Middle East update: June 12 2018

SYRIA

The United Nations says that over 900,000 Syrians were displaced in the first four months of 2018. That figure blows past the highest number of displaced persons created in any four month period since the Syrian war–a war that has displaced almost 12 million people both internally and as refugees–began. A possible government offensive against Idlib province, which has become a catch basin for Syrians displaced from other parts of the country and currently houses an estimated 2.5 million people, would take things to yet another level.

The Syrian military is increasing its air defenses near the Golan Heights and its Israeli border. Whether this is in anticipation of a government offensive against rebel-held southwestern Syria or just beefing up defenses against periodic Israeli airstrikes remains to be seen.

YEMEN

BREAKING: The coalition’s attack on Hudaydah (see below) has reportedly begun. Thousands of lives have just been put at risk and the country’s humanitarian lifeline, which mostly runs through Hudaydah’s port and sustains millions more, is about to be broken. Obviously more on this tomorrow.

The Saudi/Emirati-led coalition appears on the verge of attacking Hudaydah, apparently with the Trump administration’s muted blessing:

[UAE Foreign Minister Anwar] Gargash said the coalition had given UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths a 48-hour ultimatum to persuade the Houthis to withdraw from Hodeidah that expires overnight Tuesday to Wednesday.

Gargash’s Twitter tirade followed a muted statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday that many diplomats and veteran Yemen experts interpreted as giving the UAE a de facto “yellow light” to proceed with the military operation that Washington had long opposed, fearing humanitarian catastrophe. The port of Hodeidah is the gateway for an estimated 80% of the humanitarian, food and commercial supplies for Yemen, including for Sanaa, the Yemeni capital of 2 million people.

“I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports,” Pompeo said in the statement on developments at Hodeidah issued by the State Department on Monday.

Many Yemen observers are calling Pompeo’s statement a “yellow light” for a Hudaydah attack. And because it never misses an opportunity to get in on killing Muslims, the Trump administration may actually help the coalition attack the port city with the same sort of targeting assistance that has helped Saudi pilots pulverize Yemen’s orphanage and funeral home industries.

TURKEY

The Turkish military said on Tuesday that its aircraft destroyed 12 PKK targets in northern Iraq.

Turkey’s chances of acquiring the F-35 are up in the air, which is interesting because F-35s are so frequently not allowed in the air–I kid! Sort of. Anyway, some in Congress are reluctant to sell Turkey advanced aircraft due to Turkey making nice with Russia and turning authoritarian and making life hard for US allies in Syria, among other things. But they’re countered by those in Congress who want to sell as many of these lemon airplanes as humanly possible due to the fact that they’re bankrolled by Lockheed Martin. Additionally, there are Turkish firms supplying F-35 components to Lockheed, so cutting Turkey off would make it difficult to keep producing the planes.

IRAQ

The biggest domino in Iraq’s post-election landscape fell on Tuesday, when Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Sairoon list came in first on May 12, and Hadi al-Amiri, whose Iran-backed Fatih list came in second, announced that they’re forming a political alliance. It’s an odd mix, given Sadr’s opposition to Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, but it does make a formidable nucleus for the next government, assuming the recount doesn’t change the election results too much.

QATAR

For LobeLog, I wrote on the one year anniversary of the Qatar diplomatic crisis and the increasingly common view in DC that it spells the end of the Gulf Cooperation Council:

Although Qatar seems, so far at least, to have weathered the blockade relatively unscathed, the same cannot be said for the GCC. The 37-year-old bloc has been effectively torn in half by the blockade, with the Saudis, Emiratis, and Bahrain all participating while Kuwait and Oman have urged reconciliation (and are possibly wondering if they’ll be targeted next). Its December 2017 summit, held in Kuwait, encapsulated the new Gulf reality, with Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim being the only head of state to attend apart from Kuwait’s own Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah. What was to be a two-day affair was cut short after a single uncomfortable session, with Sheikh Sabah arguing that the council needed to change its structure “to better face challenges.”

The GCC’s 2017 meeting was overshadowed by a pre-summit announcement that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were planning to form a new bilateral committee—one that threatens to overshadow the broken GCC if the Qatar impasse cannot be resolved. That body, the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Committee, held its first meeting in Jeddah on June 6, conveniently timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Qatar crisis. It builds upon the close personal bond between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, a relationship that is, for better or worse, coming to dominate the Middle East.

RIP

GCC_heads_of_states_meeting_1981
The first GCC meeting in 1981 (Wikimedia)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Speaking of the GCC, a DC think tank has uncovered some interesting information about Dubai’s high-roller economy:

War profiteers, terror financiers and drug traffickers sanctioned by the U.S. in recent years have used Dubai’s real-estate market as a haven for their assets, a new report released Tuesday alleges.

The report by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, relying on leaked property data from the city-state, offers evidence to support the long-whispered rumors about Dubai’s real-estate boom. It identifies some $100 million in suspicious purchases of apartments and villas across the city of skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates, where foreign ownership fuels construction that now outpaces local demand.

The government-run Dubai Media Office said it could not comment on the report.

You don’t say. While the Emiratis accuse everybody else of being in cahoots with terrorists, they might want to think about taking a closer look at their own books.

IRAN

Also at LobeLog, NIAC’s Ryan Costello argues that Congress’s BIG INVESTIGATION into alleged corrupt dealing by the Obama administration related to the Iran nuclear deal is another manufactured scandal:

Lawmakers and advocacy groups undertook many steps to weaken the Iran nuclear deal during the Obama era to set up President Trump’s unilateral termination. Last week, Republicans on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a 50-page report delving into the Obama administration’s efforts in early 2016 to ensure that Iran was able to repatriate its own frozen assets held at Bank Muscat in Oman.

Lead author Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and others, including President Trump, have spun this arrangement as a nefarious side deal aimed at permitting Iran access to the U.S. financial system. However, the report offers key insight into how deal opponents succeeded in hobbling Iran’s relief by securitizing the debate over sanctions relief for Iran, ensuring that any relief for Iran was falsely viewed as a negative for regional and global security and a political liability.

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Author: DWD

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