Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’

Syria’s axis of evil cannot be trusted

April 15, 2018

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Arab News

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There was a rumor ahead of the ‘tripartite’ (American, British and French) bombing of Syria that the Assad regime and the Russian government had offered the withdrawal of Iran and its militias from Syria as part of a suggested resolution, in exchange for the trio refraining from the attack and engaging in a new political exercise.

If we assume that such an offer was really on the table, would it have been acceptable? It is definitely better than a limited strike, but the problem is that the three parties involved in Syria are accustomed to promoting lies. Even the Russians lost their credibility as a result of their support for the allegations of Damascus and Tehran. After the chemical attack in Douma, they repeated the same old story that the opposition attacked itself and that the United Nations should inspect on the ground, with the aim of wasting time and diluting the problem.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Nov. 20, 2017.Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Nov. 20, 2017.

The ‘axis of evil’, which lacks credibility, cannot be trusted with solutions or political resolutions. The Syrian regime escaped military sanctions in September 2013, when the Russians suggested that it delivered its stock of chemical weapons to UN inspectors. The stock was then removed from Syria, and the regime claimed that it was everything in its possession. Now we know, however, that it was hiding more.
The most dangerous part of this forgery is that this regime acts without any consideration of the consequences. This shows Assad has not changed, even though the world had wrongly assumed he might do so after the civil war. It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
The role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ‘Generals’ has been important in this war, as they have assumed the command in many of the battles throughout Syria over the past three years, and their reputation has preceded them in terms of carrying out horrible revenge massacres along with other pro-Iran militias.
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Well, let us talk now about the coming days, since the military action by three Western powers is over, and they believe the job has been done, even though it does not seem to have adversely affected the strength of the regime or its forces. American President Donald Trump wanted to convey a message to prove that he means what he says, and the message was well received.
It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
But what happens next? We are facing two interlocking issues: The expected US sanctions against Iran, which is a battle that is yet to begin; and the desire to put an end to the civil war in Syria with a peaceful resolution. The latter can be done either by reaching an agreement with the regime or by creating a new status quo through protected military zones, like the American plan for establishing a region in eastern Syria for monitoring and launching attacks against Daesh and others when needed.
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Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya. © Ruptly
American sanctions against Iran will definitely weaken the regime in Tehran and create an environment more favourable for finding a solution in Syria, while loosening Iran’s grip on Iraq and Lebanon. Without further sanctions, Iran will continue creating trouble in the region. Indeed, there is hope that Syria may prove to be the Iranian religious regime’s Achilles’ heel, as it boasts of being invincible there. The signs of this excessive confidence are  reflected in how Iran has turned Syria into a battlefront against the Kurds and Israel, and a base for its threats against the stability of Lebanon and Iraq. According to the Iranian plan, Syria is the key base for its militias, which will be used by the IRGC as a launch pad against its neighbors.
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Can we ever believe that the Syrian regime in Damascus would be able to eject the IRGC and Iran’s militias from Syria? It is too difficult to believe. The current chaos ensures that Syria remains a source of trouble, which is perfectly suitable for Iran and Russia to exploit as they look to add more cards, and become key players in the region through starting fires and extinguishing them.


  • Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
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Erdoğan and Putin discuss Syria crisis in phone call, seek solution — “Our relations with Russia, Iran and China are complementary to our relations with the West, not an alternative.”

April 13, 2018

Daily Sabah

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday to discuss the latest developments in Syria and the showdown between the U.S. and Russia, a day after talking to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

“I will discuss how we can put an end to this chemical massacre together,” Erdoğan said during the inauguration ceremony of the Başkentray suburban line in capital Ankara earlier in the day.

Presidential sources said that the two leaders agreed to maintain the dialogue.

In his remarks in Ankara, Erdoğan criticized both the U.S. and Russia for their sstance in Syria. “Dividing Syria through terror groups is equally wrong as protecting the regime that attacks its own citizens with chemical and conventional weapons,” the president said.

Erdoğan also underlined that Turkey does not intend to give up on its alliance with the U.S., its strategic relations with Russia on a range of fields from energy to security or working together with Iran to solve regional problems.

“Our relations with Russia, Iran and China are complementary to our relations with the West, not an alternative,” he asserted.

“We are very uncomfortable that some countries, which rely on their military power, are turning Syria into an arm wrestling arena,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan’s remarks came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump warned Russia on Twitter to brace for U.S. military engagement in Syria following a suspected chemical attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta on April 8 that killed dozens of people. Trump also blamed Moscow for being partners with “a gas killing animal”, referring to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Trump’s posts on Twitter followed a warning from Moscow that the risk of a direct military clash between Russia and the U.S. in Syria “is higher than before”, with a Russian envoy saying that U.S. missiles flying over the war-ravaged country would be shot down.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said that there are strong suspicions that the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma, in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta was carried out by the Assad regime.

