Tag: Vladimir Putin


Trump Soars in Warsaw — But Gets Suckered in Hamburg: Ralph Peters, New York Post, July 7, 2017— In Warsaw on Thursday, President Trump gave the most impressive speech by a US president on European soil since Ronald Reagan…

Russia’s Strategy: Built on Illusion: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, July 19, 2017 — Strong powers can underplay their hands and afford to make mistakes.

Chechnya’s Jewish Community Doesn’t Exist — But it’s Angry at Israel: Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA, July 21, 2017— While Russia’s mainstream Jewish leaders in Moscow firmly backed Israel’s actions in clashes this week with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the small Jewish community of Chechnya broke ranks with them and boldly condemned the Jewish state’s “provocations” against Muslims in the holy city.

Middle Eastern Islamism Threatens Russia: Daniel Pipes, Eurasia Expert, July 24, 2017— Why is the Middle East so unstable? Is there hope for improvement?


On Topic Links


Are Russia and America Headed for a Showdown?: George Beebe, National Interest, July 24, 2017

Why Trump’s Syrian Cease-fire Makes Israel Nervous: David Makovsky, Politico, July 14, 2017

The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, March 6 2017

Taliban Fighters Claim Russia is Giving Them Weapons: Mark Moore, New York Post, July 25, 2017



TRUMP SOARS IN WARSAW — BUT GETS SUCKERED IN HAMBURG                                                           

Ralph Peters

                                                  New York Post, July 7, 2017


In Warsaw on Thursday, President Trump gave the most impressive speech by a US president on European soil since Ronald Reagan raised the challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” His speechwriter served him splendidly, deservedly praising Poland’s long struggle for freedom and repeatedly calling out Russia for its invasions, occupations and atrocities.


The historical references, such as to the Katyn Forest Massacre of 15,000 Polish officers held as POWs, resonated with the Poles and galled Moscow. Listening to our president, I felt like standing up and cheering. Then Trump met Vladimir Putin on the rim of the G-20 summit in Germany, and he fell under the same spell that had seduced three US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, the latter of whom ended up as Putin’s strategic punching bag.


Listening to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s summary of the two-hour-plus meeting was painful. The naivety on display played into Putin’s hands. We got nothing, Putin got a big win. While it seemed a fine thing that our president brought up Russian interference in our election, Tillerson undercut it by stressing that he and the president didn’t want to re-litigate the past but seek to move forward. That was terrific news for Putin, who needs to be punished harshly for his election-meddling (yes, the Russians indisputably meddled). Russia’s new czar got a free pass for a still-to-be-issued promise not to do it again. We held all the aces. And we folded.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had his say, too, not only claiming Trump accepted that Russia had not meddled in the election, but implying, in the Russian version, that Trump personally rejected the notion of Russian interference. Follow-up US denials didn’t help; the damage was done. And that no-details-yet deal to suspend the fighting in southern Syria? The primary beneficiary — if it even works — will be Iran and its surrogates, who will be protected from interference as they tighten their grip on the border with Iraq.


The administration needs to grasp that Russia’s our enemy, and that’s because it chooses to be. The burden’s not on us to make up with Moscow, but on Putin to stop invading his neighbors, assassinating dissidents (including those in the West) and terror-bombing civilians in Syria. That’s how things could move forward. We somehow have convinced ourselves that we need Russia’s help. That’s nonsense. Russia desperately needs our support. And it needs sanctions lifted (watch that space). What do the Russians have? They have Putin. And he’s as canny as he is savage.


The live shots of Trump’s first handshake with Putin were telling. Trump was himself. Putin was the self he chose to be. Normally not a smiley-face guy, Putin advanced with an artificial smile — he’d studied Trump and decided that the best approach was chumminess. And he kept control of the situation. Short in stature, he was careful not to come too close to Trump, avoiding an embrace that would have made him look tiny compared to our president. Putin calculates every single move.


Czar Vladimir was more at ease in the second photo op, when both men were seated and Putin, who has a large torso, looked bigger beside Trump. Having watched Putin for many years, he always reminds me of a predatory cat, ever watching for the right moment to pounce. A judo devotee for five decades, he has a constant awareness of his environment, a sinewy alertness in the moment.


Perhaps our president will draw a lesson from the immediate propaganda use to which the Russians put this meeting. But he would have been better served had he at least included his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — who has no ties to Putin — in this initial meeting. As it is, we’re stuck with a public disagreement between Lavrov and Tillerson over what actually was said. And sowing doubt is to Russia’s advantage.


The president we need is the one we heard in Warsaw, praising and detailing the valiant, against-all-odds heroes of the Warsaw uprising, when Poles rose against the Nazis, expecting the Red Army — positioned just across the Vistula River — to come to their aid. Instead, Stalin ordered his troops to halt while the Nazis massacred the Poles. The speechwriter knew his or her history — and who the enemy was and still is today.


We need the Trump who, in that speech in Poland’s rebuilt capital, insisted that Western civilization is worth defending and that the fundamental question of our time is whether we’ll defend it. That sent the politically correct in the media into a weak-loined frenzy — all cultures are supposed to be equal — but, for the rest of us, it was heartening to hear someone defend a civilization that, for all its discontents, embodies the highest achievements of humanity: personal freedom, the rule of law, freedom of religion, opportunity and government of the people, by the people and for the people. As the president pointed out in that speech, the enemy doesn’t come only from the south, but from the east, as well. Ask the Poles.





George Friedman

Geopolitical Futures, July 19, 2017


Strong powers can underplay their hands and afford to make mistakes. Weak powers, on the other hand, need to exaggerate their power and be far more precise in its use. Power is like money; the less you have, the more you need to flaunt it and the fewer mistakes you can afford to make. But by trying to convince others that they have more power than they actually do, they run the risk of squandering a scarce resource. It’s nearly impossible to both flaunt power and preserve it at the same time.


This is the core strategic problem of Russia. On the one hand, it is still trying to find its way more than 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event President Vladimir Putin has referred to as “the greatest political catastrophe” of the 20th century. In the lives of nations, a quarter of a century is not very long, and the reverberations of the catastrophe are still being felt. On the other hand, Russia lives in a complex and dangerous region, and appearing weak can be the biggest threat to its well-being. Therefore, like a wealthy person coming into hard times, Russia must simultaneously try to appear more powerful than it is and meticulously manage what power it has.


Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has faced two fundamental problems. The first is geographic. The second, which we’ll return to later, is economic. Russia’s main geographic problem is that it needs to maintain a buffer zone to its west to stem the risk of attack from the European Peninsula. Russia has been invaded three times, once by France and twice by Germany. In each case, it survived because of strategic depth. The Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine created the buffer zone that gave Russia room to retreat and exhaust the enemy. Although the weather also played a role, distance was the main challenge for attacking armies. Even in World War I, Germany was unable to sustain the gains it won. In the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, the enemy was ground down and defeated.


After World War II, Russia’s buffer zone expanded dramatically. A second tier of nations to the West – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania – came under Soviet dominion. Soviet power pushed into central Germany. For the first time in its history, it had strategic depth such that an attack from the European Peninsula was unthinkable. But maintaining the force that was needed to hold this deep buffer exceeded Soviet resources. The drop in oil prices, the inherent inefficiency in the economy, and the cost of defending what it had won in World War II had become unsustainable, and the Soviet Union collapsed. It first lost the deep buffer of Eastern Europe, and two years later, it lost the critical elements of its core buffer, the Baltics and Ukraine.


An argument can be made that given the situation on the European Peninsula, the threat to Russia has evaporated. But nothing in Russia’s history permits such complacency. In 1932, Germany was a weak and divided liberal democracy. Six years later, it was the most powerful military force in Europe. Russia understands the speed with which European (and American) intentions and capabilities can change. It must therefore continue to pursue strategic depth.


When the Baltic countries were brought into NATO, the Russians were unable to respond. But Ukraine was a different matter. It had become independent but was not absorbed by the West. It was also a critical part of Russia’s buffer. Ukraine is vast, and the cost of crossing it from the west is high. When Western countries, particularly the U.S., appeared to support the establishment of a pro-Western government in Kiev during the 2004 Orange Revolution, Russia believed they actually intended to undermine Russian security. A Ukraine armed or controlled by the West would make Russia very difficult to defend. The U.S. claimed the Orange Revolution was about human rights, but the Russians saw that as a cover. The Russians fought back with covert operations designed to install a pro-Russian government in Kiev. The Americans responded by supporting the uprising in 2014, and the Russians saw this too as a hostile act.


But Russia was in no position to do anything about it. Its intelligence services failed to understand or prevent what happened in Kiev. The Russians had to do something to demonstrate they were not impotent. So Russia formally annexed Crimea, a region that was historically Russian, and where Russian force was already overwhelming. This convinced the Americans that Russia was an aggressive power. Russia found itself in a strategic confrontation that outstripped its resources but which it could not abandon.


But with Russia unable to challenge Western forces and with the U.S. uninterested in an extended conflict with Moscow, the result was a frozen conflict in Ukraine. There was an implicit agreement: Russia would accept a pro-Western government in Kiev so long as that did not include a military alliance or deployment of Western forces in Ukraine. The U.S. and Europe would accept the status quo so long as the Russians did not become aggressive. The Russians had a buffer against the West, and the West had a buffer against Russia. This achieved a solution the West could live with because Ukraine was not a fundamental interest. But for the Russians, it was only minimally acceptable. Ukraine was vital to Russian interests and this solution was only just short of a defeat.


Russia decided it had to act to increase its strength. But it was dealt another blow in 2014, when oil prices began to decline as a result of increased supplies and constrained demand. And this brings us back to Russia’s second fundamental problem: its economic weakness. Russia is dependent on an economic variable it can’t control. It remains heavily reliant on oil exports but it can’t dictate the price of oil. At a time when it needed to expand its military power, it was facing deep economic constraints. This was precisely the problem the Soviet Union faced in the 1980s. It had to increase its military force while its major export, energy, plunged in price. This problem was instrumental in the Soviet Union’s collapse. To avoid repeating this scenario, the Russians had to decrease their defense budget rather than increase it.


After the dual shocks of 2014, Russia could either acknowledge its weakness or attempt to appear more powerful than it was. But if it acknowledged its problems, Russia was afraid, reasonably so, that the U.S. could impose a more aggressive policy on Moscow. Russia was forced into the maneuver of a formerly wealthy man down on his luck. It had to appear convincingly more powerful than it was, with the attendant danger of using up resources it couldn’t afford to spend. It pursued this strategy through low-cost, low-risk actions.


One such action was in Syria. The intervention there served no Russian strategic interests. There was speculation that Russia was interested in pipelines or ports. But no one believed that Russia’s commitment to Bashar Assad was so deep that it would intervene to save him. In reality, the Russians intervened to show that they could, and to prove that they could deal with the United States and Turkey as equals. From a strategic standpoint, it made little sense. From a psychological standpoint, it made some sense. The forces it sent were limited, and while they may have prevented the fall of Assad, they are now as bogged down as the Americans, unable to win and unable to leave. But being as bogged down as the Americans was not a problem. To the contrary, it made Russia a player on a bigger stage…

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




BUT IT’S ANGRY AT ISRAEL                                                 

Cnaan Liphshiz                                                                                

JTA, July 21, 2017


While Russia’s mainstream Jewish leaders in Moscow firmly backed Israel’s actions in clashes this week with Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the small Jewish community of Chechnya broke ranks with them and boldly condemned the Jewish state’s “provocations” against Muslims in the holy city. At least that was the story reported in the national and local media, including the Echo of Moscow radio station and Chechnya Today – the most popular news site in the predominantly Muslim Russian republic.


There was just one problem with the news item: Chechnya apparently has no organized Jewish community, and according to some Jewish people who were born there, also next to no Jews. The reports about where Chechen Jews stand on the issue of Jerusalem, where police and Palestinians clashed Thursday night and Friday over Israel’s decision to place metal detectors near the entrance to the Al Aqsa mosque, relied on a video message published Tuesday by a man called Mosei Yunayev.


Claiming to speak for the Jewish community of Chechnya, he joined Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov in condemning Israel’s actions at the Temple Mount, where the mosque is situated. Chechen Jews, Yunayev said, “wholeheartedly support” the sharp-worded rebuke of Israel by Kadyrov. “Nonsense, I doubt there are even any Jews left in Chechnya, let alone an organized Jewish community,” Tamara Rafailova Kahlon, an Israeli who was born in the Chechen capital of Grozny, told JTA on Friday. Her father, Rafoi Rafailov, heads an association of Chechen Jews in the city of Pyatigorsk, situated 150 miles west of Grozny in the North Caucasian Federal District. “They all left, I don’t know who this man speaks for,” she said.


On July 15, Kadyrov called Israel’s heightened security on the Temple Mount, where the previous day three Arab-Israeli terrorists killed two police officers before they were shot to death, “deliberate provocation to foment riots.” He described as “violent” Israel’s detention of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who was called in for questioning after he urged worshippers to ignore a temporary closure of the compound immediately following the attack.


In response to the shooting, Israel for the first time placed metal detectors in gateways leading to the Haram al Sharif compound, which contains the Al-Aqsa mosque. Thousands of troops were deployed Friday following riots; two Palestinians were killed in the clashes. Security checks are a “provocation that invites resistance” by Muslims, Kadyrov said. Yunayev’s support for the condemnation by Kadyrov received considerable exposure in the Chechen media and other Russian-language publications. But Russian-speaking Jews, including community leaders, journalists and immigrants from Chechnya, dismissed and ridiculed Yunayev’s claim to represent a Jewish community that they said does not exist.


