March, 2016 Middle East

By Nawaf Obaid
Obama abandoned the Arab world. Riyadh is picking up the slack.
Following a thorough explication of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine in a recent Jeffrey Goldberg article, it is now clearer than ever that America and Saudi Arabia are on a collision course over strategic decisions in the Middle East. This is because the “Obama Doctrine” is diametrically opposed to the emerging “Salman Doctrine,” which the Kingdom is developing in order to restore peace and a modicum of stability to the region.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

Russia has deployed its most advanced tactical missile system, the Iskander-M, in Syria in the last few days, DEBKAfile reports exclusively from its military and intelligence sources. The Russian Iskander is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and has never been made available to any foreign army for operational use.

by Jonathan Spyer, The Jerusalem Report

The cold numbers are the first thing that hit you. Figures telling of a human catastrophe on a scale hard to compute. Suffering on a level to which any rational response seems inadequate – 470,000 people killed, according to the latest estimates; 11.5 percent of the population injured; 45 percent of a country of 22 million made homeless; 4 million refugees and 6.36 million internally displaced persons. Life expectancy is down from 70.5 years in 2010 to an estimated 55.4 years in 2015. Welcome to the Syrian civil war.

Author Fehim Taştekin
Many analysts are busy trying to understand the motivation that led to the unexpected declaration recently of a federal system by Syrian Kurds, who until then were promoting a cantonal model that would incorporate divergent ethnic and religious groups.

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
Six months after it began, a deadly wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis that has been referred to as the “knife intifada” shows no sign of ending, despite a drop in incidents from a high point last autumn.

CCTV footage of the Belgium attacks suspects. Public Domain.

Geopolitical Monitor, Lincoln Clapper
This past week Europe experienced its second major terrorist attack within the last five months. The ISIS-claimed attack in Brussels signifies again just how real and how serious the militant group is about training, equipping, and tactically carrying out an assault in Europe.


DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis
Vladimir Putin after all took the momentous decision for Russian carpet bombing to level the Islamic State forces holding Palmyra since last May, and so clear the way for Bashar Assad’s troops and allied forces to enter the heritage city Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27 and take control of several districts.

 A Palestinian man sits on a rock at Jordan Valley near the West Bank city of Jericho [REUTERS]

Geoffrey Aronson
US Vice-President Joe Biden was not revealing a secret when, during a recent speech to the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, he observed that there is "no political will at this moment among Israelis or Palestinians to move forward with serious negotiations".

Author Mohammed A. Salih
ERBIL, Iraq — The recent declaration of a federal structure in northern Syria by the local Kurdish administration and its Arab and Assyrian allies is likely to put the Syrian Kurds further at odds with neighboring Turkey, as it will pose serious challenges to Ankara amid renewed conflict with its own Kurds..


by Raheem Kassam, Breitbart
Teddy bears, tears, candles, cartoons, murals, mosaics, flowers, flags, projections, hashtags, balloons, wreaths, lights, vigils, scarves, and more. These are the best solutions the Western world seems to come up with every few months when we are slammed by another Islamist terrorist attack. We are our own sickness.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
It would be unthinkable if the storms of the ruling ideology that is a bizarre blend of neo-Ottomanism, Islamism and nationalism should not conquer academia as it conquered other walks of life; political, cultural and social.

by Raheem Kassam
According to a 2006 survey, 20 percent of British Muslims sympathised with the 7/7 bombers who brought terror to the streets of London.
On the back of the Brussels terror attack it is worthwhile remembering that while a majority of Muslims in the West appear to have no truck with terrorism or extremism, there are a significant number who sympathise with terrorism and repeatedly attempt to justify attacks on the West.

Yossef Bodansky for Institut für Strategie- Politik- Sicherheits- und Wirtschaftsberatung (ISPSW)
This article was originally published by ISPSW in March 2016.

According to Yossef Bodansky, the mega-trends in the Middle East – namely, the rise of a “Fertile Crescent of Minorities,” the collapse of modern Arab states, and the ascent of tribe-and clan-based local entities in their stead – have reached the point of irreversibility. As a result, he believes Russia will be the big geopolitical winner in the region.