According to Aksoy, the attack that killed dozens and affected 500 others constitutes a crime against humanity and the perpetrators need to be punished to prevent similar attacks in the future.

When asked if Turkey will support possible military action by the U.S. against the Assad regime in response to the Douma attack, Aksoy said Turkey “continues to monitor the process closely.”

He added that the use of Turkey’s air bases during the potential strike against the regime will be discussed with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who will arrive in Ankara on an official visit Monday.

The spokesman also said the U.S.-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution that would have set up an investigation committee into chemical weapons use in Syria, which was vetoed by Russia on Tuesday, was “a missed opportunity.”

The comments come in the wake of Trump’s tweet warning Russia to “get ready” for “new and ‘smart'” missiles that “will be coming” to Syria.

Several countries led by the U.S., including France and the U.K., are weighing military strikes in response to the Douma chemical attack.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan also touched upon developments in the fight against the PKK terrorist group and its offshoots in Syria, said at least 4,123 terrorists had been neutralized since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria’s Afrin.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) and remaining Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria. On March 18, Turkish-backed troops liberated Afrin town center, which had been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK since 2012.

Erdoğan said YPG/PKK terrorists will be eliminated “one by one”, adding: “We will continue our presence and activities in Syrian territories until they become safe for everyone.” He also slammed those who support “bloody Assad regime” and YPG/PKK terrorist organizations.

Erdoğan said that the number of “neutralized” PKK terrorists in northern Iraq reached 337.

Airstrikes on PKK targets in northern Iraq, where the terror group has its main base in the Mt. Qandil region, near the Iranian border, have been carried out regularly since July 2015, when the PKK resumed its armed terror campaign.

Trump’s Syria Exit Plan Hit With Chemical Weapons — “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

April 9, 2018

Analysis: Tensions are already high in Syria. Now they will be higher.

 APRIL 9, 2018 03:17

Jerusalem Post

 Israeli officials: U.S. must strike in Syria

 As Trump blasts Syria chemical attack, official hints at military response

Trump’s Syria exit plan hits major snag

A US military convoy is seen on the main road in Raqqa, Syria July 31, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)“We’ll be coming out of Syria like very soon, let the other people take care of it now… we’ll be coming out of there real soon,” US President Donald Trump said in late March. Now the apparent chemical-weapons attack by the Syrian regime in Douma has recaptured his attention.

Trump has never seemed to think of Syria as part of a broader American strategy in the region. There is evidence that in the fall of 2017 his administration sought to explore greater Saudi Arabia involvement in Syria, inviting Riyadh’s Gulf affairs minister to visit Raqqa after its liberation from Islamic State. He also reportedly broached the idea of the Saudis paying for reconstruction in the American zone in eastern Syria. In January, when Turkey attacked the US partner People’s Protection Units in Afrin, Syria, Trump spoke to Ankara about the need to limit the operation. But he didn’t seem to see Syria the way the Pentagon sees it.

The Pentagon has been deepening its support for its Syrian Democratic Forces allies in Syria and seeking to increase support for what it called “stabilization.” That means defeating what remains of ISIS in the Euphrates River valley and spending years on reconstruction efforts. The State Department has been only tepidly on board with this plan. The White House has appeared disinterested, distracted by scandals in Washington and turnover at the highest levels. With National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster out and secretary of state Rex Tillerson fired, there is lack of consistency in the administration, and Trump has been concentrating foreign policy in the White House without a team to back him up. In the Middle East, the US also lacks ambassadors to many of its key allies in the region, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The chemical weapons attack is reminiscent of that line in Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Trump is impulsive. He also does not want to be seen as backing down after having accused his predecessor Barack Obama of weakness. This will paint him into a corner and force him to do something. One of the first major foreign policy decisions of the Trump administration was the April 2017 Shayrat missile strike on Syria after the Khan Shaykhun chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime. The new attack comes almost a year later, as if Assad was trying to test the US after rumors of American withdrawal.

Syrian rebels have been spreading rumors of a US-backed attack on Syria for more than a month, claiming the US was working more closely with rebel groups in the south. However these rumored attacks never took place. It is unclear now if the inertia will finally end, and if it does, what will come next? Destroying a few Assad warplanes will have no effect. The larger question is: “What about the Russians in Syria and their air defenses?”

