Intelligence Analysis: The Kurd’s shifting role in the Syrian conflict
“Deal with your friends as if they will become your enemies tomorrow, and deal with your enemies as if they will become your friends tomorrow.” It’s a proverb passed along through Kurdish generations — and a telling pretext to the Kurdish strategy in today’s conflict in Syria. In recent weeks, this once dormant player has awoken from its slumber, and may just provide Syria’s desperate rebels with a much needed boost to break their deadlock with the Assad regime.
Reports indicate that YPG militiamen and Syrian rebels have agreed to share control of the strategic Sheikh Maqsood District of northern Aleppo, cutting off regime supply routes to a hospital, prison, and other key positions. Rebel fighters entered the district largely unopposed on March 31. On April 6, the Syrian military bombarded Kurdish neighborhoods in northern Aleppo, killing 15 people in a likely response to this new arrangement. The following day, Kurdish militiamen attacked a Syrian military checkpoint in the city, killing five troops.
Further east, Syrian military units attacked a checkpoint manned by Kurdish militiamen in the northeastern city of Qamishli on April 4. Hours later, militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) attacked two Syrian military positions on the outskirts of Qamishli. The attacks resulted in a number of deaths on both sides and marked the first such incident to occur in the predominantly Kurdish Hasakah Province since the Syrian military withdrew from the region’s urban centers in the summer of 2012.
Strategic Analysis: Prospects for a negotiated solution in Syria
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s a lesson that Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), likely learned when he sparked a firestorm within the Syrian opposition after declaring his willingness to enter into negotiations with the Assad regime on January 30. As part of his stated conditions, al-Khatib demanded the release of 160,000 political prisoners being held by the Assad regime and the renewal of expired passports for Syrian dissidents abroad.
Until al-Khatib’s remarks, the SNC’s official stance had been to reject all negotiations with the Assad regime unless the embattled dictator agrees to relinquish power. It this comes as no surprise that other SNC officials and their backers in the region were quick to denounce al-Khatib’s statements as unrepresentative of the coalition’s policies. On February 5, the Coalition came together to issue an official rejection of al-Khatib’s proposal, even after it had been softened to include demanding that Assad cede power as an outcome.
Their outrage did little to stop al-Khatib from reiterating his willingness to negotiate during a security conference in Munich, where he also met with Russian and Iranian officials.
The locally-based Syrian-based National Coordination Committee, which initially organized non-violent protests, offered its support for al-Khatib, reiterating its stance that a political solution must be found to end the conflict. The Assad regime has yet to offer an official response, although a regime source described the development as positive.
Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict
While discussing the bloodshed in Syria at a September 7 conference held in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan drew a chilling parallel. “What happened in Karbala 1,332 years ago is what is happening in Syria today,” he said, comparing the Syrian revolution to the most divisive event in Islamic history, the Battle of Karbala.
Those in the West with any interests in the region have much to learn from Erdogan’s history lesson. What was originally depicted as a popular uprising against tyranny is now undeniably a war for religious supremacy in the Middle East. In this war, those Syrians who originally took to the streets in their aspirations for democracy have become the only guaranteed losers.
In the year 680 AD, Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and 70 of his followers confronted 1,500 fighters from the Umayyad Caliphate in present day Iraq. Hussein had embarked on a crusade to wrest control of the caliphate from his archrival Yazid I, only to be slaughtered along with his family. Hussein’s followers would eventually form the Shiite sect of Islam, and remain locked in a bitter rivalry with Yazid’s fellow Abu Bakr supporters, whose descendants comprise the Sunni sect. Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Consequences of religious influences in the Syrian conflict→
Intelligence Analysis: Is a Kurdish State on the Horizon?
While the media is focused on Iranian nuclear talks, the war in Syria, and the elections in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) is making headways in severing Baghdad’s grip over its national ambitions, chiefly the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.
Still, numerous obstacles remain along with plenty of regional and international dissenters, not to mention the task of overcoming a web of Kurdish political rivalries. While a myriad of concerns exist, fresh geopolitical realities are furthering the Iraqi Kurdish cause. Those realities, which have manifested into a new pipeline deal with Turkey, are turning the KRG into an influential and crucial player in the Middle East, which could arguably propel a push for Kurdish independence – sooner rather than later.