In an interview with Chechnya Today, Yunayev denied the assertions. “Those who claim that there are no Jews in Chechnya are far from being Jewish,” he said. And he presented his credentials: “I was sent to the Chechen Republic by the Council of Elders of the Jewish People to restore the Jewish community in the region. Only true believers know how right I am in my convictions.” JTA could not confirm the existence of an organization by that name; its only presence online originates in Yunayev’s mention in the Chechnya Today article. At other times, Yunayev presented himself as a member of the equally untraceable Congress of Jews of the North Caucasus Federal District.


Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior figure within the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told JTA he is aware neither of that group nor of any other organized Jewish community active in Chechnya. “Chechnya is special in that there is no Jewish community, there are no Jews there,” he told the news site Open Russia on Thursday. “Not in Grozny, not anywhere. Perhaps there are a few individuals, but there is no social community of ethnic Jews after the Chechen wars” of the 1990s and 2000s. “Any statements from the Chechen Jewish community are made up,” Gorin said.


Chechnya did have a Jewish population in the past. Grozny had a 19th-century Ashkenazi synagogue that was turned into a music school in 1937 and then destroyed during the first Chechen war of 1994-96. But today, “Chechnya has no Jews,” according to the website Gorskie, the official website of the Mountain Jews Community, who have lived for centuries in the Caucasus…           

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






Daniel Pipes (Interview)          

                                                Eurasia Expert, July 24, 2017


Why is the Middle East so unstable? Is there hope for improvement? Middle Eastern instability results from the region's particularly difficult transition to modernity. This can be explained by two main problems: historic Muslim-Christian tensions going back to the origins of Islam and acute differences between modern and Islamic ways at both the public and private levels. In all, Muslim-Christian relations are probably the most fraught of any two large bodies of people in the world…

Will Syria or its neighbors be occupied by terrorists? For me, the word terrorist has lost meaning; it's what everyone calls his enemies. Let me change your question from terrorists to jihadis. Jihadis have a great future in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and could control those states. The other neighbors – Turkey, Jordan, Israel – can protect themselves from anarchy though not from specific attacks.


In the aftermath of the Putin-Trump meeting at which both presidents expressed a readiness to fight ISIS in Syria, do you expect their forces to cooperate against it? Every serious analyst recognizes that the real issue in Syria is the growing Iranian presence and the Sunni states' resistance to it. ISIS is a sideshow. As Moscow is basically supporting Tehran and Washington supports the Sunni states, their differences will preclude more than occasionally tactical cooperation. I hope the Trump administration supports the Kurds and others who are resisting Iranian domination.


After helping the Iraqi army take Mosul from ISIS, will the U.S. government also help take Syrian cities from it? Due to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Americans feel a special responsibility for Iraq; but no similar sense exists for Syria. Also, the presence of Turkish and YPG forces complicates matters in Syria. I therefore expect a lesser U.S. involvement in Syria than in Iraq.


Can ISIS export instability from Syria-Iraq to Central Asia? ISIS has a history of doing too much too fast, making too many enemies and paying a heavy price for these mistakes. Assuming it has not learned the lesson of making alliances and limiting ambitions, it will likely try to reach Central Asia. I doubt it will succeed as the lure of the caliphate has been broken and other Islamist competitors are better positioned there…


Estimates suggest 5-7,000 people from Russia and the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are fighting for ISIS; Putin has stated that "we certainly cannot allow them to apply experience gained in Syria in our home." Do these CIS fighters in fact pose a threat to Russia? Assuming that the Russian authorities are on the alert for former ISIS fighters, I expect their threat will be contained to occasional acts of jihadi violence but no greater challenge…                                                                 

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




On Topic Links


Are Russia and America Headed for a Showdown?: George Beebe, National Interest, July 24, 2017—The situation may have to get worse before cooler heads start to prevail.

Why Trump’s Syrian Cease-fire Makes Israel Nervous: David Makovsky, Politico, July 14, 2017—Israel has done all it could over the past six years to stay out of the maelstrom next door in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s regime has struggled for six years to beat back a peaceful uprising that became a bloody civil war.

The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, March 6 2017—Why do you stay here?” “I have a son here,” he replied. And then he added: “God gave me as a Jew such a place in life—to live in Russia.” “What about the other Jews, why do they stay here?” “About the others I don’t know, but I imagine they too are needed here by nature and the Creator.”

Taliban Fighters Claim Russia is Giving Them Weapons: Mark Moore, New York Post, July 25, 2017—Two groups of Taliban fighters said they have weapons supplied by the Russians, CNN reported on Tuesday, reinforcing claims by US military officials that the Kremlin is arming its one-time foe.









A New Russian Order: Boaz Bismuth, Israel Hayom, Mar. 24, 2017— When Russia joined us here in the Middle East in September 2015, it had three clear goals…

How Worried are Israel’s Leaders About Putin’s Syrian Warning?: Yossi Melman, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 23, 2017—Contradictory reports, most of them unconfirmed and unofficial, have emerged in recent days regarding Israeli-Russian understandings over the war in Syria.

Is Putin Bibi's New 'Bestie'?: Arad Nir, Al-Monitor, Mar. 6, 2017— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves March 9 for Moscow, where he will have a quick meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

How Russia Is Turning Syria into a Major Naval Base for Nuclear Warships (and Israel Is Worried): Michael Peck, National Interest, March 18, 2017— During the 1970s, the Syrian naval base of Tartus became a major port servicing warships of the Soviet Union’s Fifth Mediterranean squadron.


On Topic Links


The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, Mar. 6, 2017

The Calamity of 1917: Max Boot, Commentary, Mar. 14, 2017

Russia Seeks Another Mediterranean Naval Base in Libya: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, January 22, 2017

So Long as it Doesn’t Fail Spectacularly, Trump’s Foreign Policy Just Might Work: Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2017





                   Boaz Bismuth

Israel Hayom, Mar. 24, 2017


When Russia joined us here in the Middle East in September 2015, it had three clear goals: It wanted to save the collapsing regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad; minimize the Americans' role in Syria (and possibly in the Middle East as a whole); and simultaneously lead the war against the Islamic State group, which posed and still poses a threat to Western capitals after a series of deadly terrorist attacks.


In the year and a half since then, it is safe to say that the Russian objectives have largely been met. Russia is now the main player in the new Syrian order. Assad is raising his head enough to consider refurnishing the presidential residence in Damascus and even a project to rebuild Aleppo. Talks on the future of Syria, to which Russia, Turkey and Iran are all parties, are underway in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, not in Vienna. The center of gravity has shifted to Asia, and Washington is barely even in the picture — the U.S. is still pondering whether to support the Kurds in their rebellion against Assad and their dreams of independence, or Turkey, America's NATO ally, which opposes the concept of independence for Kurdistan. The Russians don't have these problems.


Thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad can grin at his reflection in the mirror every morning as he grooms his little mustache. In 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande planned to attack the regime in Damascus after Assad used chemical weapons on his people for the 14th time since the civil war broke out in 2011. As we know, no steps were ultimately taken against Syria because Obama forgot the meaning of "red lines."


Obama and Cameron are already history, and Hollande is counting down the days before he leaves office, with very unflattering polls keeping him from running for president again. There's no doubt that Assad was saved thanks to this trio, and now thanks to Putin, as well. The big question now is where Russia is headed and what it wants in the Middle East. We need to remember that the Russians are at a crossroads, not least because of last week's missile launch that led to the Israeli ambassador to Moscow being summoned and reprimanded.


Paradoxically, to achieve peace, Russia needs both Israel and the U.S. This might be the reason why, even as the Israeli ambassador was called in, we saw no criticism of Israel in the Russian media. They wanted to put the whole thing behind them as quickly as possible. Despite gains in Syria, there are still limits on Russia. Assad and Iran do not exactly sound obedient, so we need not take every utterance of Assad's as if it was dictated by Moscow. Not every Iranian step or action in Syria is to Russia's liking, either. In fact the opposite is true — it's quite possible that Russia, like Israel, has an interest in curtailing Iran's activity in Syria. Israel is worried about the creation of a de facto border with Iran to the north. For the Russians, meanwhile, Tehran can be more than a minor annoyance, if only because of demographics.


Some even see Russia as a Muslim nation. Islam arrived in Russia 1,300 years ago, and over 15% of the people living in Russian territory are Muslims. There are over 10,000 mosques there, including a major one in Moscow. Russian Muslims are not happy about the burgeoning romance between Moscow and the Shiite axis of Assad-Iran-Hezbollah. Russia might be winning in the short- to mid-term, but in the long term, it's not certain that its bet on the Shiites will pay off. Moscow has good reason to fear another Arab Spring in the Caucasus and the rest of the secular territories, which is why Russia cannot allow Iran to take hold of any territory in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon, as Iran dreams of doing. This might be why Russia and Israel have no problem finding common ground on the Iranian issue.


"Aside from the attempt to keep the Assad regime alive, Russia and Iran don't necessarily have the same strategic interests in Syria," says Dr. Sarah Fainberg, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies. "Russia has an interest in checking the expansion of the Shiite axis. Precisely because of this, Russia is positioning itself as a referee between Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. But we should take into account the suspicion that exists between Russia and Iran, which limits the Russians' ability to dictate what the Iranians will do," Fainberg says.


Fainberg thinks Russia is ambivalent about Hezbollah: On the one hand, it understands the Israeli concerns about the organization gaining strength in Syria, and on the other, it sees the Shiite group as another source of support in preserving the Assad regime and in the war against Islamic State, as well as a legitimate political factor in Lebanon. This is exactly why the Russians need President Donald Trump's United States — they need America's help to limit Iran's status in the Middle East. In the meantime, almost all the players, including Russia, are waiting to see what Trump's next move will be…

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




                           HOW WORRIED ARE ISRAEL’S LEADERS

                               ABOUT PUTIN’S SYRIAN WARNING?

                                                     Yossi Melman

                                               Jerusalem Post, Mar. 23, 2017


Contradictory reports, most of them unconfirmed and unofficial, have emerged in recent days regarding Israeli-Russian understandings over the war in Syria. The reports follow Jerusalem’s admission that its warplanes last Friday attacked missiles being transfered via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The rare admission, which was contrary to the traditional Israeli policy of ambiguity, of neither confirming nor denying past strikes, triggered a chain of events in which, just hours after the attack, Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was urgently summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry and asked to provide explanations.

Media reports suggested that President Vladimir Putin, who is the sponsor and savior of the Syrian regime, expressed anger, while Syria’s ruler, Bashar Assad, boasted to Russian lawmakers that Putin had promised to rein in Israel. Israeli commentators wrote the operational freedom hitherto enjoyed by the IAF is over. Judging from statements by Israeli leaders and military commanders over the past two days, it seems they are not seriously worried. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to China, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot remained undeterred, delivering, more or less, the same message to the effect that Israel will continue pursuing its national security interests and defend its redlines in Syria.

Israeli policy is noninterventionist, with three exceptions. One is that the IDF retaliates from air and land whenever shells and rockets hit on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, regardless of whether it was targeted intentionally. Another is the establishment of terrorist networks near the Israeli border; attempts to do so have resulted in the assassination of Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah commanders. The third and most important exception is the occasional bombing, without admission, of convoys carrying and warehouses storing long-range, accurate missiles sent from Iran via Syria that are destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since 2013, some 20 such incidents have been recorded by the media based on Syria’s official statements and rare Israeli claims of responsibility.

Since Moscow deployed its forces in Syria 18 months ago, Israel added another factor to the equation; it reached understandings with Russia in order to know each other’s interests and avoid mistakes and even dog fights between their two air forces. These understandings are formulated in the creation of direct lines of communication between the intelligence and air forces of the two countries, and are known as a “deconflicting mechanism.” The unrattled reaction by top political and military brass indicate that they know better, especially Liberman, who is considered to be close to and have a good understanding of the Putin administration. It is very likely that Putin is playing a two-sided game – he understands the Israeli concerns and interests, but when Israel confirms that it has attacked Syria, he has no choice but to publicly denounce it.

However, on top of the understandings with Russia and the redlines, there is now one more important Israeli interest – to prevent the deployment of Hezbollah or Iraqi-Shi’ite militias sponsored and guided by Iranian officers near the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights. The recent success of the Assad regime and expected defeat of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria make this scenario more and more possible. Iran and Hezbollah hope to be positioned on the border and thus threaten to open a second front alongside Lebanon against Israel in case of a future war. Israel is committed to stop this, either by reaching another understanding with Putin, and through him influencing Assad, Iran and Hezbollah in that direction, or, as a last resort, by force.                                                     




                                  IS PUTIN BIBI'S NEW 'BESTIE'?

                                                     Arad Nir

                                               Al-Monitor, Mar. 6, 2017


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves March 9 for Moscow, where he will have a quick meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin…Sources close to Netanyahu say that he had asked for the meeting, the fifth between the two men in little over a year, to discuss developments in Syria, where Moscow's military presence has made the Russian Federation Israel's new neighbor. Military sources keeping tabs on security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Russia stress that so far, relations can be characterized by a level of coordination that appears to be perfect. Nevertheless, as in any relationship, it is important to constantly work on it instead of taking it for granted. In this regard, Netanyahu gets compliments from Israel's high-ranking military and civilian echelons.


No one interviewed claimed that Israel had anticipated how intensely Russia would be involved in Syria or the level of coordination that could be reached between Moscow and Jerusalem, particularly given that Putin is acting in Syria as if he owned the country. Nevertheless, a senior Israeli official intimately familiar with ties between Russia and Israel who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity emphasized that Moscow's involvement and coordination were “an expected surprise," but added, “Once it happened, we were able to explain it.”


