Middle East update: May 28 2018

In the interest of the Memorial Day holiday, today’s update(s) may be a little shorter and/or earlier than usual.

SYRIA

Presumably confirming that a Syrian offensive against Daraa is imminent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Monday that only Syrian military personnel should occupy that area, which abuts Syria’s disputed border with Israel. Lavrov’s declaration is an effort to pacify the US, which has threatened retaliation if the Syrian military violates Daraa’s deescalation zone. It’s also an attempt to calm Israeli fears about Iranian and/or Hezbollah establishing a military presence in southwestern Syria. Of course, Israel’s position is that Iran should have no military presence in Syria at all, in any part of the country. Which seems like it’s not really Israel’s decision to make, but I digress.

YEMEN

Saudi officials say that their coalition forces are about 20 km from Hudaydah and are continuing to advance on the port city, whose destruction will hasten Yemen’s descent from humanitarian crisis into utter catastrophe.

TURKEY

OpenDemocracy’s Edgar Şar thinks there’s a change that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party could lose June’s snap election:

To begin with, the opposition parties of Turkey seem to be overcoming at last two fundamental diseases that have so far prevented them from making a breakthrough to posing a real alternative to Mr. Erdoğan and his party. First and foremost, they have got over the inability to co-operate and managed to form a strategic alliance against Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ultra-nationalist ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The weak and fragmented structure of the opposition in Turkey has always been criticized and, just as in Hungary recently, held out as the main reason behind the success of the incumbent government. Mr. Erdoğan, himself, often complained about the inefficacy of the opposition parties to challenge his government and said more than once that his party’s main luck lay at the lack of a real opposition.

 

This time, however, being aware of the power of the “leviathan” that they are up against, the opposition parties have so far succeeded in acting in unison at critical moments. Even bringing the vote forward by 18 months failed to catch the opposition parties off guard – these strategic moves seem to have stirred a degree of determination among Mr. Erdoğan’s previously hopeless dissidents in Turkish society.

IRAQ

The Iraqi parliament has reportedly ordered a manual recount of 10 percent of the ballots cast nationally to determine if there are sufficient grounds for a more substantial recount. There have been a number of fraud complaints bandied about since the election a couple of weeks ago. Parliament also threw out votes cast by the Iraqi diaspora and most of the votes cast by internally displaced Iraqis.

Iraqi authorities are collaborating with both the Syrian military and the Syrian Democratic Forces in an effort to secure its western border against ISIS infiltration:

On May 21, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued directives to secure the border and prevent the infiltration of terrorists. In a May 22 address, Abadi stressed the need to secure the Iraqi-Syrian border, saying, “The clearance operations are ongoing, and we have successfully secured the Syrian side of the border, where IS militants have been crushed, especially in Upper Mesopotamia. There is cooperation to secure the rest of the areas near our border.”

 

According to Ahmed Jidiyan, the administrator of Qaim district near the Syrian border, ongoing cooperation between the Iraqi and Syrian armies has “prevented the infiltration of terrorists into Iraqi territories.”

 

The Iraqi army is also cooperating with other parties active on the ground in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the US-led international coalition. Working together, they liberated the area of al-Baghuz near Deir ez-Zor.

LEBANON

This is only tangentially Lebanon-related, but I find it unendingly amusing how incredibly thin skinned France’s modern-day Jupiter is. After being challenged on his foreign policy record by a reporter, a clearly annoyed Macron decided for whatever reason to dig up last year’s Saad al-Hariri crisis:

“If France wasn’t listened to then there probably would be a war in Lebanon at this moment as we speak. It’s French diplomacy, it’s our action,” Macron said in an interview with broadcaster BFM TV, visibly irritated after being asked if his foreign policy over the last year had achieved anything.

 

Macron said an unscheduled stopover in Riyadh to convince Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed by an invitation to Hariri to come to France, had been the catalyst to ending the crisis.

 

“I remind you that a prime minister was held in Saudi Arabia for several weeks,” he said, a comment that could irk Riyadh which, like Hariri, denied he was ever held against his will.

There’s a decent chance Macron will be walking this back soon, which will make it even funnier.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finally left the hospital on Monday after an eight-day visit for a lung infection. Hold your obituaries, for now.

Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters exchanged fire across the Gaza fence line (PLEASE STOP CALLING IT A BORDER) on Monday. An Israeli tank blast killed two Hamas members in the skirmish.

+972 Magazine’s Michael Omer-Man believes that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s unwillingness to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes or the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is all but guaranteeing an eventual investigation by the International Criminal Court:

Short of simply not committing war crimes, the easiest way for a state to protect its officials and generals from ending up in The Hague is to set up effective, or even seemingly effective mechanisms for investigating itself. At the core of the ICC’s founding treaty, and the at foundation of its jurisdiction, lies the principle of complementarity.

 

In short, complementarity means that the ICC will only investigate or prosecute alleged war crimes if the national legal systems — where the crime took place — are themselves “unwilling or unable” to investigate and prosecute suspected war crimes. In other words, if the Israeli army genuinely investigates its own soldiers for alleged war crimes, and prosecutes those it believes have committed those crimes, then the ICC has no jurisdiction.

I’m of the opinion that the ICC is only as important as any particular nation allows it to be, which is to say it’s generally not important at all in any practical sense. But an investigation there would be embarrassing for Israel, which is something Israeli leaders usually try to avoid.

SAUDI ARABIA

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the burgeoning George Nader scandal indicates that not only did the Gulf states have policy reasons for backing Donald Trump, but that they saw in Trump and his entourage a group whose foreign policy could be bought:

I hadn’t thought about Middle East Insight until its onetime publisher, George Nader, recently exploded into the news as an international man of mystery at the center of an apparent attempt to covertly influence the outcome of the last American presidential election. It seems that in the span of not quite two decades, the guy who ran a small, likely not profitable, but influential policy magazine become a conduit between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Donald Trump’s closest inner circle, both after, and — crucially for special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing criminal investigation — before Trump’s election as U.S. president.

 

Nader’s story is yet another example of the sleaze, greed, and influence-peddling that has come to seem ordinary in Trump-era Washington. But it also offers a view into a more extraordinary and unprecedented problem: a decision by some of America’s closest allies in the Middle East to leverage their financial resources in common cause with a bunch of ganefs to influence U.S. foreign policy. It is a problem that can be traced back, in ways that haven’t generally been understood, to Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and his mobile phone.

IRAN

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Monday, amid a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi, that India only abides by United Nations sanctions and will not be bound by unilateral US sanctions against Iran. Another success win for Trump’s Iran policy.

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Author: DWD

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