While ethnic Kurds are spread out throughout Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, their Iraqi brethren have advanced the most in terms of achieving Kurdish-nationalist goals. Since 2005, Iraqi Kurdistan is a semi-autonomous region, and one that is secured by its own forces, relatively stable, and increasingly able to make unilateral foreign policy decisions – much to the chagrin of Baghdad. Moreover, the defeat of their premier threat, the Iraqi army, by the Americans in 2003, contributed immensely to Kurdish sovereignty. Then America’s continued presence fostered a period of internal stability and growth, while the region’s preoccupation with a ruthless Sunni and Shiite bloodletting enabled the KRG to entrench itself as a formidable player in Iraqi politics.
The Jewish State will continue to secure its interests by aligning with nations beyond the greater Middle East
Following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel managed to deescalate its decades long conflict with the Arab world with an earnest effort to forge a peace process with the Palestinians with a goal to quell mutual hostility and acrimony. Over the last decade, however, the peace talks witnessed setbacks beginning in 2001, which subsequently led to an escalation in violence. Frustration with negotiations and actions taken by Israel’s leadership led to a militant campaign carried out by the PLO and other Palestinian factions, making Israel vulnerable to heightened security threats. This escalation hampered the Jewish state’s diplomatic ties, especially with its one time regional ally, Turkey. Due to the escalation and its confrontation with ongoing diplomatic challenges, Israel has responded by returning to and employing an ‘old’ foreign relation policy in a new way.
Israel-Cyprus relations: Revolutionary alliance or negotiating tactic?
By Dan R.
The discovery of natural gas off the shores of Cyprus and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean has marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Middle East conflict. Reports began to surface last week, claiming that Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will discuss the stationing of Israeli fighter jets at a Cypriot airbase on his visit to the island nation on February 16. If such reports prove to be accurate, the event has the potential to be a revolutionary strategic alliance. However, the aforementioned discussions may in fact be purely an Israeli negotiating tactic in an effort to bridge the rift between it and its former ally Turkey.
The Middle East is widely known as the staging ground for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, there is a lesser known conflict, greatly overshadowed by that between Israel and her Arab neighbors – that which involves Turkey and Cyprus. The conflict between Turkey and Cyprus, like the Arab-Israeli, also has a history of bloody confrontation on religion, ethnicity, territory and recognition. However, the aspect that reaches headlines above all others is the ongoing dispute over natural gas deposits that lay off the Cypriot southern coast. The discovery launched a thus far rhetorical battle over drilling rights between Greek Cyprus and Turkey as the patron of the Greek Republic’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot counterpart.
Israel has developed and maintained several natural gas drilling and pumping platforms in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in its Exclusive Economic Zone. Moreover, Israeli companies, such as Delek, own a significant share of drilling platforms in Cyprus. Israel thus, likely sees the natural gas reserves as a strategic asset that is vital to ensure Israel’s economic and energy independence.
Israel is well known for its determination and dedication with regard to the protection of its interests positioned outside its borders. That said, the stationing of a permanent air force operation base on foreign soil would essentially be a revolution in Israeli military affairs. If the reports are true, this will be the first time that Israel will deploy IDF airmen outside the borders of Israel (not including Palestinian territories), a step that would likely require legislative action.
The status quo in Cyprus does not provide the needed atmosphere for reuniting the island.
After decades of partition, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders are set to meet once again at Greentree Estate in Long Island, New York, under United Nations auspices. So, one must ask, after decades-long negotiations, why should we expect a different outcome after the two-day talks beginning on January 23? The answer, we probably should not.
As many experts on conflict resolution will say, the most appropriate atmosphere for resolution is that both sides are a party to a mutually hurting stalemate (MHS) – a condition in which neither side feels that it can gain from the current situation. Looking at the disparity that exists between Greek and Turkish Cyprus, it is clear that the status quo is more viable for Greek Cypriots over their Turkish counterparts. Continue reading Is Cyprus Ready for Reunification?→
The Middle East and North Africa In 2012: What Lies Ahead?
The feelings of hope and opportunity initially evoked by the Arab Spring have evolved into fear that the region may be sliding into a new status quo of instability. We sweep the region from Morocco to Iran to determine that 2012 will be one of the most crucial years in the modern history of the Middle East.