Trump didn’t shy away from accusing Putin and Russia directly of backing Assad. With the US and Moscow already in the midst of a diplomatic crisis that led to 60 Russian diplomats being expelled in March, this will bring relations to an even greater low and could risk conflict. It should be recalled that in February a group of pro-regime forces, allegedly including Russian contractors in Syria, tried to attack US-backed forces near Deir al-Zor. The US responded, killing hundreds in a major battle, including several Russian contractors.

Israel has opposed the US withdrawal from Syria at the highest levels, according to recent reports. Now the prospect of any US withdrawal will be more distant and the US may be encouraged to do more, including confronting Iran’s role in Damascus. Tensions are already high in Syria. Now they will be higher.

Trump Drops Push for Immediate Withdrawal of Troops From Syria

April 6, 2018
American forces in northern Syria last month. Credit Hussein Malla/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Trump has instructed his military commanders to quickly wrap up the American military operation in Syria so that he can bring troops home within a few months, senior administration officials said on Wednesday. He dropped his insistence on an immediate withdrawal, they said, after commanders told him they needed time to complete their mission.

The president’s decision to keep the 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria for the immediate future came in a meeting of the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday, hours after Mr. Trump had told a roomful of reporters that “it’s time” to bring American forces home from a conflict that has been a crucial battlefield in the fight against the Islamic State.

At the meeting, Mr. Trump’s top military advisers told him they had drawn up plans to pull American troops out of Syria immediately. But they also presented a plan for the forces to stay longer to clean out the residual pockets of Islamic State fighters and to train local forces to stabilize the liberated territory so that the group could not regain a foothold.

“How long do you need to do that?” the frustrated president asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, according to an official present for the exchange.

They responded that it was difficult to predict a precise timetable, but that it would not take years. As long as the operation lasted months rather than years, Mr. Trump replied, “I can support that.”

“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in the statement issued on Wednesday. “The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”

It was the latest instance of the president making an unscripted remark with far-reaching implications that prompted a behind-the-scenes scramble by his advisers to translate blunt talk into a workable policy. White House and administration officials also spent Monday and Tuesday trying to translate a series of confusing presidential tweets and comments on immigration into a coherent strategy, including a new legislative push and the deployment of the National Guard to the southern border.

The statement on Syria was issued one day after Mr. Trump made plain his eagerness to pull American troops out, arguing that the United States had essentially already won the battle against the Islamic State and saying that “sometimes it’s time to come back home.”

“I want to get out — I want to bring our troops back home,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday during a news conference with leaders of the Baltic nations. “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS.”

The White House insisted on Wednesday that the president had not walked back his position on bringing troops home from Syria, nor was he calling for a hasty withdrawal.

“As the president’s maintained since the beginning, he’s not going to put an arbitrary timeline,” Ms. Sanders told reporters. “He is measuring it in actually winning the battle — not just putting some random number out there, but making sure we actually win, which we’ve been doing.”

She said the ultimate decision on when to bring United States forces home “will be made by the Department of Defense and the secretary of defense, which the president has given authority to do that.” But it remains unclear how long Mr. Trump will be willing to wait for that determination.

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Trump’s Approach to Syria Is No Way to Run a War — Will The Voices of Sanity Change His Mind?

April 6, 2018

The New York Times


April 5, 2018

American Special Forces soldiers scan the area at a frontline outpost near Manbij, in northern Syria, in February.Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

As recently as Tuesday, the Pentagon was advocating an indefinite American military presence in Syria. Speaking in Washington, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, argued that while a coalition of international forces had made progress in degrading the Islamic State, “The hard part, I think, is in front of us.”

What a shock it must have been for General Votel to find out later that, at about the same time only a few miles away, President Trump was supplying a decidedly different vision to the White House press corps: “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

We know how Mr. Trump feels. We have long shared the concerns expressed by him and before him, President Barack Obama, about a long-term American commitment in Syria, where ISIS is one combatant in a set of brutal overlapping conflicts that began as a civil war against President Bashar al-Assad in 2001, tore the country apart and, so far, has killed half a million people.

The problem is that, once again, Mr. Trump has an impulse — in this case, he even has the right one — but no strategy, an emotion but little insight into reality on the ground. His call to withdraw troops immediately is at odds with warnings from American commanders who believe that it could lead to a resurgence by ISIS, like the rebound of militants in Iraq after Mr. Obama brought troops home from there. This is a familiar pattern for Mr. Trump: He skips past the hard work of commander in chief, seeking a quick political gain while foisting responsibility for difficult military decisions onto the generals. Fortunately, in this case, the generals have persuaded him to sidestep a quick withdrawal in favor of a more studied approach.

