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

While Pursuing a Thaw with Israel, Saudi Arabia Foments Anti-Semitism at Home

July 18 2018

For the better part of this century, Jerusalem and Riyadh have cooperated clandestinely to contain Iran’s growing power. The kingdom has also increasingly aimed its diplomatic and propaganda efforts against Qatar, whose funding of Islamist groups—including Hamas—has damaged both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But, writes Edy Cohen, there’s a dark side to Riyadh’s efforts against the enemies of the Jewish state:

The [Saudi cyberwarfare agency’s] Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the [Qatar-sponsored] Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“‘The deal of the century’ is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the Zionist entity,’” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of [Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. Yet another tweet alleges that Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase existing hatred toward Jews and Israel.

The Saudis, then, are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hizballah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the state of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in that dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published daily, while the Israeli populace is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears. Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to incite “moderately” against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement (BDS). We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a price.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Qatar, Saudi Arabia