s victory in what used to be Syria’s largest city increases the chance of reducing the war to a manageable crisis, though all experts tend to believe that the rebels, especially the Islamist groups, are not going to lay down their arms and thus the war is far from over.


Israel is already very concerned about the emerging reality on its northern border. The worries derive from two related aspects: one is the possibility that Assad’s army will try to regain control of the border region, which at the moment is predominantly under the control of various rebel groups. Of even greater concern to the IDF is that the new developments in Syria will allow Hezbollah to return its focus to the Lebanese arena.


The Shi’ite Lebanese movement has been diligently maintaining the cease-fire along the Lebanese-Israeli border for the past decade, since the war of 2006. It has done so for two reasons: first and foremost, the heavy blow it suffered at the hands of the IDF in that war. Despite the misplaced claims at the time that the war was an Israeli failure, its deterrence has continued to hold.


The second reason is Hezbollah’s preoccupation with the Syrian civil war, in which it has suffered heavy losses – some 1,700 combatants killed and a further 6,000 wounded. This is a heavy toll for an army of 40,000 (the Israeli military considers Hezbollah an army for all intents and purposes, and no longer just a militia or a terrorist organization). It means that nearly 20 percent of Hezbollah troops were disabled in the war. On the other hand, Hezbollah gained valuable military experience and practice, as well as improving its capabilities and preparedness for a future battle with Israel.


Not that another round between Israel and Hezbollah is expected soon. Israeli intelligence believes that Hezbollah is not ready yet, and as a matter of policy is not interested in renewing hostilities in the foreseeable future. Not to mention that a decision to start a new war with Israel will be made primarily in Tehran. Hezbollah, as perceived by Iran, is basically an extension of Iranian power, an advanced post on the Mediterranean shores and a constant threat against Israel.


Nevertheless, the IDF continues to prepare for a future conflict in Lebanon. The biggest threat facing Israel is Hezbollah’s huge arsenal of rockets and missiles of all sorts and ranges. This arsenal is estimated to number between 80,000 and 100,000 rockets, most of which is made up of shortrange rockets of up to 40 kilometers. But Hezbollah also has a substantial number (more than 1,000) of long-range missiles that can reach up to 300 kilometers with heavy loads – warheads of 200 to 300 kilograms. Even worse, from the Israeli perspective, is the tremendous effort by Iranian and Hezbollah experts to improve the accuracy of the missiles. Israeli intelligence already knows that most of Israel’s strategic sites – including the nuclear reactor in Dimona, power stations, airports, water plants, as well as IDF bases including IAF air fields and emergency depots – are covered by these missiles.


Against this background, an important and interesting debate is taking place among the top echelon of the IDF and the Defense Ministry. At its center is the question whether to increase the number of IDF rockets and missiles as a response to the expected future scenario of a war with Hezbollah. The debate is primarily a matter of operational considerations, but it also has a financial dimension. The debate emerges more than six months after new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman took office. Liberman is trying to make his imprint on Israel’s defense doctrine and the IDF’s operational plans. The new debate can be defined in short: “Bombs or rockets and ground missiles.”


Liberman knows that the next war with Hezbollah will be very tough, especially in the north. According to IDF war scenarios, the north – roughly defined as an area within the range of 40-60 kilometers from the border – will be heavily hit by thousands of rockets. The IDF estimates that in the first five days of the war a daily average of 1,000 rockets and missiles will be fired against Israel. They will kill dozens, if not hundreds, of people, cause heavy damage to property, and rural communities are expected to be evacuated.


Among the targets likely to be hit are IDF bases and, in particular, air force bases. Under such a heavy bombardment, the Israel Air Force may face operational limitations. In that event, less IAF sorties mean less bombs and less firepower to be directed at Hezbollah. Therefore, Liberman believes that the IDF has to diversify the range of measures at its disposal in order to punish the enemy and inflict on it the necessary firepower.


For such a purpose today, the main, if not only, meaningful arm for both strategic and tactical aims available to the IDF is the air force. But a senior Israeli security official has told The Jerusalem Report that under heavy rocket fire, the air force may not be sufficient to empower the IDF with the requisite operational freedom and maneuverability. The official adds that the IDF needs to increase its arsenal of mid-range rockets and missiles – up to 200 kilometers. The proposal advanced by the senior official is that in the coming years, the IDF will purchase hundreds of such rockets which are capable of carrying warheads of 200-250 kilograms of explosives.


Both Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have already produced families of rockets and missiles, which are mainly for export to foreign armies. Firing them against Hezbollah concentrations can be a proportional and suitable response to the expected launching of rockets and missiles against Israel, and can fill in the gap, which may be created if IAF will face its limitations.


Extended and impressive firepower doesn’t have only military implications but also psychologically on the civilian population, as Israel itself witnessed in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. Not only was the Israeli public taken by surprise but also the defense establishment, when at around 2 a.m. on January 18 Tel Aviv and Haifa were hit by a salvo of Iraqi Scud missiles. It was the first time the Israeli home front had become a war zone since the 1948 War of Independence…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




ISRAELI DEFENSE IN THE AGE OF CYBER WAR                                                                           

Gil Baram                                                                                                              

Middle East Quarterly, Winter, 2017


From the early days of statehood, technology occupied a prominent place in Israel's national security concept as it sought to establish a qualitative edge over its vastly more populated and better endowed Arab adversaries. In the past few years, a new technological challenge, that of cyber warfare, has grown to the point of becoming among the most critical threats to Israel's vital infrastructures in both the civil and the military-security sectors. Energy, water, communications and traffic networks, and an economy that relies heavily on computers must be viewed as being at risk. To respond to the new, evolving threats, Jerusalem must revise certain aspects of its security concept so as to ensure cyber superiority as an inseparable part of its national defense capabilities.


Cyber warfare is commonly defined as "the actions by a nation-state or international organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation's computers or information networks through, for example, computer viruses or denial-of-service attacks." A virus or a worm is essentially a program, often self-replicating and usually destructive, loaded onto a computer without the user's knowledge or wishes. A denial-of-service attack is a disruption to a user's access to a computer network caused by malicious intent. Advanced cyber capabilities are an effective way to deter Israel's enemies. One such example was the "Stuxnet" virus, attributed to a U.S. and Israeli operation, in which the functioning of centrifuges belonging to Iran's nuclear program was disrupted. Computers in other countries were also affected.


Countries conduct cyber-attacks mainly for political reasons to achieve strategic, economic, diplomatic, or military advantages by attacking military, government, or civil computer infrastructures. Cyber-attacks, like kinetic attacks, have a range of options—including denial of service attacks, vandalizing websites, espionage and information gathering, as well as attacks that can cause physical damage as did the Stuxnet worm that hit the Iranian centrifuges and was exposed in 2010.


The vast progress made in computer and information networks has created a new reality in which military communications infrastructures are often connected to their civilian counterparts. Both infrastructures are increasingly dependent on computers, and their protection is critical for both civilian and national security purposes. Once it was recognized that computers were weak points, cyber warfare technologies began to emerge, designed to attack an adversary's data assets and even cause significant physical damage remotely to systems without employing conventional or non-conventional weapons or sending soldiers into the battlefield. At the same time, security agencies and armed forces worldwide have been developing cyber defense capabilities to protect these vital infrastructures.


This dependence on cyber technologies is a global phenomenon and has put at risk national and public infrastructures that were once regarded as inaccessible and well-protected. Israel, which has been under threat since its inception, has needed to adapt its national security posture accordingly.


In the traditional Israeli approach to security, much effort is invested in intelligence, early warning, and deterrence so as to minimize the expenditure involved in maintaining a continuous state of alert. In this context, three problems that underlie every cyber-attack should be mentioned. The first is the problem of attribution, i.e., who ordered the attack and who launched it? The second is the difficulty in establishing the results of the attack and determining the extent of its success. The third problem is that of evidence: It is often difficult to determine whether the event under investigation occurred due to a technical failure or as a result of a cyber-attack.


The formulation of Israel's national security concept dates back to the pre-state era and continued to evolve in the face of the many threats that the nascent state had to address after its war of independence. Having concluded that the threat posed by its Arab adversaries was a given and persistent reality with which Israel was destined to contend in the foreseeable future, in October 1953, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion presented a document to the cabinet regarded ever since as Israel's official national security doctrine.


Peace was the ultimate strategic goal of Ben-Gurion's security concept. However, since peace was likely to remain elusive, he argued that the proposed security concept would at least make the Arab states accept the existence of a Jewish state, if only begrudgingly. Essentially, the Israel that Ben-Gurion envisioned strove to have long periods of quiet and to hold off military confrontations as much as possible. However, if the need arose, it had to win a quick victory because of its small size and limited human resources…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Ben Caspit

Al-Monitor, Jan. 4, 2017


The morning of Jan. 4 saw the end — for now at least — of an egregious incident, which sent shockwaves through the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the political system and Israeli society in general over the past 10 months. A military tribunal convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria of manslaughter for the killing of a Palestinian terrorist, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, after Sharif and another terrorist attacked an IDF post in Hebron on March


The entire incident was captured on film by volunteers from B’Tselem human rights organization and others on the scene. Azaria arrived several moments after the conclusion of the incident, when Sharif was already immobile and lying in a puddle of blood on the ground; he had been shot by an IDF soldier in order to prevent the attack. Azaria can be seen taking two steps forward, aiming his gun and shooting Sharif in the head at close range. One of the video clips went viral, resulting in an almost unprecedented blast of responses. The IDF spokesman, chief of staff and minister of defense were all quick to condemn the soldier’s actions, and the military police launched an investigation. Azaria claimed that he felt threatened by the wounded terrorist, and that he was worried he might have an explosive device. So he shot him.


Masses of Israelis came out in support of the soldier. A popular movement emerged in support of him, with the backing of right-wing politicians. The most prominent of these was Avigdor Liberman, who was then just a member of the opposition. The public spat has continued until now. This is the first time the Israeli public has turned against the IDF’s top brass en masse, condemning even Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who was, until then, a sacrosanct figure in Israeli society.


The social and moral extremes of Israeli society came out against each other in full force. On one side were the “values of the IDF” (a term much used in Israel to demonstrate the high morals of its army), orders for opening fire (only when the target presents a danger for human lives) and the moral superiority that the IDF and Israel have prided themselves on for generations. On the opposing side were the uncompromising support of the people for its soldiers, the popular belief that “any terrorist who attacks Jews deserves to die” and the way that a growing sector of the Israeli public has come to demonize human rights organizations, the far left and various iterations of political correctness.


