February, 2016 Security-Intelligence

Goya's painting, Duelo a garrotazos, Courtesey Prado Museum/wikimedia

By Scott Gates and Håvard Mokleiv Nygård and Håvard Strand and Henrik Urdal for Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Today, Scott Gates et al. provide us with an updated statistical portrait of armed conflict since World War II. As to be expected, it’s a good news-bad news story. The number of conflicts in the world rose in 2013-2014, but they were lower than in the early 1990s. In turn, casualties reached a 25-year high, but they remained far below Cold War levels.

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.

By Peter Lee
A single report that the PRC had deployed surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea created quite the media firestorm. What if I told you, as the Internet meme goes, it was just a case of Same Old Same Old?

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.

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.

Project Syndicate, Javier Solana
MADRID – Five years after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, the hope that initially characterized those revolutions has largely been dashed. In many cases, the revolutions have evolved into brutal and protracted internal conflicts, with no solution in sight. Amid all of this strife, the international community has paid little attention to countries like Algeria, where the revolutionary spirit was stifled while still incipient. But Algeria’s fate is back on the world’s radar – and not a moment too soon.

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.

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.



Cyprus and Israel’s defence ministers will be unveiling a monument dedicated to Cyprus-Israel Friendship on Wednesday.
Israeli minister Moshe Ya’alon arrived on the island on Wednesday morning in what was a historic first official visit by an Israeli Minister of Defence to the island.
At the invitation of Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides, he was welcomed at the Headquarters of the Cyprus National Guard, where talks between the delegations of the two countries took place.

Agence France-Presse in Geneva
All sides in the Libyan conflict are probably guilty of war crimes, including torturing, raping and executing prisoners, the UN has said, urging the world to do more to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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 Liz Sly 
ISTANBUL — Turkey is confronting what amounts to a strategic nightmare as bombs explode in its cities, its enemies encroach on its borders and its allies seemingly snub its demands.As recently as four years ago, Turkey appeared poised to become one of the biggest winners of the Arab Spring, an ascendant power hailed by the West as a model and embraced by a region seeking new patrons and new forms of governance.

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.

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.

By Finian Cunningham

 "Information Clearing House" - "RT" - A massive apparent terror attack in Turkey’s capital comes at a crucial time just when the Erdogan government is trying to woo Washington’s support for its military intervention in Syria.

Global water scarcity is far more severe than previously thought
By May Bulman / The Independent

Four billion people live under conditions of severe water shortages at least one month of the year, according to new research.Nearly half of these people live in India and China, according to astudy by Science Advances. Other populations facing severe water scarcity live in Bangladesh, the United States (mostly in western states), Pakistan and Nigeria.

NURAY MERT, hurriyetdailynews

Turkey is in a de facto war-like situation, even if it is not de jure yet. The warmonger supporters of the government have already started to celebrate “the new war of independence” in the name of “revenge for the suppression of Turks as leaders of Muslims” and the end of the “cursed 20th century” to go “back to future glorious times.”

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.

Cold War lessons on the promise—and nuclear peril—of escalation
Robert Farley

A recent RAND wargame on a potential Russian offensive into the Baltics brought talk of a “new Cold War” into sharp focus. The game made clear that NATO would struggle to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltics if it relied on the conventional forces now available.

 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.


NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has announced the deployment of the alliance’s standing naval force in the Aegean Sea to help tackle the refugee and migrant crisis. Apparently triggered by a joint Greek/Turkish/German request, the deployment is ostensibly meant to assist international efforts to stem illegal migration.

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.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford (Photo: Yariv Katz)

Alex Fishman

Clandestine ties with Jordan, secret coordination meetings in Moscow, encrypted conference calls with the Americans, joint drills with the Greeks, and relations with military attaches from over 30 countries. As the Foreign Ministry collapses and Israel's international standing is undermined, the IDF is coming out ahead on the diplomatic front.

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.

By Jonathan Marshall

Exclusive: NATO keeps backing Turkey, one of its members, despite its aid to the Islamic State and other jihadists fighting Syria’s secular government — and even though Turkey’s erratic President Erdogan may be leading NATO into a risky showdown with Syria’s Russian allies, writes Jonathan Marshall.

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.

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.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
Turkey’s problem with the U.S. over the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of the Syrian Kurds, and its military wing the Peoples Defense Units, involves a dead-end for Ankara. Turkey has declared both groups to be extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and wants its allies to declare them as terrorist groups too.

Editorial, theguardian
John Kerry does not give up easily. On Thursday in Munich the US secretary of state will promote a fresh diplomatic effort on Syrian peace talks. Yet for all his determination, events on the ground are not only working against a breakthrough, but raising increasingly profound doubts about the coherence of US and western strategy. For more than a week, the rebel-held city of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest, has been pounded by Russia’s air force, acting in support of Iranian-backed militias and Syrian government troops. If this annihilation strategy continues, the balance of forces in Syria’s civil war will change fundamentally. Mr Kerry’s proposed negotiated solution will be null and void, for there will be no Syrian opposition force left to be represented at any negotiating table.

Bülent Keneş
Five years have passed since the start of the human tragedy in Syria.
All assumptions regarding the developments in which Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments and the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regime played a central role have collapsed. The shallow prediction that the Bashar al-Assad regime, whose legitimacy became controversial for using weapons against its own citizens five years ago, would be toppled in several weeks proved to lack any strategic depth.

 © Umit Bektas

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu pledged to return a “historical debt” to Turkey’s “Aleppo brothers” who helped defend the country in the early 20th century, just days after Russia warned of Ankara’s intentions to invade Syria as the rebels there falter.

By The Saker

And how will Russia react if he triggers it 

Week Seventeen of the Russian Intervention in Syria:

"Information Clearing House" - " Unz Review" - The situation with Turkey is rapidly getting out of control: not only have the Turks conducted artillery strikes across the Syrian border, Turkey has refused to comply with its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty and refused to let a Russian surveillance aircraft overfly Turkey. The Russian military has now declared that it had detected signs of Turkish preparations for an invasion. The Turkish refusal to abide by the Open Skies Treaty is an extremely worrisome development, especially when combined with the Russian warnings about the preparation for an invasion of Syria, and the Russians are not mincing their words:

Ian Black, Middle East editor
Syria’s war is facing a critical few days as refugees stream from Aleppo towards the Turkish border and Russian airstrikes help Bashar al-Assad’s forces advance, with diplomatic moves still showing no sign of concrete measures to relieve the suffering of ordinary people.