While North Africa by and large experienced the most significant change from the Arab Spring uprisings, it would be a grave mistake to place the fate of these politically diverse set of nations into one. In Morocco, the people still have great respect for the region’s oldest monarchy, sentiment which prevented widespread unrest from engulfing the nation this past year. The recent victory of moderate Islamist factions in parliament forces the monarchy to balance between their wishes, while keeping Morocco an attractive address for foreign investment to keep the economy on its feet. While Morocco can be expected to remain relatively stable, a widening gap between rich and poor and growing unemployment only works to the favor of the liberal February 20 reformers and the outlawed Islamist Justice and Spirituality movement, which currently remain marginalized.
In Algeria, the situation is quite different. The country emerged unscathed from the Arab Spring, not out of any sort of respect for the military-backed government, but rather out of fears for a repeat of the country’s bloody civil war which is still fresh in the minds of most of the population. While stability prevailed in 2011, tensions are brewing beneath the surface as Algerians come to realize that they are indeed the last nation to tolerate a corrupt military dictatorship which has failed to provide both physical and economic security. The success of Islamist parties to the East and West has emboldened Algeria’s own conservative opposition to demand reforms ahead of the upcoming elections-slated for the Spring of 2012. Moreover Bouteflika’s ailing health places the military and its allies in a considerable predicament, as replacing Bouteflika without elections will only provide fuel to an increasingly disillusioned population. The loss of the Bouteflika regime would spell a considerable setback in North Africa’s war against Al Qaeda, which despite recent losses- still has its sights set on fomenting instability in Algeria.
As the Arab Spring has forced successive leaders from their posts, Turkey has been positioning itself to be the hegemon of influence in the region. This effort can be seen through the visits of Prime Minister Erdogan to Egypt and Libya, in addition to his nation’s strong stance against Assad’s Allawite regime in Syria.
Turkey has also been the sole voice of contention with regard to Cyprus’s natural gas exploration efforts in the eastern Mediterranean – a voice that has threatened a gamut of responses from the severing of its ties with the European Union to an all out attack on Cyprus’ drilling installations. This last stance however may have been the bite that was too much for Turkey and quite possibly the reasoning behind its recently softened position on the issue.
Turkish-Cypriot relations persist in contradiction to the rest of the world, as it is the only nation that recognizes the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while not acknowledging the Greek-administered Republic of Cyprus. This lone fact has led to the espousal of anti-Greek Cypriot rhetoric – rhetoric that seems to have backed Turkey into a corner of which it is now trying to break out of.
A new Syrian regime sympathetic to Turkey, would plug the last whole in Turkey’s quest for regional hegemony.
The Syrian conflict is entering its tenth monthwith Assad’s grip on power largely intact. As opposed to Libya, Egypt, and even Yemen, the international community has been largely reluctant to pressure the Assad regime to end the violence, while the opposition itself has struggled to gain legitimacy amongst the Arab League as a viable alternative current leadership.
To their credit, the West and the Arab world are justified in their hesitation to intervene in Syria. Unlike Libya’s Qaddafi, Assad is closely backed by Iran, as well as Lebanon’s most powerful militia, Hizbullah. In addition, Syria’s sharp sectarian divides between Allawites, Sunni’s, and Kurds, threaten a post-revolution civil war on Iraq’s western border.
Needless to say, the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) seems unconnected to events taking place within the country, unable to influence the insurgent Free Syrian Army, which has overtaken the spotlight from the opposition’s peaceful protest campaign. Amidst the hesitation of the Arab world and the west to take any real action, Turkey has emerged as the most outspoken critic of the Assad Regime, despite the previously warm ties enjoyed by the two nations.
Since the conflict first erupted in Syria’s rural towns, the Turkish government, let by Premier Recep Tayyep Erdogan, has constantly called for Assad to step down, pushed for sanctions, and even hinted at military intervention in the form of a “Humanitarian buffer zone.” In addition to hosting the Syrian National Council, it is widely rumored that insurgents from the Free Syrian Army are staging their attacks from Turkish territory under the knowledge of the military.
Despite the risks, Turkey above all other nations stands to benefit from regime change in Syria. Since the days of the Ottoman Empire, Syria has served as the Turk’s gateway to the Arab world, its territory constantly remaining firmly within the Empire’s grip as it grew and shrank in size elsewhere. Continue reading Why Turkey is Betting Big on the Syrian Uprising→