Israel's ongoing success in securing its strategic needs given the Russian presence in Syria can be attributed to three factors. First and foremost is the respect that Putin has for the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular. The Israeli source could not stress this enough, remarking, “Putin is the most philo-Semitic Russian head of state ever.” He loves and admires the Jews, said the source, and he isn't afraid to express it. Putin often used to talk about a Jewish family that had lived near his parents' home and how, when he was a boy, he would eat and study at their table.


The second factor is the good interpersonal chemistry between Putin and Netanyahu. During Netanyahu's many years in office, he has made a point of fostering good relations with Russia, as have all other Israeli prime ministers since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Israeli official pointed out, however, that while the other prime ministers visited Russia and were received with great respect, the personal bond that has developed between Netanyahu and Putin is unique. “Whenever the prime minister calls, Putin answers,” he said. “There has never been a case where we asked to set up a meeting for Netanyahu and the Kremlin didn't offer us a date immediately.”


One example of this bond is the way Putin hosted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, last June, when they paid a visit to Russia to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The Israeli source noted in amazement that Putin devoted eight straight hours to hosting Netanyahu, stressing that even the Russian president's advisers were hard pressed to believe it. “Putin joined Netanyahu for a special performance at the Bolshoi Theater, and when the show was over, he continued on to a reception hosted by the Israeli Embassy,” the source said. “The two leaders sang a song together, and Putin agreed to pose for selfies with any of the guests who asked, and there were lots who did.” The two leaders are happy to show their fondness for one another and speak with the kind of frank honesty that is rare to find in international relations. “They know how to talk to each other, and this helps benefit each of their mutual and national interests.”


The third factor in the relationship is strategic. The close ties that have developed between Israel and Russia are based, first and foremost, on trust. Both parties know they will not agree on everything. The Russian rule is as long as you don't deceive us, we won't deceive you. It is clear to the Russians, the Israeli source said, that strikes in Syria attributed to the IDF have never been about them. Rather, they have targeted forces that pose a risk to Israel’s security. The Russians are willing to accept that the weapons systems they provide to the Syrian army and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad then transfers to Hezbollah will be destroyed by Israeli Air Force jets, so the Syrians claim. They do not understand Israel's sensitivity to attacks to the extent that a response is required whenever a weapon is misfired in its direction or a rocket crosses the Golan Heights, but they respect it, as long as they are kept informed, and everything is coordinated with them.


It is obvious to the Russians that the United States is Israel's No. 1 strategic ally, even if it sometimes seems as if Netanyahu would have preferred the Russians' pragmatic approach to the Palestinian issue over the American approach, or at least that was the case until Donald Trump entered the Oval Office.


Putin, like all his predecessors in the Kremlin, always makes sure to vote in favor of the Palestinians and against Israel in the United Nations Security Council. On the other hand, however, never has he hassled Israel about its policies. As the head of an enormous country with a 15% Muslim population, it is important for Putin that Israel reach an arrangement with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, all of the concerns he has raised about Israeli actions are practical and pragmatic. He has not raised moral issues concerning human rights. So, Netanyahu accepts Russia's UN voting patterns for what it is, while appreciating the way Moscow deals with it in other regards.


From this, Putin looks like someone who would be interested in a “deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, the kind agreed to by both parties. This is somewhat in line with Trump's approach laid out during the Feb. 15 press conference with Netanyahu at the White House. Yet despite the statements of friendship and affection that the new US president showered on Netanyahu and Israel, the Trump administration's actual foreign policy remains a complete riddle. No one knows what Trump plans to do in Syria, while the relationship between his inner circle and Russia is also unclear.


Another round of talks to resolve the Syrian conflict will be held later this month in the Kazakh capital of Astana. Thus far, the talks have received limited press coverage in Israel, even though they could result in a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, a strategic red line as far as the Israeli government is concerned. The rare personal chemistry between the Israeli prime minister and the Russian president has so far managed to maintain a dialogue focused on the two countries' interests, but also one based on mutual respect, trust and admiration. This week, Netanyahu heads to Moscow to keep the dialogue alive.







Michael Peck

National Interest, March 18, 2017


During the 1970s, the Syrian naval base of Tartus became a major port servicing warships of the Soviet Union’s Fifth Mediterranean squadron. The Soviet Union is gone, and so is Syria as a unified nation. But Russia is back, and it’s building up Tartus again as a naval base that can handle Russia’s largest nuclear-powered ships. Already, Israel says the Tartus base is affecting its naval operations. U.S. and NATO operations could be next.


Under the forty-nine-year agreement inked late last year by Russia and Syria, “the maximum number of the Russian warships allowed at the Russian naval facility at one time is 11, including nuclear-powered warships, providing that nuclear and ecological security rules are observed,” according to Russia’s RT news site. Russia will also be allowed to expand port facilities to accommodate the vessels. The specification allowing nuclear-powered warships means that Russia wants to be able to base in Syria large surface ships, namely Kirov-class nuclear-powered battle cruisers, as well as nuclear submarines.


In addition, the treaty allows “Russia is allowed to bring in and out any kind of ‘weaponry, ammunition, devices and materials’ to provide security for the facility staff, crew, and their families throughout the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic ‘without any duties or levies,’” according to RT. Expansion of the port will take about five years, according to an anonymous source cited in Russia’s Sputnik News. “The source added that the works would focus on dredging operations to allow cruisers and even possibly aircraft carriers to use the facility’s infrastructure,” Sputnik News reported. “According to the source, Russia also needs to develop the facility’s ground infrastructure, through construction of canalization, electricity generation facilities and barracks for the servicemen.”


Sputnik News also listed other provisions of the agreement. These include: Russia will be responsible for sea and air security of the base, while Syria handles the land defenses…Russia can deploy “temporary mobile outposts” beyond the base, as long as they coordinate them with the Syrians…Russia can renovate the base at will, including underwater construction, and build offshore platforms…Upon Syrian request, Russia will send specialists to service Syrian warships, conduct search and rescue in Syrian waters, and organize the defense of Tartus…Syria agrees not to “make any objections related to the military activities of the base, which will also be beyond Damascus’ jurisdiction.”…“Syria also pledges to solve any conflicts that may arise if a third party objects to the activities of the base.”


The Tartus deal is significant on several levels. For starters, the explicit mention of Tartus servicing nuclear-powered ships suggests that Russia may operate its biggest ships in the eastern Mediterranean, such as the nuclear battle cruiser Peter the Great. At the least, it indicates that nuclear submarines could be based at Tartus. That Russia can put deploy outposts beyond the base suggests that Russia will take an expansive view of defending Tartus against rebel attacks. Russia will also be responsible for sea and air security at Tartus. Yet since the Syrian rebels don’t have a navy or air force—but the Americans and the Israelis do—this indicates that Moscow is eyeing Tartus through the lens of a possible conflict with outside powers.


However, the agreement also contains two contradictory provisions. On the one hand, it bars Syria from objecting to Russian military activities at the base, which will not be under Syrian jurisdiction. So, if Russian ships and aircraft ever decide to harass NATO and Israeli forces in the Mediterranean—just as Russia has done in the Black Sea—then Syria can’t stop them. On the other hand, Syria is obligated to “solve any conflicts” if a “third party” objects to the activities at the Tartus base. If this means that the United States or Israel complains, then Syria must resolve the problem—even though it has no jurisdiction over the base or operations conducted from there.


In any event, Israel has gotten the message. “There have been instances in which we assessed the situation and changed or chose not to carry out operations,” Rear Adm. Dror Friedman, Israeli Navy chief of staff, told the Jerusalem Post. “You see their activities in the field and you see them putting down roots, you see their activities in the Port of Tartus and you understand that this isn’t the activity of someone who is planning to pack their bags and leave tomorrow morning.”




On Topic Links


The Prospect for Russia's Jews: Maxim D. Shrayer, Mosaic, Mar. 6, 2017 —Why do you stay here?” “I have a son here,” he replied. And then he added: “God gave me as a Jew such a place in life—to live in Russia.” “What about the other Jews, why do they stay here?” “About the others I don’t know, but I imagine they too are needed here by nature and the Creator.”

The Calamity of 1917: Max Boot, Commentary, Mar. 14, 2017—One hundred years ago Wednesday—on March 15, 1917—one of the most momentous events of the 20th century occurred: Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, thus ending 300 years of Romanov rule of Russia and setting the stage, later the year, for the Bolshevik takeover. Once Lenin was in power, Russia was hurtling on the trajectory toward the Stalinist terror and mass famine, World War II, and the Cold War. Russia is today on a path toward a post-Soviet future dominated by a former KGB officer who seems to be plotting to reassemble the Russian Empire the Bolsheviks temporarily tore down before rebuilding and expanding it.

Russia Seeks Another Mediterranean Naval Base in Libya: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, January 22, 2017—In recent months, Russia has been ramping up its involvement in the Libyan sociopolitical crisis, which has been ongoing since the removal of its ruler, Muammar Qaddafi. Russia has been strengthening its ties with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who heads the LNA (the Libyan National Army), one of the many military militias operating in Libya, and opposes the country’s official government.

So Long as it Doesn’t Fail Spectacularly, Trump’s Foreign Policy Just Might Work: Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2017—At the heart of President Trump’s foreign policy team lies a glaring contradiction. On the one hand, it is composed of men of experience, judgment and traditionalism.
















Europe's 'Turkish Awakening': Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 14, 2017— Turkey, officially, is a candidate for full membership in the European Union.

In Turkey-Netherlands Row, a Foreboding Sign For Jews: Cnaan Liphshiz, Times of Israel, Mar. 15, 2017— The thousands of people who gathered outside the Turkish consulate of this port city on Saturday patiently waited for hours, chatting with friends and relatives.

Erdogan Critics Beware: Turkey Probably is Watching: IPT News, February 27, 2017— For some Americans, concerns about Russian spying and interference in its elections are growing, with new reports emerging nearly every day.

Following Russia’s Lead is the Smart Move for Turkey and Israel: Micah Halpern, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 14, 2017— Russian President Vladimir Putin is a world-class master when it comes to getting what he wants. He leaves nothing to chance.


On Topic Links


Russian Air Defense Architecture … for NATO Member Turkey?: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Mar. 14, 2017

Cyprus Deal Could Speed up Israel-Turkey Gas Project – Envoy: Times of Israel, Mar. 1, 2017

Is Turkey Lost to the West?: Patrick J. Buchanan, CNS News, Mar. 14, 2017

Turkey’s New Curriculum: More Erdoğan, More Islam: Zia Weise, Politico, Feb. 13, 2017



                                      Burak Bekdil

Gatestone Institute, Mar. 14, 2017


Turkey, officially, is a candidate for full membership in the European Union. It is also negotiating with Brussels a deal which would allow millions of Turks to travel to Europe without visa. But Turkey is not like any other European country that joined or will join the EU: The Turks' choice of a leader, in office since 2002, too visibly makes this country the odd one out.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now campaigning to broaden his constitutional powers, which would make him head of state, head of government and head of the ruling party — all at the same time — is inherently autocratic and anti-Western. He seems to view himself as a great Muslim leader fighting armies of infidel crusaders. This image, with which he portrays himself, finds powerful echoes among millions of conservative Turks and [Sunni] Islamists across the Middle East. That, among other excesses in the Turkish style, makes Turkey totally incompatible with Europe in political culture.


Yet, there is always the lighter side of things. Take, for example, Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara and a bigwig in Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). In February Gokcek claimed that earthquakes in a western Turkish province could have been organized by dark external powers (read: Western infidels) aiming to destroy Turkey's economy with an "artificial earthquake" near Istanbul. According to this conspiracy theory, the mayor not only claims that the earthquake in western Turkey was the work of the U.S. and Israel, but also that the U.S. created the radical Islamic State (ISIS). In fact, according to him, the U.S. and Israel colluded to trigger an earthquake in Turkey so they could capture energy from the Turkish fault line.


Matters between Turkey and Europe are far more tense today than ridiculous statements from politicians who want to look pretty to Erdogan. The president, willingly ignoring his own strong anti-Semitic views, recently accused Germany of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times, in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany. The Dutch, Erdogan apparently thinks, are no different. In a similar diplomatic row over Turkish political rallies in the Netherlands, Erdogan described the Dutch government as "Nazi remnants and fascists". After barring Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from entering the country by airplane, the Dutch authorities also escorted another Turkish minister out of the country. Quite a humiliation, no doubt. An angry Erdogan promised the Netherlands would pay a price for that.


Europe, not just Germany and the Netherlands, looks united in not allowing Erdogan to export Turkey's highly tense and sometimes even violent political polarization into the Old Continent. There are media reports that the owner of a venue in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, has now cancelled a pro-Erdogan rally, although Sweden's foreign ministry said it was not involved in the decision. Europe's anti-Erdogan sentiment is going viral. Denmark's prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said that he asked his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, to postpone a planned visit because of tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands. Although Turkey thanked France for allowing Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to address a gathering of Turkish "expats" in the city of Metz, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on Turkish authorities to "avoid excesses and provocations".


None of the incidents that forcefully point to Europe's "Turkish awakening" happened out of the blue. At the beginning of February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Erdogan held a tense meeting in Ankara. Erdogan clearly rejected Merkel's mention of "Islamist terror" on grounds that "the expression saddens Muslims because Islam and terror cannot coexist". The row came at a time when a German investigation into Turkish imams in Germany spying on Erdogan's foes made signs of reaching out to other parts of Europe. Peter Pilz, an Austrian lawmaker, said that he was in possession of documents from 30 countries that revealed a "global spying network" at Turkish diplomatic missions.


At the beginning of March, after Turkey said it would defy opposition from German and Dutch authorities and continue holding rallies in both countries, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for an EU-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians.In response, further challenging Europe, Turkey arrested Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German reporter for a prominent German newspaper, Die Welt, on charges of "propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting the public to violence." Yucel had been detained after he reported on emails that a leftist hacker collective had purportedly obtained from the private account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey's energy minister and Erdogan's son-in-law.


