Conflict update: January 5 2017

World War III

Building on an earlier post, this seems problematic:

Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.

The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.

That top Russian officials were happy to see Trump elected doesn’t really prove much of anything, but the fact that this stuff is being leaked to the press suggests that the intelligence community may already be retaliating against Trump. Buckle up.


Benjamin Netanyahu, who may soon need to fall back on his old training as a babysitter if he wants to make ends meet, was questioned again by Israeli fraud police at his home today–this time for five hours. And I thought Monday’s three hour interrogation seemed long. Netanyahu continues to insist that it’s all much ado about nothing, because apparently Israeli police are inclined to spend eight hours questioning the most powerful guy in Israel just for shits and giggles.

In other Israel news, two people have been arrested for threatening violence against the military judges who recently convicted IDF soldier Elor Azaria of manslaughter. Azaria, if you’re unfamiliar with the case, summarily executed an already-incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron in March, then admitted doing so before backing off of that admission at trial and trying to argue, simultaneously, that the man he killed was still a threat and also already dead from his other wounds. Clearly it’s the judges who are the problem here. Azaria’s case has become a cause for right-wing Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, who would like to see him pardoned mostly because it would be politically popular (Netanyahu, who took a very negative view of Azaria’s actions when they were first reported, has been particularly craven with respect to this case). The power to issue pardons lies with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who may actually be sane enough to understand that you can’t pardon a guy just because he “only” executed a Palestinian, but we’ll see.


The Turkish government is warning that peace talks (which, to the extent it matters, appear to have a public US stamp of approval) scheduled for later this month in Kazakhstan are in jeopardy due to ongoing ceasefire violations, mostly committed by the Syrian government and its allied militias. Syrian rebels had already made this pretty clear, but it’s significant that Ankara is also saying it. Additionally, Ankara says that it has been in contact with members of Donald Trump’s transition team over US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and has reiterated long-standing threats to close Incirlik air base to American forces unless Washington reduces its support for the SDF and increases its support for Turkey’s anti-ISIS/anti-Kurd campaign in northern Syria.

While everybody outside of Syria talks about peace, inside Syria the focus of the war is shifting to Idlib. At this point, any rebels who accept government evacuation deals from places like Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs are being relocated to Idlib. But everybody knows that at some point, barring a near-miraculous peace accord, the government is going to stop delivering rebels to Idlib and start blowing the place up instead.

Fighting continues (to the ongoing detriment of the “ceasefire”) in the Wadi Barada region outside Damascus, where regime forces are trying to secure the city’s water supply which is largely in rebel control. The rebels there appear to be pretty well dug in and have so far refused the government’s “heads I win, tails you lose” offer to relocate them to Idlib. Also, at least 11 people were killed today when a car bomb exploded in the town of Jableh, in the predominantly Alawite Latakia province.


Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, Iraq’s joint operations commander, says that 70 percent of east Mosul has been liberated from ISIS by Iraqi forces. If that’s an accurate assessment, then it represents some pretty rapid movement since the operation started up again last week. When things paused to allow the Iraqis time to reconfigure their offensive, the last figure I’d seen suggested that not quite half of east Mosul had been taken. Progress is being made on both the eastern front and a southeastern front that was opened up when the operations resumed.

Iraqi officials made a decision late last month to begin removing some checkpoints from inside Baghdad in order to improve traffic flow around the city. But a series of car bomb attacks since then, including two more today that killed at least 17 people, has caused Iraqis to question the wisdom of that decision. Alternative security arrangements that were intended to replace the checkpoints still haven’t been implemented, so that doesn’t help. But the fact of the matter is that the checkpoints clearly didn’t do very much to prevent terrorist attacks, as evidenced by all the terror attacks that took place in Baghdad when the checkpoints were still in place.


Jordan’s Information Minister said today that if the Trump administration moves America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem it would cross a “red line” for Jordan and increase regional instability. Somehow I don’t see Trump being moved by this.


An Egyptian police raid on a suspected Hasm Movement hideout outside Cairo killed one suspect and resulted in the arrest of three others. Hasm, a violent Muslim Brotherhood splinter group as far as anybody knows, has been responsible for a number of attacks in and around Cairo in recent months.


The Bahraini government has rolled back one of its biggest post-Arab Spring reforms by restoring arrest power to its domestic spy service, the National Security Agency. The government says it’s doing so in response to “the high risk of terror crimes,” and I’m sure there’s no way these new powers will be abused in an effort to suppress political opposition or anything like that.


The new theory in the Reina nightclub case is that the attacker was Uyghur, rather than Kyrgyz. ISIS has used both Kyrgyz and Uyghur operatives in Turkey in the past, so it’s at least likely that the attacker, whose pseudonym, Abu Muhammad Horasani, was released by Turkish media today, is one of the two. Incidentally I disagree with that Guardian piece that the nisbah “Horasani” suggests that the guy is Uyghur, since if we’re going to define historical Khorasan to include western China, it would have to include Kyrgyzstan as well.

Four people–two of them attackers–were killed in a car bombing/shooting outside a courthouse in the city of Izmir earlier today. While Izmir has seen its share of ISIS-related arrests over the past couple of months, the evidence in this attack, per Turkish authorities, seems to point to a Kurdish group–it’s not clear which one, but then Ankara doesn’t really distinguish between them as a matter of policy.