This conflict is also reminiscent of what happened in the recent election campaign in the United States, in which Donald Trump, a man driven by his most primal instincts, defeated the intellectually oriented Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In Israel, it was a conflict between gut and the head, and in the military court in Tel Aviv on Jan. 4 the head won — at least for now. The IDF can continue to take pride in its claim that it is “the most moral army in the world.” It is hard to imagine that many other armies would do the same as the IDF and try its soldiers for simply killing a terrorist who stabbed their friends a few minutes earlier. In many cases, incidents like this are whitewashed. In other cases, they end with some symbolic disciplinary hearing. This week, Azaria was convicted of manslaughter…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


In Israeli Military, Guarded Optimism for 2017: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2016—While war will continue to rage in much of the region writ large, Israeli military forecasts for 2017 are cautiously optimistic that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) may get through the year that began Sunday without having to wage major combat operations.

Women, Faith and the IDF: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2017—The rise in the number of religious male soldiers being drafted into the IDF threatens to clash with another significant trend: the increasing integration of females in all areas of IDF service, including in many combat roles. As The Jerusalem Post’s Military Correspondent Anna Ahronheim reported this week, there has been a steady rise in the number of women being drafted into combat units and more are expected to be integrated in coming years.

The Keyboard Warriors of the IDF: Ami Rojkes Dombe, Israel Defense, Jan. 5, 2017—Over the last few years, IDF have experienced a substantial technological revolution. Warfare has become network-based, combat operations have evolved into combined-arms operations and the offensive layouts of IDF have come to rely on cutting-edge technology in order to close their strike loops and 'incriminate' targets within a matter of seconds. This is complemented by the trend within IDF in the last two years toward independent (in-house) development and maintenance of computer systems based on open-source code.

The IDF’s New Social Contract: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Jan. 10, 2017—Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter Wednesday for shooting a terrorist in Hebron last March, is a symptom of what may be the most dangerous threat to Israeli society today. Azaria, a combat medic from the Kfir Brigade, arrived at the scene of an attack where two terrorists had just stabbed his comrades. One of the terrorists was killed, the other was wounded and lying on the ground, his knife less than a meter away from him.








Syrian Scenarios: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 6, 2017— The latest reports from Syria indicate that the cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in Syria is already in trouble.

How Iran Got Stuck in the Syria Quagmire: Heshmat Alavi, American Thinker, Jan. 7, 2017— Iran, known for its unbridled sectarian meddling in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, is currently facing an unwanted quagmire and dead-end in the Levant.

It's Time for Realism in Syria, President-Elect Donald Trump: Gregg Roman and Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, The Hill, Dec. 23, 2016— As investigators rush to connect the dots between the recent spate of tragic terrorist attacks…

Aleppo and American Decline: Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2016— The fall of Aleppo just weeks before Barack Obama leaves office is a fitting stamp on his Middle East policy of retreat and withdrawal.


On Topic Links


Israeli Foreign Ministry: Iran Played ‘Pivotal Role’ in Aleppo Offensive, Mass Executions and Humanitarian Crisis: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2016

After Mosul, Will Iraq’s Shiite Militias Head to Syria?: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Dec, 29, 2016

Syria Will Stain Obama’s Legacy Forever: David Greenberg, Foreign Policy, Dec. 29, 2016

The Sorrow and the Pity in Syria: Clifford D. May, Washington Times, Dec. 20, 2016




Jonathan Spyer                                                                                                  

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 6, 2017


The latest reports from Syria indicate that the cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in Syria is already in trouble. Fighting has continued in the Wadi Barada area northwest of Damascus, as regime forces and Hezbollah seek to pry the rebels out of this area. Clashes have also taken place in the southern Aleppo and Deraa areas. The shaky cease-fire places a question mark over whether the planned mid-January talks in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, between rebels and the regime will in fact take place.


More fundamentally, however, the direction of events in Syria raises a number of questions about the current diplomacy of the Syrian war, questions that have possible implications far beyond Syria itself. These relate primarily to the intentions of Russia in the Syrian conflict, and also to the stance that the new US administration will take after January 20.


Regarding Russia, the question is what Vladimir Putin is looking for in Syria – how do the Russians see the endgame? A cloud of misinformation and contradiction surrounds this point. There are, in effect, two possibilities. The first is that by preserving the existence of the Assad regime, safeguarding Russia’s naval assets in Tartus and Latakia, and showing the lethal efficacy of Russian air power, Putin now sees himself as having proved his point.


In this scenario, the recent cease-fire is intended as a prelude to a deal that will largely leave the current balance of forces in Syria in place on the ground. Give or take some final clearing out of rebel pockets close to Damascus and in the northwest, any agreement that follows the cease-fire would usher in a loose, federal arrangement for an essentially divided Syria, leaving Alawis, Sunni Arabs and Kurds with their own de facto entities.


Such an approach is quite imaginable. Putin’s behavior in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe indicates that he has no problem with ongoing, semi-frozen conflicts in which the Russian client is alive and on the board. Indeed, he appears to well understand the value of such situations as instruments for pressure on the hapless West, making himself an indispensable part of any discussion. Russian statements regarding an imminent reduction of forces in Syria and suggestions by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last February that Moscow might favor a federal solution in Syria are evidence in favor of this scenario. In the Syrian context, such an outcome would run entirely against the wishes of the other members of the pro-Russian alliance. The determined desire of the Assad regime, as expressed both by the dictator himself and by various mouthpieces of his in the Western media, is to reunite Syria under his own exclusive rule.


Iran clearly also wants all opponents of the regime destroyed – though Tehran differs from Assad in preferring a weak regime in which the independently controlled Iranian interest can continue to operate according to its desire. But these forces are too weak to achieve the goal of total victory without the involvement of Russian air power and special forces. So the Russians effectively have a veto on any such effort. This is why the Russian decision is crucial.


The second possibility is that the Russians have themselves adopted the goal of complete regime victory. If this is the case, the current diplomacy is merely chatter beneath which the effort at military conquest will continue, stage by stage. One way in which this might take place would be for ongoing efforts by the regime against the remains of the rebellion in Idlib and Deraa provinces. At the same time, the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces would be permitted to continue to grind down Islamic State in the east of the country. Once these processes are complete – that is, the rebellion and Islamic State are destroyed or pushed to the margins – Moscow would present the US and the West with the fait accompli of the defeated rebellion, and suggest that with the war against Islamic State now complete, coalition air power could be withdrawn.


Once that has taken place, the Kurdish dominated SDF would then be presented with the choice of cooperating with the regime and its allies or being destroyed by them. Vitaly Naumkin, a Russian expert on Syria who is regarded as close to the government, hinted at a Russian preference for the reunification of Syria under Assad in a statement this week. Naumkin told the pro-Putin Sputnik news agency that “Moscow has made some concessions to Ankara by reacting very gently to the de facto establishment of a buffer zone in the north of Syria. There was no harsh reaction from Russia, but it does not mean that Moscow… will accept that some part of Syria is occupied by a foreign state for a long time, regardless of which state it is.”


In the event that the first scenario accurately reflects reality, we are into the realm of deal-making which the US president-elect evidently favors, and there is a chance for the Syrian war to wind down, or at least decline sharply in intensity and significance. If the second scenario turns out to more accurately reflect Russian thinking and intentions, however, there is trouble ahead. A complete victory for the Assad/ Iranian side in the Syrian war, under Russian tutelage, would genuinely give rise to a new strategic dispensation in the region. It would leave the Iranians in control of a huge swath of contiguous territory, from the Iraq-Iran border to the Mediterranean, all made possible because of Russian patronage and in the face of a flailing, accommodating, retreating US.


In this scenario, there cannot be two winners, and there would be no deals to be made. The new US administration would have the choice of accommodating to the Russian/Iranian strategy, at the cost of US humiliation and growing irrelevance, or sharply resisting it. Either way, the implications would be grave: either the birth of a new, Iran-dominated dispensation in the northern Levant, or the chance of a face-off between major global powers.


Which choice a president Trump would choose in such a situation is impossible to know. The president-elect combines a conciliatory approach to Russia with a sharp desire to curb Iranian influence, and an isolationist streak with an apparently strong, instinctive, street-type knowledge that rolling over and then cleverly justifying it is not the way for a superpower to behave. Who knows which element would win out at such a moment? It may well be that Putin favors the first scenario. He is interested in power projection and influence building, but not in any way in the triumph of Shi’a political Islam. On the other hand, he has grown used to an absence of serious consequences for his actions. This is a process that was learned and will need to be unlearned if the US wishes to return as a force of consequence in Middle Eastern affairs. Will Syria prove to be the arena in which this takes place? The months ahead will tell.





Heshmat Alavi

American Thinker, Jan. 7, 2017


Iran, known for its unbridled sectarian meddling in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, is currently facing an unwanted quagmire and dead-end in the Levant. We cannot limit Iran’s role and its meddling across the Middle East to 2016 alone. There is an ongoing war in the region, resulting from Iran’s escalating interventions. Iran’s ultimate objective is to completely restructure the region’s entire fabric, pursuing a truly destructive and very dangerous policy in this regard. The war in Syria is one of the pillars of this initiative, also continuing in Iraq and Lebanon.


Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, known for his close relations with Tehran, was the byproduct of Iran’s policies in that country. Iraq under Maliki back in 2010 was oppressing the Sunni community, leading to a major revolt by this vital sector of Mesopotamia. Iraq continues to suffer from such atrocities.


Iran sustained its warmongering and expansionist ambitions in lands far away, such as Yemen. This initiative is also facing major difficulties, with Oman — known for its warm relations with Iran — recently joining the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen…


Syria, despite the heavy Iranian influence, is now becoming a colossal challenge for Tehran. As U.S. President Barack Obama failed to live up to expectations, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm, sidelining Iran as a result. While Syria comprises the backbone of Iran’s expansionist adventure in the region, one cannot truly claim Tehran has made significant advances. The Aleppo war made it clear Iran’s aim is to occupy Syria. There is no Assad army in Syria and Iran-backed Shiite militia groups are rampant across the country. By falling to Russia’s knees to intervene in Syria, Iran accepted the harsh reality of Assad no longer governing what is left of the country.


Currently Iran is no longer considered Russia’s partner in Syria. Moscow has its own interests, not necessarily in line with those of Tehran. The Free Syrian Army, a major wing of the Syrian opposition, suspended its participation in the Astana negotiations in response to continuous military attacks by Iran and Assad against the Wadi Barda region near Damascus. This has prompted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to demand that Iran rein in the Shiite militias and Assad from violating the so-called ceasefire.


“Turkey is working with Russia on the question of sanctions for those who violate the ceasefire deal, which was brokered by Ankara and Moscow,” Reuters reported citing Cavusoglu. This is a vivid show of how Iran has been sidelined in Syria. It is quite obvious that Iran has no intention of allowing a political solution evolve and reach tangible results in Syria. Iran thrives on lasting crises and this is the mullahs’ very policy to maintain Assad as their puppet in Damascus.