Erdogan's propaganda war on "infidel" Europe has the potential to further poison both bilateral relations with individual countries and with Europe as a bloc. Not even the Turkish "expats" are happy. The leader of Germany's Turkish community accused Erdogan of damaging ties between the two NATO allies. Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, which is an umbrella for 270 member organizations, said: "Erdogan went a step too far. Germany should not sink to his level".


The most recent wave of tensions between Erdogan's Turkey and Europe, which it theoretically aspires to join, have once again unveiled the long-tolerated incompatibility between Turkey's predominantly conservative, Islamist and often anti-Western political culture and Europe's liberal values. Turkey increasingly looks like Saddam Hussein's Iraq. During my 1989 visit to Iraq a Turkish-speaking government guide refused to discuss Iraqi politics, justifying his reluctance as: "In Iraq half the population are spies… spying on the other half." Erdogan's Turkey has officially embarked on a journey toward Western democracy. Instead, its Islamist mindset is at war with Western democracy.              






                                                   Cnaan Liphshiz

                                            Times of Israel, Mar. 15, 2017


The thousands of people who gathered outside the Turkish consulate (in Rotterdam) on Saturday patiently waited for hours, chatting with friends and relatives. Waving Turkish flags, they had gathered on a chilly evening to listen to a Cabinet minister from Turkey arguing in favor of a government-led referendum next month in that country. The referendum would give even greater powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose critics already say rules the country with an iron grip.


Erdogan is eyeing the 3 million Turkish nationals living in Europe who can cast their votes in Turkish embassies. But the chummy atmosphere evaporated as word spread that Dutch police had arrested the minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya. In reality, she was escorted out of the country to Germany on orders of the Dutch government. Ahead of Wednesday’s general elections in the Netherlands — immigration and Islam have become major issues in the heated campaign — the government vocally objected to Turkey’s campaigning on its soil.


Hundreds of young men began confronting police, hurling stones at them while shouting “Allahu akbar” – Arabic for “Allah is the greatest.” Some in the crowd then shouted “cancer Jews” in Dutch at the riot police, who used water cannons to disperse the crowd, according to witnesses. It was one of several incidents recently in the Netherlands where anti-Semitic slogans were shouted at demonstrations that had nothing to do with Jews.


Occurring as the far right prepares to make historical gains in the voting, the riots in Rotterdam, where five people were moderately injured, triggered the worst diplomatic crisis in years between Turkey and the European Union, and reopened a polarizing debate about the loyalty of some Dutch of Turkish descent. But for Dutch Jews, the affair also underlined a growing concern over the defiance of a minority among local Muslims, whose anti-Semitic attitudes and actions are generating an anti-Muslim backlash in a once-tolerant society.


“We saw again that the word ‘Jew’ and ‘homo’ are curse words in these groups,” Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, told JTA. “Those protesters have such hostility toward Jews that it just comes out.” Voet also called the violent protesters in Rotterdam a “fifth column” in Dutch society, adding that she was “in some ways glad the riots exposed what many would rather deny.” Across Western Europe, surveys consistently show a relatively high prevalence of anti-Semitic sentiment among Muslims, many of whom associate Jews with an establishment they feel is oppressive and hostile to their identity and faith.


But the use of slogans about Jews during violent confrontations that do not involve Jews is a recent development. And it is shocking to many European Jews because “it shows the centrality of anti-Semitism as a core identity value” among some Muslim immigrants and their descendants, according to Manfred Gerstenfeld, a scholar of anti-Semitism who has written extensively about the Netherlands.


In 2014, amid protests over Israel’s strikes against Hamas in Gaza, anti-Semitic hostility led dozens of French Arab rioters to besiege a Paris synagogue, which community members defended for long minutes in a savage street brawl as police scrambled to dispatch officers in time to prevent a bloodier scenario. Yet despite several close calls – Dutch police in 2015 arrested several alleged Islamists suspected of plotting to blow up a synagogue in Amsterdam — the Netherlands in recent decades has seen neither major jihadist attacks nor deadly incidents of anti-Semitism of the kind that have occurred in France and neighboring Belgium since 2012.


In covering the Rotterdam rioting, the Dutch media largely ignored the anti-Semitic shouts, focusing instead on the far wider ramifications of what quickly evolved into a showdown featuring Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. After the incident with Kaya and the Dutch government’s refusal to admit into the country Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Erdogan accused both Germany and Holland of having a “Nazi heritage,” leading to condemnations of Turkey by other EU leaders and Jewish groups. Turkish protesters subsequently were allowed to gather outside the Dutch Embassy in Ankara, leading to its brief closure as the Dutch and Turkish governments exchanged threats of financial sanctions…

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





ERDOGAN CRITICS BEWARE: TURKEY PROBABLY IS WATCHING                                         

                                        IPT News, February 27, 2017


For some Americans, concerns about Russian spying and interference in its elections are growing, with new reports emerging nearly every day. But in Europe, officials are fighting off an even greater incursion from another country, which is now spying even on civilians: Turkey.


Recent investigations and leaks in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands confirm ongoing efforts by Turkey's government to intimidate European-Turkish citizens suspected of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's one-time ally, whom he now blames for the failed coup against him last July. Imams in Germany connected to the Turkish state, for instance, admitted to spying on teachers in German state-run schools. Even teachers and parents have been asked to spy on the classes and report in any criticism of Erdogan or his government.


In Austria, parliamentarian Peter Pilz has referred to a "global spying network," with Austria's union of Turkish-Islamic groups sending reports on Gulen-tied organizations back to Ankara. Targets have included educational institutions, cultural centers, and various NGOs. And in The Netherlands, the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam has revoked the passports of several Dutch-Turks thought to support Gulen. (Turkey maintains consular offices in several Dutch cities; to date, reports of passports being revoked are limited to the Rotterdam office.)


Erdogan's involvement in European affairs beyond Turkey's borders, especially in the affairs of Europeans of Turkish descent, is nothing new. In 2008, while speaking at a rally in Cologne, Germany, he encouraged all European Turks to resist assimilation, which he called "a crime against humanity." In 2013, he interfered in a Dutch child abuse case against a Dutch-Turkish mother after the child was given over to lesbian foster parents. And last year, he called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prosecute a German comedian who had written a song critical of him.


But the latest efforts indicate an even greater bravado, says Elise Steilberg, a Dutch columnist who frequently writes on Turkish politics. "The clearer it has become that Erdogan aims at a one-man-rule, and that in working toward his goal of constitutional change he won't hesitate to use unconventional means, the more obvious it has also become that he will do anything to get as many European Turks behind him as possible," she said in a recent e-mail. "Erdogan is now openly using all available channels to increase his influence within Europe."


The Dutch passport situation is a salient example of this effort. Both dual Dutch-Turkish citizens and Turkish citizens with residency permits have reported that their passports were confiscated at the Rotterdam office. In each case, they were said to have ties to Gulen, to Kurdish groups, or to journalists and others critical of the Turkish government. For dual citizens, this is bad enough, but those with only Turkish citizenship are rendered stateless by such a move. Some have argued that this action represents a flagrant violation of United Nations conventions, but Turkey is not a signatory to those conventions.


There is, however, an option offered to those whose passports are revoked, reports Dutch newspaper Trouw, which first broke the story. To obtain a replacement, they will be provided a one-day passport that allows them to return to Turkey. On arrival, they will be held in custody, effectively imprisoned until they can plead their case in court – a process that can take six months. In one particularly disturbing case described in Trouw, a Turkish woman was forced to relinquish her passport because her husband is a Gulenist. She is not.


But Ankara has not stopped at the door of its consulates. With Dutch elections set for March 15, Turkey is allegedly paying imams in The Netherlands to urge Dutch-Turks to vote for the anti-integration Denk (Think) party, led by Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Ozturk, both of whom are Turkish-born. Among Denk's objectives: a culture of "acceptance" rather than integration, the creation of a "racism register," and the formation of a "racism police." In an interview with Elsevier, Dutch Turkish Council Director Sefa Yurukel described the "vote Denk" messages distributed by the imams as containing "the typical arguments of Islamists." Further, he said, they indicate that Denk likely enjoys support from the Diyanet, a government body that oversees religious affairs in Turkey and among the Turkish people worldwide.


It is just that sort of effort to monitor and manipulate the behavior of Turkish citizens, even those who do not live in Turkey, that has Steilberg most concerned. While "of course all countries spy" on one another, she says, the idea of civilians spying on civilians is especially chilling. Already the Dutch have experienced some of the worst of this, as when Twitter users in the Netherlands reported to the Turkish authorities the anti-Erdogan tweets of Dutch-Turkish columnist Ebru Umar. Umar, who was in Turkey at the time, was immediately arrested, and was not permitted to return to the Netherlands for several weeks. She was eventually released only thanks to the intervention of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Now, as such government intervention becomes increasingly intertwined with religious manipulation and intrigue, the reaches of Turkey's growing theocracy into European culture seems an imminent, and ever-expanding threat.    






Micah Halpern                                                              

 Jerusalem Post, Mar. 14, 2017


Russian President Vladimir Putin is a world-class master when it comes to getting what he wants. He leaves nothing to chance. Putin has created a series of summits in Moscow with one goal in mind: to cement Russia’s role in the Middle East and to delineate the roles of other nations, insuring that there be no unintended conflict between parties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow last Thursday for a public, much heralded face-to-face summit with Putin. On Friday, Putin convened another summit. This one was much quieter, yet once again face-to-face, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Putin covered much of the same ground with Erdogan as he did with Netanyahu. Islamic State (ISIS), Iran, Syria, terrorism and borders were the main topics. But there were several important differences.


Both Israel and Turkey are regional players and Russia wants to make certain that they are all on the same page with regard to ISIS. He also wants to make certain that there is agreement on Syria’s President Bashar Assad – in other words, he wants to make sure that everyone is on his page. Israel says it doesn’t care about Syrian leadership – all it wants is stability and for Iran to be kept as far away as possible. Turkey wants its border quiet and the ability to cross over borders when needed to pursue and punish terrorists. They want freedom to operate in Syria and even to station troops there when necessary. Netanyahu already has an agreement with Putin that allows Israel free access to Syria.


The Israeli agreement was hammered out almost a year ago, on the eve of Passover, and was precipitated by a near crisis: Russian MiGs locked on to Israeli fighter jets. Israel did not respond militarily, choosing instead a diplomatic response. On arguably one of the busiest days on the Jewish calendar, Netanyahu took his military aides and jumped on a plane for a halfday visit in Moscow. Putin claimed no knowledge of the incident. He said he gave no permission and will never give permission for his troops to engage Israel – not in the air, on land or on the sea. He stipulated that he receive prior notice before an Israeli operation and promised not to pass that intel on to anyone. Conflict with Israel is not in Moscow’s interest. A Russian/Israeli dogfight would be a crapshoot. Putin does not gamble, he needs to always know the outcome.


In this case, there is strong possibility that Russia would lose and that loss would be a tremendous blow to Russia’s power in the region. The results could cascade into a colossal failure in Russian Middle East strategy. They would lose face just as they are gaining power. A loss to an Israeli jet could not be chalked up to luck or technical problems as is common when ISIS scores a victory. It could only mean that Israel is the superior fighting force in the region. Russia would lose face. Israel and Russia need to keep on good terms to make certain the region does not spiral into crisis.


Turkey wants the same level of cooperation. It wants the same freedom of operation. That will not happen. Russia and Turkey are talking – but there is much distrust. Putin thinks Turkey has an exaggerated sense of its own power. Turkey has challenged Russia numerous times, including downing a Russian plane, an incident that ruptured the relationship between the two countries until Turkey begged forgiveness.


When Netanyahu goes to Putin, he shows great respect for the Russian president. In return, he gets respect. Netanyahu also approaches Russia with caution and with the knowledge that Putin, and Putin alone, determines Russian policy. Contrast that with Netanyahu’s approach to the US. After the first meeting between president Bill Clinton and Netanyahu, Clinton remarked how shocked he was after meeting the Israeli. He said Netanyahu was so cocky that he was confused as to who was the leader of the free world. Netanyahu knows where power lies in the US. He has great support on both sides of the congressional aisle and among donors from both parties. He enters the White House knowing that he has leverage.


Not so in Russia. During both summits everyone agreed on ISIS and Syria. The two elephants in the room were US President Donald Trump and Iran. No one wants Iran in Syria. And Iran still supports Hezbollah and has significant troops and advisers there to defend Assad and keep him in power. Iranian and Hezbollah forces are the front line in Syria, keeping it from descending further in to crisis. While Iran and Hezbollah prevent Syria from being controlled by ISIS or al-Qaida, Russia is there to control and manage the situation. Putin and his Russia have the power. For now, Israel and Turkey are content to follow Russia. It’s the smart thing to do.




On Topic Links


Russian Air Defense Architecture … for NATO Member Turkey?: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Mar. 14, 2017—Turkey tried it with China, unsuccessfully. Now it might try to have another go, this time with Russia. Shrugging off admonitions of caution from its western allies, NATO-member Turkey shows unmistakable signs that it seeks to build a Russian-made air defense system.

Cyprus Deal Could Speed up Israel-Turkey Gas Project – Envoy: Times of Israel, Mar. 1, 2017—A Cyprus peace deal would speed up Israel’s project to provide gas to Turkey, the new Israeli ambassador to Ankara said Wednesday.

Is Turkey Lost to the West?: Patrick J. Buchanan, CNS News, Mar. 14, 2017—Not long ago, a democratizing Turkey, with the second-largest army in NATO, appeared on track to join the European Union. That's not likely now, or perhaps ever.

