Damascus says that Israeli forces struck the Qutaifa area near Damascus from air and ground on Tuesday, presumably because of something to do with Hezbollah although as usual the Israeli government refused to talk about it.
Questions about who exactly has been attacking Russia’s military bases in Latakia remain unanswered, and that’s encouraging some creative thinking. Russian officials, for example, appear to be accusing the US of involvement, saying that the attempted drone strikes against their facilities had to be assisted by a country with advanced satellite navigation capabilities. The US is naturally denying this, and to be fair the drones seem to have been cheap enough and low-range enough that satellite GPS may not have been required. But there are a dearth of realistic suspects, which is also leading to some off-the-wall speculation in a totally different direction:
Among the theories circulating widely is that disgruntled Alawites from Assad’s own minority sect were responsible. A statement about the attacks on the base, which is in a predominantly Alawite area, was posted online in the name of a shadowy group called the Free Alawite Movement. It warned Alawites who support the Syrian regime that the attacks proved Assad’s hold on power is not secure but did not explicitly claim that it carried out the attacks. A number of Alawite opposition members said they did not think the group is real and speculated that foreign intelligence agencies are seeking to create the impression of strife among regime loyalists.
Another claim made in Syrian opposition news outlets is that an Iranian-backed militia fighting on behalf of the regime and located in the government-controlled hills nearby, was responsible. According to that theory, Iran wants to thwart Russia’s efforts to impose a peace settlement on Syria that would undermine Iranian interests.
I mentioned the “Free Alawite Movement” yesterday–it’s not actually clear this group exists despite a few public references to it. The Iranian angle is different, and not entirely out of the question–Moscow is trying to build relations with some rebel forces and has even allegedly been blaming Iran for recent fighting in places like Ghouta that are supposed to be under ceasefire–but needs some evidence to get out of tinfoil hat territory.
Speaking of places that are supposed to be under ceasefire, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is arguing that recent Syria/Russia advances into Idlib province are “scuppering” the chances for a political settlement to the civil war. Ankara does say, however, that most of the territory recently taken by Syrian-aligned forces lays outside the strict limits of the Idlib deescalation zone.
Houthi media, in what was probably an ill-advised threat, reported on Tuesday that the Houthis will block Red Sea shipping if the Saudi-led coalition fighting against them doesn’t stop advancing on the port city of Hudaydah. It’s not clear the Houthis can carry out this threat–the Red Sea does bottleneck in the nearby Mandeb Strait and they clearly have anti-ship missiles, but they probably don’t have enough missiles to sustain a blockade–but the threat itself will be held up by the Saudis as justification for their campaign and by the US as justification for supporting the Saudi campaign.
On a much more serious note, the Turkish parliament has now legalized vigilantism. More specifically, it’s giving immunity to “civilians involved in the suppression of terrorist acts,” which in Turkey can mean anything from committing actual terrorist acts to saying something that hurts Erdoğan’s delicate feelings. Ostensibly the measure is supposed to protect civilians who resisted the 2016 coup attempt, and that might be a legitimate justification if so much as a single person had ever been arrested for doing so. The fear is that this will allow the creation of legal pro-Erdoğan militias (there already are a couple of these running around), which is probably the point.
On Wednesday the Israeli government is expected to approve the construction of nearly 1300 new settlement houses in the West Bank and the initial planning for at least 2500 more. That should help get the peace process rolling. In a story that is completely unrelated and I don’t know why you would even suggest otherwise, an Israeli was killed by a suspected Palestinian attacker in the West Bank on Tuesday. The killer has not yet been found.
Egyptian forces reportedly killed at least eight militants in a gun battle in northern Sinai on Tuesday.
It was a real nail-biter, but it turns out that Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is going to be allowed to run for reelection in March. To get on the ballot, a candidate must get 25,000 voter signatures or the support of 20 members of parliament. At last count, Sisi has the support of 464 members of parliament. So I guess he’s safe.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is trying to work both ends of the recent anti-government protests that swept across the nation. On the one hand, he’s blaming the United States and Donald Trump (whom he describes as “psychotic”) for fomenting the protests, along with Saudi Arabia and Israel. On the other, he seems to be allowing as to how the protesters have some legitimate grievances that the Iranian government must address. In particular, he’s citing the recent collapse of some sketchy financial institutions, which in many cases cost people much of their savings, as a cause of discontent. Speaking of the protests, a member of Iran’s parliament said on Tuesday that 3700 people were arrested in connection with them, a figure considerably higher than any other I’ve seen yet.
Iranian authorities have decided to investigate the 2017 death of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani officially died of a heart attack–and, to be fair, he was 82–but apparently doctors have since found a substantial level of radioactivity in a catheter tube that was connected to Rafsanjani’s body when he died. A blood sample would determine whether Rafsanjani himself had been exposed to a radioactive substance before he died, but the sample that was reportedly taken from him when he died seems to have somehow vanished.
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