February, 2016 Middle East

BY RAMZY BAROUD, The Japan Times


Jean-Marie Guéhenno, theguardian
Murderous suicide bombings. A deadly upsurge of ethno-sectarian violence spilling over from Syria. A country whose friendship with the US and EU is increasingly fragile, and is now at daggers drawn with a historic enemy, Russia.

 Syrian fighters carry their weapons in a village on the outskirts of al-Shadadi town in Syria [REUTERS]

US-Russian ceasefire agreement is built upon the unstable foundation of the collective opposition to ISIL.
Geoffrey Aronson is a specialist in Middle East affairs.

It cannot be doubted that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to go "all in" last September initiated an endgame that years of US half measures in Syria failed to accomplish.

Guardian Editorial
The Syrian war has lasted so long and diplomacy has proved so ineffective that the hope that it could end or at least be brought under some kind of control is hard to sustain. Yet the cessation of hostilities agreed by nearly all of the warring parties seemed to be holding this weekend. Most observers give it a chance, not because of some sudden change of heart on anybody’s part – nearly all those concerned still hate each other – but because it is arguably in the interests of the key players to pursue their objectives in the future in a different way.

Gareth Smyth for Tehran Bureau
The primary divide is now between supporters and opponents of the nuclear agreement
Last July’s agreement with world powers brought a realignment in Iranian politics. The central divide in the election was between supporters and opponents of the deal.

Middle East, Politics

An aerial view of Beirut, capital of a divided Lebanon [Reuters]

Marwan Bishara

Lebanon is a diverse and industrious nation and that's a cause for celebration. But the Lebanese are a divided people, and that is a major cause for trepidation.Since its 14-year civil war ended with a peace accord signed in Saudi Arabia in November 1989, Lebanon has tried hard to maintain its plurality while at the same time "managing" its sectarian divisions.

Author Adnan Abu Zeed


BAGHDAD — The Baath regime led by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein collapsed in September 2003 in the wake of the US invasion. Iraq has been uneasy ever since and has yet to recover. Every now and then, voices are heard measuring the current security chaos against the relative stability of Saddam’s rule (1979-2003).

Middle East, Politics

By Arash Reisinezhad
Rafsanjani’s aim is to control the critical succession process.
Fires are raging in the Middle East, from Syria and Turkey to Yemen and Iraq. Located at the heart of the region, Iran has been a true island of stability. But this stability could be threatened by the historic elections for the Assembly of Experts and parliament on February 26. While the battle over daily aspects of power between the reformists and the hard-liners in Iran has caught the attention of many Iran watchers, a more hidden, yet earth-shattering, process is shaping the trajectory of the domestic power struggle within the country.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry fondly hoped that the nuclear agreement signed with Iran would bring to the surface a new type of leader - more liberal and less liable to restart the nuclear program - in the twin elections taking place in the Islamic Republic Friday, Feb. 26.

Middle East, Politics

Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor, theguardian

A fragile, temporary and partial cessation of hostilities has come into force in Syria after 97 fighting groups, as well as the Syrian government and Russian air force, signed up to a ceasefire.

Ömer Taşpınar
The real problem for the next American administration will not only be Russian hegemony over Syria but Turkey's propensity to challenge this domination by trying to get NATO involved in a conflict with Moscow.

aleppo2, cc Flickr Félim McMahon, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Geopolitical Monitor, Hassan Sohail
The war in Syria is so demonic and unyielding that half of its population had to leave the country within years; in fact, one of every five displaced people in the world today is a Syrian. The conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. According to the International Organization for Migrants (IOM), 1.2 million houses have been damaged in Syria, availability of water has decreased by 50 percent, and only 43 percent of hospitals are fully functional.



Author Mustafa al-Haj
DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian regime’s advancement in Daraa, Aleppo and rural Latakia, among other areas, confirms the Russian intervention in Syria has changed the balance of power in favor of the regime. As opposition forces have failed to deter the regime’s attacks in Daraa province, hopes are hanging on a cease-fire truce announced following a US-Russian agreement approved Feb. 23 by the Syrian regime. The truce, which is to be implemented starting Feb. 27, could be a prelude to ending the military conflict and launching a political solution that would solve the Syrians’ crisis, observers say.