Turkey’s New Curriculum: More Erdoğan, More Islam: Zia Weise, Politico, Feb. 13, 2017—With President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans for greater powers firmly on track, Turkey’s government has set about shaping the country’s future outside the halls of parliament.














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.







Despite Russian Involvement in Syria, Israel to Maintain Watchful Eye: Yossi Melman, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1, 2016— Throughout 2016, there were very few reports about two alleged strikes by the Israel Air Force against weapons convoys traveling from Syria to Hezbollah.

Implications of the Emergent Russian-Hezbollah Coordination in Syria: Yossi Mansharof, Besa, Dec. 2, 2016 — On November 24, 2016, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily al-Akhbar reported that for the first time Russian senior military officers held a direct meeting with Hezbollah field commanders.

Why Russia Isn’t Waiting to Finish Aleppo: Tom Rogan, National Review, Nov. 28, 2016— When Russia’s offensive in Syria began last year, I argued that Putin’s strategy would focus on “securing a contiguous area of Assad-regime control in western Syria, reaching from the north to the south.”

The Jihadists Strike Back: Isabelle Lasserre, National Post, Nov. 16, 2016 — In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is losing territory fast.


On Topic Links


Trump’s Ascent Is More Bad News for the Syrian Opposition: James Snell, National Review, Nov. 16, 2016

U.S. Syria Policy at Crossroads as Rebels Falter: Jay Solomon, Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2016

Analysis: Russian Silence Might Signal ‘Tacit Consent’ by Kremlin to Israeli Strikes in Syria: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 1, 2016

Iran's Forces Outnumber Assad's in Syria: Majid Rafizadeh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 24, 2016





Yossi Melman                                                      

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1, 2016


Throughout 2016, there were very few reports about two alleged strikes by the Israel Air Force against weapons convoys traveling from Syria to Hezbollah. This was in a sharp contrast to dozens of reports about similar attacks in the preceding three years, so commentators reached the conclusion that Israel was reducing its involvement in Syria due to the massive Russian presence there in general, and the deployment of its air force and its sophisticated anti-aircraft radars and batteries, which practically cover the entirety of Israel, in particular. But the attack attributed to the IAF which took place at 1 a.m. on Wednesday proves that the impression is wrong: despite Russian involvement in the bloody Syrian civil war, Israel still maintains, at least partially, its freedom of action in Syria.


This is certainly the case in areas very close to the Israeli border, as we saw earlier this week when IAF attacked an ISIS position and took responsibility for it, in retaliation for an ISIS attack on an Israeli patrol on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. But when it comes to areas more distant from the border – certainly near Damascus – the operation is much more complicated, risky and could spin out of control.


According to reports emerging from Syria, the IAF attacked a weapons convoy – on the outskirts of the Syrian capital and on the main road to Beirut – which was destined for Hezbollah. Israel has kept silent, neither confirming nor denying the reports. Such a mission is very sensitive indeed. Though the attack was aimed, as reported, against Hezbollah, it is interpreted – and rightly so – also as a strike against the Assad regime, which is either responsible for the weapon shipment or turning a blind eye to it. Indirectly, a strike against Bashar Assad can be perceived as an assault or humiliation of Russia, which is behind the regime and aiding in its consolidation. Already last night reports suggested that Russia is asking for clarifications from Israel.


Israel and Russia established a special red line link for “deconfliction,” to avoid unintended clashes between the two sides. For this purpose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow four times over the last year for talks with President Vladimir Putin, and senior IDF and IAF officers met with their Russian counterparts. But it is very unlikely that Israel informed Russia ahead of the reported attack. Nations don’t do that not even with their friends, because it may jeopardize the operation and risk life. Bearing in mind these circumstances and complications, one has to conclude that the targets attacked, as reported, were very important to Israel and worth the risk and the ramifications. It can also be assumed that the intelligence was excellent, and that it was a feasible operation.


In the past, Israeli leaders said – and Netanyahu and defense ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Avigdor Liberman reiterated – that Israel has no intention of getting involved in the civil war, but that it would religiously guard its national interests. That included retaliation for every intentional and unintentional violation of Israeli sovereignty, as well as preventing shipments of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is mainly concerned about Yakhont land-sea cruise missiles, anti-aircraft batteries and radars, and components that would increase the accuracy of Hezbollah ground-to-ground missiles. If indeed Israel is behind the latest attack, most probably this was the motivation.


It is important, however, to stress that Israel is also very cautious not to violate Lebanese sovereignty. In the past – after an IAF strike on Lebanese soil – Hezbollah threatened to retaliate. For the Shi’ite organization, Israeli strikes on Syrian soil are tolerable. Will they be also accepted by Russia and by Assad?                                                                                          



IMPLICATIONS OF THE EMERGENT                                                                    

RUSSIAN-HEZBOLLAH COORDINATION IN SYRIA                                                                       

Yossi Mansharof                                                                                                          

Besa, Dec. 2, 2016


On November 24, 2016, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily al-Akhbar reported that for the first time Russian senior military officers held a direct meeting with Hezbollah field commanders. The meeting had taken place in Aleppo a week earlier. According to the report, the meeting was conducted via representatives in joint operations rooms in Baghdad and Damascus, and it included Syrian and Iraqi military officers. The meeting was held at the request of the Russians and concluded with Moscow and Hezbollah agreeing to convene such meetings regularly.


The report states that Russia initiated the meeting after being impressed by Hezbollah’s efforts at repelling the Syrian rebel attack in western Aleppo in October. Al-Akhbar added that the open channel between the parties will include operational discussions of military programs, and will not address the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.


If Russia really does intend to step up its military cooperation with Hezbollah in Syria by maintaining this channel, Israel must update the security coordination between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Putin. The Syrian civil war has long been transformed from a local and regional feud into a superpower conflict on a par with other flashpoints between the superpowers in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Moscow has been consistently prepared to defend its vital interests in the Syrian arena, while the Obama administration’s Syrian policy has been timid and indecisive.


The US administration has persistently proclaimed that Assad must go. Ultimately, however, it relented and agreed to consider the Syrian dictator a legitimate actor in a transitional government that is supposed to lead the country toward a new future. Russia, aware of US confusion, began in July 2015 to increase its footprint in Syria through direct, escalating military intervention and widespread attacks against the Syrian opposition.


The Russia-Hezbollah meeting has important implications for the Islamist group, the US, and Israel. Hezbollah is mired in the Syrian quagmire. According to estimates by Hezbollah's opponents in Lebanon’s Shiite community, the group’s death toll in Syria has passed the threshold of two thousand fatalities. Hezbollah needs a response to its critics among both Lebanese Shiites and the wider Sunni world, which accuse it of participating in genocide and in directing its weapons against Muslims instead of Israel.


The leak of the Hezbollah-Russia meeting by a Lebanese media outlet affiliated with the Shiite group is unlikely, therefore, to have been coincidental. Hezbollah’s mounting casualties have contributed to a decline in motivation among Lebanon's Shiite youth to enlist in its ranks, and its Syrian involvement has inflicted a blow to its public standing – particularly among its traditional supporters, who have served as an important base for its political and security activity.


A direct military and operational dialogue with Russia will serve Hezbollah in three ways. First, it can bolster its image and present it as the recipient of growing recognition and support as a legitimate operational actor in the Syrian arena. Secondly, it signals to critics at home that the number of fatalities from the fighting in Syria could be reduced now that a direct channel with Russia has been established. Thirdly, Hezbollah can reap military benefits in the form of improved warfare capabilities in built-up areas.


Those benefits will serve Hezbollah well in its fight against Israel, from both defensive and offensive standpoints. In terms of defense, Hezbollah's exposure to Russian military operations could significantly improve its overall level of readiness and competence in dealing with infiltration by Israeli special forces. In terms of offense, by learning from the Russian army, Hezbollah can improve and streamline its military doctrine and combat skills, which would hamper the IDF's ability to counter it. Precisely for this reason, the direct military channel in Aleppo between Russia and Hezbollah harms Israel's interests in Lebanon.


In the public debate in Israel on the implications of Hezbollah's participation in the Syrian civil war, the main argument in favor is that the organization’s wearing down of its manpower and its sinking into the Syrian quagmire plays into Israel's hands. But others have warned that by fighting in Syria, Hezbollah is improving its fighting capabilities in built-up areas. Those capabilities can potentially be used by Hezbollah to repel IDF forces from Lebanese villages, or to send "intervention forces" into Israel to capture populated areas and preoccupy Israel with fighting on its own turf.


In addition, though the report specified that the operational dialogue between Russia and Hezbollah will not address the organization's struggle against Israel, an alarm should be sounded in Jerusalem. The security coordination reached by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Putin to avert an Israeli-Russian clash has been weakened following the entry of S300 missiles from Russia into Syria in October, as well as the indirect and unofficial defense umbrella provided by Moscow to Hezbollah in Syria. This umbrella likely explains the fact that in the past year there have been fewer reports of Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Syria.


Enhanced security coordination between Russia and Hezbollah might also be intended as a signal to the incoming US administration. Russia might wish to convey to Trump, whose future policy in the Syrian arena is anyone's guess, that it is prepared to thwart American steps in Syria that are not to its liking – first and foremost any attempt to depose Assad. Russia's strengthening of air defenses and tightening of relations with Hezbollah in Syria might aim at forestalling any attempt by Trump to establish a restricted flight zone in Syria, as proposed during his election campaign.


Another recent report in the Lebanese media indicated that Hezbollah is planning to beef up its manpower and weaponry ahead of an expansive ground attack on Aleppo. It is possible that the Russia-Iran-Hezbollah axis, aided by Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias, seeks to establish facts on the ground that will scupper any plans of the new US administration to establish an offensive policy in Syria. A direct operations channel between Russia and Hezbollah may facilitate the attainment of this strategic goal. 



WHY RUSSIA ISN’T WAITING TO FINISH ALEPPO                                                                                  

Tom Rogan                                                                                                                  

National Review, Nov. 28, 2016


When Russia’s offensive in Syria began last year, I argued that Putin’s strategy would focus on “securing a contiguous area of Assad-regime control in western Syria, reaching from the north to the south.” Just over a year later, the Russian leader is on the verge of a far greater victory.


Supported by the Russian military, Syrian-regime forces are close to seizing the entirety of Aleppo. It would be a huge defeat for the arrayed rebel forces opposing Assad’s regime. If Assad secures Aleppo, his Russia-Iran axis will corral the opposition into western Syria’s Idlib Province. The rebels will be surrounded on three sides. Syria’s northwest border with Turkey will be their only external supply lifeline. But even that can’t be taken for granted. While he was once a fervent supporter of the rebels, Turkey’s president is now supplicant to Russia.


Still, it’s not coincidental that Russia and Iran have waited until now for their final push on Aleppo: Putin believes that this moment offers maximum potential to further his grand strategy. The military dynamics in Aleppo today favor the Russians like never before. Deliberately and systematically slaughtering Aleppo’s civilian population, the axis has demoralized the rebels. But more than that, Putin, by constantly manipulating the West, has bought the axis space and time to prepare for this final push. As I explained prior to September’s Aleppo cease-fire, Russia has never been interested in a durable cease-fire. Putin’s pretenses to the contrary were designed only to delay new European and American support for the rebels. In addition, Putin clearly senses that Obama has given up. Obama wants rid of Syria and is happy to hand it over to his successor. Putin therefore feels empowered to do his worse while Obama remains in office.


But Putin is also pushing now because he is unsure of the future. President-elect Trump appears sympathetic toward Putin, but the KGB colonel is wary. As Trump learns more about what Russia is actually doing in Syria — for example, not targeting ISIS — Trump could question a Russian détente. Putin also knows that America’s Sunni-Arab allies will push Trump to take a tougher approach against Assad’s slaughter of Syrian Sunnis. This gives Putin another rationale to crush Aleppo now rather than later.


And that, Putin probably hopes, will help him in another regard — by altering the broader international politics of the Syrian civil war. After all, as much as Putin is riding high on the Syrian battlefield, he’s suffering Western sanctions for his Ukraine-Syria policies. Thanks partly to those sanctions, Russia’s economy remains mired in recession. Russia depends heavily on oil exports for its foreign-capital generation; with oil prices still low, the Russian economy is weak.


Yet Russia sees economic hope on the horizon, because Trump isn’t the only up-and-coming Western leader saying nice things about Russia. Following yesterday’s conservative primary, François Fillon is now the front-runner in the race to become France’s next president. And, like the far-right candidate he’ll probably face, Fillon wants stronger economic and political ties between France and Russia. Like Putin, Fillon wants to end the sanctions. Since Angela Merkel’s Germany has bent under Russian pressure, and since the U.K. voted for Brexit, and because Britain loves the Russian money flooding into the British financial system, Putin believes he can now undercut the Western coalition from within. While finishing Aleppo, Putin probably hopes that, come January 20, 2017, the images of bloodied Syrians will be an afterthought in Western minds.


Ultimately, though it’s right to criticize Trump for his Putin delusions, Russia’s looming success testifies to President Obama’s catastrophic foreign-policy failures. It need not have been this way. Even now, the U.S. retains significant means short of military force with which to restrain Putin’s axis. Unfortunately, no one in the White House or around the world believes we will use those measures. And so, in the ruins of U.S. credibility, Putin retains the bloody initiative.



THE JIHADISTS STRIKE BACK                                                                                                 

Isabelle Lasserre

National Post, Nov. 16, 2016


In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is losing territory fast. The organization barely now controls 40 per cent of the 60,000 square kilometres it occupied in the region in October 2014. The disintegration of the caliphate installed on the land of the Sham — the old name for Syria — has led some to foretell its disappearance in the medium term. But this good news will not have as a consequence the end of Islamist terrorism.


