Turkey’s Incursion into Syria Could Lead to Conflict with the U.S.

Jan. 24 2018

Over the weekend, Turkish forces entered the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin to drive out the forces of the Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which now controls the area and has close ties to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. In eastern Syria, however, the YPG has participated in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS). Ankara, Frederic Hof explains, most likely chose to focus on Afrin because it is far away from the territory where American forces have been operating, yet still an area that Kurds wish to incorporate into an independent state. But there is no guarantee the conflict will stay contained:

Despite the flamboyant anti-Turkish threats of its Syrian client, Russia has gingerly stepped aside in this corner of the Aleppo province, moving its ground forces and vacating the airspace to accommodate the Turkish operation. For the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, nothing—not even the full political ascendancy of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad—would top Turkey and the United States coming to military blows over Syria. . . .

[W]hat if (for example) Syrian Kurds, suffering casualties and perhaps defeat in the Afrin salient, elect to engage targets inside Turkey from positions east of the Euphrates? What if such targeting were to expand Turkish-Syrian Kurdish hostilities from the extreme northwestern corner of Syria to areas where the Kurds form an essential part of the anti-IS “partner force”? What if Turkish retaliatory strikes were to engage—presumably unintentionally—American forces? . . . .

Why is there no American ambassador in Ankara? Why is there no senior American special envoy being dispatched to Turkey in the absence of an ambassador? Is the administration unaware of what the Kremlin is seeking from this latest dust-up? And is Ankara fully aware of the trap Putin has set? . . . [H]ave Turkish domestic politics reached the point where a potential clash with a NATO ally is no longer unthinkable? Has Ankara taken any initiative to offer Washington help in stabilizing the predominantly Arab areas east of the Euphrates River? . . .

The worst possible outcome of Turkish-American bilateral diplomatic lassitude over Syria would be to hand the Kremlin the kind of easy victory it reaped in the wake of the 2013 redline fiasco [during which the U.S. declared that it wouldn’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then proceeded to tolerate them], but this one driving a stake directly into the heart of NATO. Unless Washington is comfortable with such a scenario and unless Turkey is content to turn away from Washington and enter Moscow’s orbit, these two allies owe it to themselves to make a sustained effort to get on the same page in Syria.

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Read more at Atlantic Council

More about: Kurds, NATO, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America