Author Metin Gurcan
Developments in Syria have picked up speed rapidly in the past two weeks, and the situation is only becoming more complicated.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, supported by Russian warplanes, are trying to control critical supply routes between Turkey and Aleppo. Ankara has declared the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) a terrorist organization because of its organic ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and expansion of its Afrin canton in western Kurdistan northwest of Aleppo.


DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

President Vladimir Putin this week mounted a rescue operation to unsnarl his blueprint for a solution of the Syrian crisis from the blockage placed in its path by none other than Bashar Assad. The Syrian ruler won’t hear of Moscow’s proposals for ending the war, or even the cessation of hostilities approved last week in Munich by the 17-member Syria Support Group.

by Jonathan Spyer, The Jerusalem Post

Over the ruined landscape of northern Syria, a number of core factors that today define the strategic reality of the Middle East are colliding. Close observation of that blighted area therefore offers clues as to the current state of play more broadly in the region – who is on the way up, who on the way down, and what might this imply for Israel in the short to medium term.

By Paul Craig Roberts

"Information Clearing House" - This morning I was stuck in front of a Fox “News” broadcast for a short period and then with a NPR news program. It was enough to convince me that Nazi propaganda during Hitler’s Third Reich was very mild compared to the constant stream of dangerous lies that are pumped out constantly by the American media.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan
On Friday Iranians will vote in two elections, the first to be held since a landmark nuclear agreement was signed last year under which international sanctions were lifted.

Middle East, Politics

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
Having been left largely in the cold, Ankara is now trying to get back into the game in Syria in order to promote its security interests in the north of the country. It continues, however, to tread on thin ice.

By AT Editor
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov had reached a provisional agreement on terms of a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the sides were closer to a ceasefire than ever before. But he indicated there were still issues to be resolved and he did not expect any immediate change on the ground.

Bülent Keneş

Just as deterrence against hostile forces is important for the protection and promotion of national interests in international relations, consistency and credibility are equally important in the international community.
Of course, deterrence does not consist solely of continually declaring red lines regarding national interests. And it can hardly be defined as standing by with folded arms when these red lines are blurred in a short time. Indeed, there is a huge gap between deterrence and bluffing.

GWYNNE DYER, The Japan Times
LONDON – “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent,” said John Maynard Keynes (or maybe it wasn’t him, but no matter). At any rate, that was the eternal verity the Saudi Arabians were counting on when they decided to let oil production rip — and the oil price collapse — in late 2014.

Amir Faress for Tehran Bureau
Concentration of power in the hands of one person is a terrible thing, but nothing will be achieved by fantastical arguments designed to prove there are mechanisms within Iran’s constitution to remedy the issue.

by Burak Bekdil, The Gatestone Institute
Originally published under the title "Russia's Trap: Luring Sunnis into War."


After Russia's increasingly bold military engagement in war-torn Syria in favor of President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite bloc, the regional Sunni powers – Turkey and its ally, Saudi Arabia – have felt nervous and incapable of influencing the civil war in favor of the many Islamist groups fighting Assad's forces.

by Raymond Ibrahim, Strategika

ISIS propaganda trumpets Muslim strength, not grievances.
The best way to understand the Islamic State (ISIS) is to see it as the next phase of al-Qaeda. All Sunni Islamic jihadi groups—Boko Haram, ISIS, Taliban, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, even Hamas—share the same motivations based on a literal and orthodox reading of Islamic history and doctrine: resurrecting a caliphate (which existed in various forms from 632 to 1924) that implements and spreads the totality of sharia, or Islamic law.

A supporter of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi holds a military boot on her head in a sign of support for military rule in 2014 [AFP]


Wael Haddara

One of the great lessons for the Egyptian military from Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign must have been that it cannot allow executive power to wander too far from its own control. The military coup against Mohamed Morsi was about more than just wresting power from an Islamist president. It was about regaining control of the country from civilian control. This was first threatened under Mubarak's dynastic succession scheme and then after the uprising of January 25, 2011.