Tehran is furious over the fact that Russia and Turkey signed an agreement with a variety of armed Syrian opposition groups, inviting them to the Astana talks. To add insult to injury, Ankara has made demands “requiring all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria, before a diplomatic solution is reached or even discussed.”


Of course, Iran giving in to such demands is highly unlikely after feeling shelved in the wake of the recent Ankara/Moscow initiative. It has, is and always will be in Iran’s nature a continued desire and need to inflame the entire region in turmoil. This is a vital lifeline for Iran. Following close to six years of disastrous warfare, nearly half a million innocent Syrians killed and more than 11 million displaced, it is high time to reach a final and lasting solution.


“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main NCRI member, has played a pivotal role in alerting the global community of Iran’s human rights violations, terrorism, and meddling across the region, and the mullahs’ clandestine nuclear weapons drive. These revelations have further plunged Iran into its current crises. After decades of appeasement by the West have proven a dismal failure, Tehran must be approached by a determined and firm international community.




                                  IT'S TIME FOR REALISM IN SYRIA,


                         Gregg Roman and Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi                                                                                                               The Hill, Dec. 23, 2016


As investigators rush to connect the dots between the recent spate of tragic terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Berlin, Ankara, Zurich and Karak – we must not lose sight of the fact that in one month, President-elect Donald Trump will come face-to- face with one of greatest man-made humanitarian disasters of the modern era. Nearly half a million people have died, millions have been wounded, and half the population of Syria displaced in five years of civil war, while the flood of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe has profoundly shaken the security and political climate of the continent.


To make matters worse, the president-elect is taking over from an administration whose Syria policy was not merely a resounding failure, but was so middling and contradictory that the most important takeaway isn't self-evident. Trump should jettison the assumption that ISIS & like-minded jihadists constitute the paramount threat to U.S. interests in Syria. Put simply, the Trump administration should jettison the Obama administration's assumption that the Islamic State (ISIS), Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra), and like-minded Salafi-jihadist groups in Syria constitute the paramount threat to American interests in the country.


While ISIS has directed a multitude of deadly terror attacks in Western countries over the past two years, this capability hinged on its direct access to Syria's long northern border with Turkey — more a result of U.S. diplomatic failure vis-à- vis Ankara than of the innate strength of ISIS. Now that the border has been closed, the ability of ISIS to dispatch operatives to the West and bring in recruits from abroad has been seriously hampered. Though some operatives have no doubt already been planted in Europe and more still can be recruited from refugee populations there, lack of easy access combined with improved domestic intelligence and border controls mean that the ISIS assault on Europe has probably passed its high-water mark.


Another reason for patience in reducing the remaining strongholds of ISIS in Raqqa and eastern Syria is that there is not yet a credible local force to take over those areas. While the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have proven to be a useful ally in fighting ISIS in Syria, they should not be forced into operations to retake these predominantly Arab areas, which will be deeply hostile to a Kurdish military presence.


The Obama administration's obsession with fighting ISIS and slow progress toward that goal ultimately led to its acquiescence in Russian military intervention on behalf of the Iranian-Syrian regime axis. This amounts to a de facto alignment with Iran, which remains deeply hostile to U.S. interests in the region – a much bigger threat in this regard than the Islamic State – and is committed to Israel's destruction. The U.S. response has largely focused on futile diplomatic gestures in the hope that the regime and its backers would see the wisdom of a broader political settlement with moderate rebels so as to forge a united front against ISIS. Even those counseling greater American intervention have argued that increasing support to the rebels and thus putting military pressure on the regime will facilitate such a settlement.


But prospects for a negotiated political settlement in Syria have long since evaporated. Simply put, the regime will not compromise on Assad's continuation as head of state, while all major political and military opposition groups representing the country's Sunni majority refuse to contemplate a settlement that doesn't end the political dominance of his minority Alawite Sect. Recent regime successes have sharpened this divide, as the rebellion looks set to become a chronic peripheral rural insurgency – unable to threaten regime control of the most important urban centers but capable of defying Assad's bid to fully reconquer Syria for years to come.


Rather than obsessing over driving the last nails in the coffin of ISIS or modulating its involvement in Syria to advance some chimerical peace plan, the Trump administration must focus its attention on more realistic aims. While it is perhaps too late to challenge Russia's presence in a country Vladimir Putin sees as the cornerstone of his expanding zone of influence in the region, neither should Washington accept it. Though there have been hints from the incoming administration of ending support for rebel groups. It would make better sense to continue the support and perhaps increase it, not in the belief that one can bring about a political settlement, but rather to bog down the regime and its allies and minimize the future threat they may pose to U.S. interests in the region.              





Charles Krauthammer

Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2016


The fall of Aleppo just weeks before Barack Obama leaves office is a fitting stamp on his Middle East policy of retreat and withdrawal. The pitiable pictures from the devastated city showed the true cost of Obama’s abdication. For which he seems to have few regrets, however. In his end-of-year news conference, Obama defended U.S. inaction with his familiar false choice: It was either stand aside or order a massive Iraq-style ground invasion.


This is a transparent fiction designed to stifle debate. At the beginning of the civil war, the popular uprising was ascendant. What kept a rough equilibrium was regime control of the skies. At that point, the United States, at little risk and cost, could have declared Syria a no-fly zone, much as it did Iraqi Kurdistan for a dozen years after the Gulf War of 1991. The U.S. could easily have destroyed the regime’s planes and helicopters on the ground and so cratered its airfields as to make them unusable. That would have altered the strategic equation for the rest of the war. And would have deterred the Russians from injecting their own air force — they would have had to challenge ours for air superiority. Facing no U.S. deterrent, Russia stepped in and decisively altered the balance, pounding the rebels in Aleppo to oblivion. The Russians were particularly adept at hitting hospitals and other civilian targets, leaving the rebels with the choice between annihilation and surrender.


Obama has never appreciated that the role of a superpower in a local conflict is not necessarily to intervene on the ground, but to deter a rival global power from stepping in and altering the course of the war. That’s what we did during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Moscow threatened to send troops to support Egypt and President Nixon countered by raising America’s nuclear alert status to Defcon 3. Russia stood down. Less dramatically but just as effectively, American threats of retaliation are what kept West Germany, South Korea and Taiwan free and independent through half a century of Cold War.


It’s called deterrence. Yet Obama never had the credibility to deter anything or anyone. In the end, the world’s greatest power was reduced to bitter speeches at the United Nations. “Are you truly incapable of shame?” thundered U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power at the butchers of Aleppo. As if we don’t know the answer. Indeed the shame is on us for terminal naivete, sending our secretary of state chasing the Russians to negotiate one humiliating pretend cease-fire after another.


Even now, however, the Syria debate is not encouraging. The tone is anguished and emotional, portrayed exclusively in moral terms. Much less appreciated is the cold strategic cost. Assad was never a friend. But today he’s not even a free agent. He’s been effectively restored to his throne, but as the puppet of Iran and Russia. Syria is now a platform, a forward base, from which both these revisionist regimes can project power in the region.


Iran will use Syria to advance its drive to dominate the Arab Middle East. Russia will use its naval and air bases to bully the Sunni Arab states, and to shut out American influence. It’s already happening. The foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey convened in Moscow this week to begin settling the fate of Syria. Notice who wasn’t there. For the first time in four decades, the United States, the once dominant power in the region, is an irrelevance.


With Aleppo gone and the rebels scattered, we have a long road ahead to rebuild the influence squandered over the past eight years. President-elect Donald Trump is talking about creating safe zones. He should tread carefully. It does no good to try to do now what we should have done five years ago. Conditions are much worse. Russia and Iran rule. Maintaining the safety of safe zones will be expensive and dangerous. It will require extensive ground deployments, and it risks military confrontation with Russia.


And why? Guilty conscience is not a good reason. Interventions that are purely humanitarian — from Somalia to Libya — tend to end badly. We may proclaim a “responsibility to protect,” but when no American interests are at stake, the engagement becomes impossible to sustain. At the first losses, we go home. In Aleppo, the damage is done, the city destroyed, the inhabitants ethnically cleansed. For us, there is no post-facto option. If we are to regain the honor lost in Aleppo, it will have to be on a very different battlefield.         




On Topic Links


Israeli Foreign Ministry: Iran Played ‘Pivotal Role’ in Aleppo Offensive, Mass Executions and Humanitarian Crisis: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2016—Iranian-backed Shi’ite fighters played a “pivotal role” in the recent offensive in the Syrian city of Aleppo and the consequent humanitarian crisis there, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a report published on Thursday.

After Mosul, Will Iraq’s Shiite Militias Head to Syria?: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Dec, 29, 2016—When Islamic State collapses in Iraq, a lot will ride on whether the Iraqi Shiite militias taking part in that campaign will stop at the international border or will cross into Syria and open a new phase of that country’s war.

Syria Will Stain Obama’s Legacy Forever: David Greenberg, Foreign Policy, Dec. 29, 2016—Barack Obama’s impending departure from the White House has put many Americans in an elegiac mood. Despite an average approval rating of only 48 percent — the lowest, surprisingly, of our last five presidents — he has always been beloved, if not revered, by the scribbling classes. Just as many prematurely deemed Bush the worst president ever, so many are now ready to enshrine Obama as one of the all-time greats. Or at least they were until the fall of Aleppo.

The Sorrow and the Pity in Syria: Clifford D. May, Washington Times, Dec. 20, 2016—Over the last five years, Syria has been descending into a hell on Earth. Over the last four months, the lowest depths of the inferno have been on display in Aleppo, an ancient city, once among the most diverse and dynamic in the Middle East. On Friday, in the final press conference of his presidency, Barack Obama addressed this still-unfolding humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.





A Cheat Sheet for the Battle of Mosul: Benny Avni, New York Post, Oct. 17, 2016 — To the Iraqi forces that launched a campaign to liberate Mosul and deal ISIS its most serious blow yet: Godspeed. To America: Welcome back to Iraq, and let’s hope we get it right this time.

Why the U.S. Role in Mosul Is Crucial: Tom Rogan, National Review, Oct. 19, 2016 — Approaching from the east and south, Iraqi forces have begun operations to retake Mosul.

The New Middle East: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 6, 2016 — A new Syria is emerging. And with it, a new Middle East and world are presenting themselves.

The Roots of America’s Mideast Delusion: James Traub, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2016 — From the moment he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama tried to repair America’s standing in the Middle East by demonstrating his sincere concern for the grievances and aspirations of Arab peoples.