Andre Colling
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 11 March 2016.

It seems clear that pro-government forces in Iraq are preparing to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The Islamic State (ISIS), a Sunni extremist group, captured Mosul following a series of assaults in June 2014, an offensive that ultimately resulted in an embarrassing collapse of the Iraqi Army in northern Iraq. Since then, the Iraqi government has made the recapture of Mosul a key domestic goal in its fight to reclaim its territory and reassert its control over a restive minority Sunni population.

Strategic Engineered Migration as Weapon of War

After reading the title, you may think it is describing the phenomenon that Europe has recently been facing: the hundreds of thousands of refugees, both victims of the hardships of civil wars and opportunists, who are invading the Balkans by land and by sea and then making their way further, trying to reach richer countries like Germany, France and Scandinavia by any means possible.

The United Arab Emirates' Secular Foreign Policy
By David B. Roberts

The Arab Gulf is characterized by regimes that blend church and state in their foreign policy. Saudi Arabia hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, and its ruling family’s power stems from a bargain its forefathers made with a fundamentalist Sunni religious sect. Iran is the world’s largest Shia state and has backed Shia groups throughout the region since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Both states have been irresponsible in their tactical and strategic use of Islam in order to further their own foreign policies and to boost domestic political support.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Obama's renewed focus on the region has been enough to prevent a post-American order in Asia, writes Heydarian [Reuters]

Richard Javad Heydarian

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Obama's renewed focus on the region has been enough to prevent a post-American order in Asia, writes Heydarian [Reuters]
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference," the 20th-century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once famously wrote. Arguably, this very much sums up the United States President Barack Obama's foreign policy doctrine and his valuation of American priorities in various regions.

Author Metin Gurcan
Following spectacular combat gains for two years, the Islamic State (IS) is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year, according to a new study from IHS Jane's 360.

The asymmetrical but rewarding relationship between two Middle East minority nations.
Over the past few years, Israeli politicians—from Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to President Shimon Peres to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman—have been publicly advocating the establishment of a Kurdish state. Most recent to weigh in is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who called this past January for the formation of an independent Kurdistan and urged enhanced policy cooperation between Israel and the Kurds.

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
The parting of ways between Russia and Iran over the Syrian question has always been inevitable. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Istanbul on Saturday may signify that Tehran has begun trimming sails for a new voyage on own steam.

Author Fadi Shafei
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Many questions are circulating in Gaza about Al-Sabireen Movement for Supporting Palestine - HESN (Movement of Those Who Endure with Patience), whose activities and slogans have been increasing in the Gaza Strip. The movement is mainly concentrated in northern and central Gaza and in al-Shujaiyya neighborhood. Al-Sabireen’s activities are mainly security-oriented due to constant concerns about Israel targeting the movement’s members composed of youth who have split from the Islamic Jihad movement.

Natalie Nougayrède, theguardian
While European leaders believe they are edging towards a solution to the refugee crisis after securing a deal with Turkey, another power watches closely from afar: Russia.

As the departure of Russian forces from Syria announced March 14 continues, evidence of construction at Russia's main air base in the country demonstrates Moscow’s intention to maintain a military presence there. Imagery dated March 17 acquired by Stratfor of the Bassel al Assad air base in Latakia province and the naval base at Tartus highlights the ongoing Russian drawdown of its forces in Syria that Moscow contends will be largely completed by March 20.

Author Ufuk Sanli
The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), denounced as a terrorist group by Turkey, last month inaugurated its first representative office abroad — in Moscow. A Kurdish speaker at the ceremony hailed the event as “a historic moment for the Kurdish people” before lauding his hosts: “Russia is a big power and a prominent actor in the Middle East. In fact, it’s not only an actor, but also a scriptwriter.”

Project Syndicate, Aryeh Neier
NEW YORK – Human rights reports make for depressing reading. Filled with accounts of cruelty, they can inspire despair for the human condition. But while I have read many such reports over the years, I cannot recall one as packed with horror as the one recently published by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2015 [AP]


Marwan Bishara
Have you noticed how President Vladimir Putin does not prepare the political grounds or give any advance notice before he acts? Or how he seems not to give a damn about international public opinion?