There are roughly 2,000 American troops fighting ISIS in Syria today. In January, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared they could expect to remain there indefinitely. Mr. Tillerson also said that the military mission would be “conditions-based,” meaning without either an end date or benchmarks for success. General Votel had a similar message on Tuesday, describing the military’s future role as stabilizing and consolidating gains while “addressing long-term issues of reconstruction,” including training local forces to keep ISIS from regaining a foothold.

Despite his isolationist tendencies, the president seemed to support that approach. Since taking office, he has tripled troop levels in Syria, just as he has also sent more troops to Afghanistan. In fact, Mr. Trump even faulted Mr. Obama for setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, saying it gave the Taliban the upper hand. Now he has effectively done the same thing by announcing that “it’s time” for the troops to leave Syria.

Mr. Trump is irritated that Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations have not contributed enough resources to the Syria campaign. Fine; as president, he should be able to do something about that, particularly given the close relationship he claims to have with the Saudi royal family. What’s his plan?

The president just doesn’t seem to get that any American withdrawal requires careful thought to ensure we don’t surrender the gains we’ve made, endanger troops on the ground or alienate our allies. What will happen, for instance, to Syrian Kurds who have been crucial American partners in fighting ISIS and now are under attack by Turkey, which considers the Kurds to be terrorists? Or to Israel, which is increasingly concerned about the foothold that Iran, an Assad ally that Mr. Trump has decried as a major regional threat, has gained in Syria?

Besides Iran, another notable American adversary is likely to benefit from the president’s apparent desire to retreat from the Middle East: Russia. Already, Mr. Trump is letting Russia take the lead in Syria, ceding to Vladimir Putin the crucial diplomatic work of forging a political agreement between Mr. Assad and the Syrian rebels. Mr. Putin, an Assad ally, met Iranian and Turkish leaders in Istanbul on Wednesday to plan Syria’s future. How does that serve American interests?

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: No Way to Run a War Policy.

Russia, Iran and Turkey struggle to find common ground on Syria

April 3, 2018


ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Three foreign powers who have shaped Syria’s civil war – Iran, Russia and Turkey – will discuss ways to wind down the fighting on Wednesday despite their involvement in rival military campaigns on the ground.

The leaders of the three countries will meet in Ankara for talks on a new constitution for Syria and increasing security in “de-escalation” zones across the country, Turkish officials say.

Image result for Putin, erdogan, Rouhani, photos

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have met before — This FILE Photo is from during a meeting in the Russian city of Sochi on November 22, 2017.

The Syria summit brings together two powers which have been President Bashar al-Assad’s most forceful supporters, Iran and Russia, with one of his strongest opponents, Turkey.

Cooperation between the rival camps raised hopes of stabilizing Syria after seven years of conflict in which 500,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced.

But the violence has raged on, highlighting strategic rifts between the three countries who, in the absence of decisive Western intervention, hold Syria’s fate largely in their hands.

Syria’s army and Iran-backed militias, with Russian air power, have crushed insurgents near Damascus in eastern Ghouta – one of the four mooted “de-escalation zones”.

Turkey, which sharply criticized the Ghouta offensive, waged its own military operation to drive Kurdish YPG fighters from the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin. It has pledged to take the town of Tel Rifaat and push further east, angering Iran.

“Whatever the intentions are, Turkey’s moves in Syria, whether in Afrin, Tel Rifaat or any other part of Syria, should be halted as soon as possible,” a senior Iranian official said.

Iran has been Assad’s most supportive ally throughout the conflict. Iran-backed militias first helped his army stem rebel advances and, following Russia’s entry into the war in 2015, turn the tide decisively in Assad’s favor.

A Turkish official said Ankara will ask Moscow to press Assad to grant more humanitarian access in Ghouta, and to rein in air strikes on rebel-held areas. “We expect … Russia to control the regime more,” the official told reporters this week.


Ankara’s relations with Moscow collapsed in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane but have recovered since then – to the concern of Turkey’s Western allies.

Turkey was one of the few NATO partners not to expel Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian agent which Britain blamed on Moscow – an allegation which Turkey said was not proven.

Improved political ties have been reflected in Turkey’s agreement to buy a Russian missile defence system and plans for Russia’s ROSATOM to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

Turkey has also expanded relations with Iran, exchanging visits by military chiefs of staff, although its deepening ties with Tehran and Moscow have not translated into broader agreement on Syria’s future.

Iran remains determined that Assad stay in power, while Russia is less committed to keeping him in office, a regional diplomat said. Turkey says Assad has lost legitimacy, although it no longer demands his immediate departure.

