May, 2016 Middle East

By Luay al-Khatteeb

The smooth Kurdish PR campaign.

“It was the Kurds,” wrote Thomas Friedman in 2014, “who used the window of freedom we opened for them to overcome internal divisions, start to reform their once Sopranos-like politics and create a vibrant economy that is now throwing up skyscrapers and colleges.”



The battle for Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-declared capital in Syria, has begun. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are advancing toward the city, engaging the jihadist group in the villages of al-Hisha, Tal Samen and Mutamshirij along the way. Because of Raqqa's strategic importance, the Islamic State will do everything in its power to keep the city within its grasp. Driving the militants from their stronghold will not be easy or cheap, but if the SDF is successful, it will greatly accelerate the Islamic State's defeat in Syria.

DEBKAfile Special Report

The US military chiefs fighting ISIS, have recently claiming that the US has re-organized its military resources and is determined to cut down the Islamic state after its lame efforts in the last two years.
These words of encouragement have come from genral Votel commander of US Middle East forces and the first US General to be assigned to Syria in its nearly six years of war, and Lt. Gen Charles Brown commanding the US Al Udied Air Base in Qatar where 750 aircraft operating in the Gulf and Middle East are based.

A Manufactured War Against An Independent Country

By Caleb T. Maupin

The people of the world should ask Western leaders and their allies: Why are you prolonging this war? Why do you continue funding and enabling the terrorists? Isn’t five years of civil war enough? Is overthrowing the Syrian government really worth so much suffering and death?

Selcan Hacaoglu 

As President Erdogan consolidates power in Ankara, separatists 1,000 kilometers away test the limits of his reach.
The curfew in this former Roman and Persian imperial outpost was announced the modern way, online, but word quickly spread like it has here for three millennia. By dawn, tens of thousands of people were gone.
For separatist Kurds in Turkey, curfew is code for crackdown. So when one was declared in Nusaybin on the Syrian border in March, most of its 90,000 residents ran with whatever they could carry.

Russia's Mariinsky Theatre orchestra performs at the amphitheatre in the Syria's historic city of Palmyra [Reuters]

James Denselow
A good means of predicting what Moscow's next steps in the Syria conflict is to listen to what Russian political and military leaders say and prepare for the opposite. While other actors on this most bloody of stages have been characterised by their preference for short-term tactics, the Russians have long had a strategy for their involvement in the country.

 Gaza Strip

Hamas’s entry to Palestinian politics could have been a watershed moment. Hamas swept into power in the Palestinian Authority via the ballot box in 2006 by promising to root out corruption and secure Palestinian rights. A year later, Hamas violently expelled the Palestinian Authority from Gaza, which the terrorist group has illegitimately – and disastrously – ruled since. A decade of Hamas’s aggression and mismanagement has plunged Gazans into misery and hurled the dream of Palestinian statehood backward.

Muslims pray as they take part in a protest against presidential candidate Donald Trump outside his office in New York [Reuters]
Khaled A Beydoun
After winning four pivotal presidential primaries on April 26, Hillary Clinton drew a line between "hard working, terror-hating Muslims" and (Muslim) terrorists. In front of a raucous audience of supporters in Philadelphia, Clinton - the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party - only made mention of Muslims in relation to terrorism, and reaffirmed the mythic "good versus bad" Muslim paradigm.

Portraits of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and late president Gamal Abdel Nasser are seen on a wall in Cairo [Getty]


Khaled Diab

"I am not pharaoh … After two revolutions, nobody who occupies this chair can become a pharaoh," Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reportedly told a select group of intellectuals and thinkers a few weeks ago, insisting that he accepted and respected criticism.

Author Julian Pecquet
Congress is rolling out the red carpet for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as the six-nation coalition prepares to open shop in Washington.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
Under the management of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy, it has been a real challenge to keep a count of the flight itineraries of Turkish ambassadors in foreign capitals. Those who are recalled, resent, then recalled again, then resent or not… But all such punishing diplomatic moves have one thing in common: The extra flight costs have not changed the course of events that Turkey has protested about in the countries where Turkish ambassadors have been on the move.

Calouste Gulbenkian, circa 1890s


Ibrahim Al-Marashi

May 16 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, a secret agreement between Britain and France during World War I to carve up the domains of the Ottoman Empire upon its defeat.

Project Syndicate, Ana Palacio
MADRID – Even by European Union standards, the response to the so-called refugee crisis is a mess. This seems to defy logic: While the crisis is certainly a challenge, human rights – and, indeed, refugee protection – are embedded in Europe’s DNA. Moreover, the EU’s aging and demographically challenged member states need immigrants. Yet, instead of spurring solutions, the current crisis has been bringing out all that is ugly, feckless, and dysfunctional about the European project. What happened?

Accommodations are plentiful in the kingdom for Sunni Muslim migrants
by Daniel Pipes, Washington Times

As European governments slam the gates shut on illegal Middle Eastern immigrants, where can Syrians and others go to, not far from their homelands, for safety and employment? The answer is obvious but surprisingly neglected: to Saudi Arabia and the other rich Arab sheikhdoms.