On Topic Links


What are Israel's Strategic Military Threats for the Coming Jewish Year?: Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 14, 2016

Is the Battle to Liberate Mosul Good for Its Residents?: Ran Meir, Clarion Project, Oct. 19, 2016

The Real Middle East Story: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, Sept. 23, 2016

Unstable, Unruly, and Reprobate: The Middle East Today: Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy, World Affairs, Spring 2016




Benny Avni                                                                              

New York Post, Oct. 17, 2016


To the Iraqi forces that launched a campaign to liberate Mosul and deal ISIS its most serious blow yet: Godspeed. To America: Welcome back to Iraq, and let’s hope we get it right this time. “We will meet soon on the ground of Mosul to celebrate liberation,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed early Monday, announcing the long-awaited start of the battle to free the country’s second-largest city from ISIS.


Capturing Mosul was ISIS’s most valuable victory. In the spring of 2014, after tearing through other parts of Iraq’s Sunni areas, these terrorists took over the city — prompting Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, its megalomanic leader, to announce a caliphate, an Islamic state that was to grow in territory, fame and influence and defeat the world’s infidels. Since then, would-be terrorists from as far as Orlando, Fla., have sworn allegiance to the victor of Mosul, which is why defeating it there is so crucial.


ISIS’s victory came about two years after President Obama ordered all US troops out of Iraq. In the face of the enemy, the Iraqi army — armed, trained and funded by America since 2003 to become the best fighting force in the Arab world — collapsed, fleeing the city and abandoning piles of modern US-made weapons.


But ISIS’s ensuing atrocities prompted Obama to quietly return to Iraq, and US-backed Iraqi units now look a bit more promising. Iraq’s counter-terrorism brigades, including the elite Golden Division, will carry most of the Mosul fighting — with American air cover (plus help from the Brits, French, Germans and others).


There’s much to worry about, though. The United States has wisely conditioned its air support on the exclusion of Iranian-backed Shiite militias from the battlefield. Abadi has agreed: Where we bomb, those militias — loyal to Nouri al-Malaki, prime minister before Abadi, and Tehran’s fave — can’t fight. But what if Abadi’s special forces aren’t enough to capture and control a city of over 1 million terrorized locals? Especially when ISIS fighters have likely booby-trapped every nook and cranny of the city, and dug deep fighting tunnels under it?


True, independent Kurdish peshmerga fighters are helping. In the early fighting, the Kurds captured several villages northeast of Mosul, as the Iraqi armies moved in from the south. But the Kurds aren’t likely to go deep into Mosul or risk major losses to liberate the city’s Sunnis. So if the Iraqi army gets bogged down (or if Iran insists), the Shiite militias might well enter the fray. Sectarian enmities will then reignite, making the rise of some new extremist Sunni threat more likely.


Turkish forces that have been stationed near Mosul may also join the battle. Officially, they’re there to protect Iraq’s Turkmen minority — but Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also detests Iraq’s Abadi. The Turks may itch to show off their prowess — and to stick it to Baghdad while expanding Turkish influence in Iraq.


Then there’s a real fear that Mosul will become an Iraqi version of the horrors of Aleppo. Unlike the Russians, Iranians and regime forces in Syria, US planes won’t target hospitals or schools — but mistakes happen, and ISIS will do its best to encourage them. Will war-shy Obama then keep his eyes on the prize, defeating ISIS? Will he insist, as he must, on keeping Iran from dominating Iraq’s Sunnis through its proxy Shiite militias? What if Tehran threatens to tear up the president’s beloved nuclear deal?


The answers to those questions depend on whether Obama has learned from one of his worst mistakes. Remember: His premature, hasty withdrawal from Iraq created the divisions that allowed ISIS to take over Mosul in the first place. To avoid a repetition, he may have to accept a deepening American involvement in the battle for Mosul. Iraqi spokesmen estimate that liberating the city will take up to six months — which leaves the messy Iraq theater as a top foreign-policy crisis for our next president, who’ll need to start handling it minutes after the Jan. 20 inauguration. Here’s hoping that he or she has learned from all the errors committed by the two previous administrations.                   





WHY THE U.S. ROLE IN MOSUL IS CRUCIAL                                                                               

Tom Rogan                                                                                                                     

National Review, Oct. 19, 2016


Approaching from the east and south, Iraqi forces have begun operations to retake Mosul. Their fight will not be easy. While ISIS, or Daesh, knows it will lose the city, it hopes to make the Battle of Mosul as militarily and politically bloody for Iraq as possible. In that scenario, Daesh believes a tactical defeat will serve broader strategic interests. If Iraq is to prevent Daesh from carrying through its ambitions, the U.S. contribution will be crucial.


Securing Mosul and deconstructing its Daesh garrison will not be easy. For a start, consider the scale involved here: Mosul has around 1 million residents spread across both banks of the Tigris, which intersects the city. It is much larger, for example, than Fallujah — where the U.S. Marines lost nearly 100 men in November 2004. Moreover, Daesh is well prepared for the attack. Estimates suggest it has three to five thousand fighters in place. They have lined houses and streets with explosives, have constructed tunnels, arms depots, and fortified positions, and will use civilians as human shields. The reliable MosulEye Twitter feed claims Daesh holds thousands of prisoners inside the city. Still, the current battle map hints at the basic Iraqi-Coalition strategy. Kurdish militias and coalition Special Operations forces are advancing on Mosul along a wide eastern front. From the south, the Iraqi army is pushing up Highway 1. In concert, these offensives appear designed to clear Daesh skirmishing forces from Mosul’s satellite villages before compressing the city’s southern and eastern approaches. Then, it seems, the final attack will begin.


In the final assault on Mosul, U.S. participation will be most instrumental. The last few weeks prove why. As researcher Kyle Orton points out, the U.S. has recently prioritized the targeting of Daesh officers who have specific operational relevance to Mosul. That’s no surprise. It shows the capability of U.S. and allied intelligence services in pummeling Daesh’s resistance networks. Yet these shaping operations cannot do everything. And as Iraqi forces enter Mosul, they will face a concerted barrage of suicide bombers, ambushes, and snipers. As the operation unfolds, Iraqi forces will rely on U.S. tools including video footage from drones and cellphone intercepts to help them navigate a city full of threats.


Of course, the major U.S. complement to Mosul’s liberation will be air strikes. As a September 2004 paper explained with regard to urban air support, “structural density restricts maneuver and makes direct-fire engagements during ground combat occur at very close ranges (25–100 meters), in contrast to similar engagements in open terrain, which occur at much greater distances (300–800 meters). Consequently, the majority of urban CAS missions will fall into the category of troops in contact or danger close.’” In essence, because Iraqi forces will be operating in close proximity to Daesh forces, the need for effective air support will be instrumental. And that means U.S. (and perhaps British and French) Special Operations forces will have to deploy within Iraqi frontline units. They must do so, because with multiple aircraft from many different nations flying overhead (perhaps including troublemaking Russians), and with Daesh moving rapidly and using civilians for cover, air strikes must be quick and accurate. Delivering those strikes requires great skill. U.S military air controllers are best able to provide it.


U.S. assistance in Mosul is equally important in its political dimensions. After all, Daesh aside, the Iraqi state remains deeply fragile. And if problems arise in retaking Mosul, Iraq’s various adversaries will seek advantage. For one, there are the Iranian-supported (and often -directed) Shiite militias opposing Iraq’s multi-sectarian democracy. Having abused Sunni civilians during other operations, the Shia militias have been banned from Mosul. But if just one of the militia leaders senses opportunity to please Iran by undercutting Iraq’s moderate prime minister, Haider al-Abadi — perhaps by killing Sunni civilians — he might do so. Another complication is the militia infiltration of certain Iraqi police units. Prime Minister Abadi hopes to mitigate that risk by assigning Iraq’s professional counterterrorism service to lead the ground incursion. At the same time, for all their courage and sacrifice, the Kurdish militias involved in the Mosul operation also have their own territorial ambitions. The U.S. must ensure that these militias respect property rights in Mosul.


These broader political dimensions cannot be understated. As I noted in March, Daesh wants to turn Mosul into a political bloodbath for the Iraqi government. They want Iraqi frontline units and Shiite militias to slaughter Mosul’s Sunni civilians under a narrative of Shiite domination. They want the Kurds to rob Mosul’s Sunni civilians. They want the Turks to continue agitating against Baghdad. Such developments, Daesh hopes, would force Sunnis to continue supporting them for reasons of self-defense. Remember, Daesh’s power resides both in weaponizing delusional theocracy and in manipulating human desperation. Thus, to counter Daesh, Iraq’s government must earn popular credibility by liberating Mosul in good order. As former Delta Force commander Jim Reese put it to me, “victory requires unity of effort and unity of command with our Iraqi partners.” If the multi-sectarian city is secured and its people protected, Iraq will have won a great victory for its future.


Regardless, the coming days will be hard. Daesh fighters in Mosul know they are going to die and will wreak havoc on their way to hell. And even if Daesh is quickly pushed into the western desert and annihilated, their organization will remain a very serious threat.                                               




THE NEW MIDDLE EAST                                                                                                 

Caroline Glick                                                                                                      

Jerusalem Post, Oct. 6, 2016


A new Syria is emerging. And with it, a new Middle East and world are presenting themselves. Our new world is not a peaceful or stable one. It is a harsh place. The new Syria is being born in the rubble of Aleppo. The eastern side of the city, which has been under the control of US-supported rebel groups since 2012, is being bombed into the Stone Age by Russian and Syrian aircraft. All avenues of escape have been blocked. A UN aid convoy was bombed in violation of a fantasy cease-fire. Medical facilities and personnel are being targeted by Russia and Syrian missiles and barrel bombs to make survival impossible.


It is hard to assess how long the siege of eastern Aleppo by Russia, its Iranian and Hezbollah partners and its Syrian regime puppet will last. But what is an all but foregone conclusion now is that eastern Aleppo will fall. And with its fall, the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah-Assad axis will consolidate its control over all of western Syria. For four years, the Iranians, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad played a cat and mouse game with the rebel militias. Fighting a guerrilla war with the help of the Sunni population, the anti-regime militias were able to fight from and hide from within the civilian population. Consequently, they were all but impossible to defeat.


When Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to join the fight, he and his generals soon recognized that this manner of fighting ensured perpetual war. So they changed tactics. The new strategy involves speeding up the depopulation and ethnic cleansing of rebel-held areas. The massive refugee flows from Syria over the past year are a testament to the success of the barbaric war plan. The idea is to defeat the rebel forces by to destroying the sheltering civilian populations.


Since the Syrian war began some five years ago, half of the pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced. Sunnis, who before the war comprised 75% of the population, are being targeted for death and exile. More than 4 million predominantly Sunni Syrians are living in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. More than a million have entered Europe. Millions more have been internally displaced. Assad has made clear that they will never be coming home.