At a meeting in Russia two months ago, boycotted by the leadership of Syria’s opposition, delegates agreed to set up a committee to rewrite Syria’s constitution and called for democratic elections.

Turkey says Wednesday’s meeting will discuss setting up the constitutional committee, humanitarian issues and developments in Syria’s northern Idlib region, which is under the control of rival rebel factions and jihadi groups, and where Turkey has set up seven military observation posts.

“There are issues where all three countries have different policies in Syria,” another Turkish official said. “In this regard, an aim is to find middle ground and create policies to improve the current situation.”

Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Writing by Dominic Evans, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Erdogan Keeps Turkey Spellbound With Sermons and Shouted Insults

April 3, 2018
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey speaking at the country’s presidential palace in February. He often makes three speeches in a day, each broadcast live on multiple channels.Credit Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace, via Reuters

ANKARA, Turkey — As President Trump has his tweets, the leader of Turkey has his speeches.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes up to three every weekday — two a day on weekends — and his charismatic, combative talks are the primary vehicle of his success.

He calls democracy advocates “marauders.” He mocks the German foreign minister as a “disaster.” He is as comfortable in the vernacular as he is reciting poetry. He takes on his enemies publicly by name, pivoting seamlessly from pious to pushy.

Even after 15 years at the helm, Mr. Erdogan, whose skills as an orator even his opponents envy, treats every event like a campaign rally — and he turns just about every day into one. He remains the country’s most popular politician and is poised to seek re-election, possibly this year, with polling showing him with over 40 percent support.

Much of that appeal can be credited to his ubiquitous media presence and a speaking style that supporters find inspiring, and detractors divisive. Neither side doubts that it has struck a chord with Turkey’s conservative working class.

In that regard, Mr. Erdogan fits perfectly with the deepening global trend toward autocrats and swaggering strongmen (they are all men) who have found a way to speak forcefully for common people who feel their point of view has been ignored for too long.

Mr. Erdogan’s speeches are often broadcast live on multiple television channels, almost universally pro-government, from every event he attends. His voice is heard everywhere, in cafes, homes and government offices across the land.

His favorite recipe: attacking people his supporters love to hate, be it the United States, European leaders or the liberal elite.

To his support base, Mr. Erdogan talks like a father, a brother, or the man next door. “He is one of us,” supporters often explain. And he says what he thinks, in salty, everyday language, just like them.

“And now they have a foreign minister — oh, my God — what a disaster,” Mr. Erdogan railed to supporters in the western region of Denizli last summer, at the height of his country’s tensions with Germany.

“He never knows his place,” Mr. Erdogan continued. “Who are you — Ha! — speaking to the president of Turkey? You are talking to the foreign minister of Turkey. Know your place.”

“And he attempts to give us a lesson. What is your history in politics? How old are you? Our life passed with those struggles in politics.”

The passage was vintage Erdogan. “Stylistically he is always full of surprises,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a former journalist and senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He does not mind shocking people, and taking people on in a very public manner.”

Often that means upsetting people that his supporters do not like. He jeered at pro-democracy protesters in Istanbul for their liberal lifestyle, calling them “marauders” and mocking their drinking habits: “They drink until they puke.”

Supporters of the government at a rally before a constitutional referendum in Istanbul last year. Turkey is divided down the middle and for all those who are inspired by Mr. Erdogan, almost as many are tired of his speeches. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And he made a notoriously coarse remark about a socialist feminist protester who climbed onto an armored vehicle in Ankara, wondering if she were a girl or a woman, essentially questioning her virginity.

But Mr. Erdogan also inspires with poetry and tales of the life of the Prophet Muhammad. He drops his voice with reverence to honor fallen soldiers, and then raises it to stir national pride.

The religious sermonizing is very much part of Mr. Erdogan’s training. He studied at a religious school for prayer leaders and preachers, learning among his courses Islamic preaching.

Liberals and secularists have often criticized his divisive speech, and his introduction of religion into politics, yet it is what most of his pious Muslim followers want to hear.

“For conservatives this is someone defending their lifestyle,” Ms. Aydintasbas said.

A smooth practitioner with a teleprompter, he has a well-honed rhetorical style. In almost every speech there is a moment when he shakes up the audience, suddenly switching gears.

He turns from declarative speech to address directly, in imperative or interrogative style, whoever is the target of the day.

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US-backed fighters on high alert in Syria’s Manbij — “It’s premature to speak of any American withdrawal.”

