There are lingering questions about just how many Russian contractors were killed in last week’s US airstrikes in Deir Ezzor province (on Tuesday, a US drone bombed a Russian-made tank in the same area in what appears to have been an isolated incident). Russian authorities continue to deny that any Russian soldiers were killed in the strikes, but they’ve pointedly refused to say anything about mercenaries. So far there are four Russians whose deaths appear to be more or less confirmed, but “dozens,” perhaps more than 200, may have been killed. An accurate count is probably impossible.
Representatives of Syria’s “White Helmets” met with senior French officials on Tuesday to insist that France Do Something about the war. To be honest they might as well have shouted this out the window and saved themselves the trip to Paris. It’s not that Emmanuel Macron doesn’t want to Do Something About Syria, it’s that there’s really nothing he can actually Do. But don’t lose hope! Russia, Turkey, and Iran are planning to meet next month and, after watching them manage this conflict over the past few months, I’m excited about what they’re going to do next.
One kind of strange aspect to Turkey’s invasion of Afrin has been that both it and the Kurds seem to be pitching PR messages about their struggle at the Azerbaijani and Armenian publics, respectively, for some reason. Turkey and Azerbaijan have an alliance and Armenians and Kurds…well, I don’t know. There is that whole “some Kurds helped carry out the Armenian Genocide” thing, though that is mitigated a bit by the fact that the Kurds were practically given the same treatment by the Ottomans shortly afterward. And most major Kurdish groups in the Middle East have acknowledged the genocide and apologized for the Kurdish role in it, which is certainly more than you can say about the Turkish government.
The Iraqi donor conference in Kuwait is flopping massively, in a “this is actually going to make things worse” sense:
Numerous Iraqi cities were reduced to rubble in the fighting, particularly Mosul, the country’s second largest. Yet, while Iraq estimated that it would need $88 billion to pay for reconstruction, it is expected to receive only $4 billion in pledges by Wednesday, when the conference ends. The majority of that is to come from Arab donors in the Persian Gulf, with the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis and Qataris all pledging around $1 billion each.
The US came through with a $3 billion
donation uh, loan guarantee. Wow so generous, very charitable.
Permit me to suggest that under the “you break it, you bought it” principle, there may be a lot of countries waiting for the United States to fork over a substantial portion of that $88 billion before they’re going to be prepared to chip anything in themselves. But America can’t afford that–we just cut rich people’s taxes by $1.5 trillion and we’re boosting the Pentagon’s already absurd budget by about $200 billion over the next couple of years. You can see why our hands are tied here.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is warning Cyprus not to “overstep the mark” in, um, complaining about the Turkish navy blocking oil drilling in Cypriot waters. This is a thing Erdoğan likes to do where he provokes a confrontation with another country and then performs as the aggrieved party even though he’s actually the aggressor. He does it because it’s good domestic politics and because I’m pretty sure the only thing that keeps him going is his unending supply of manufactured grievances. Without them he might literally collapse into a cloud of dust.
According to Israeli media, police are going to recommend filing charges against Benjamin Netanyahu on both of the corruption cases they’re investigating:
One case centres on an allegation that Mr Netanyahu asked the publisher of an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, for positive coverage in exchange for help in reining in a rival publication.
Israeli media say the editor of Yediot Aharonot, Arnon Mozes, will also face charges.
The second centres on a claim that Mr Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister since 2009, received more than $100,000 (£72,000) in gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and other supporters.
The Jerusalem Post says the gifts included champagne and cigars, and were given in exchange for help getting Mr Milchan a US visa.
Mr Milchan also faces charges, it reported.
Netanyahu should resign if he’s indicted–which he still may not be–but he probably won’t. Nonetheless it’s not a bad time to start thinking about successors. One potential successor is Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister who is apparently a fan of apartheid:
Israel must safeguard a Jewish majority even at the expense of human rights, the country’s justice minister has said in a speech defending a bill that would legally define Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people” for the first time.
Ayelet Shaked said on Monday that Israel must maintain both a Jewish majority and democracy, but stressed that keeping the state’s Jewish character may come “at the price” of human rights violations.
Maybe I’m reading her title wrong, maybe she’s Israel’s Just Us Minister. Anyway if you’re wondering what the price of human rights violations looks like, it looks like the 54 Palestinians who died in Gaza last year as a direct result of Israeli refusal to allow them to leave for medical treatment. It also looks like this:
That’s Ayelet Shaked’s Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s, too. And Donald Trump’s, which is why the Palestinian Authority is reaching out to Russia as a new potential mediator in the Israel-Palestine peace process. The Palestinians want to internationalize the peace process along the lines of the P5+1 block that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.
The Egyptian military killed another 10 militants in Sinai on Tuesday. That brings the total to 38 militants killed there since the Egyptian government announced a new effort to defeat violent extremist groups late last week.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid Al Sabah is criticizing a Philippine decision to bar its citizens from traveling to Kuwait for employment and to evacuate those who are already there:
“We have 170,000 Filipino nationals living a decent life here,” the minister said. “They have one of the least number of problems out of all expatriate communities. Isolated incidents unfortunately happen. We share all of our findings and investigations with the Philippine authorities.”
“Isolated incidents” in this case refers to multiple reports of Philippine domestic workers being badly mistreated, including a recent case where the body of a Philippine national was found murdered and stuffed into a Kuwaiti freezer, where it had been undiscovered for about a year. You know, your basic incident.
Iran’s Fatemiyoun militia, the paramilitary force made up of Afghans that Tehran sent into Syria a few years ago, has been the focus of some really white-knuckled commentary in the US. What would Iran do with these fighters? Send them to Yemen? Send them back to destabilize Afghanistan? Well, according to Georgetown’s Ahmad Shuja Jamal, Iran is…letting them go back to Iran and establish residency:
Now that the Fatemiyoun and Zeinabiyoun have helped Iran attain “victory” against ISIL, the question is what Iran will do with these tens of thousands of battle-hardened fighters. Will it deploy them elsewhere in the Middle East? Initial indications are that Iran is actually downsizing the contingent of Afghan fighters, sending them back to Iran where their families — mostly refugees or undocumented immigrants — have been promised permanent residency. This gives the fighters’ families a secure future, but it also gives the leadership in Tehran the security of knowing that it can, if needed, draw again on these veteran fighters who are now indebted to the government.
As Jamal notes, these fighters could be called up by Iranian officials at some point. But for now it seems that hawks in the US have once again overhyped a potential Iranian threat. Go figure.
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