At the same time, the regime and its Iranian and Hezbollah masters have been importing Shi’ites from Iran, Iraq and beyond. The process actually began before the war started. In the lead-up to the war some half million Shi’ites reportedly relocated to Syria from surrounding countries. This means that at least as far as western Syria is concerned, once Aleppo is destroyed, and the 250,000 civilians trapped in the eastern part of what was once Syria’s commercial capital are forced from their homes and property, the Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah and their Syrian fig leaf Assad will enjoy relative peace in their areas of control.


By adopting a strategy of total war, Putin has ensured that far from becoming the quagmire that President Barack Obama warned him Syria would become, the war in Syria has instead become a means to transform Russia into the dominant superpower in the Mediterranean, at the US’s expense. In exchange for saving Assad’s neck and enabling Iran and Hezbollah to control Syria, Russia has received the capacity to successfully challenge US power. Last month Putin brought an agreement with Assad before the Duma for ratification. The agreement permits – indeed invites – Russia to set up a permanent air base in Khmeimim, outside the civilian airport in Latakia.


Russian politicians, media and security experts have boasted that the base will be able to check the power of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and challenge NATO’s southern flank in the Mediterranean basin for the first time. The Russians have also decided to turn their naval station at Tartus into something approaching a fullscale naval base. With Russia’s recent rapprochement with Turkish President Recip Erdogan, NATO’s future ability to check Russian power through the Incirlik air base is in question. Even Israel’s ability to permit the US access to its air bases is no longer assured. Russia has deployed air assets to Syria that have canceled Israel’s regional air superiority. Under these circumstances, in a hypothetical Russian-US confrontation, Israel may be unwilling to risk Russian retaliation for a decision to permit the US to use its air bases against Russia.


America’s loss of control over the eastern Mediterranean is a self-induced disaster. For four years, as Putin stood on the sidelines and hedged his bets, Obama did nothing. As Iran and Hezbollah devoted massive financial and military assets to maintaining their puppet Assad in power, the Obama administration squandered chance after chance to bring down the regime and stem Iran’s regional imperial advance. For his refusal to take action when such action could have easily been taken, Obama shares the responsibility for what Syria has become. This state of affairs is all the more infuriating because the hard truth is that it wouldn’t have been hard for the US to defeat the Iranian- Hezbollah axis. The fact that even without US help the anti-regime forces managed to hold on for four years shows how weak the challenge posed by Iran and Hezbollah actually was…                                                                                                             

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




James Traub

Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2016


From the moment he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama tried to repair America’s standing in the Middle East by demonstrating his sincere concern for the grievances and aspirations of Arab peoples. He gave interviews to Arab news outlets. He issued New Year’s greetings to the people of Iran. He delivered a speech in Cairo in which he acknowledged America’s past wrongs, and he called on Israel to accept the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state. Mr. Obama did almost everything liberal critics of the policies of George W. Bush wished him to do. And he failed. Or rather, he found that the Arab world was afflicted with pathologies that placed it beyond the reach of his words and deeds.


Had Mr. Obama had the chance to read “Ike’s Gamble,” Michael Doran’s account of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s statecraft before, during and after the Suez Crisis of 1956, he might have saved his breath. Mr. Doran, a scholar and former State and Defense Department official in the George W. Bush administration, describes a seasoned, wily and prudent president who aligned the United States with what he understood to be the legitimate hopes of Arab peoples, even at the cost of damaging relations with America’s closest allies—and made a hash of things.


Mr. Doran illuminates a narrative with which very few non-specialists will be familiar. His tale begins at the moment in the early 1950s when America was reaching its zenith. The United Kingdom was reluctantly acknowledging the end of empire, and the United States was filling the vacuum in the Middle East. Neither Eisenhower nor his fervently anti-communist secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, understood this transition in strictly geopolitical terms; both believed that the liberating American faith in national self-determination and consent of the governed would supplant Britain’s self-aggrandizing colonialism. Both morality and national interest dictated such a course. As Dulles said in a prime-time televised address in 1953: “We cannot afford to be distrusted by millions who could be sturdy friends of freedom.”


The familiar story—and it is all too true—is that Cold War competition led the United States to side with friendly but despised dictators in the region like Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi. Yet at the same moment that the U.S. was plotting to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected leader in favor of the shah, leading policy makers were infatuated with Egypt’s immensely popular revolutionary leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eisenhower and Dulles saw in Nasser the kind of nationalist leader whom America needed to recruit to its side in order to demonstrate that postcolonial nations were better off in the democratic than in the communist camp.


The problem was that in order to do so, they had to sell out their closest ally. To British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Britain’s 80,000-man garrison in Suez was irrefutable proof that his nation remained an imperial force. But Eisenhower and Dulles took Nasser’s side in 1953-4 as he whittled away at British influence and demanded that Britain withdraw its forces. Unintimidated by his former wartime ally, Eisenhower brusquely advised Churchill to defer to “the very strong nationalist sentiments of the Egyptian Government and people” by agreeing to hand over control of the base. Churchill had loudly declared that he had not been elected prime minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire; having no choice, he now agreed to do just that.


Britain was one impediment to America’s grand bargain with Nasser; Israel was the other. Eisenhower, Dulles and State Department officials feared that the United States would never win Arab hearts and minds if it was seen as the ally of a nation that almost all Arabs reviled. The problem has hardly gone away over the past six decades. But while the American response today is to gently prod Israel to rein in the growth of illegal settlements, the answer in 1955 was to push Israel to make unilateral territorial concessions—and, remarkably, to present the plan to Nasser for his approval before disclosing it to the Israelis. Mr. Doran makes it clear that the anti-Semitism of the Washington elite converged with what seemed at the time to be perfectly sound strategic calculations.


But Eisenhower’s “gamble” was based on a delusion. Nasser was not an Egyptian George Washington or Moses, determined to lead his people out of colonial bondage and into a proud independence, though this witty and roguish figure did a fine job of playing those roles for gullible American diplomats. Mr. Doran shows that while Nasser claimed to be a moderate barely surviving the pressure of hard-liners, it was he who was pulling the strings. Nasser spoke of Israel as a consuming passion while viewing it more as a highly useful rhetorical target. He showed interest in buying arms from the U.S. while secretly concluding a deal with the Soviets. By now the British knew better and tried to drag the Americans off their high horse. But that was dismissed as special pleading.


Nasser was, of course, an Arab nationalist. But he was also an empire builder who saw America’s Arab allies—Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon—as dominoes to be knocked over on his path to regional hegemony. At the same time that Washington was propping up Iraq’s King Faisal and Jordan’s King Hussein, Nasser was dispatching his agents to torpedo their rule. (He succeeded in Iraq and failed in Jordan.) The great irony was that while the United States was increasingly viewed as the enforcer of the global status quo, it was bestowing blessings on the man most determined to upset it…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links



What are Israel's Strategic Military Threats for the Coming Jewish Year?: Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 14, 2016—First, the good news: At the onset of 5777, the new Jewish year, there is no conventional or existential military threat against the State of Israel.

Is the Battle to Liberate Mosul Good for Its Residents?: Ran Meir, Clarion Project, Oct. 19, 2016—Mosul is one of Iraq’s largest cities – the capital of Nineveh Province. It’s a beautiful, developed city, bisected by the Tigris river. More than two and a half million people called Mosul “home” in 2014. 

The Real Middle East Story: Walter Russell Mead, American Interest, Sept. 23, 2016 —Peter Baker notices something important in his dispatch this morning: at this year’s UNGA, the Israel/Palestine issue is no longer the center of attention.

Unstable, Unruly, and Reprobate: The Middle East Today: Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy, World Affairs, Spring 2016—Grappling with unstable, unruly, and reprobate Middle Eastern nations, and by extension North African ones such as Libya, has constantly been and will continue to be a major challenge for U.S. administrations.









On Topic Links


A Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2016: Yoram Ettinger, Algemeiner, Oct. 10, 2016

A Peek Inside the IDF 8200's Combat Intelligence Unit: Israel Defense, Oct. 12, 2016

Meet the IDF’s ‘Beduin Battalion’: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 13, 2016

Trump’s Moment of Truth: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2016





Judah Ari Gross

Times of Israel, Sept. 28, 2016


Before Shimon Peres became the man of peace extolled by world leaders for his dedication to coexistence, he was a man of defense and security, setting up some of Israel’s most important military victories and strategic assets. To many, Peres is synonymous with the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and his eponymous Center for Peace, which promotes dialogue and opportunities for both Israelis and Palestinians. Yet few people in Israel have contributed more to the country’s military capabilities.


Following the War of Independence, Peres helped build the country’s air force into the world-renowned juggernaut that it is today and allegedly gave Israel the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, which reportedly give the country second-strike capabilities in the case of an attack. “Shimon Peres designed the character and values of the Defense Ministry; he led the strengthening and build-up of the IDF’s power and its strategic capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “He developed security relationships with other nations in the world and took a central role in the creation of the Israel defense industries,” the ministry said in its statement.


After a brief stint in the Haganah and the fledgling Israel Defense Force, Peres led a Defense Ministry delegation to the United States in 1950 and soon after his return was named deputy director-general of the ministry in 1952. He became director-general a year later and in that capacity laid the groundwork for turning Israel’s immature, poorly supplied military into the technological powerhouse the IDF has become.


In the early 1950s, Peres started a relationship with the French government that allegedly resulted in the creation of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and in the purchase of the fighter jets and bombers to replace the IDF’s antiquated World War II-era planes, which would go on to be instrumental in Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Entering the position at age 29, Peres remains the youngest director-general of the Defense Ministry in Israel’s history. But his young age and inexperience did not stop him from setting up Israel’s defense ties with France essentially singlehandedly, according to Guy Ziv, an associate professor at American University’s School of International Service. “What makes this case particularly compelling is not merely that one individual yielded disproportionate influence over the relations beween the two countries, but also that this individual was not a senior policy-maker,” Ziv wrote in a 2010 article in the Journal of Contemporary History.


During the early 1950s, the Foreign Ministry and other high-level Israeli officials were essentially banging their heads against the wall trying to convince the United States to sell artillery, aircraft, guns and tanks to the young Jewish state. Peres, who had tried desperately and failed to purchase weapons from the United States in 1950, turned instead to France, the “friendliest country today,” as he referred to it in a 1954 Defense Ministry meeting. The young Peres had to convince then-defense ministers Pinhas Lavon and David Ben-Gurion that the “French connection,” and not the American, was the way to go, according to Ziv.