April 3, 2018

A picture taken on March 22, 2018 shows Turkish-backed Syrian fighters in a street in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin. (AFP)
MANBIJ: On the outskirts of Syria’s Manbij, Kurdish-led fighters have dug trenches and US-led coalition soldiers patrol from land and sky after Turkey threatened to overrun the northern city.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch an attack on the city, near which US troops are stationed as part of their support to a Kurdish-led alliance fighting extremists.
Pro-Ankara Syrian rebels control territory to the north and west of the city held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance.
The rebels control Jarabulus near the Turkish border to the north, as well as Al-Bab to the west of Manbij.
On its northern flank, only a few hundred meters (yards) separate the positions of the pro-Ankara rebels and the SDF, which has spearheaded the fight against Daesh.
Outside Manbij, as spring turns the surrounding hills bright green, Kurdish fighters have been consolidating their positions in preparation for a possible assault.
On the front line, the facade of a derelict home sheltering SDF fighters was riddled with bullet holes.
“We’re on high alert. There are always skirmishes at night,” Kurdish fighter Shiyar Kobani said. “They fire mortar rounds and shell our positions.”
At a US military base near the city, three armored cars bearing the US flag were driving back to camp after completing a mission.
A helicopter flew overhead after taking off in a swirl of dust from the base, fortified with mounds of rubble between olive trees.
Coalition forces carry out regular patrols on the frontline and “have increased their patrolling tours recently,” SDF commander Khalil Mustafa told AFP.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with sources on the ground, says around 350 members of the US-led coalition — mostly American troops — are stationed around Manbij.
Military sources on the ground, the Observatory and pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan say the coalition has sent in reinforcements, heavy artillery and other military equipment to the area.
An AFP correspondent saw the US troops even after President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would pull forces out of Syria “very soon.”
Trump was speaking the same day that two members of the coalition — an American and a Briton — were killed by an improvised explosive device in Manbij.
Since 2014, the coalition has provided weapons, training and other support to forces fighting Daesh extremists in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Turkey-led forces last month seized control of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin to the west of Manbij after a two-month assault that killed dozens of civilians and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia that controlled Afrin as “terrorists,” although the YPG formed the backbone of the US-backed SDF that has ousted Daesh from much of Syria.
Erdogan has warned that Turkey could extend the Afrin offensive to Manbij.
Trenches have been dug outside the city and checkpoints erected to thoroughly scan the identity papers of those entering the city.
“We’re taking the Turkish threats seriously,” Mohammed Abu Adel, the head of the Manbij Military Council — a part of the SDF — told AFP.
“The international coalition has increased the number of its forces in Manbij,” he said.
Abdelkarim Omar, a top foreign affairs official with the Kurdish semi-autonomous administration in northern Syria, said US forces were not likely to leave the country any time soon.
“It’s premature to speak of any American withdrawal,” he said.
“Terrorism is still present,” he added, referring to Daesh fighters.
Two offensives — one by the SDF and another by the regime — have expelled the extremists from much of Syria.
But Daesh fighters still cling to pockets of territory in eastern Syria and maintain the ability to launch deadly attacks.
They carried out a spate of attacks that killed 19 pro-government fighters last week in eastern Syria, and in March seized a district of the capital.


Top Israel minister: Reconciliation with ‘anti-Semite’ Erdogan may have been a mistake — Israel must stand up “to the hostility and anti-Semitism of Erdogan…

April 2, 2018

Times of Israel

April 2, 2018

As Netanyahu and Erdogan’s public clash over Gaza escalates, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says in hindsight, perhaps 2016 detente should not have been approved

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, November 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, November 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Israel’s 2016 reconciliation agreement with Turkey may have been a mistake, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Monday, as a war of words between the nation’s leaders over the Gaza Strip became increasingly vitriolic.

“Looking back, maybe the accord should not have been approved,” Erdan told Army Radio, calling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “an anti-Semite who continues to support Hamas.”

He said Israel must stand up “to the hostility and anti-Semitism of Erdogan. It’s odd for a country such as Turkey, that is massacring the Kurds and occupying northern Cyprus, to be accepted as a legitimate nation by the West.”

Turkey invaded areas of northern Cypus in 1974 and later annexed the territory in a move not recognized by any other country.

In January this year, Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in the enclave of Afrin in Syria to root out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey brands a terrorist group but which is seen by the United States as a key player in the fight against Islamic State jihadists. The UN has said that 170,000 people have fled Afrin in the wake of the Turkish offensive. Dozens of civilians have been killed.

Erdan noted that he had always had issues with the 2016 deal with Ankara that ended years of diplomatic crisis.