DEBKAfile Special Report
The battle on May 6 in the village of Khan Touman, located southwest of Aleppo near Route 5, the main highway leading to Damascus, will go down in the annals of the Syrian war as the biggest defeat suffered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hizballah, as well as the battle that changed the face of the war.

by Raymond Ibrahim, The Gatestone Institute

Of all the reasons a majority of Americans support the plan of businessman and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump to "build a wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border, perhaps the most critical is to avoid letting terrorists into the country. Drugs enter, the victims of traffickers enter, but the most imminent danger comes from operatives of the Islamic State (ISIS) and like-minded groups that are trying to use this porous border as a way to smuggle weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) into the United States and launch terror attacks that could make 9/11 seem like a morning in May.

Only four years ago, some Washington Middle East “experts” were promoting the “Turkish Model” for the future of political Islam in the Middle East. Now, their silence is deafening. After all, the Model proved not to be a good model. Now, all tricks to float the theory of a democratic rule by political Islam seem to have reached their utter and complete failure. It is hard to imagine that there would be any more ingenious tricks in the future, but who knows.

By Salman Rafi
While the US has expressed its willingness to unblock Iran’s assets as a step towards improving ties between the two countries, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that nearly $2 billion of Iran’s frozen assets be turned over to the American families of the victims of a 1983 bombing in Beirut and other attacks. Iran has now decided to sue the U.S. for what Tehran calls highway robbery.

Map of Middle East

A century after the Sykes Picot Agreement, the Middle East has become a political powder keg and the setting for successive armed conflicts.
The "Middle East" with which we are all familiar is commemorating a curious and even sad 100 year anniversary.

A map illustrating the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement.

Author: Rami Khouri
We are into the season when you will be flooded with articles and analyses on the 100-year anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement that was signed on May 18, 1916. That agreement between Great Britain and France, with Russian acquiescence, defined how they would divide the spoils of the crumbling Ottoman Empire in the East Mediterranean region.


There is a duel going on in Turkey’s southern province of Kilis. Since the beginning of the year, forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have fired katyusha rockets into Kilis. The Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, TSK) have responded with artillery fire and airstrikes, reportedly killing at least 862 ISIL fighters this year.

Author Haytham Mouzahem
LATAKIA, Syria — As an anonymous group of self-professed Alawite leaders recently declared their independence from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — himself an Alawite — it seems appropriate to get to know more about the somewhat obscure sect sometimes known as the third branch of Islam.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews
It is every Islamist’s dream, in the words of the outgoing prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, “to close the century-long parenthesis” that goes by the official name the “Asia Minor Agreement” – or, as it is more commonly known, the Sykes-Picot accord of May 16, 1916.

A boy rides a bicycle near damaged buildings in the rebel held area of Old Aleppo, Syria [REUTERS]

Marwan Bishara

"The most dangerous place here is the hospital. You arrive, and it's the first thing they tell you: if you want to feel safe, stay at the front," wrote the Italian journalist Francesca Borri in the opening of her book, Syrian Dust, reporting from the heart of the battle for Aleppo.

Sadr City market attack by isis

Ranj Alaaldin
If today’s atrocity in Baghdad draws Shia militias into reprisals against Sunnis, it would kill off hopes for the democratic restoration of the Iraqi state and society
“Isis is an idea, not the first of its kind and not the last of its kind,” said a powerful security official when I visited Iraq last month. Indeed, as the international community boasts of Isis’s demise, the jihadists struck a Shia district in Baghdad today, killing at least 63 people and wounding 80 in a series of devastating market bombings.

By Muhammad Sahimi
Ali Khamenei's base of support has been vanishing for decades.
Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was found in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, there has always been a fierce power struggle between hard-liners and conservatives, on the one hand, and various pragmatist, reformist and Islamic leftist factions that oppose them, on the other hand.

 Illustrative: Palestinian stone-thrower


At least four ministers support the establishment of a well-inspected port for Gaza, but the prime minister and defense minister are ignoring their opinion.

A tense quiet fell on the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday. The Palestinians did not fire any mortar shells and the IDF did not respond with tank fire, canons or air strikes, as had happened over the last week.

by Daniel Pipes, Washington Times
The Sykes-Picot accord that has shaped and distorted the modern Middle East was signed one hundred years ago, on May 16, 1916. In the deal, Mark Sykes for the British and François Georges-Picot for the French, with the Russians participating too, allocated much of the region, pending the minor detail of their defeating the Central Powers in World War I.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report 

The last 48 hours (May 7-8) have seen a major escalation of the ISIS threats against Israel, DEBKAfile's intelligence and counterterrorism sources report. In a coordinated maneuver by all of the ISIS commands in the Middle East, the terrorist organization simultaneously released at least 10 videos that it said showed ISIS forces on their way to attack targets in Israel.

by Masrour Barzani (*)
Throughout the modern history of Iraq, we have lived in denial. By we, I mean the Kurdish people, who comprise one-quarter of the country; the Arabs and other nationalities who make up the rest; and our friends around the world, who have been hoping that a functional, pluralistic nation could somehow, someday take hold.

Under the proposal, Jerusalem could be the shared capital of the two states.

Support for separate Israeli and Palestinian states divided by the pre-1967 border is draining away
Under the proposal, Jerusalem could be the shared capital of the two states.
Dov Waxman and Dahlia Scheindlin

Whether you regard the controversy raging in the Labour party as a long overdue reckoning with insidious antisemitism on the British left or just a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, one thing is clear: it has nothing to do with what is happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Anti-government demonstrators breaching the heavily fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad, on Saturday.

In the Middle East, few men are pilloried these days as much as Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot. Sykes, a British diplomat, travelled the same turf as T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), served in the Boer War, inherited a baronetcy, and won a Conservative seat in Parliament. He died young, at thirty-nine, during the 1919 flu epidemic. Picot was a French lawyer and diplomat who led a long but obscure life, mainly in backwater posts, until his death, in 1950.

 Kurdish YPG fighters gather after taking control of an area from ISIL militants in Hasaka province, Syria, in November 2015. [Reuters]

Seth J Frantzman

When protesters stormed Iraq's parliament on September 30, a Kurdish news team from Rudaw found themselves reporting live in the midst of the chaos. A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier outside the parliament told them that protesters "had kissed [him] and given [him] flowers. It's very peaceful." It was a momentary gesture in a region that has become increasingly fractured along sectarian lines.

IDF exposes Hamas tunnel. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

 Ron Ben-Yishai
Analysis: Hamas's political and military wings are finally appreciating Israel's prowess at tunnel-detection; 
Something's clicked apparently with Hamas's military wing. Its members and leader, Mohammed Deif—the father of the tunnels project—have begun to understand that the IDF has finally developed a way to locate the attack tunnels that they dug underneath the border from Gaza into Israel. Thanks to this method, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades' leaders have understood, the IDF is undertaking intensive and accelerated operations and has already discovered at least two tunnels.

by Efraim Inbar, BESA Center Perspectives
Israelis have gradually come to accept that the Palestinians are neither interested in real peace nor capable of establishing a viable state.
Ever since the Palestinian terrorist wave began in September 2000, the Israeli body politic increasingly has resigned itself to the probability that there is no partner on the Palestinian side with which to reach a historic compromise with the Jewish national (Zionist) movement. The hopes for peace that were generated by the Oslo process in 1993 have been replaced by the stark realization that violent conflict will not end soon.

 Point of No Return By Seymour M. Hersh

 "Information Clearing House" - "Harpers" - It’s now evident, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, that Obama’s foreign policy has maintained many of the core elements of the global war on terror initiated by his predecessor—assassinations, drone attacks, heavy reliance on special forces, covert operations, and, in the case of Afghanistan, the continued use of American ground forces in combat. And, as in the years of Bush and Cheney, there has been no progress, let alone victory, in the fight against terrorism.

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

Washington and Moscow have made dramatic progress over the last few days in marathon telephone talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on ending the war in Syria. Russia agreed for the first time to discuss the possibility that Syrian President Bashar Assad will step down, and the conditions under which such a process will take place, according to DEBKAfile's intelligence sources.

Egyptian journalists protest outside the Egyptian Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo, Egypt [EPA]


Khaled Diab

It is not just the news that is depressing. The state of the media around the world is increasingly becoming a cause for alarm.Tuesday is World Press Freedom Day and almost everywhere you turn your gaze, media freedom is under threat from governments, terrorist organisations, crime syndicates and corporate interests.

Middle East, Politics


The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) recently declared Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs – the “Diyanet” as it is often referred to – an apostate. The Diyanet is in charge of Turkey’s nation-wide network of mosques, making this an attack on mainstream Sunni Islam in Turkey.

Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans and Mona Mahmood
The British government is waging information warfare in Syria by funding media operations for some rebel fighting groups, in the foreign front of what David Cameron has called “the propaganda war” against Islamic State.

by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi
The Syrian Sunni Islamist Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade–LSY) is the subject of several articles by Aymenn Jawed al-Tamimi this month.
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project, writes extensively about the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and other armed groups in Syria and Iraq.

 Image: Khamenei inspects the Quran Putin gave him.

Khamenei thinks America is up to no good, yet has a naively positive view of Putin's Russia.
Akbar Ganji

Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated that the United States is Iran’s enemy that cannot be trusted, and that wishes to topple the Islamic Republic and dominate Iran again. Since last year’s nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany), Khamenei has repeatedly claimed that Iran has carried out its obligations under the agreement, whereas the U.S. has done so only “on paper.”

Sinai border

Last week, Hamas deployed several hundred fighters along the Gaza-Sinai border together with Egypt to prevent ISIS fighters in the region from breaching the coastal enclave.
Israel, Hamas, and Egypt have aligned their strategies and formed an unlikely alliance against the Islamic State in Sinai, who are planning increasingly sophisticated and daring attacks in the region, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Omar Ashour

"[Multinational Force and Observers soldiers] are outgunned by the terrorists [Sinai Province or SP] right now, and it's a dangerous mission," said retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. "They [SP insurgents] have mortars and artillery that they have been firing on the base camps."