Nikolay Pakhomov
When the Russian bombing campaign started in Syria last fall, one could assume that Moscow's actions would begin to reveal more about the country’s foreign policy. This assumption is proving to be correct now, after President Putin announced the withdrawal of Russia's main forces. Moscow’s actions in Syria over the last half year have clarified both the guidelines of Russian foreign policy and how they help in dealing with very complicated problems of the Middle East.

If Europe had provided safe, legal, collectively coordinated routes for refugees, there would be no crisis, writes Shabi [Reuters]

Rachel Shabi

If Europe had provided safe, legal, collectively coordinated routes for refugees, there would be no crisis, writes Shabi [Reuters] Of course, it was a comment too good to resist. When a NATO commander accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "weaponising" migrants, it was picked up by media outlets everywhere. Because that is exactly the sort of thing the dastardly Russian president would do, in cahoots with the murderous Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, isn't it?

Author Shlomi Eldar
The current intifada will not yield substantial change for the Palestinians or bring about a diplomatic breakthrough. This is the belief of Fatah activists who served as field leaders in the first and second intifadas.

Author Uri Savir
June 6, 2017, will mark 50 years since the Six Day War in which Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well as the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Israel considered it a war of defense, given repeated threats by Egyptian leadership at the time (then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser) to annihilate the country with the support of all Arab states.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters).

by Steven A. Cook
Is Egypt melting down? It has an insurgency, a currency crisis, a brazen and brutal security apparatus that is sowing dissent, a phony political process, and a leader who has lost his grip. These are, at least, the reasons that have been outlined in various commentaries and analyses over the last few weeks or so. It may have reached a crescendo when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave his disastrous (by all accounts) “Egypt 2030” speech.

Geopolitical Weekly, By Reva Bhalla
Last October, when Russia had just begun its military intervention in Syria, U.S. President Barack Obama spurned the idea that Russia could challenge U.S. leadership in the Middle East. In a 60 Minutes interview, he said, "Mr. Putin is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally.


When you think you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s tempting to make up your own grand strategy.

It is a criticism I have heard from more than one person who has worked with President Obama: that he regards himself as the smartest person in the room—any room. Jeffrey Goldberg’s fascinating article reveals that this is a considerable understatement. The president seems to think he is the smartest person in the world, perhaps ever.

Jonathan Steele, theguardian
Vladimir Putin’s dramatic decision to cut his military intervention in Syria has flatfooted everyone from the White House to Bashar al-Assad, and yielded predictably cynical reaction. “It’s a pretty brilliant tactical move,” says the independent military analyst Alexander Golts. Putin has “reaped a positive return” from his intervention, according to the former US assistant secretary of state PJ Crowley. But there is a more nuanced view.

DEBKAfile Special Report 

A deep rift with Tehran over the continuation of the Syrian war and an irreconcilable spat with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad over his future prompted Russian President Vladimir's shock order Monday, March 14, for the "main part" of Russian military forces to quit Syria the next morning. This is reported by DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources.

 Lebanon's Hezbollah scouts carry their parties flag while marching at the funeral of 3 Hezbollah men

Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and canceled its $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese military.This week we learned that Lebanon is no more. It has been replaced by Hezbollah’s Iranian colony in Lebanon.

 Al Alam Palace I, cc Flickr Andrew Moore, modified,

Oman: A Beacon of Tolerance in the MENA Region
Omar Mawji, Geopolitical Monitor

When Westerners think of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) conflicts they immediately reference the religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is true that most of the MENA region is split between Sunni and Shia, but often, these splits are more for the purpose of power than religion. Many Sunni nations share close economic relationships with Shia nations and other religions. Thus, in this case, it could be said that economics trumps religion under religious theocratic MENA governments.

People fish at the coastline of al-Manara during a sunny day in Beirut, Lebanon [EPA]

James Denselow

It's been a pretty busy month for Lebanese-Saudi relations. The slashing of billion dollars' worth of aid - mainly for the Lebanese security forces - the issuing of travel warnings for Saudi citizens to avoid the country and the declaration that Hezbollah is a "terrorist" group, mark a significant new direction of travel from Riyadh.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews

There is a celebratory mood in government circles about the agreement in principle arrived at between Turkey and the EU on the refugee crisis. This is premature though, since EU members still have to ratify the agreement on March 18.