“It was natural that the people of post-war France, who had themselves tasted the bitterness of Nazi horror, should feel a kinship with the victims of Nazism who had suffered greater losses,” Peres wrote in his book “David’s Sling.” Through Peres’s relationship with the French, Israel purchased huge quantities of weapons, including artillery cannons, tanks and radar equipment. But most notably, Israel also acquired the French Dassault Mystère IV and Dassault Ouragan fighter jets in 1955, the Dassault Super Mystère B2 in 1958 and the Dassault Mirage IIIC, one of the most advanced aircrafts of its time, in 1962.


All of these aircrafts were used in the 1967 Six Day War, taking out the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, which helped pave the way to an unexpected Israeli victory. But the star of the 1967 war was the Mirage, known in Israel as the Shahak, which both carried out bombing runs and engaged in aerial dogfights, shooting down the lion’s share of enemy aircraft. The Mirage remained in use until 1986, and its design was used to create the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Nesher and Kfir fighter jets, the latter of which was in use until 1996.


But while those aircraft played hugely important roles in the military’s victory in 1967, Peres’s relationship with the French government also fundamentally changed Israel’s security strategy and position, with the creation of Israel’s Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona.


In late 1956, representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Israel, including Peres, met for three days in secret at a villa in Sèvres, France, to address Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez canal. At the meeting, it was decided that Israel would spark a conflict with Egypt and the UK and France would send in forces ostensibly to break up the war, but in fact to occupy the area and ensuring shipping through the naval passage. The then-secret agreement became known as the Protocol of Sèvres. It lauched on October 29, 1956, when Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula. The operation lasted nine days.


Israeli, British and French troops succeeded initially in taking over the area, but considerable outcries against the campaign from the United States and the British and French public forced a withdrawal and turned the secret plan into a public embarrassment for the UK and France — though Israel escaped relatively unscathed. Though it was not a formal part of the Protocol of Sèvres, during the three-day conference planning the ill-fated war, the French agreed to help Israel develop a nuclear reactor, according to a 1997 Foreign Affairs article by Avi Shlaim, a British-Israeli historian.


“It was here that I finalized with these two leaders” — France’s then-prime minister Guy Mollet and then-defense minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury — “an agreement for the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona, in southern Israel,” Peres wrote in his 1995 book “Battling for Peace.” That nuclear reactor in Dimona, along with a supply of uranium, allegedly went on to create Israel’s atomic weapons.


On Wednesday, following Peres’s death, Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission praised the former president, prime minister and defense minister for his role in its creation. “Peres provided a fundamental contribution to the creation of the Negev Nuclear Research Center and to the creation of Israel’s nuclear policies. This was a significant element in securing the national resilience of the State of Israel. Peres’s legacy will lead the IAEC in its actions even in the future,” the commission said in a statement.


Israel still maintains an official policy of so-called “nuclear ambiguity,” neither confirming or denying the possession of atomic weapons. However, in 1998, Peres told reporters in Jordan that Israel had “built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo.” Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities, though controversial, are seen as crucial to the country’s survival by many security analysts. “Israel needs its nuclear weapons. This bold statement is not even remotely controversial,” Purdue University professor Louis René Beres wrote in 2014. If deprived of its nuclear weapons, whether still-ambiguous or newly disclosed, Israel would irremediably lose its residual capacity to deter major enemy aggressions,” he wrote…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Louis René Beres

Israel Defense, Sept. 25, 2016


More than likely, the first post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki use of nuclear weapons will be undertaken by North Korea or Pakistan. Should this actually turn out to be the case, the cumulative consequences would impact not only the responsible aggressor state and its multiple victims, but also still-developing strategic nuclear policies in certain other countries. The most obvious and concerning case of such a prospective secondary impact would be Israel.


For now, Israel's nuclear strategy remains "deliberately ambiguous," or in the "basement." Whether well-founded or foolishly conceived, this intentional opacity has endured as national policy because Jerusalem has not yet had to worry about confronting any enemy nuclear forces. This potentially fragile posture would almost certainly need to change, however, if Iran were sometime perceived to have become a near-nuclear adversary.


Significantly, while seldom discussed "out loud," Israel could also feel compelled to shift away from nuclear ambiguity once an actual nuclear attack had taken place elsewhere on earth. In other words, there would need to be no direct connection between such an attack and Israel for the Jewish State to acknowledge certain derivative obligations to alter or modify its own nuclear strategy.


To be sure, any such predictive analytic leap cannot readily be drawn from relevant historical examples. After all, such expectedly pertinent examples simply do not exist. Moreover, to be suitably scientific, any assessments of probability regarding an actual resort to nuclear weapons would have to be based upon the ascertainable frequency of past nuclear events. Fortunately, for human welfare, if not for the science of strategic prediction, there have been no nuclear wars.


What about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Incontestably, the American atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 were not proper examples of a nuclear war, but rather of a unique or one-time use of nuclear weapons designed to end an ongoing and worldwide conventional war. Further, there were no other nuclear weapons states in August 1945 (Washington was not even sure that its own Little Boy and Fat Man would work), so any corollary U.S. strategic calculations could bear no resemblance to what might actually confront Israel today.


For purposes of Israeli strategic thinking, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were utterly sui generis; hence, forever dissimilar to any present or future national security circumstances. Nonetheless, we needn't make any plausible or persuasive probability assessments about North Korea, Pakistan and Israel in order to reach the following conclusion: Once North Korea and/or Pakistan fires nuclear weapons against another state or states, a principal nuclear "taboo" will have been broken, and all existing nuclear powers – especially Israel – will then begin to take more seriously the actual operational use of their own nuclear weapons. The precise manner and extent to which Israel would be impacted in such circumstances would depend, among several more-or-less intersecting factors, on prevailing geopolitical alignments and cleavages, both regional and worldwide. For example, North Korea has already had tangible ties to both Syria and Iran, and all concerned parties could be forced to take into distinctly calculable account the presumed expectations of an already resurgent Cold War.


The "spillover" impact on Israel of any actual nuclear weapons use by North Korea or Pakistan would also depend upon the particular combatants involved, expected rationality or irrationality of these same combatants, yields and range of the nuclear weapons fired, and the prompt aggregate calculation of civilian and military harms actually suffered in the affected areas. If North Korea had fired its nuclear weapons against American targets, military or civilian, Israel could correctly anticipate an overwhelmingly destructive U.S. response. If, in another apt scenario, a government in Islamabad (possibly a post-coup Islamist regime) fired "only" its tactical or theater nuclear weapons, and "only" against exclusively military targets, the Indian response might then be substantially less overwhelming.


It also ought to be noted here, for further predictive clarification, that Pakistan recently shifted certain specific portions of its nuclear targeting doctrine to expressly lower yield, shorter range weapons, presumably to enhance the underlying credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture vis-à-vis India.


All of this would pose stunningly complex calculations for Israeli strategists. Indeed, these planners would have to account capably not only for singular nuclear weapons operations by North Korea or Pakistan, but also for any multiple interactions or synergies that might be involved. It is even conceivable, to offer still another meaningful example, that any North Korean resort to nuclear attack would be followed, more-or-less promptly, by a separate Pakistani use of nuclear weapons. This prospect could represent a chaotic or near-chaotic development, in which Israel would then be faced with a palpably unprecedented analytic challenge…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





“The Yom Kippur War showed our neighbors that they cannot defeat us with weapons…It paved the path to peace with Egypt and later with Jordan…Our hands will continue to reach out to peace to those of our neighbors who want peace…Until then, we will be prepared to defend ourselves with our own forces…Families have grown, have rejoiced at celebrations and marked festivals, but one pain remains engraved in our hearts, the agonizing pain of loss, the pain of longing, the longing that has not dulled from that Yom Kippur of the past until that of today…The loss has not subsided. Once again Yom Kippur comes and another time we gather on this mountain and try to remember” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an official ceremony marking the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. The event took place at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, and commemorated 43 years since the beginning of the war. (Times of Israel, Oct. 13, 2016)


"We started off, we had no ISIS, and now, seven and a half years later, they're in, they think, 32 countries. And she's going to get rid of them?…They are hoping and praying that Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, because they'll take over not only that part of the world, they'll take over this country, they'll take over this part of the world. Believe me."— Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump offered a warning for voters considering backing Clinton: If she wins, he said, the terror group I.S. would take over the US. A day after proclaiming himself unshackled from GOP officials, Trump spent the majority of a campaign rally going full throttle against Clinton. Earlier this year, Trump asserted that Clinton and President Obama were the cofounders of I.S. — a claim from which he refused to back down and later clarified was intended as sarcasm. (Yahoo, Oct. 12, 2016)


“Obama’s radically reoriented foreign policy is in ruins. His vision was to move away from a world where stability and “the success of liberty” (JFK, inaugural address) were anchored by American power and move toward a world ruled by universal norms, mutual obligation, international law and multilateral institutions. No more cowboy adventures, no more unilateralism, no more Guantanamo. We would ascend to the higher moral plane of diplomacy. Clean hands, clear conscience, “smart power.” This blessed vision has just died a terrible death in Aleppo. Its unraveling was predicted and predictable, though it took fully two terms to unfold…“What is Aleppo?” famously asked Gary Johnson. Answer: the burial ground of the Obama fantasy of benign disengagement.” — Charles Krauthammer. (Washington Post, Oct. 6, 2016)






YOM KIPPUR SOLEMNITY MARRED BY VIOLENCE AND RIOTS (Jerusalem) — As Jews prayed on Yom Kippur, Arabs rioted. The alert status was high, as 3,500 policemen reinforced security in and around Jerusalem after a terror attack on Sunday. On Tuesday, Arabs attacked Israeli police with rocks and Molotov cocktails in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Palestinian sources reported one Arab man, Ali Atef Shuyukhi, was killed in the confrontation. Arabs also attacked Israeli Security forces in East Jerusalem and Issawiya, throwing Molotov cocktails and fireworks. (Breaking Israel News, Oct. 13, 2016)

TWO MURDERED, SIX WOUNDED IN JERUSALEM TERROR ATTACK (Jerusalem) — A Palestinian who was due to begin a prison term in Israel next week went on a shooting spree on Sunday, killing a pedestrian and a police officer in Jerusalem before being shot dead by police. The assailant, who Hamas said was a member of its organization, was shot dead in an exchange of fire with police. Medical officials said six people were wounded in the attack, and that two of them, a woman and a police officer, died in hospital. Police identified the assailant as a 39-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem. A spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service said the attacker had been ordered by a court to start a four-month jail sentence next week after being convicted of assaulting a police officer. (Breitbart, Oct. 9, 2016)