Turkish police arrested two top executives of Doğan Holding, one of the country’s largest companies, today over allegations of ties to the Gülen movement. Aydın Doğan, the company’s founder, is a long-time Tayyip Erdoğan foe but, interestingly, happens to be the owner of a little slice of heaven I like to call Trump Towers Istanbul (he pays Donald Trump for the right to use his name). I’m sure those kinds of relationships won’t impact US foreign policy for the next four years, right?


Iranian officials are reportedly beginning to consider the possibility that closer US-Russia ties under the incoming Trump administration might eventually lead Moscow to abandon its alliance of convenience with Tehran. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Russia has snubbed Iran to try to curry US favor, and it would greatly simplify things for Trump, who seems to want to improve relations with Russia while simultaneously worsening relations with Iran. But as long as Russian and Iranian interests converge with respect to Syria–a situation that may not last forever–it’s hard to see Russia dumping Iran totally. This is especially true considering the amount of money Moscow stands to make by selling weapons to Iran and by helping Iran ramp up its civilian nuclear program.

Speaking of making money, there was a pretty good piece by Eric Lob and Nader Habibi in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog today on the expansive role of the Revolutionary Guard in the Iranian economy. Hassan Rouhani has been trying to limit the IRGC’s economic role (it’s estimated that the Corps controls about a quarter of the Iranian economy at this point) or at least to channel it away from sectors like energy and finance–where Rouhani wants to increase foreign investment–and into areas like rural development where there is a real need for more government investment. It briefly seemed like Rouhani and the Corps had reached an accord on that front. But recent moves suggest that the IRGC has decided to move into rural development without waiting for Rouhani’s lead (Rouhani doesn’t oversee the Corps, whose leaders report directly to the Supreme Leader), which again means they’re operating virtually unchecked. And since Khamenei (who himself is allegedly incredibly wealthy) has basically given the IRGC a free hand, there’s little Rouhani can do to constrain them.


The Marines are heading back to Afghanistan:

Maj. Gen. John Love, commander of the 2nd Marine Regiment, in recent months said that an element of the Camp Lejeune-based unit would be deploying to Afghanistan in the spring.

“There is change in the air,” Love said at a Marine Corps Association and Foundation awards event in November. “There is a new mission we’ve picked up in the Marine Corps. We are going to repurpose the infantry regiments against a new mission back in some familiar territory in Afghanistan, a province we’ve been to before and a location we’ve been to before.”

The mission: to advise the Afghan National Security Forces and the police forces, he said.

Marines previously served in Helmand, the Taliban hotbed in the southwest region of the country — and senior Marine advisers kept a team in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital and the headquarters of its police force.

And the never-ending war rolls on.


Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif referred to Burhan Wani, the Kashmiri separatist leader whose killing by Indian forces in July set off the latest round of violence in Indian Kashmir, as a “hero” at a conference in Islamabad today. He also reportedly made some remarks about Indian “repression” in Kashmir. Needless to say, that’s unlikely to go over very well in India.


A Myanmar government commission appointed by the Myanmar government to investigate whether the Myanmar government has been mistreating its Rohingya minority has determined, hold on to your hats, that the Myanmar government has done nothing wrong. Talk about vindication! The commission, impartial as I’m sure it was, curiously referred to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” perpetuating the narrative that they’re all illegal migrants from Bangladesh. This is generally how people who want to disenfranchise the Rohingya refer to them so as to deny that they’re Myanmar citizens. Incidentally, referring to the Rohingya in this was also makes it easy to deny that there’s a genocide taking place; after all, there are about 300 million Bengalis in the world, so no way are they being genocided.

South Korea

The Chinese government recently denied applications by South Korean airlines to add charter flights between the two countries, and some South Korean officials believe it’s the latest blow in a Chinese effort to punish Seoul for accepting deployment of an American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system last year. China has complained that the system’s radar can penetrate Chinese territory. The system hasn’t actually been deployed yet, so presumably Beijing is trying to get the South Koreans to change their minds–and since President Park Geun-hye, who made the decision to accept the deployment, has since been impeached, it’s not out of the question that China might get what it wants here.

North Korea

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said today that North Korea has made a “qualitative improvement” in both nuclear and missile technology in the past year. So they’ve got that going for them.


Congratulations to Chad for appearing in one of these for the first time! Your commemorative plaque is in the mail.

The Chadian army is deploying troops along the country’s border with Libya in an effort to keep out any groups or individual bad actors that might be trying to flee the country, particularly in the aftermath of the operation that removed ISIS from the city of Sirte.

The Gambia

Defeated but defiant and still (technically) President Yahya Jammeh is threatening to kill political opponents and hiring mercenaries from other parts of West Africa. Sounds like somebody is planning on staying in power even if the rest of West Africa tries to force him out. His merc recruitment efforts are apparently being headed by an ex-Liberian general who specializes in finding former Liberian soldiers who are currently destitute and thus willing to fight for pay.


Members of Uganda’s political opposition are petitioning the International Criminal Court to investigate Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his government’s actions during its November clashes with the forces of Charles Mumbere’s Kingdom of Rwenzururu. It’s still not clear what justification Museveni had for going after Mumbere and precipitating the fighting that killed dozens of people (at least), but Mumbere has been sympathetic to the opposition, and apparently these honorific Ugandan regional kings are traditionally supposed to stay out of politics.

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