By Paul J. Saunders
A bit of success in the war-torn country does not beget success in other areas.
Many of those who seek a more functional U.S.-Russia relationship—in both Washington and Moscow—have hoped that cooperation in stabilizing Syria and combating the so-called Islamic State could provide an important new opportunity to stabilize U.S.-Russia ties as well. Unfortunately, this is likely to be considerably more difficult than some may expect. And even the optimists recognize that rebuilding U.S.-Russia relations will be quite challenging.

Guy Verhofstadt, theguardian

Our increasingly divided and desperate European leaders are failing to deliver an effective collective response to the escalating refugee crisis. Instead of devising a strategy to protect those fleeing the barbarity of Assad, Islamic State (Isis) and the Russian air force, EU leaders are obsessed with devising a system to “stem the flow” – in other words to push desperate refugees back into the Aegean sea.

Author Rasha Abou Jalal
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Given the repeated failures over the past nine years of negotiations, Palestinians are eager but not hopeful to see whether Fatah and Hamas will actually follow through on their latest reconciliation efforts in the face of numerous obstacles, including foreign pressure.

Middle East, Politics

by Jonathan Spyer, The Tower

The Syrian civil war is a disaster of historic proportions that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The latest figures suggest that it has killed nearly half a million people, making it the greatest catastrophe to hit the Levant since 1945, dwarfing earlier crises in terms of its human cost. But throughout all this carnage, only one country that borders Syria has managed to remain largely immune to the side effects of the war. That country is Israel.

Anyone who visits Gaza cannot help but be struck by the humanity of ordinary people, writes Marsh [AP]

Saskia Marsh
More than 10 years have passed since Israeli settlers withdrew from Gaza. Life for the average Gazan has become markedly worse since - exacerbated, some would argue, by the election of Hamas in 2006 and its physical takeover of the territory in 2007.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

In 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that a more suitable PR slogan for Turkey should be “Discover the Power,” instead of “Discover the Potential,” which was recommended by the country’s union of exporters. So, discover the power – in a few lines of facts. In the same year, 9.2 percent of Turkish women could not read or write exhibiting an illiteracy rate five times higher than Turkish men.

By Hussein Banai
The recent elections might mark not the start, but the end of political reform.
The election results for Iran’s parliament (Majles) and its highest clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, indicate a robust yield in support of President Hassan Rouhani’s foreign and domestic agenda. No doubt the peaceful resolution of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear issue and the lifting of Western sanctions weighed heavily in the minds of voters. This election was as much a referendum on the nuclear deal as it was about the future course of politics in Iran.

By Moon Of Alabama

 "Information Clearing House" - "Moon Of Alabama" - There seems to be some progress in the regional "games" around the conflict in Syria. The Turkish Prime minister Davutoglu currently visits Iran. The Iranians let some lucrative economic projects dangle in front of his eyes. But the main points were about Syria. According to this Turkish source Davutoglu said these issues were agreed upon:

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
As the war against the Islamic State [IS] continues, it is clear that the state project in Iraq and Syria is facing a number of challenges. Two of these challenges relate to military manpower and finance. In the realm of the former, this is evident from internal documents showing a month-long general amnesty issued in October 2015 for deserters from the frontlines, as well as unsuccessful mobilization efforts in Aleppo and Deir az-Zor to stop the breaking of the siege of Kweiris airbase and drive out the remnant regime presence respectively.

Author Mahmut Bozarslan
In the middle of heavy clashes Feb. 19 between Turkish security forces and groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Diyarbakir’s Sur district came news that a building had collapsed. Three special forces soldiers in the building were killed. Official statements did not make clear what happened.

Patrick Kingsley and Jennifer Rankin, theguardian
What does the deal involve?
It sounds simple enough: one Syrian refugee on the Greek islands will be returned to Turkey and, in exchange, a Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey will be found a home in Europe.