A Showdown in Syria Underscores the Need for a More Active U.S. Role

Jan. 12 2018

In November, Russian, Syrian, and Iranian forces launched an offensive to drive al-Qaeda from its stronghold in northwestern Syria, thus violating the September agreement among Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara establishing a “de-escalation zone” in the area. Turkey has now inserted troops into this area, and seems to be giving support to al-Qaeda and other groups fighting alongside it. Just yesterday, after an apparently successful advance by pro-Assad forces, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russia to halt its operations. Jennifer Cafarella, Elizabeth Teoman, and Matti Suomenaro explain what is at stake for the U.S.:

Erdogan is leveraging European and American fears over a renewed migrant flow out of northwestern Syria in order to rally support for pressuring Russia and Iran to halt their offensive. The pro-regime operation has reportedly already displaced up to 100,000 Syrians. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, stated that Turkey raised this issue with the U.S., France, Germany, and the UK in addition to Russia and Iran on January 10th. . . .

A pro-regime campaign to seize [northwestern Syria] is not in America’s interest. The extension of Assad’s control produces a corollary extension of Iran’s military footprint and leverage in Syria. This outcome directly contradicts the Trump administration’s stated Iran policy. Assad and his external backers, moreover, remain the primary drivers of radicalization in Syria. Their operations drive support for al-Qaeda and will likely trigger a widening escalation of the war in western Syria. Al-Qaeda retains significant combat power . . . and will launch a counter-offensive.

Neither Turkey nor Russia can deliver an outcome in Syria that supports U.S. interests. The U.S. should help Turkey block pro-regime operations that will cause further humanitarian catastrophe, but must refrain from accepting either Russia’s diplomatic play or Turkey’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Washington must instead retain freedom of action and avoid the temptation to outsource American national-security requirements to regional actors already at war in Syria.

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Read more at Institute for the Study of War

More about: Al Qaeda, Iran, Russia, Syrian civil war, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem