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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.

Read more at Institute for the Study of War

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

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations