February, 2017 Middle East

Two new Kurdistans

By Bilal Wahab 
For nearly a century now, the question of whether there should be an independent Kurdish state has loomed over the Middle East. The issue achieved new urgency after U.S. forces evicted Saddam Hussein from northern Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991, effectively creating the preconditions for Kurdish autonomy there. The American-led invasion in 2003 and the war that followed have merely accelerated that process.

Turkish tanks

AARON STEIN AND RAO KOMAR
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After months of halting and costly progress, the Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels are in a good position to take the Syrian city of al-Bab from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). With the capture of al-Bab, Turkey will have accomplished the clearly defined goals of its “Operation Euphrates Shield” intervention in northern Aleppo governorate: driving ISIL from the Turkish border and blocking hostile Kurdish forces from linking their territory to Turkey’s south.


 Ankara’s dilemmas in Syria and Iraq

Semih Idiz
Statements from Ankara regarding developments in Syria suggest that things are moving in a direction that Turkey wants. Take the operation against al-Bab in northern Syria for example. The head of the military recently announced that it has been completed and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been defeated.

Ebrahim Raisi

Author Rohollah Faghihi

A new and powerful figure has joined the list of candidates among Iranian conservatives for the May presidential election: Ebrahim Raisi, a senior cleric who has gradually risen through the ranks to assume powerful positions. Born in the holy city of Mashhad in northeast Iran — home to the shrine of the eighth Shiite imam — Raisi started his career as the prosecutor general of Karaj — a city just west of the capital city, Tehran — two years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In 2004, Raisi was appointed as the first deputy of judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. When incumbent Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani took over the judiciary in 2009, Raisi remained as the first deputy.

Yahya Sanwar

Ron Ben-Yishai
Analysis: Yahya Sanwar’s election is bad news for Israel. The terrorist who was released as part of the Shalit deal has set inadmissible conditions for a future prisoner and body swap deal and is interested in tightening Hamas’ relations with Iran while preparing for the next round of fighting.

King Salman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi


by Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Post

In recent years, it has become customary in much analysis of the Middle East emerging from Israel to divide Middle Eastern countries into a series of alliances or "camps."

Syria  inferno

 Among the countless heartbreaking images that came out of the earthly inferno of Aleppo, one remains particularly haunting: that of a grief-stricken mother cradling the lifeless body of her child emerging out of the rubble and raising her face to the heavens in a deafening cry of despair. 

Trump-Putin-Erdogan deal

 DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis 

The NBC report that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considering making President Donald Trump the “gift” of turning over former NSA analyst Edward Snowden is part of a much broader scheme that is already sending tremors through the Middle East. Snowden won asylum in Moscow after leaking secrets to journalists four years ago.

Fall of Aleppo

by Fabrice Balanche
Fabrice Balanche, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and associate professor at the University of Lyon 2, briefed the Middle East Forum on the Syrian crisis in a conference call on January 31, 2017.

 Al-Bab

Deniz Zeyrek
There are two weak links lying behind the delay in advancing the al-Bab operation.

The first is the disorder in the groups that form the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which seriously troubles the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), to the extent that if the TSK had been able to plan and conduct the Euphrates Shield operation alone it would have chosen a different path. Commanders, who know their capacities, would have been able to analyze “the enemy,” executing plans with an adequate number of units and equipment under a tactic formulated in the operations center.

 Turkey 'frenemy' jihadis

SUMMARY
Turkey’s mixed messages in crackdown terrorist groups; Ankara on sidelines, again, in Syria; Syrian Kurds consider federalism, view Turkish attack on al-Bab as "fiasco."
Turkish police detained four terrorist suspects linked to the Islamic State (IS), as well as a cache of explosives and suicide belts, as CIA Director Mike Pompeo arrived in Turkey for official talks Feb. 9.

Trump's Pentagon

Daniel R. DePetris
President Donald Trump has spoken: he wants his secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to get to work immediately on a plan to aggressively confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And according to an executive order he signed last week, he wants that plan on his desk by late February.

Inaugural speech


by Tarek Fatah, The Toronto Sun

U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism" and " eradicate [it] completely from the face of the earth" in his inaugural speech.
English isn't my first language (Punjabi is), but when I sat down in New Delhi to listen to U.S. President Donald Trump's inaugural address, one sentence in his speech made my jaw drop.

 AN ANCIENT RIVALRY


BY DAVID BATASHVILI 
Much of the regional international developments in the Middle East will probably be defined by their rivalry.
The two most prominent local players in the complex Middle Eastern game are Iran and Turkey. It is their strategies that will define the political future of this region in the coming decades. Inevitably, sometimes these strategies will be in direct contradiction with each other.

US Embassy Controversy

by Aaron Eitan Meyer
President Trump says he and his staff are doing "detailed studies" about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The internet and international community are abuzz over President Donald Trump's unprecedented consideration of whether to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after nearly three quarters of a century. 

IGAM


Barçın Yinanç

The Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) recently released a report titled “Challenges and Opportunities of Refugee Integration in Turkey.” Funded by the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, the report was prepared by Doğuş Şimşek from Istanbul’s Koç University and Metin Çorabatır, the UNHCR’s former spokesperson in Turkey who is currently heading IGAM.

 World’s Muslim population


BY DREW DESILVER AND DAVID MASCI

President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily freezing immigration from seven predominantly Islamic countries would affect only about 12% of the world’s Muslims, according to estimates from a 2015 Pew Research Center report on the current and projected size of religious groups. In fact, of the seven countries named in the new immigration ban – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – only one, Iran, is among the 10 countries with the largest Muslim populations.

 Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Author Semih Idiz

Developments in Syria may once again be slipping through Turkey’s fingers. The new Donald Trump administration in Washington has already disappointed Ankara. Rather than being welcomed, Trump’s advocacy of safe zones in Syria — an idea first proposed by Turkey — has ruffled official Turkish feathers. Ankara now fears that such zones will be a step toward granting Syrian Kurds autonomy. Turkish officials have been noticeably mute on the matter, saying they need to see a full proposal before commenting.

Syria Astana talks

 Author Nour Samaha

International peace talks have been taking place for several years now in an effort to come to a political solution for the ongoing war in Syria. Yet the recent Astana talks, much like the previous Geneva talks, have demonstrated that they have little impact on the ground, as both the Syrian government and regional actors continue to push their own agendas.