The decline of ISIL in Syria is being accompanied by a return of al-Qaida, whose demise had been announced somewhat prematurely after the fall of the Taliban in Kabul. Having been shocked and discombobulated by the loss of its historical leader, Osama bin Laden, the terrorist nebula is back in force: in the Sahel, the Arabian peninsula, Libya and Syria where the old Al-Nusra front, which is very active in Aleppo, has changed its appearance by calling itself Fatah al Sham, but has not changed its methods or its enemy.


Anticipating its territorial decline, ISIL has been adjusting to the new circumstances. The senior members of the organization are planning to go underground if needed. The jihadists were given the instruction to strike at the heart of Western societies, through organized attacks or, when this is not possible, through attacks of inspiration or opportunity. Finally, experts are considering the possibility of an alliance between ISIL and al-Qaida, which, in spite of their rivalry, share the same objective of combating supposedly irreligious Muslim regimes and Western societies. Thanks to its Internet-based recruitment techniques, ISIL is certain to attract recruits — if not in Syria, where the flow of foreign fighters has slowed, at least in Europe, where the possibility of a mass return of the jihadists has become the nightmare of the authorities. This is only one of the paradoxes of the evolution of the Syrian conflict: the weakening of ISIL could, at least in the beginning, mean more terrorist acts.


In their Syrian adventure, ISIL fighters have been “helped” by the international community. Of all the powers involved in the conflict to achieve their strategic interests, none has made the group its priority. The Russian obsession is to support the Syrian regime; that of the Americans is to disengage from the region; that of the Turks is to put an end to the territorial ambitions of the Kurds and regain a certain influence at its borders on the steps of the old Ottoman Empire; that of Shiite Iran is to win the battle against Sunni Saudi Arabia, and vice versa. As for Europe, it has been standing aloof, divided, and unable to defend itself without outside help.


Recent developments seem to suggest that the Russian intervention could save the life of Syrian President Bashar Assad, literally and politically. If this is the case, the first victim would not be terrorism. By repressing violently the peaceful demonstrations in March 2011, and releasing Islamists from prison, the Syrian regime bears the primary responsibility for the disaster in which its country is now drowning. Repression has stirred the jihadist fire in the world. With Assad remaining in power, the opponents, who are sucked up by the jihadist movements, could only become more radicalized. Terrorist groups feed on wars. Hezbollah was born from the war in Lebanon. Al-Qaida evolved in the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. ISIL has grown on the unstable lands of the Levant.


Syria is the largest provider of refugees in the world. And if migrants constitute a huge humanitarian problem, they also mean a security headache for European societies. They are important targets for the jihadist recruiters, because they are not well integrated, with a robbed past and a forbidden future. Wherever they go, they carry politics with them. Since history cannot be remade, we will never know how the destiny of Syria would have been had U.S. President Barack Obama not abandoned the idea of punishing Damascus when it crossed the “red line” on chemical weapons in August 2013. But this retreat eroded the political credit of the United States and its allies, thus catalyzing the Russian breakthrough. Russia, by sustaining the war, is feeding the terrorism that Moscow is pretending to fight. This might lead to a Russian-led stalemate.


It is Europe that, in the Western world, and because of its geographical location and its considerable Muslim communities, is the main target of the jihadists. But the Orlando, Fla., attack in June 2016 has come to remind Americans, who thought they had greater immunity, that they, too, remain a favourite target for the jihadists. The crises in the Middle East are no longer external to us. They are now embedded in the societies of the West.                                                                                                                                                  




On Topic Links


Trump’s Ascent Is More Bad News for the Syrian Opposition: James Snell, National Review, Nov. 16, 2016—Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in last week’s presidential election took many by surprise, both domestically and around the world. There was always a chance he would win the keys to the White House, but many — including, it seems, almost all the pollsters — had convinced themselves that his opponent Hillary Clinton would be the next leader of the free world.

U.S. Syria Policy at Crossroads as Rebels Falter: Jay Solomon, Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2016—Steep losses by antiregime rebels in Syria have scrambled U.S. policy calculations at a crucial moment in the country’s long-running war, with the election of Donald Trump already pointing…

Analysis: Russian Silence Might Signal ‘Tacit Consent’ by Kremlin to Israeli Strikes in Syria: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Dec. 1, 2016 —Russia’s silence following reports that the Israeli Air Force bombed an arms depot and a Hezbollah-bound weapons convoy in Syria on Wednesday might signal “tacit consent” to such actions as long as they do not harm the Kremlin’s interests, a military reporter for the Hebrew news site Walla wrote on Thursday.

Iran's Forces Outnumber Assad's in Syria: Majid Rafizadeh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 24, 2016—In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is losing territory fast. The organization barely now controls 40 per cent of the 60,000 square kilometres it occupied in the region in October 2014. The disintegration of the caliphate installed on the land of the Sham — the old name for Syria — has led some to foretell its disappearance in the medium term. But this good news will not have as a consequence the end of Islamist terrorism.







Russia Emerges as a Center of Gravity for Israel: Yury Barmin, Al-Monitor, Nov. 7, 2016 — As Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev prepares to visit Israel and Palestine on Nov. 9-11 to facilitate peace negotiations, Russia and Israel find themselves recovering from a diplomatic spat that could not only have derailed those attempts but also soured their relationship.

Russia's Growing Middle Eastern Prowess: Anna Borshchevskaya, Middle East Forum, Nov. 17, 2016 — Moscow's military intervention in Syria has not only made it a key factor in that country's civil war but has also boosted its regional standing, netted it a major naval outlet in the Eastern Mediterranean, and exacerbated Europe's domestic problems by accelerating the refugee outpour into the Continent.

Beware the Hungry Bear: Norman A. Bailey, Asia Times, Nov. 17, 2016 — With the world’s attention fixed on the astonishing victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, grossly insufficient attention is being paid to another and potentially very dangerous development.

‘Winter Is Coming,’ by Garry Kasparov: Serge Schmemann, New York Times, Nov. 2, 2016 — Russians in positions of power tend to measure their country’s standing in the world against the United States, longing to be recognized as equally important and powerful and getting very angry when they’re not so treated.


On Topic Links


Israeli Official: Russia Has Long-Term Ambitions in the Middle East: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2016

Is Russia More Dangerous than ISIS?: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Nov. 21, 2016

Tip of the Iceberg: Russian Use of Power in Syria: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Oct. 9, 2016

A Trump-Putin Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2016




Yury Barmin

                                                Al-Monitor, Nov. 7, 2016


As Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev prepares to visit Israel and Palestine on Nov. 9-11 to facilitate peace negotiations, Russia and Israel find themselves recovering from a diplomatic spat that could not only have derailed those attempts but also soured their relationship. On Oct. 13, UNESCO adopted a controversial resolution that criticizes Israel’s “escalating aggression” regarding a holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims. The resolution, which was backed by Russia, refers to the holy site only by its Arab name, which understandably infuriated Jerusalem.


A week later, on Oct. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his birthday. According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu expressed his disappointment at Russia’s support for the “anti-Israel” UNESCO resolution and protested the move. Putin had to go to great lengths to cushion the blow, eventually dispatching a high-level Foreign Ministry delegation to Jerusalem to explain the Russian position on the UNESCO vote.


Remarkably, incidents like this are uncharacteristic of the general understanding Israel and Russia enjoy across a variety of contexts. Netanyahu might not have been happy to see Russian Sukhoi Su fighter jets interfere in the already-complex Syrian equation, but evidently he found certain benefits in it. Russia and Israel, despite their different visions of a post-war Syria, have one thing in common: Neither wants to see more governments being destabilized in the Middle East, because at the end of the day the spillover of instability threatens them both.


Regarding the Syrian war, Israel’s interests are shaped around guarding its borders from a multitude of perceived threats, including Hezbollah incursions and the group’s growing strength; the Syrian government’s claims to the Golan Heights; Sunni rebels developing military infrastructure along Israel’s borders; and most importantly, attacks by Iran. In this context, the physical presence of Russian forces in Syria may not necessarily be against Israel’s own interests, as it may help contain these threats.


The involvement of Russian officers in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military planning will discourage Damascus from taking any action against Israel, which is as good a guarantee as Netanyahu can expect in current circumstances. The Israeli prime minister traveled to Russia twice this year and insists that he received assurances from Putin that the country’s borders would not be violated in the course of the ongoing war, something Washington, Israel’s closest ally, is presently unable to guarantee. To that end, Moscow and Jerusalem have agreed to coordinate their actions in Syria as well as share intelligence.


Despite occasional cross-border operations, Israel would like to avoid interfering militarily in Syria due to the high risk of being drawn in deeper or provoking retaliation. Intelligence-sharing also greatly benefits Moscow, which receives more balanced intelligence, allowing it to put into perspective the kind of information provided by its allies from the Baghdad coordination center. Initial stages of the Russian operation in Syria showed that intelligence gathered by Damascus and Tehran was not always accurate.


It's not so much Assad that worries Israel, but rather Iran's influence on Assad. Containing Tehran and its allies in the region, including the Syrian leader and Hezbollah, is the endgame for Jerusalem at the moment. Controlling the arms flow to Hezbollah fighters is part of the effort to contain unfriendly forces, and Russia is instrumental in achieving this. After Russia increased its aid to the Syrian government in mid-2014, Israel noticed a spike in deliveries of surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah. Jerusalem demanded that the Kremlin control weapons turnover in Syria.


Some sources in Israeli diplomatic circles told Al-Monitor that Russia went as far as to intentionally delay the delivery of S-300 missile systems to Iran for breaking its promise not to transfer Russian weapons to Hezbollah. These incidents encouraged Moscow and Jerusalem to reach an agreement whereby Israel reserves the right to attack Hezbollah convoys carrying weapons that could potentially be used against it, and Russia received assurances that as long as Israel’s territory is not threatened, Israel will refrain from a military intervention in Syria.


Beyond Syria, however, Russia’s influence in the Middle East remains limited. The role Moscow plays in this conflict is the reason its opinion matters to policymakers in the region. Having invested so much effort and money trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, Putin would see it as his own geopolitical loss if he couldn’t cement Russia’s influence in the region beyond the conflict. With this in mind, Russia is actively looking for other entry points that could move it into a position as a key decision-maker in the Middle East in the long run. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one such point.


The first signs that Russia’s vision of its role in the Middle East is evolving came in late 2015. Two months into Russia's military campaign in Syria, Putin changed the leading figures: The Foreign Ministry and Putin’s Mideast envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, were sidelined, and the military intelligence circles came to the fore. As a diplomat in Moscow confirmed to Al-Monitor, Bogdanov was charged with handling a number of “second-tier” issues related to the Middle East where Russia could act as a mediator, including the crises in Yemen and Libya, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In Russia’s view, the impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks since 2014 presents a perfect opportunity for it to spearhead a renewed diplomatic effort. Given the problems with past rounds of talks, the Kremlin is cautious in its ambitions but has proposed to host Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow for direct talks, to which both reportedly have agreed. Russia is unlikely to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, but Jerusalem will play along anyway. The cases of Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indicate that the United States could be gradually retreating from the Middle East, which would mean that US partners in the region might have to seek new alliances. While remaining wary of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East, Israel may have no choice but to gravitate toward Moscow.



RUSSIA'S GROWING MIDDLE EASTERN PROWESS                                                                     

Anna Borshchevskaya                                                                                          

Middle East Forum, Nov. 17, 2016


Moscow's military intervention in Syria has not only made it a key factor in that country's civil war but has also boosted its regional standing, netted it a major naval outlet in the Eastern Mediterranean, and exacerbated Europe's domestic problems by accelerating the refugee outpour into the Continent.


While minimizing the Middle East's sectarian divide and portraying its intervention as support for the Syrian government's legitimate fight against terrorists, Moscow has effectively backed a Shiite, anti-Sunni bloc by aligning itself with Tehran – a historic-enemy-turned-ally in opposition to Western regional interests.


This assertiveness is emblematic of Putin's proclivity for military adventures abroad – from Georgia (2008), to Ukraine (2014), to Syria – as a means to reassert Russia's international standing and to consolidate his rule by diverting public attention from the country's domestic problems. The 2014 annexation of Crimea, for example, enabled him to rally the nation behind him in the face of tightening economic sanctions; the Syrian intervention has had a similar effect.


As the economy worsens still further, the Kremlin suppresses dissent and whips up ultra-nationalist sentiment by glorifying the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Stalin. This in turn makes Russia into an unstable and unpredictable one-man rule without eliminating Putin's need to generate recurring crises to continue diverting the restive population from the country's domestic problems.


In order to contain Moscow, which is likely to test the Trump administration by exploiting the divergences between Washington and its European allies, the West needs a long-term, unified strategy that will place future talks with Russia within an unambiguous and comprehensive framework. It can demonstrate its support for its Middle Eastern allies by tightening the sanctions against the Russian military-industrial complex; making Moscow accountable for its Syrian war crimes; and credibly threatening a limited use of force against the Assad regime for any future ceasefire violations.


Ultimately, the Russian options are limited and contingent on what the West will or will not do. The devastating consequences of taking Putin at his word in Syria for a year now has blinded the West to his hostile intent. Western success will therefore depend on drawing a firm and decisive line in the sand that Moscow will not dare to cross.                      




BEWARE THE HUNGRY BEAR                                                         

Norman A. Bailey                                                                                            

Asia Times, Nov. 17, 2016


With the world’s attention fixed on the astonishing victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, grossly insufficient attention is being paid to another and potentially very dangerous development. Trump may end up being a disaster of continental proportions or he may be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has been drowning in debt and political correctness…But halfway around the world a crafty master of negotiation, propaganda, subversion, and military display is making huge strides towards the achievement of his immediate and long-term goals.