SHIN BET FOILS HAMAS SUICIDE BUS BOMBING IN JERUSALEM (Jerusalem) — An East Jerusalem man was indicted Tuesday for planning to carry out a suicide bombing on a bus in the capital, officials said. On September 9, the Shin Bet security service arrested alleged Hamas operative Muhammad Fuaz Ibrahim Julani, a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp, a few days before he planned to carry out his attack. Over the past few months, Julani, 22, had been planning to carry out a terror attack on behalf of Hamas, the Shin Bet said. (Times of Israel, Oct. 11, 2016)


UNESCO PASSES RESOLUTION DENYING JEWISH TIES TO JERUSALEM HOLY SITES (Paris) — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution denying Jewish connections to the Temple Mount and Western Wall. 24 UNESCO member states voted in favor of the resolution, 26 abstained, and six countries voted against. The proposal, put forth by the Palestinians, along with Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, condemns Israel on several issues related to Jerusalem and its holy sites. The resolution acknowledges that the city of Jerusalem is holy to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity but says the Temple Mount holy site is sacred only to Muslims and fails to mention its significance to Jews. (I24, Oct. 13, 2016)


U.S. LAUNCHES AIRSTRIKES IN YEMEN IN RESPONSE TO SHIP ATTACK (Sana’a) — The U.S. military launched cruise missile strikes on Thursday to knock out three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi forces, retaliating after failed missile attacks this week on a U.S. Navy destroyer. The strikes, authorized by President Obama, represent Washington's first direct military action against Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen. U.S. officials said U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched the Tomahawk cruise missiles. The missile attacks on the USS Mason — the latest of which took place on Wednesday — appeared to be the Houthis' response to a suspected Saudi-led strike on mourners gathered in Yemen's Houthi-held capital Sanaa. (CBC, Oct. 13, 2016)


BOB DYLAN AWARDED NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE (Stockholm)Bob Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, in a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award to someone primarily seen as a musician. The Swedish Academy cited the American musician for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan, 75, had been mentioned in Nobel speculation for years, but few experts expected the academy to extend the prestigious award to a genre such as pop music. Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941, to a Jewish family in small-town Minnesota. Both sets of his grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. (Times of Israel, Oct. 13, 2016)




On Topic Links


A Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2016: Yoram Ettinger, Algemeiner, Oct. 10, 2016—1. Yom Kippur is a day of hope and optimism, in addition to a solemn day of soul-searching. The Day of Atonement provides a unique awareness of one’s own character and track record, as well as the opportunity to upgrade relationships with relatives, friends, associates and the community at-large.

A Peek Inside the IDF 8200's Combat Intelligence Unit: Israel Defense, Oct. 12, 2016 —They have been around for five years, operating without a name or insignia. They are the combat soldiers of the elite intelligence unit 8200. Although 8200 is better known for its glasses-wearing computer geniuses, this section of the unit helps to gather field intelligence for the elite combat units in the IDF – including Sayeret Matkal and Shayetet 13.

Meet the IDF’s ‘Beduin Battalion’: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 13, 2016—The jeep stops on a chalk-like dusty road, at an embankment that overlooks a dry riverbed. In front of us, to the northwest and spanning the gully, are two rows of metal fences. To their left, on a small hillock, is a concrete watchtower, a “pillbox,” as it’s called, harking back to World War II British Army nomenclature. A U-shaped concrete wall protects its base so that men entering and leaving are not exposed to gunfire.

Trump’s Moment of Truth: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2016 —Donald Trump has declared himself unshackled from the Republican Party and says he will now campaign as he’s wanted to all along. This raises the question of whose never-before-seen campaign he’s been running for 16 months, but so be it. The self-declared strategy has the virtue of putting the onus of victory or defeat squarely where it belongs: Mr. Trump and those who led him to the GOP nomination.





Latest Syria Setback Marks Five Years of Failure for Obama Administration: Kelly McParland, National Post, Oct. 4, 2016 — Sputnik International, a government-backed Russian “news” service, has soothing words for concerns about the ongoing carnage in Syria.

Obama's November Surprise: Gregg Roman, The Hill, Sept. 26, 2016 — There is growing speculation that President Obama will spring a diplomatic surprise on Israel during the interregnum between the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and his departure from office in January.

Obama’s Hostile Eulogy: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 10, 2016 — US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres last Friday at Mt. Herzl was a thinly disguised assault on Israel. And he barely bothered to hide it.

Yom Kippur – How It Changes Us: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Sacks, Oct. 10, 2016— To those who fully open themselves to it, Yom Kippur is a life-transforming experience.


On Topic Links


Atoning for Sins on Yom Kippur: Dvora Waysman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 11, 2016

White House Silent: Palestinians Attack Jews Praying at Joseph's Tomb: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 2016

Congress Blasts Obama for Preparing Anti-Israel Offensive: Jenna Lifhits, Weekly Standard, Oct. 9, 2016

Barack Obama’s Stillborn Legacy: At Home and Abroad, the President's Agenda is in Tatters: Charles Krauthammer, New York Daily News, Oct. 6, 2016






Kelly McParland

National Post, Oct. 4, 2016


Sputnik International, a government-backed Russian “news” service, has soothing words for concerns about the ongoing carnage in Syria. The Putin government’s “limited military engagement” on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad “has helped to bring stability to several regions” of the country “and boost morale of the Syrian Arab Army,” it says. Russian involvement, it continues, quoting an “analyst,” “was instrumental in helping government-led forces and their local allies break the tide of the years-long war.”


While that view doesn’t accord with Western opinion, it should be no surprise if Moscow feels justified in applauding itself a year after launching its intervention. In just 12 months, President Vladimir Putin has managed to comprehensively outmaneouvre the U.S., reverse the momentum to Assad’s favour, embarrass Washington and increase its own influence in a region that seems perpetually engulfed in conflict.


Washington, meanwhile, has been reduced to spluttering objections and threats of unspecified “actions” if Moscow fails to rein in its activities. Fat chance of that. If the Obama administration has demonstrated anything over the five years — and half a million deaths — of the Syrian tragedy, it is its inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to fabricate a policy capable of ending the misery imposed on millions of Syrians. It has been outflanked at every step by a Russian government intent on flexing its military muscle and oblivious to the polite ways of diplomacy and international opinion.


Putin demonstrated this yet again when he met the latest complaints from Washington by shipping an advanced anti-missile system to Syria, the first time it has deployed the system outside its own borders. That followed accusations by Secretary of State John Kerry that Moscow had responded to a so-called ceasefire by stepping up bombing attacks on Aleppo, the besieged city that is systematically being reduced to rubble by Russian and Syrian forces.


A State Department spokesman on Tuesday warned that diplomatic efforts to end the fighting were “on life support.” A day later Kerry gave up on diplomacy and suspended talks with Moscow, while administration officials threatened unspecified “actions…that would further underscore the consequences of not coming back to the negotiating table.” Russia in turn halted a program with the U.S. on the disposal of weapons grade plutonium while threatening that a U.S. attack on Syrian targets “will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general.”


Such is the state of affairs as Obama enters his final weeks in office. Whatever else historians conclude about his legacy, his record in Syria must go down as an utter failure. Assad now has a very real chance of clinging to power, and perhaps even regaining significant areas of the country that had been lost to him before Russia’s arrival. U.S. actions have been so ineffectual it now finds itself with few options. It cannot intervene militarily, even if it had the will, without the danger of a direct clash with Moscow. Where once it had the opportunity to impose a no-fly zone to limit Assad’s assaults, it cannot do so now for fear of starting a shooting war with Russian jets.


Obama’s clear reluctance to get caught in another Middle East war has hobbled U.S. goals from the beginning. He drew his famous “red line” against chemical weapons, and then decided not to enforce it. He not only refused to commit substantial troops, but hesitated even to arm Assad’s opponents. Diplomatic efforts have gone in circles, first with failed United Nations efforts and more recently with Kerry’s futile shuttling from capital to capital. Relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia have soured as the Obama administration dithered and delayed.


Humanitarian actions have been similarly half-hearted. An estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees continue to seek international assistance, almost entirely from countries other than the U.S. In August the administration announced it had admitted its 10,000th Syrian, reaching a cruelly unambitious resettlement goal for the year. Canada, with a tenth the U.S. population, has accepted 30,000 Syrians, while Germany has accepted almost 900,000 and paid a heavy political price for a war it did nothing to start.


No matter who wins the U.S. election in November, they will be left with a shambles of a situation in Syria. Putin may be turning Russia into an “outlaw nation”, as the New York Times recently charged, but it’s an outlaw the U.S. has failed utterly to bring to justice, and shows limited interest in challenging.                             





OBAMA'S NOVEMBER SURPRISE                                                                                             

Gregg Roman                                                                                                        

The Hill, Sept. 26, 2016


There is growing speculation that President Obama will spring a diplomatic surprise on Israel during the interregnum between the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and his departure from office in January. Some say the surprise will be a speech laying down parameters for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute or some type of formal censure of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but the scenario generating most discussion is a decision to support, or perhaps not to veto, a UN Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.


This would be a bombshell. Washington's long-stated policy is that a Palestinian state should be established only through an agreement negotiated directly between the two sides. In practice, this would require that Palestinian leaders agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and concede the so-called "right of return" for refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants to areas within Israel's borders, a prospect which would mean the demographic destruction of Israel.


For decades, Palestinian leaders have made it clear they won't do this: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't mince words, telling a gathering of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in November 2014, "We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel." Efforts to win recognition of Palestinian statehood by foreign governments and multilateral institutions are designed to skirt this precondition for statehood.


Any state that comes into existence without Palestinian leaders formally recognizing Israel will be a brutal, unstable train wreck, with areas under its jurisdiction likely to remain a hotbed of terrorism. On top of whatever existing factors are producing the endemic corruption and autocracy of the Abbas regime (not to mention the Hamas regime in Gaza), unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will vindicate radicals who have been saying all along that there's no need to compromise.


On the other hand, official Palestinian acknowledgement once and for all that Israel is not just here to stay, but has a right to stay, would deprive Palestinian leaders of time-honored tools for manipulating their constituents – appealing to and inflaming their baser anti-Jewish prejudices, promising them salvation if they'll only shut up 'til the Zionists are defeated, and so forth. Instead, they will have to do things like govern well and create jobs to win public support.


Previous American administrations have understood that recognizing Palestinian statehood before Abbas and company allow Palestinian society to undergo this transformation would be the height of irresponsibility. This is why American veto power has consistently blocked efforts to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state by way of the UN Security Council. Notwithstanding his apparent pro-Palestinian sympathies and affiliations prior to running for the Senate and later the White House, President Obama initially maintained this policy. The expressed threat of an American veto foiled Abbas' 2011 bid to win UN member-state status for "Palestine." He settled for recognition of non-member-state status by the General Assembly in 2012.