The Mavi Marmara is towed by a tugboat as it leaves the port of the northern city of Haifa, August 5, 2010. (Herzl Shapira/Flash90)

“I’m not fully comfortable with my vote, and I wasn’t then either,” he said. He explained that “there were many considerations for and against” and that he had considered opposing it, but was convinced otherwise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Looking back, maybe the accord should not have been approved,” he said. But he added that he was speaking with the benefit of hindsight, and that Israel “did not have the luxury of rejecting a compromise deal with one of the Middle East’s greatest powers.”

The 2016 reconciliation deal with Turkey saw the two countries restore ties soured by the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident six years earlier.

Relations between the former allies imploded in 2010 following an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish aid ship trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several Israeli soldiers wounded.

Erdan’s comments echoed those of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who in December called the accord a “diplomatic mistake” that had “failed.” At the time Erdogan called Israel a “terrorist state” that “kills children” after US President Donald Trump’s recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Netanyahu stepped up a war of words with Erdogan Sunday, telling him that he had better get used to an Israeli response to his rhetoric and that Israel was not prepared to accept criticism from the Turkish strongman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2018. ( Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“Erdogan is not used to being answered back to,” Netanyahu tweeted. “He should get used to it. ”

His comments came on a day of back and forth between the two in which Erdogan called Netanyahu a “terrorist” and Israel a “terrorist state.”

Netanyahu cited what he said were Turkey’s crimes: “Someone who occupies northern Cyprus, invades the Kurdish regions, and slaughters civilians in Afrin — should not preach to us about values and ethics,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu’s comments came after earlier in the day Erdogan had branded him a “terrorist.”

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech during the AK Party’s parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara on March 20, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / HAKAN GOKTEPE)

“Hey Netanyahu! You are an occupier. And it is as an occupier that you are on those lands. At the same time, you are a terrorist,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Adana, southern Turkey.

“What you do to the oppressed Palestinians will be part of history and we will never forget it,” he said, adding: “The Israeli people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing. We are not guilty of any act of occupation.”


In another speech, Reuters quoted Erdogan as saying: “You are a terrorist state. It is known what you have done in Gaza and what you have done in Jerusalem. You have no one that likes you in the world.”

Palestinian protesters fling rocks at Israeli security forces near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 01, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Netanyahu earlier Sunday lashed out at Turkey in response to its president’s claim that Israel had mounted an “inhumane attack” on Palestinians during Friday’s mass protests on the border with Israel.

“The most moral army in the world will not accept moral preaching from someone who for years has been bombing a civilian population indiscriminately,” he said, in apparent reference to Ankara’s ongoing battle against the Kurds.

“That’s apparently how Ankara marks [April Fool’s Day],” Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew, of the Turkish condemnation.

On Saturday, Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul, “I strongly condemn the Israeli government over its inhumane attack.”

The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday that at least 10 of those killed — the Gazans reported a death toll of 15 — were members of Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas.

Fatalities from the March 30 violence on the Israel-Gaza border identified by Israel as members of terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday, some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.

The army said that its sharpshooters targeted only those taking explicit violent action against Israeli troops or trying to break through or damage the security fence. Video footage showed that in one case a rioter, whom the army included in its list of Hamas members, appeared to be shot while running away from the border. The army in response accused Hamas of editing and/or fabricating its videos.

As of Saturday evening, Hamas, a terrorist group that openly seeks to destroy Israel, itself acknowledged that five of the dead in the so-called “March of Return” were its own gunmen. contributed to this report.


Trump, Saudi Arabia in Lockstep: Give Syria Up to Assad, Ignore Gaza

April 2, 2018

Trump’s talk with the Saudi crown prince made him conclude that there’s nothing Washington can do in Syria; they also see eye to eye on the weekend’s events in Gaza and the question of Hamas’ status

.FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.
FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.Evan Vucci/AP

An old cliché holds that “anything can happen in the Middle East,” because everyone knows Arab leaders aren’t familiar with the Western concept of “rationality”; they make decisions from the gut or, even worse, obey God’s dictates. But the Mideast now seems to have an unbeatable rival in the White House, one who is constantly trying to demolish rationality even more thoroughly.

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Last week U.S. President Donald Trump left his aides and cabinet secretaries agape when he said America was “coming out of Syriavery soon.” Just a few days earlier, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the exact opposite, declaring that America would be in Syria indefinitely. Senior American officials made similar statements last month, explaining that America’s presence was necessary until a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war was found.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported regime surface-to-surface missile strike on a rebel-held area on the southern Syrian city of Daraa, March 23, 2018.

