Kurd Protest Syria 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)
One major factor behind President Trump’s decision to withdraw US special forces from Syria is the dominant position achieved by Russia, in alliance with Iran, in restoring the fortunes of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Another seems to have been a telephone discussion with Turkey’s President Erdogan just before Christmas 2018. The implications of this are worrying.
The military defeat of Islamic State over the eight long years of Syria’s civil conflict has been due in no small measure to the part played by the doughty Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. But for Erdogan, the Kurds and their aspirations – whether for civil rights, for autonomy or, worst of all, for independence – are a constant thorn in the flesh. Kurd-occupied territory encompasses substantial areas of Turkey, but also of Syria, Iraq and Iran. It spans their borders. So Erdogan faces not only a domestic political threat from Turkish Kurds, but what he perceives as their military support abroad, and specifically in northeastern Syria.
Long before the civil war, the two million Kurds in Syria, accounting for 15% of the population, had aspired to some degree of autonomy. Their opportunity came with the internal uprising in 2011 against Assad’s regime. As the civil war inside Syria resulted in Islamic State winning vast swaths of territory, the Syrian Kurds began battling it in the northeast. Backed by air support and special forces from the US and its allies, the Kurdish Peshmergas began to prevail, winning back large areas of Kurd-inhabited territory.
Today the Kurd-occupied region – about 25% of the old Syria – is formally known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), ruled under a new federal and democratic constitution. It is not a sovereign state nor, if statements from its leaders are to be believed, does it aspire to be one. It is a semi-autonomous region and there have been formal moves by its leaders to reach an accommodation with the Syrian president.
In September 2017, Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, said that his country was open to the idea of greater powers for the country’s Kurds. They “want a form of autonomy within the framework of the borders of the state,” he said. “This is negotiable and can be the subject of dialogue.”
He indicated – presumably with the acquiescence of Russia – that discussions could begin once the civil conflict had ended.
A Kurdish legislator, Omar Usi, who sits in Syria’s national parliament in Damascus, recently said the government wanted the Kurds to “facilitate the entry of the Syrian army and the return of state institutions into Kurdish-majority areas east of the Euphrates.” In return, it was offering “constitutional recognition for the Kurdish community and its cultural rights.”
All this might eventually result in a Syrian version of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan that is recognized by the Iraqi government. But any such formal recognition of the DFNS would be anathema to Erdogan. Whatever degree of autonomy Syria’s Kurds might gain could only reinforce the separatist demands of the Kurds in Turkey.
This explains Erdogan’s incursion in January last year into the region around Afrin in northwest Syria. His success in defeating the Kurdish forces there indicates that, allowed a free hand, Erdogan would probably take action aimed at gaining dominance right along the Turkey-Syrian border, decimating the DFNS Kurdish-ruled region.
Subsequent to his off-the-cuff announcement about US troop disengagement from Syria, Trump seems to have allowed wiser counsels to prevail. The US simply could not allow a free-for-all to develop inside Syria, give Turkey carte blanche in its vendetta against the Kurds, and throw its long-time and successful ally and partner to the wolves. So whatever the substance of his telephone discussion with Erdogan, Trump now indicates that there is to be no hasty US withdrawal from Syria. It will be done, but in a measured and timely fashion.
It is well established that in foreign relations, there is little or no room for sentiment. Realpolitik is the order of the day.
But the civilized world does owe a debt of gratitude to the Kurdish people in general, and to their stalwart Peshmerga fighters in particular, for their successful efforts to combat the evil and inhumane Islamic State movement. Theirs has been a long struggle for recognition and self-determination. It is time the world honored its debt and at least allowed the Kurds in Syria to negotiate an acceptable future for themselves as part of the post-war settlement.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is: “The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016.” He blogs at: www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.