Vladimir Putin is playing a difficult hand masterfully. The Russian economy is weak and getting worse as the market for its principal mainstays, oil and gas, is increasingly unstable. This explains why the preceding list of the elements of statecraft used by Putin does not include economic strategies. Despite this and a serious demographic meltdown, Russia is expanding its power and influence in every direction.


It is obvious why a great connoisseur of negotiating skills such as Trump finds Putin a fellow spirit. The Russian armed forces are engaged in a massive display of military might, up to and including engaging in ongoing hostilities in Syria, where naval and air bases have been acquired and ships and aircraft deployed, now including its single aircraft carrier. In a very short time Russia has become a recognized player in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East.


Turkey has been humbled and has sued for peace. Chalk up another Putin victory. Moldova and Bulgaria are now governed by pro-Russian regimes and no-one will be surprised if Moldova now merges with the Russian enclave Transnistria and then applies for reincorporation into the Russian empire. Whether that happens or not Ukraine is now threatened on both its western and eastern flanks.


The dismemberment of Georgia and Ukraine have become accepted facts subject only to occasional toothless denunciations from the West. That stalwart of post-Soviet progress on both the political and economic fronts, Estonia, is now suddenly politically unstable. Former Soviet satellites Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are now governed by anti-Western regimes as well. While all that is going on, Russian ships and planes incessantly violate the waters and airspace of neighboring (as well as some non-neighboring) countries. Again, reaction has been feeble.


Despite its economic weakness, Russia has been able to devote sufficient resources to its armed forces so that they can deploy state-of-the-art equipment (at a time when Western defense establishments are starved of resources) and of course a massive nuclear arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union.


There is nothing backward about Russian science and technology, as demonstrated by constant hacking of an assortment of Western targets, both governmental and non-governmental. Blatant interference in the recent US election has elicited not much more than a tepid response and of course Edward Snowden is still plying his trade in Moscow.


The significance of all this activity resides in the confluence of economic weakness and demographic decline coupled with brilliant statecraft and military might. Having to depend on the pride of the Russian people in their enhanced international standing for his popularity may well lead Putin to engage in ever-increasing levels of challenge to the West. Any number of circumstances could set off a military confrontation, escalating to open warfare and even the use of nuclear weapons.


A friend in the White House is not necessarily a bad thing under these circumstances. Putin may feel that escalating conflicts might jeopardize his relations with Trump. We must hope so, because the alternative—a Russia hurtling towards armed confrontation with the West, is a prospect that should thoroughly frighten us all.                                                                       




‘WINTER IS COMING,’ BY GARRY KASPAROV                                      

Serge Schmemann                                                                  

New York Times, Nov. 2, 2016


Russians in positions of power tend to measure their country’s standing in the world against the United States, longing to be recognized as equally important and powerful and getting very angry when they’re not so treated. President Vladimir Putin has made victimhood at America’s hands a leitmotif of his reign, and many Russians have bought into his claim that Washington tirelessly seeks ways to weaken, impoverish and otherwise humiliate their country. Many critics of Putin, in Russia and in the West, similarly hold that Washington’s treatment of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union was disdainful and thus undermined embryonic moves toward democracy, contributing to the rise of Putinism.


Garry Kasparov, the great Russian chess grandmaster who has become a fierce Putin opponent, offers a mirror image of this theme. In his view, espoused in many articles and now in “Winter Is Coming,” the West — more specifically, the United States, and even more specifically the Democratic Party under President Obama — is guilty of chronic appeasement and weakness in letting bad guys like Putin stay in power.


I should say up front that I cannot agree that the United States somehow deliberately sought to humiliate Russia in those chaotic days in the 1990s when Communist rule collapsed, or somehow failed to support the first tentative democratic reforms. To argue that the United States had the prescience and power to understand and direct events in Russia overlooks the enormous complexity in the disintegration of a vast, nuclear-armed, totalitarian empire. From the time Mikhail Gorbachev first loosened Soviet control until the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991, events moved in ways nobody in the East or West could predict or fully grasp, and it is to Russia’s and America’s credit that so little blood was shed in that momentous transition.


Kasparov sees things differently. To him, what hope there was for Russia after the Berlin Wall came down soon turned into a steady march toward authoritarian rule under a former K.G.B. agent, aided and abetted by a feckless West. Half the book is about the evolution of Putin from Boris Yeltsin’s handpicked successor to the capo di tutti capi of a mafia state. There is not much new here, and most readers will not need to be convinced that Putin is a bad guy.


The other and more important theme of the book is the reputed absence of a moral component in Western foreign affairs, which has “encouraged autocrats like Putin and terrorist groups like ISIS to flourish around the world.” Kasparov’s message is aimed at an American audience. Written in English (with the chess writer Mig Greengard), and with a title borrowed from “Game of Thrones,”  “Winter Is Coming” is meant as a warning of impending doom should the West persist with the “moral capitulation” that Kasparov repeatedly decries.


There’s no pretense of nonpartisanship here, no subtlety. A fiery man known for his dynamic play in chess and for his self-assurance, Kasparov fully credits Ronald Reagan for the end of the Cold War and the fall of the “evil empire” — “Lesser problems were left to lesser men” — and he has no doubt that “the world would be a safer, more democratic place today had John McCain been elected” president, or at least Mitt Romney, who called Russia “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Barack Obama, by contrast, is relentlessly and repeatedly skewered: The president is “reluctant to confront the enemies of democracy to defend the values he touts so convincingly”; he is “busy retreating on every front”; and even when he does seem to be standing up to Putin, the most Kasparov can allow is, “I suppose that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is better than never doing it at all.”


The politicking becomes somewhat tedious, as do the “I told you so” moments scattered through the book: “It is cold comfort to be told, ‘You were right!’ ” Kasparov laments in his introduction. But much as one may disagree with Kasparov’s analyses, the main problem here is not so much with his accusations of Western or American perfidy. He has his right to his opinions, and even to the aggressive tone in which they are served up. That’s who he is. I covered Kasparov’s ascent to the world chess championship against the grandmaster openly preferred by the Kremlin, Anatoly Karpov, in matches that became a memorable ideological contest between the audacious upstart and the dull company man. In 2005, Kasparov retired from professional chess and dedicated himself “to push back against the rising tide of repression coming from the Kremlin,” and he was admirably active in the ­anti-Putin marches until a relentless crackdown curtailed open opposition. Kasparov now lives in self-imposed exile — temporary, he insists — in New York.


The real problem with “Winter Is Coming” is with its presumption that the United States is somehow responsible for what Russia has become, or for what it should become. Certainly Washington has an obligation to challenge Moscow and Putin when international norms or human rights are violated. Indeed, Obama and America’s democratic allies have done just that with the progressively tougher sanctions they have ordered against Russia. But even Reagan, the president Kasparov so adulates, never sought regime change in the “evil empire,” instead looking for areas of cooperation with Gorbachev. And ultimately it was Gorbachev, more than any American or other Western leader, who played the greatest role in bringing down the Soviet system.


Yet Kasparov, born and raised in the Soviet Union and intimately aware that Communism was overthrown first and foremost by Russians themselves, acknowledges their responsibility for Putin’s rule only in one throwaway line — “In the end, Putin is a Russian problem, of course, and Russians must deal with how to remove him.’’ The next sentence is: “He and his repressive regime, however, are supported directly and indirectly by the free world.” What the free world should be doing, he argues, includes adopting a “global Magna Carta” uniting all democracies in the fight against dictators, arming Ukraine, developing substitutes for the energy Europe imports from Russia and heeding Kasparov. Over the years, he laments, he has provided long lists of ways to counter Putin, but “even now, after he has proven my worst fears correct and everyone is telling me how right I was, few of those recommendations have been enacted.”


This is not the place to argue the merits or feasibility of arming Ukraine or cutting Russian gas imports. Nor is there a need to defend President Obama against Kasparov’s crude and baseless insults. The question to be posed is whether even the most aggressive Western stance toward Putin would make him less dictatorial or Russia more free. That change must come from within, and I would have much preferred to hear Kasparov’s take on what must change in Russia and how the Russians might do it. There are plenty of other people to trash Barack Obama.


On Topic Links


Israeli Official: Russia Has Long-Term Ambitions in the Middle East: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2016—Israel should be concerned about the deepening disconnect between Russia's aims in the Middle East and its own goals, according to a senior Israeli official who held high-level meetings in Moscow last week.

Is Russia More Dangerous than ISIS?: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Nov. 21, 2016—As President-elect Donald Trump begins to fill his top administration spots, his selection of retired General Michael Flynn suggests that Trump’s  campaign trail flirtations were not empty rhetoric and he intends to move forward with a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tip of the Iceberg: Russian Use of Power in Syria: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Oct. 9, 2016—Russia's status in the Middle East has changed remarkably in recent years. Some go so far as to argue, with some justification, that it has become the most powerful superpower in the region, or at least within the context of the Syrian conflict. The main reason for this has been Russian President Vladimir Putin's ability to invest significant resources in the region, coupled with his willingness to take significant risk.

A Trump-Putin Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2016— US President-elect Donald Trump admires Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.  That much became clear during Trump’s presidential campaign, as did his intention when in office to repair the US’s damaged relations with the Russian Federation.  At the moment the US and Russia, although both nominally combating Islamic State (IS) in the Syrian civil war, are so far from allies that they are very nearly belligerents.






Syria’s Interlocking Conflicts: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016 — The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced last Friday the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.

Assad Gloats as Obama Exits: Max Boot, Commentary, Nov. 3, 2016 — That was quite an interview that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave to foreign reporters. As recounted by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, it was a study in surrealism.

Russia Sends Warplanes, We Send Messages: John Robson, National Post, Oct. 31, 2016 — So now the UN Human Rights Council is after Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad.

Trump, Israel and the Middle East: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Nov. 11, 2016 — Any attempt to assess Donald Trump's Middle East policy faces real difficulties as it is reasonable to assume that he lacks the requisite knowledge, deep understanding and most certainly the experience for dealing with the Middle East…


On Topic Links


The United States, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: An Unfinished Symphony: Assaf Orion, INSS, Oct. 6, 2016

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again: Oliver Bullough, New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016

Why Russia and Iran Are Abetting the Syrian Government: Harold Rhode, JCPA, Oct. 9, 2016

Israel in the Trump Era: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2016




Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016


The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced last Friday the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. The operation was designated “Euphrates Wrath.” Raqqa is the capital of the “Caliphate” maintained by Islamic State. In tandem with the effort currently under way to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, the loss of Raqqa would represent the final eclipse of the Islamic State as a quasi-sovereign entity. At this point, it would revert back to the guerrilla/insurgent/ terrorist force which it constituted prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.


Conquering the city is likely to be a slow business. However, the final outcome is not in doubt. The Islamic State, whose main slogan in Arabic is Baqiya watatamadad (remaining and expanding), has in reality been contracting since the high point of its advance in the autumn of 2014. Its eventual demise, at least as a quasi-state entity, is assured.


But Syria is host not only to the war against ISIS, but to a series of other, interlocking conflicts. And one of these additional conflicts pits the two main candidates for the leading role in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa against one another.


Observe: there is in Syria today no less than five identifiable conflicts taking place. These are Turkish-backed Sunni Arab rebel and Islamist organizations against the Assad dictatorship; Western backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the Kurdish YPG) against ISIS; Kurdish YPG against the Assad regime; the aforementioned Sunni rebels against ISIS; and lastly, the Sunni rebels against the SDF.


The problem for those seeking to cobble together a force to take Raqqa city –and by so doing destroy the Islamic State – is that the two eligible forces to carry out this action are the mainly Kurdish SDF, and the Turkish- backed, mainly Islamist Sunni rebels – but these forces are at war with one another! After the SDF announced the commencement of the Raqqa campaign this week, Turkish President Recep Tayepp Erdogan expressed his opposition to the decision, repeating his assertion that the Kurdish YPG are merely “another terror organization… a side branch” of the PKK.


Following the SDF’s announcement, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met with Turkish Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar in Ankara. After the meeting, Dunford said that the US would work together with Turkey to develop a longterm plan for “seizing, holding and governing” the city.


Dunford stated that the US believed that the largely non-Arab SDF “wasn’t the solution” for “holding and governing” largely Sunni Arab Raqqa. A judicious reader will notice that Dunford’s statement doesn’t say that the SDF is unsuitable for the job of capturing the city, only for holding it afterward.


The root of the deep differences between the SDF and the Turkish-supported rebels are to be found not only in the soil of northern Syria. Rather, they are inextricably linked to the long insurgency fought by Turkey’s Kurds against a succession of governments in Ankara since 1984.


The fragmenting of Syria formed a historic opportunity for the Syrian Kurds, which they have seized. The PYD, the Syrian Kurdish franchise of the PKK organization, established three self-governing cantons along the Syrian-Turkish border in 2012. In 2015, against the background of the fight against ISIS, they managed to unite two of these: Jazeera and Kobani. On March 17, 2016, the ruling coalition in these areas announced the formation of the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava.


The US since October 2015 has found the Kurdish YPG to be a formidable and useful ground partner to coalition air power against ISIS. But the Kurds themselves, while welcoming the alliance with the US, have long sought another objective, namely, to unite the three cantons – connecting Jazira/Kobani with Afrin in the far northwest of the country.


From a Turkish point of view, the prospect of a PKK-linked party controlling the entirety of the 800-km. border between Syria and Turkey is entirely unacceptable. Since mid-2015, a Kurdish insurgency is once again under way against the Turkish government. As part of the general post-coup crackdown, Erdogan this week arrested Turkey’s most prominent Kurdish politician, Salahattin Demirtas of the HDP. Since 2012, the instruments Turkey chose to use to contain the Syrian Kurds were the mainly Islamist rebel movements of northern Syria, from the more moderate elements across to Jabhat al Nusra and possibly at one time also ISIS.