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported regime surface-to-surface missile strike on a rebel-held area on the southern Syrian city of Daraa, March 23, 2018.MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP

>> WATCH // Trump: U.S. leaving Syria ‘very soon, let other people take care of it’ ■ A Syrian town counts on Americans to stick by it against Turkey’s threat ■ Saudi-backed Syrian rebels face a stark choice: Surrender to Assad or die

What pushed Trump, who also used the occasion to freeze $200 million in aid for Syria’s reconstruction, to make this announcement? Apparently, his conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made him conclude that there’s nothing Washington can do in Syria.

Granted, Mohammed said in an interview with Time magazine that it’s important for American forces – some 2,000 combat soldiers and trainers – to remain in Syria to block the spread of Iranian influence there. But in the same interview he said of Syrian President Bashar Assad, “Bashar is staying. But I believe that Bashar’s interest is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want to do.”

If Trump’s announcement was a U-turn in America’s Mideast policy, the prince broke the rules of the game entirely. Saudi Arabia, the last Arab state to stand firm against the possibility of Assad remaining in power, is now coming down from the ramparts and effectively admitting the failure of its Syria policy, a direct continuation of the failure of its efforts to reshape Lebanon’s government.

The American president and the Saudi prince evidently have only one card left to play in the region, and it isn’t a terribly impressive one – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They still agree that Trump’s “ultimate deal” is a treasure. But this treasure is so secret that nobody knows what it includes, aside from leaked crumbs of information and unrealistic ideas like establishing a Palestinian state in which Israeli settlements would remain comfortably, and with its capital in Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem.

Hamas found a more effective way to agitate Israel ■ With riots and live fire, Gaza just went 25 years back in time ■ Palestinian generation of hope now plagued by fury


Youth react after deaf Palestinian Tahreer Abu Sabala, 17, was shot and wounded in the head during clashes with Israeli troops, at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 1, 2018.

Youth react after deaf Palestinian Tahreer Abu Sabala, 17, was shot and wounded in the head during clashes with Israeli troops, at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 1, 2018. \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

They also see eye to eye on the weekend’s events in the Gaza Strip and the question of Hamas’ status. Last Friday, the United Statesopposed a Kuwaiti motion in the UN Security Council to condemn Israel for the violence. Riyadh did its part by refusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ request that it convene an emergency Arab summit to discuss the killing of Palestinians in Gaza. The kingdom gave Abbas the cold shoulder, saying the regular Arab League summit would take place in a few weeks anyway, so no additional summit was needed.

The disinterest Mohammed and Trump both showed in the events in Gaza, combined with their capitulation to reality in Syria, reveals a clear American-Saudi strategy by which regional conflicts will be dealt with by the parties to those conflicts, and only those with the potential to spark an international war will merit attention and perhaps intervention.

>> Gaza carnage is a victory for Hamas – and a propaganda nightmare for Israel ■ With riots and live fire, Gaza just went 25 years back in time  >>

An example of the latter is the battle against Iran, which will continue to interest both Washington and Riyadh because they consider it of supreme international importance, not just a local threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Syria, in contrast, doesn’t interest the world, and to the degree that it poses a threat to Israel, Israel’s 2007 attack on Syria’s nuclear reactor and its ongoing military intervention in Syria show that it neither needs nor even wants other powers involved.

>> Ten years of silence on Syria strike. Why now? ■ A turning point in Israel’s history ■ Before successful strike, Israel’s most resounding intel failure

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also no longer seen as a global threat, or even a regional one. Therefore, it’s unnecessary to “waste” international or pan-Arab effort on it. If Egypt can and wants to handle the conflict from the Arab side, fine. But for now, that will be it.

Russia and Iran, which in any case have managed the Syrian conflict between them for some time now without American or Saudi involvement, will derive practical conclusions from this policy. The competition between Tehran and Moscow over control of Syria’s meager resources has waned since Russia took over Syria’s main oil fields and most future contracts to exploit them. Iran will make do with the status of Assad’s strategic guest, and will apparently retain permanent military and political access to Lebanon.

The Kurds realized weeks ago that Washington won’t stretch out its neck for them, after it let Turkey invade and conquer the Syrian town of Afrin. Now they won’t receive the full amount of American aid they were promised, either.

Once again, Ankara has proven more important to Trump than the Kurds, who, as far as Washington is concerned, had finished their job once the Islamic State was defeated. So, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the “local” conflict in Syria, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict will take place between the parties, without U.S. involvement.

In the absence of American and Saudi backing and involvement, Syria’s rebel militias are also likely to recalculate their path, understanding that they can no longer recruit either the superpower rivalry or the Saudi-Syrian one to obtain diplomatic gains. Russian dictates will be the only game in town.

And this last, perhaps, nevertheless provides some good news for Syrian civilians, who are still being slaughtered by the dozen every day.