As moves by the PA to bring the issue of statehood to the UN picked up steam last year, however, it appeared to walk back this commitment. While U.S officials privately maintained there was "no change," Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power refused – despite the urging of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – to state publicly that the U.S. would use its veto to stop a resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.


The conventional wisdom was that Obama's refusal to make such a public declaration was intended to exert pressure on Netanyahu to tone down his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, and later to punish him for it or hold it out to secure concessions. As his presidency enters its final months, it's clear something even more nefarious is at work.


President Obama's failure to clarify his administration's position has greatly damaged prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even if it is Obama's intention to veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood that comes up at the UN, his refusal to publicly state this – or, put differently, his determination to go on the record for the history books not saying it – has fueled perceptions among Palestinians and European governments facing pressures of their own that American will is softening.


It is imperative that Congress use the tools at its disposal to make this unwise path as difficult as possible for the Obama administration. Ultimately, a one-sided UN declaration such as this serves only to postpone by a long shot the day when Palestinian leaders accept Israel as it is – the homeland of the Jewish people – and allow their subjects to enjoy the lasting peace and prosperity they and their neighbors deserve.                                                     




OBAMA’S HOSTILE EULOGY                                                                                                     

Caroline Glick                                                                                                      

Breaking Israel News, Oct. 10, 2016


US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres last Friday at Mt. Herzl was a thinly disguised assault on Israel. And he barely bothered to hide it. Throughout his remarks, Obama wielded Peres’s record like a baseball bat. He used it to club the Israeli public and its elected leaders over and over again. Peres, Obama intimated, was a prophet. But the suspicious, tribal people of Israel were too stiff necked to follow him.


In what was perhaps the low point of a low performance, Obama used Peres’s words to slander his domestic critics as racist oppressors. “Shimon,” he began harmlessly enough, “believed that Israel’s exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith.” Fair enough. You could say that about every Israeli leader since the dawn of modern Zionism.


But then Obama went for the jugular. In a startling non-sequitur he continued, “‘The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people,’ he [Peres] would say, ‘From the very first day we were against slaves and masters.’” We don’t know the context in which Peres made that statement. But what is clear enough is that Obama used his words to accuse the majority of Israelis who do not share Peres’s vision for peace – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who was sitting in the front row listening to him – of supporting slavery. This libelous assault on Israel was probably the most unhinged remark ever directed at the Jewish state by an American president. What does the fact that Obama said this at Peres’s funeral tell us about Obama? What does it tell us about Peres? Obama was not merely wrong when he accused Peres’s detractors of support for slavery, he was maliciously wrong.


Due to Peres’s Oslo accords, since 1995, all the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria have been governed by the PLO. Israel hasn’t been in charge of any aspect of their daily civic existence. And they have only suffered as a result. Between 1967 and 1996, when the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria were governed by the military government, the Palestinians were free. They only became “enslaved,” when the PLO took over. Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians enjoyed far more expansive civil rights than they have since we left. The PLO transformed their lives into chaos by implementing the law of the jungle, enforced by mob-style militias. Their property rights were trampled. Their civil rights have been gutted.


The fact that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies delayed their municipal elections indefinitely the day after Peres’s funeral is yet another testament to the absence of freedom in the PLO – as opposed to Israeli – ruled areas. But really, Obama couldn’t care less. He didn’t come here to tell the truth about Peres. He came here to use Peres as a means to bludgeon the government the people elected. Obama began his attack as he often begins his political assaults on his opponents. He created a straw man. Peres’s critics on the Right, he said, “argued that he refused to see the true wickedness of the world, and called him naïve.” In other words, as far as Obama is concerned, Israelis are prisoners of their dark view of the world. Unlike Peres the optimist, his countrymen are tribal pessimists.


Peres, whose vision for peace rested on giving the outskirts of Tel Aviv and half of Jerusalem to terrorists wasn’t naïve. He “knew better than the cynic,” Obama continued. He was better than that. He was better than us. This brings us then to the paradox of Peres’s life’s work. Over last quarter century of his life, we, the people of Israel wanted to feel empowered by Peres’s superstar status. We wanted to get excited when Hollywood stars and A-list politicians came to his birthday bashes at the President’s House and the Peres Center. But every time we tried to see Peres’s success as our success, some visiting VIP would smile before the cameras and kick us in the shins.


The higher Peres’s star rose in the stratosphere of celebrity stardom, the worse Israel’s global position became. The international A-listers who showed up at all of Peres’s parties always seemed to view him as their guy, not our guy. He was one of them – and above the likes of us. How did this happen? How did the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation become a prop for Israel’s chorus of international critics? The most extraordinary aspect of Peres’s long life is that he packed two full – and contradictory – careers into one lifespan.


Peres’s first career began with Israel’s founding. It ended with the Likud’s victory in the 1977 Knesset elections. Over the course of that career, Peres used his formidable diplomatic skills to build and strengthen Israel’s defenses. He cultivated and expanded complex strategic relationships with the French and British. Those ties led the two major powers to fight at Israel’s side in the 1956 Suez Campaign. They led to France’s decision to help Israel build its nuclear program and its arms industries.


In the 1970s as defense minister, Peres was able to rely on his warm ties to foreign leaders to shield the country as he established the Jewish communities in Samaria and Hebron. They empowered him to oversee the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe. But following the Likud’s rise to power, Peres changed gears. Ever since 1981 when he almost managed to scuttle the air force’s bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Peres used his diplomatic talents and ties to foreign leaders to advance his own agenda, regardless of whether that agenda was aligned or contradicted Israel’s national agenda, as set out by its elected leaders.


Time and time again, on the backs of the public that failed to elect him and the politicians the public elected instead of him, Peres cultivated and used the relationships he enjoyed with foreign leaders to press his own policies. Each attempt to derail the policies of the government expanded Peres’s chorus of supporters abroad. Peres’s second career reached its high water mark in 1994 when along with Rabin and Yassir Arafat he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo process. The world embraced and celebrated Peres for his peace deal that brought neither peace nor security to his people…                                                 

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]          





Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Sacks, Oct. 10, 2016


To those who fully open themselves to it, Yom Kippur is a life-transforming experience. It tells us that God, who created the universe in love and forgiveness, reaches out to us in love and forgiveness, asking us to love and forgive others. God never asked us not to make mistakes. All He asks is that we acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, grow through them, and make amends where we can. No religion has held such a high view of human possibility. The God who created us in His image, gave us freedom. We are not tainted by original sin, destined to fail, caught in the grip of an evil only divine grace can defeat. To the contrary we have within us the power to choose life. Together we have the power to change the world.


Nor are we, as some scientific materialists claim, mere concatenations of chemicals, a bundle of selfish genes blindly replicating themselves into the future. Our souls are more than our minds, our minds are more than our brains, and our brains are more than mere chemical impulses responding to stimuli. Human freedom – the freedom to choose to be better than we were – remains a mystery but it is not a mere given. Freedom is like a muscle and the more we exercise it, the stronger and healthier it becomes.


Judaism constantly asks us to exercise our freedom. To be a Jew is not to go with the flow, to be like everyone else, to follow the path of least resistance, to worship the conventional wisdom of the age. To the contrary, to be a Jew is to have the courage to live in a way that is not the way of everyone. Each time we eat, drink, pray or go to work, we are conscious of the demands our faith makes on us, to live God’s will and be one of His ambassadors to the world. Judaism always has been, perhaps always will be, counter-cultural.


In ages of collectivism, Jews emphasised the value of the individual. In ages of individualism, Jews built strong communities. When most of humanity was consigned to ignorance, Jews were highly literate. When others were building monuments and amphitheatres, Jews were building schools. In materialistic times they kept faith with the spiritual. In ages of poverty they practised tzedakah so that none would lack the essentials of a dignified life. The sages said that Abraham was called ha-ivri, “the Hebrew,” because all the world was on one side (ever echad) and Abraham on the other. To be a Jew is to swim against the current, challenging the idols of the age whatever the idol, whatever the age.


So, as our ancestors used to say, “’Zis schver zu zein a Yid,” It is not easy to be a Jew. But if Jews have contributed to the human heritage out of all proportion to our numbers, the explanation lies here. Those of whom great things are asked, become great – not because they are inherently better or more gifted than others but because they feel themselves challenged, summoned, to greatness.


Few religions have asked more of their followers. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. Jewish law applies to every aspect of our being, from the highest aspirations to the most prosaic details of quotidian life. Our library of sacred texts – Tanakh, Mishnah, Gemarra, Midrash, codes and commentaries – is so vast that no lifetime is long enough to master it. Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, sought for a description that would explain to his fellow Greeks what Jews are. The answer he came up with was, “a nation of philosophers.”


So high does Judaism set the bar that it is inevitable that we should fall short time and again. Which means that forgiveness was written into the script from the beginning. God, said the sages, sought to create the world under the attribute of strict justice but He saw that it could not stand. What did He do? He added mercy to justice, compassion to retribution, forbearance to the strict rule of law. God forgives. Judaism is a religion, the world’s first, of forgiveness…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


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Atoning for Sins on Yom Kippur: Dvora Waysman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 11, 2016—Freedom of choice is a basic Jewish doctrine from Genesis’s first story. “If you feel shame over having sinned, Heaven immediately forgives you.” These comforting words (Brachot 12B Hagiga 5A) are timely at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but we should also remember what Mark Twain wrote: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

White House Silent: Palestinians Attack Jews Praying at Joseph's Tomb: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 2016—The US State Department’s recent condemnation of Israel’s proposed solution of the illegal Amona outpost issue unfortunately reiterates the erroneous view that “settlements are the core problem” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Worse, it contributes to the prolongation of the conflict by incorrectly invoking international law under the pretext of “evenhandedness” toward the parties involved.

Congress Blasts Obama for Preparing Anti-Israel Offensive: Jenna Lifhits, Weekly Standard, Oct. 9, 2016—The Obama administration is manufacturing a crisis with Israel in anticipation of a post-election diplomatic push targeting the Jewish state, and this past week launched a series of broadsides criticizing the Israelis through the media and in press briefings, according to congressional sources and Jewish-American officials who spoke to the Weekly Standard.

Barack Obama’s Stillborn Legacy: At Home and Abroad, the President's Agenda is in Tatters: Charles Krauthammer, New York Daily News, Oct. 6, 2016—Only amid the most bizarre, most tawdry, most addictive election campaign in memory could the real story of 2016 be so effectively obliterated, namely, that with just four months left in the Obama presidency, its two central pillars are collapsing before our eyes: domestically, its radical reform of American health care, aka Obamacare; and abroad, its radical reorientation of American foreign policy — disengagement marked by diplomacy and multilateralism.