Middle East update: January 31 2018

SYRIA

The YPG is beginning to wonder who its friends are:

“How can they stand by and watch?” Aldar Khalil, a senior Kurdish politician said of the U.S.-led coalition against IS. “They should meet their obligations toward this force that participated with them (in the fight against terrorism.) We consider their unclear and indecisive positions as a source of concern.”

 

Khalil, one of the architects of the Kurds’ self-administration, and three other senior Kurdish officials told The Associated Press that they have conveyed their frustration over what they consider a lack of decisive action to stop the Afrin assault to U.S. and other Western officials. They said U.S. officials have made confusing statements in public. One of the officials who agreed to discuss private meetings on condition of anonymity said some U.S. comments even amounted to tacit support for the assault.

This should not come as a surprise to the YPG, to be frank. The US has no interest in Afrin and no presence in Afrin–it’s not important enough for Washington to do any more than occasionally chide Ankara about the need for calm and restraint. And you only have to go back about 27 years to realize how far America is willing to stick out its neck for Kurds when it doesn’t suit US interests.

Civilians are feeling the effects of the Afrin fighting. One person was killed in Turkey on Wednesday by YPG rocket fire, and it’s believed at least 65 civilians have been killed in Afrin since the Turkish operation began 11 days ago.

Slightly further south, in Idlib, Russian and Turkish officials have been talking about Turkish forces pushing deeper into the province into areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. This appears to be what Russia had in mind when Turkey took on the role of ceasefire guarantor for Idlib province, but the Turks have been far more interested in attacking Afrin than in dealing with the group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. Earlier this week a Turkish military convoy in Idlib was hit by a car bomb, possibly set by the YPG but also possibly set by either the Syrian military or Iran. Despite being Russian allies, neither has been as keen on Turkey’s role in Afrin as the Russians have been.

YEMEN

The Battle of Aden, such as it was, seems to have reached an end or at least a lull on Wednesday, as secessionist forces returned two military bases they’d taken from forces loyal to Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and daily life in the city began to resume something like normalcy. It appears the Saudis may have mediated between the Yemeni government and the southern separatists, who say they’re still committed to the fight against the Houthis. According to the United Nations, there are around 40,000 displaced Yemenis in Aden whose access to aid was interrupted by the fighting–hopefully that’s over now.

LEBANON

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri is demanding a better apology for derogatory remarks made about him by Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s son in-law/foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, earlier this week. He’s gone so far as to say that the Lebanese government could “stumble” over the spat. Berri and Aoun historically haven’t gotten along, though both lead parties in the same March 8 Alliance, and now Hezbollah seems to be weighing in on Berri’s side. I will reiterate: the last thing Lebanon needs is more political dysfunction.

Meanwhile, the chances of a big old Israel-Lebanon war, the other last thing Lebanon needs, might have ticked up a little this week. The Lebanese government is accepting tenders from companies to exploit offshore natural gas fields in the Mediterranean, one of which–called “block 9”–lies in an area whose control is disputed by Beirut and Tel Aviv. Israel is threatening retaliation if Lebanon tries to develop this block. A joint gas venture would actually reduce tensions in the region while benefiting both countries financially, but of course when was the last time anybody in the Middle East acted to reduce tension?

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

On Wednesday, the US government declared Hamas political leader Ismail Haniya a terrorist. I’m not sure this has any material impact on much of anything, since Hamas is already on the State Department’s foreign terrorist organizations list.

While the US was doing that, Benjamin Netanyahu was busy once again telling anybody who’s paying attention that the Israeli government will never agree to the existence of a Palestinian state:

These differences were evident at a meeting Wednesday between Netanyahu and the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel.

 

In an awkward exchange, Gabriel said his country is “very much in favor” of the two-state solution.

 

“I was very thankful to hear that of course also the government of Israel wants to have two states, but (with secure) borders,” he said.

 

Netanyahu broke in with a clarification.

 

He said Israel’s “first condition,” would be to control security west of the Jordan River, an area that includes all of the West Bank, the heartland of the Palestinians’ hoped-for state.

 

“Whether or not it is defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter,” he said. “I’d rather not discuss labels, but substance.”

OK, here’s the substance: a state that doesn’t control its own security isn’t a state, it’s a province. Which means one state, not two. And that either means full equality for everyone in that one state, or else apartheid. There’s no third door here.

EGYPT

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is already getting pissed off at opposition leaders who are calling for voters to boycott March’s presidential election. Having already cleared the field for his reelection by blocking all but a single token opposition candidate from running “against” him, Sisi now wants a high turnout landslide to boost his legitimacy. It would be surprising if he actually gets it, even without the boycott calls. Turnout for Sisi’s 2014 election was so low he added a third day of voting and started threatening non-voters with fines to try to boost turnout–and he still couldn’t get more than about 47 percent at that. If anything, Sisi is less popular now than he was then.

QATAR

Turkey is adding air and naval forces to the ground forces it’s already deployed to its military base in Qatar. The move is sure to go over really well in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

IRAN

Al-Monitor’s Iran correspondent reports on Iran’s ongoing hijab protest:

On Jan. 30, a group of women in Tehran protested the country’s compulsory hijab rules by taking off their scarves in public and holding them up on sticks.

 

The protest led to a series of reactions from both officials and analysts.

 

Abbas Abdi, a Reformist analyst, said Jan. 29: “The events of the past few days … have made [the start of] a discussion on hijab necessary. It wasn’t possible to discuss and speak about this issue for a long time, and it had become a taboo.”

 

“We should judge [this issue] fairly. While a large number of [high-ranking] clerics know the interest rates that banks have set as usury, and this has been continuing for 40 years for any reason, why should we insist on issues that haven’t been addressed in the Quran explicitly, and no disapproval of [not wearing a hijab is in the Quran]. [We can’t] enforce a part of [Islam] and not enforce another part of it. This is a defeated experience, and it is better not to do that again,” wrote Abdi in the Reformist Etemaad newspaper.

 

It should be noted that based on Islamic Sharia, usury is forbidden.

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Author: DWD

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