 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev giving an interview on the sidelines of the 2016 Munich Securit Conference (Photo: EPA)

Ronen Bergman
Op-ed: The general atmosphere at the 2016 Munich Security Conference was one of despair, confusion and belligerence. The Russians bickered with NATO on every topic, with Russian PM declaring the situation has deteriorated 'to the level of a cold war'; meanwhile, no one talked about the Palestinians, and Iranian FM Zarif failed to draw the same crowds he did in the past.
On stage in Munich, in an almost formal manner, the renewal of the Cold War was announced.

By Finian Cunningham

"Information Clearing House" - "SCF" - Less than five months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered military intervention in Syria, the five-year war has been completely transformed. Peace is far from certain as a tentative truce this week will attest. The conflict may even escalate. But what Russia’s intervention has certainly achieved is to squeeze out into the open the poisonous forces of regime change that have brought Syria to its dire condition.

MURAT YETKİN, hurriyetdailynews

A bomb blast rocked central Ankara at rush hour on the evening of Feb. 17, killing 28 and wounding 61. Government sources stated that a suicide bomber pulled the trigger on 30 kilos of explosives next to two buses stopped at a red traffic light carrying military and civilian personnel back home from military offices.

Ian Black Middle East editor
A deadline to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria has passed, further delaying the resumption of UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels fighting to overthrow him.


By Joseph S. Nye Jr
Moscow may try to link cooperation in the Syrian crisis to relief from sanctions.
For the last fifty-two years, leaders from around the world have gathered in Munich for an annual review of world security problems. This year’s discussion focused on the civil war in Syria. Not only is Syria a political and humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, but the refugee flows from that war are causing a political crisis in Europe.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu finally put to rest speculation about a possible invasion of Syria by Turkey. It was his remarks which fueled this debate in the first place.

He said last week that if things were based on a result-oriented strategy, then Turkey could mount a land operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) together with Saudi Arabia.

By Nawaf Obaid
The military exercises ‘Northern Thunder’ are just the beginning.
Last week, the spokesman for the Saudi military, General Ahmed Asseri, announced that Saudi Arabia is “is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria” and that its decision to move into the war-torn country is “irreversible."

Joshua Teitelbaum, senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), and professor of Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, briefed the Middle East Forum on a conference call on Feb. 4, 2016.

By John Wight

 "Information Clearing House" - "Counterpunch " - In Ankara and Riyadh a decent night’s sleep must be hard to come by nowadays, what with the prospects of the Sunni state they’d envisaged being established across a huge swathe of Syria slipping away in the face of an offensive by Syrian government forces that is sweeping all before it north of Aleppo, threatening to completely sever supply lines from Turkey to opposition forces in and around the city, and all but ensuring that its liberation is now a question of when not if.

Chris Stephen in Tunis
Five years ago he picked up a gun and joined Libya’s rebels to depose Muammar Gaddafi in a blaze of patriotic vigour. Half a decade later the Tripoli medical student will mark Wednesday’s anniversary of the Arab spring revolution treating militia fighters wounded in battles with Islamic State.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

Speaking at an investors forum in The Hague, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey was a safe haven for investors. If the prime minister was not joking or referring to another country that goes by the same name, his understanding of what is and what is not “safe” must be quite eccentric.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews

Turkey has raised the stakes in Syria by beginning to shell the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Defense Units (YPG) in an effort to deter the group from capturing more territory along the Turkish border. Although pro-government media is drumming up support for this action, one does not need much imagination to realize that average Turks are worried about where this is all leading to.

Michael Clarke, theguardian
The military campaign against Islamic State is being reduced to a vicious sideshow as the Syrian civil war enters a new make-or-break phase. Russian military involvement has been a game-changer – saving Bashar al-Assad’s forces from near collapse, blatantly attacking western-backed opposition forces, and supplying T-90 tanks to Assad’s army closing in on Aleppo. For the western allies, time is running out. The agenda is being shaped by Russia, Assad and Iran, which have formed a de facto alliance to maintain the old Syria and – despite the supposed ceasefire agreed by the big powers in Munich last Friday – are not dissuaded by the death and destruction involved.