By mid-2016, supporting ISIS was no longer an option, and the rebels by themselves were too weak for the purpose. So in August, Turkey boldly launched a direct intervention into northern Syria. ISIS were the ostensible target, but the clear purpose was to bisect Syria’s north, rendering a sufficient area impassable that the danger of the Kurds linking up their cantons would disappear.


This process is not yet complete. The Kurds are still west of the Euphrates, in the town of Manbij. And the crucial ISIS-held town of Al-Bab remains unconquered. The Turks would like to help their rebel clients take the town and end any further possibility of Kurdish unification. But here, in the usual labyrinthine way, other players enter the picture.


Al-Bab is close to Aleppo. It is possible that the Russians have warned Erdogan that the town remains out of bounds. But the point to bear in mind is that the process of coalition-building against ISIS in Syria is complicated by the fact that two potential members of the coalition – the US-backed SDF and the Turkish army with their Sunni Arab allies – are currently engaged in a direct conflict with one another. In this regard, it is worth noting the yawning gap between the military achievements of the Syrian Kurds and their dearth of similar successes in the diplomatic and political fields. While YPG commanders call in US air strikes against ISIS, no country has recognized the Federation of Northern Syria, and it has received little media coverage.


Dunford’s hurried visit to Ankara reflects the diplomatic state of play. Namely, that the agenda of a Turkish government, even one that openly supports Sunni jihadis, must be indulged, while that of a Kurdish ally can be dismissed. The Kurds may have little choice in the matter. But they should be careful not to find themselves quickly abandoned once Operation Euphrates Wrath is done.





ASSAD GLOATS AS OBAMA EXITS                                                  

Max Boot                                                                                

Commentary, Nov. 3, 2016


That was quite an interview that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave to foreign reporters. As recounted by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, it was a study in surrealism. While his own forces and those of Iran and Russia commit war crimes to keep him in power, Assad sits in his presidential palace in Damascus and pretends that all is well. The assembled journalists asked him about the demolition and starvation of civilian areas. His response:


“Let’s suppose that these allegations are correct and this president has killed his own people, and the free world and the West are helping the Syrian people,” Mr. Assad said in English. “After five years and a half, who supported me? How can I be a president and my people don’t support me?” He gave a small giggle and added, “This is not realistic story.” This reminded me of an answer that the late Muammar Gaddafi gave when he was asked about human rights violations in Libya at a Council on Foreign Relations event. The people rule in Libya, he said, so how can the people violate their own human rights? This is dictator logic that wouldn’t fool an intelligent 10-year-old, but that apparently allows these ruthless rulers to live with themselves.


Assad’s giggle was a chilling touch. So, too, was this: “Mr. Assad joked about his love of technology—’I follow the gadgets on a daily basis’—and noted with pride that 4G mobile phone technology had been introduced in Syria during the war.” So Syria has seen nearly 500,000 dead and more than 10 million refugees, but all is all well because at least some of the survivors have access to 4G!


What this interview suggests is that Assad is living in a state of denial, or, at least, doing a good job of putting up a front of denial for visitors. It is hard to know whether there is better or worse than if he were actually bragging about all the people that he is killing, wounding, and torturing. It suggests he is utterly disconnected from the horrors for which he is responsible. That, of course, means he has no compunctions about inflicting more horrors in the future.


The interview made plain that he is not going anywhere: “He promised that a new era of openness and dialogue was underway in Syria and said that he was thinking ahead about how to modernize Syrians’ mentality after a war that he believed his forces were assured of winning. Mr. Assad ruled out political changes until then and declared that he planned to remain president at least until his third seven-year term ends in 2021.”


There is little reason at the moment to doubt that he can last until 2021 and beyond–even if he cannot control the entire country by then, he has managed to consolidate his rule over a rump portion. Now his Russian and Iranian allies are hell-bent on destroying the last bastion of regime resistance in Aleppo. Russia has been warning that it will end a short moratorium on bombing Aleppo on Friday. The only force capable of arresting the Assad-Iran-Russia war machine is the United States. Our aircraft continue to fly over Syria bombing ISIS positions, but they leave the worst perpetrators of war crimes untouched. And that is unlikely to change as long as President Obama remains in office. No wonder Bashar Assad is sitting pretty. He will outlast the American president who called for his overthrow.    




RUSSIA SENDS WARPLANES, WE SEND MESSAGES                                                                    

John Robson                                                                                                       

National Post, Oct. 31, 2016


So now the UN Human Rights Council is after Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Unlike, say, the Russian president, who is undoubtedly shaking … with laughter. What can these people do to him?


It is a relief to see any UN body take time out from its sinister Israel fixation. And it matters to document atrocities even when everybody knows they’re happening. The rule of law does not work by “everybody knows” even when everyone currently does. And as with Yad Vashem’s Names Recovery Project, the dignity of the victims requires an effort to record what was done to them as individuals. Reducing them to a blurry mass is what the villains hope to accomplish.


Nevertheless, the entire venture has an air of dangerous fatuity about it. The problem isn’t squeamishness about naming the perpetrators directly before the investigation. If this were a real legal proceeding, it would be appropriate to preserve the presumption of innocence even when everybody does know. The problem is confusing empty words with effective deeds, a kind of habitual fantasy bred in domestic politics with lethal consequences when applied internationally.


Reuters says “Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had earlier called for major powers to put aside their differences and refer the situation in eastern Aleppo to the International Criminal Court.” But don’t you see, you silly pompous man, that a key “difference” between the major powers here is that the Russian government wants to commit these atrocities and the others wish they’d stop?


A British resolution to investigate Aleppo was adopted 24-7, with Russia and dependably villainous China against, and 16 abstentions, which gives you some idea what the UN is worth as the world’s conscience. As for Britain’s “junior Foreign Office minister” telling journalists the Russian air campaign on behalf of the murderous Syrian tyrant “is shameful and it is not the action or leadership that we expect from a P5 (permanent member of the UN Security Council) nation” I can only quote Professor Plum from the movie Clue, “You don’t know what kind of people they have at the UN.” Putin occupies Stalin’s P5 seat, for goodness sake.


If the UN looks grotesque as the world’s conscience, it is utterly feeble as its policeman. For the other crucial “difference” is that Moscow is prepared to bring the massive power of its modern military establishment to bear in Syria, while the West has dithered until intervention risks great power confrontation and the UN has no army with which to “arrest” those who violate “international law.” I am not indifferent to atrocities or aggression. But I have a realistic sense of what can be done about them. I very much wish U.S. President Barack Obama had acted on his “red line” in Syria five years ago instead of preening, equivocating and golfing. But he didn’t and now it’s too late. And you need to be able to tell the time and know the score in such matters.


There are choices here. You can take a grimly realistic view of the world in which atrocities are routinely committed by people too powerful to be stopped or punished, and take what you can get in this ghastly geopolitical jungle. Or you can take a militantly idealistic view and seek to impose justice globally though the heavens fall … on you, an approach frequently described as Wilsonian, though Woodrow Wilson actually shared the regrettably common habit of combining what Teddy Roosevelt called “the unready hand with the unbridled tongue.”


Roosevelt called such people “prize jackasses.” Even more to the point, and pointedly, he said: “A milk-and-water righteousness unbacked by force is to the full as wicked as and even more mischievous than force divorced from righteousness.” It is wicked to pride oneself on self-satisfied posturing from a safe distance. And it is mischievous because it exposes the do-gooders’ impotence. A Human Rights Watch spokesman said this “decisive action … sent a clear message that illegal attacks on civilians must end and that those responsible will be held to account.” But they won’t. When Russia sends warplanes and we send messages, the pen is not mightier than the sword.


Does anyone seriously see Putin in the dock, having piously laid aside his nuclear arsenal? Yet the deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN also said of the “shocking acts in Aleppo” that “those who commit them must be held accountable.” By who? What does Putin care for the UNHRC? As Roosevelt’s secretary of state Elihu Root put it, you do not “shake your fist at a man and then shake your finger at him,” or he will laugh off your threats and your reproaches. The victims in Aleppo deserve better than sanctimonious make-believe. So does the security of the West.                    




TRUMP, ISRAEL AND THE MIDDLE EAST                                                                    

Dr. Mordechai Kedar                       

Arutz Sheva, Nov. 11, 2016


Any attempt to assess Donald Trump's Middle East policy faces real difficulties as it is reasonable to assume that he lacks the requisite knowledge, deep understanding and most certainly the experience for dealing with the Middle East, its history, religions, ideologies, trends, the powers that move it, wars that tear it apart, Israel and its issues, and Russian involvement in the terrible catastrophe that is Syria, whose waves are flooding Europe's shores and crossing the Atlantic Ocean.


In addition, the fact is that all through last year's campaign, Trump did not give a clear indication of a comprehensive Middle East policy, with the exception of three pronouncements: his plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, his plans to open the Iran Agreement and his insistence on stopping Islamic migration to the US, including Syrian refugees. These pronouncements may have simply been aimed at attracting voters, mainly Jews, but they may also express his real intentions.


That is why I am going to base my predictions for America's Middle East policy for the next few years on the impressions I received during the past year, particularly from listening closely to Trump's speeches at public events that were broadcast by the media. First of all, the main factor behind Trump's opinions is not information or facts but his gut feelings. This is a typical trait among successful businessmen who feel that they know everything and no one knows better than they, as they say to themselves: "I am a billionaire and my adviser lives on a salary. If he were smarter than I am, he would be the billionaire and I would be earning that salary."


In Trump's campaign speeches he played on his listener's emotions, saying things like "I will make America great again!" and "I will bring back hope to the hearts of Americans!!" "I will stop Islamic migration to the USA!!" – this last declaration taking advantage of the growing anti-Islamic feeling in the USA, partly due to the terror attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims in the US on 9/11, at Ford Hood, Times Square, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Orlando and more. and partly due to what is happening in Europe (unvetted migration, violence in the streets, terror in Paris, Brussels and more) and to the terrible photoraphs that are sent 24/7 from the Middle East.


Politics has many faces and its issues are never black and white, good or bad. Instead, they are composed of a mixture of negative and positive elements. Politics is the "art of the possible," an unending attempt to accentuate the positive and strengthen it, while accepting the negative as part of the rules of the game and an attempt to weaken its influence. The business world, on the other hand, is a world of black and white, good or bad, profit or loss. Here the picture has much more dichotomy, its colors are clear, there is only one bottom line – and it shows either a plus or a minus end result. There are intermediate periods of balance, but there is no situation of "both this and that." In business, deals are finalized, while in politics, the process is long, complex, and aimed at objectives that are often not final, not enforced in the end because of political and not business world considerations. Often, businesses have different ethical rules than those of politicians, at least when those rules do not lead to financial success.


The first question regarding Trump has to do with whether he will think like a politician or a businessman. Judging by his repeated pronouncements against the American political establishment, Republican and especially Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that Trump thinks and decides things like a businessman, and that what will guide his decisions are the questions of what he feels is best for America, what strengthens her, what best serves her interests, empowers her economy, creates more jobs, who are her enemies and who are her friends. If that is going to be his way of thinking when he turns to the issue of formulating his Middle East policy, it will probably have the following characteristics:


1. The basis for his policy will be branding the sides in the area as "friends and allies" or "enemies." That will bring him back to the terminology used by George W. Bush, who would constantly refer to countries as "our friend and ally,"  a term Obama was careful to avoid, because that made everyone else our "enemy."  My feeling is that Trump will call Israel "our best ally" and possibly keep his promise to move the US  Embassy to Jerusalem. The ideological and mental click between Trump and Netanyahu will create a cordial and warm atmosphere between the two, which will be the basis for an exchange of opinions, a meeting of the minds and cooperation in the deepest sense of the word. Trump will thus repair the situation that sullied US-Israel relations for the past eight years, while Obama lived in the White House.


That aside, there can also be a scenario in which Trump loses his patience and tells Netanyahu something like: "My dear friend, after 50 years of 'occupation' (as some Israelis call it) please be kind enough to sit down with your Arab neighbors and reach an agreement with them, and you have six months to do this. If you don't succeed, at the end of six months I will solve the problem my own way using my own methods, so for your own sake, don't let us get to that point." Trump could even justify this dictate by pointing out that he moved the embassy to Jerusalem. This "business" approach – recognizing Jerusalem in return for leaving Judea and Samaria will put Israel in a difficult position, especially since both houses of congress are Republican and it does not stand to reason that they would invite Netanyahu to deliver a speech that is in direct disagreement with the president's policies, as they did during Obama's term of office…

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



On Topic Links


The United States, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: An Unfinished Symphony: Assaf Orion, INSS, Oct. 6, 2016—In the summer of 2013, more than one thousand civilians in a suburb of Damascus were murdered in an attack by the Syrian military that apparently included use of the chemical agent sarin. Soon after, the United States issued an ultimatum, declaring that the Assad regime could well be subject to attack if it did not refrain from using chemical weapons.

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again: Oliver Bullough, New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016—The difference between Aleppo now and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at the turn of the millennium is that Western leaders are at least trying to save the Syrians trapped in the besieged city. A decade and a half ago, there were precious few diplomatic missions for the Chechens.

Why Russia and Iran Are Abetting the Syrian Government: Harold Rhode, JCPA, Oct. 9, 2016—The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran (SRI) are trying the change the demographic makeup of Syria.  They aim to depopulate Syria of the Arab Sunnis, which, before the Arab Spring was the largest religio-ethnic group in Syria.

Israel in the Trump Era: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2016—What can we expect from President- elect Donald Trump’s administration? The positions that Trump struck during the presidential campaign were sometimes inconsistent and even contradictory. So it is impossible to forecast precisely what he will do in office.




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.