Conflict update: December 23 2016

Barring some kind of major happening I’m out for the next couple of days. Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating it and Happy Hanukkah to those who are celebrating it. To those who are celebrating both, stop hoarding all the presents.

Now, one last dose of (mostly) bad news for you all.


I don’t want to make much more out of today’s surprise UN vote than I’ve already made, but I do want to stress that, for any practical purpose, this Security Council resolution changes virtually nothing. Nobody’s going to impose sanctions on Israel now, though Israel is imposing its own sanctions on other countries. Nobody is going to suddenly start blocking settlement construction. Israel will continue annexing the West Bank. When you hear somebody tell you this is going to hurt the peace process, remember that Israel strangled the “peace process” to death years and years ago. When they tell you that the only way there can be peace is for Israel and the Palestinians to talk to each other, understand that there’s literally nothing about this resolution that prevents or impedes that in any way. These things are propaganda. Right-wing Israeli politicians warn of grave threats to the peace process every time somebody coughs the wrong way in the UN General Assembly, but there’s been no greater enemy of an actual peace process, going back at least to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, than the Israeli right.

The only thing that really happened today is that the Israeli government got embarrassed, rightly, and a whole bunch of assholes, both in Israel and here in America, got real mad about it. Oh well.


Aleppo finally got a break from war yeah right, Aleppo is still being shelled by rebels on its outskirts, who are still being targeted by government airstrikes. And in Damascus, the government says it had to cut the water supply after rebels poured diesel into a spring that supplies the city.

At the risk of repeating myself, the biggest thing to watch now in Syria seems to me to be the tug of war between Iran and Turkey over who can be Moscow’s best pal. The prize is control over the peace process and Syria’s transition out of full-scale war (some level of violence is likely to continue indefinitely). Turkey, which is still getting along with Russia despite the tension caused by the Karlov assassination, would like to sway Moscow toward developing a relationship with Turkey’s rebel proxies, which might lead to Russia pushing for a transition that maybe isn’t entirely what Bashar al-Assad has in mind. Iran would prefer, more or less, to just leave Assad as is; he’s not their ideal client but he’s the best they’re going to do. Iran is operating from the stronger position here because their interests have been in alignment with Russia for some time now while Turkey’s have not, but even so, and with all due respect to Juan Cole who definitely knows his shit, I think talk of a “Russo-Iranian Middle East” might be a little premature.

In al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Turkish airstrikes killed 88 civilians over the past day.


I suppose both of these were inevitable, but with the slowing/stalling of the main Iraqi advance into Mosul, two things are now happening:

  • high-level figures within the Popular Mobilization Units are beginning to suggest that maybe the plan to keep the PMUs out of Mosul, in order to minimize the possibility of sectarian discord, should be revisited
  • we’re being told that US forces in northern Iraq are going to start “embedding more extensively” within Iraqi units, which is how Washington announces that American soldiers are going to take a more active role in the Mosul fighting without actually saying that


The Iranian army mobilized all its overwhelming anti-aircraft capabilities to defend Tehran from a massive air armada assembled by the Islamic Republic’s mortal enemies state TV drone that apparently flew too close to the Supreme Leader’s house.

Tehran and the P5+1 have agreed to make some private nuclear deal-related documents public, in what is most likely an attempt to defang one potential avenue for the incoming Trump administration to accuse Iran of violating the deal’s terms. The documents clarify certain stocks of low enriched uranium (LEU), unrecoverable among reactor waste material, that do not count toward Iran’s obligatory 300 kg LEU limit.


The Sudanese government has agreed to extradite a “senior” ISIS figure who is suspected of having helped plan the 2015 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

South Sudan

Admittedly one for two is pretty good, especially for the UN Security Council, which had a more-active-than-usual day today. But as expected, an attempt to impose an arms embargo on rapidly genocide-ing South Sudan failed this afternoon. Japan, Russia, China, Angola, Malaysia, Venezuela, Egypt and Senegal all abstained from the vote, questioning the efficacy of denying weapons to a country currently tearing itself apart due to civil war. If the logic there makes sense to you, then congratulations because you have a long career ahead of you in international horseshittery diplomacy.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

In what should be considered another Festivus miracle, there is a strong possibility that sometime over the weekend Joseph Kabila and opposition leaders will come to an accord about the future of the Kabila administration. The two sides, owing to some pretty remarkable diplomatic work led to a significant degree by the Catholic Church, are circling a deal whereby Kabila would remain president through 2017 but would not stand for reelection whenever an election is finally held. I guess the promise that he’ll finally go away was worth an extra year of having Kabila around to the opposition.

Many questions remain, of course, and it’s always the home stretch of negotiations like this where things can break down most dramatically. But assuming a deal is reached, will the Congolese people accept this compromise if opposition politicians accept it? More importantly, will Kabila actually abide by the deal or is the DRC going to find itself right back here a year from now?

In eastern Congo, the bodies of at least 20 people have been discovered in Bwalanda, all of them Nande who were probably killed in an attack by the Nyatura Hutu militia.

The Gambia

The head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said today that the alliance is prepared to send troops in to The Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh doesn’t step down on January 19, as his loss in this month’s election should require.


Wait, Malta two nights in a row? Well, sort of. Two men hijacked an Afriqiyah Airways flight bound from Sabha, Libya, to Tripoli earlier today, and forced the flight to divert to Malta–they apparently tried Egypt first but were denied permission to enter Egyptian airspace. Luckily the plane had enough fuel to make the extra leg of the trip, and after threatening to blow up the plane the hijackers were eventually convinced to surrender to Maltese authorities. The men appear to be “Gaddafi loyalists,” which is still a thing that many people in Sabha are even though Gaddafi has been dead for five years, and they may have been seeking asylum somewhere. They were believed to be carrying hand grenades and handguns, but that CNN report says the “weapons” were actually replicas and frankly I don’t really know what to believe anymore.


More fighting outside of Svitlodarsk has killed two more Ukrainian soldiers over the past day-plus. On the positive side, Kiev and its separatist enemies have agreed on a Christmas truce. Every low-level conflict needs a day off now and then.


Anis Amri, the man suspected of having carried out Monday’s truck attack in Berlin, was killed in a shootout with police early this morning outside of Milan. The fact that Amri was so quickly able to get to Italy is of course being trumpeted loudly by Euroskeptic parties all over Europe to criticize the EU’s open borders policy. Separately, ISIS released a video showing Amri pledging his loyalty to their organization.

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