By Manolis Kostidis
Cengiz Çandar – Political analyst-expert in Middle East- Radikal
Turkey’s policy on Syria is not aimed at opposing the Islamic State. It is determined only by the fear of the relations of the Kurds of PYD with the US.


By Oren Kessler
Piety—not just power—remains a driving force in the region.
A meme is gaining traction within American government and media, and it goes like this: The conflicts of the Middle East aren’t about religion. Jihadist violence? Garden-variety criminality, the president says. Young people flocking to ISIS? “Thrill-seekers,” posits the secretary of state, who are desperate for “jobs,” per a State Department spokeswoman. Iran’s belligerence? A reaction to ostracization, a former embassy hostage insists. Sunni-Shiite bloodletting? Jockeying for power, the pundits conclude.

By Pepe Escobar

 "Information Clearing House" - "Sputnik" -The Syrian charade now proceeds under a vague “cessation of hostilities” – which is not a ceasefire – to be implemented within a week. Further on down the road, as this is the real world, “hostilities” will inevitably resume.

Author Metin Gurcan
TranslatorTimur Göksel

Syria has become the best-marketed commodity in Turkey, where all foreign policy issues are packaged for domestic consumption. Ankara appears, however, to have lost all perception of reality regarding anything to do with Syria, falling victim to Alice in Wonderland syndrome. The government has embarked on a surreal journey in trying to persuade the public that Turkey is winning, not losing, in Syria.

Suat Kınıklıoğlu
Syria has been on our agenda for the last five years.

The pendulum in Syria has swung from the early optimism of the Arab Awakening that predicted a quick downfall of President Bashar al-Assad to the current pessimism, which features the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as unseen misery unleashed by the regime in Damascus. These days the conflict is threatening to become a larger confrontation, namely one between NATO and its regional allies against Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Damascus.

Project Syndicate
WINCHESTER – “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” George Santayana’s dictum seems particularly appropriate nowadays, with the Arab world, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Libya, a cauldron of violence; Afghanistan locked in combat with the Taliban; swaths of central Africa cursed by bloody competition – often along ethnic/religious lines – for mineral resources. Even Europe’s tranquility is at risk – witness the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, which before the current ceasefire had claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom during his verdict hearing in Cairo on June 2, 2012 [AFP]

Khaled Diab

It was one of those paradoxes of revolution. Hosni Mubarak's most hotly anticipated speech was to prove to be his last.He was never much of an orator, and whenever a Baba Mubarak speech was on TV, Egyptians tended to switch off. Even when the former dictator had a captive audience, they too would switch off - behind glazed eyes or patient, polite nods.

DEBKAfile Special Report 

At the end of hours of debate in Munich, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced early Friday, Feb. 12, that the US, Russia and other powers had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war to take place next week and immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added: The cessation would go into effect next Friday, Feb. 19 but, he stressed, “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted.

By Tyler Durden

 "Information Clearing House" - "Zero Hedge" - As you might have heard, the opposition in Syria is in serious trouble.Last summer, Bashar al-Assad’s army was on the ropes, as the SAA fought a multi-front war against a dizzying array of rebel forces including ISIS. Then Quds commander Qassem Soleimani went to Russia. After that, everything changed.


Rather than view with alarm Turkey’s announcement that it is building at least three military bases abroad, the United States and NATO have welcomed Ankara’s move as a contribution to stability. Nothing could be further from the truth. Turkey’s duplicitous fingerprints are all over support for terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

It’s one of the most manifest collective hypocrisies modern politics has ever created: Someone’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter (one can always replace “freedom fighter” with any other noble wording). But there is always a habitual commonality regardless of who accuses and who is accused that both the accused and the accuser have changed, are changing and will change roles depending on how dictated national interests determine who the terrorist is.