The U.S. Can Still Act in Syria Before It’s Too Late

March 14 2018

As of tomorrow, the civil war in Syria will have lasted for seven years, with no end in sight. James Stavridis, a retired American admiral and the former supreme commander of NATO, explains why and how the U.S. can help end the war while protecting its interests against Iran and Russia:

The small contingent of U.S. troops present in eastern Syria only marginally stabilizes territory liberated from Islamic State (IS) while preventing Iranian and Syrian government forces from seizing the region. The Trump administration has ended the CIA’s arm-and-equip program for the Syrian moderate opposition, a program that was created under President Obama [and] was never sustainable or substantial. In effect, the U.S. has allowed whatever leverage it had on the ground to atrophy significantly.

This is a mistake. . . . It cedes the region to Russia and Iran; puts at risk our closest ally in the region, Israel; discourages our friends in the Sunni world (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states); and continues the drift of Turkey out of the trans-Atlantic sphere, weakening NATO significantly. After Bashar al-Assad, the big winner of the civil war is Vladimir Putin, who has gained greater power at minimal actual cost. Because he has employed proxies, there have been few Russian casualties. The Russian public sees Putin as a strong global actor who gets things done. Meanwhile, they see the U.S. as weak and distracted by its daily domestic drama. We must get into the game or risk being permanently marginalized in a crucial region of the world. . . .

First, [the] U.S. must work with the international community to find an effective means of getting resources [and humanitarian aid] to the region. . . . Second: repair relations with Turkey. In the end, U.S. policy in Syria rests on the U.S. and Turkey working together. . . . While the campaign against IS proved successful, it is not sustainable to stabilize former IS-held areas with a Kurdish ground force that is not credible to Syrian Arabs and is vehemently opposed by a NATO ally. . . .

Third, [the U.S. should] threaten additional, immediate sanctions of Russia. Putin is directly responsible for the Syrian government’s actions. Options at the UN have been exhausted. . . .

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Read more at Time

More about: Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

In Gaza, Israel Must Try to Restore Deterrence While Avoiding War

Oct. 22 2018

Early Wednesday morning, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the city of Beersheba, striking the courtyard of a home. (The woman who lived there, and her three children, barely escaped.) Israel responded swiftly with airstrikes, and the IDF reported that this weekend was the quietest along the Gaza separation fence since March 30, when the weekly riots there began. Yet some 10,000 Palestinians still gathered at the border, burning tires and throwing stones, grenades, and makeshift explosives at Israeli soldiers on the other side. Meanwhile, writes Eran Lerman, Jerusalem faces a difficult decision about how to proceed:

The smaller terrorist organizations in Gaza—Islamic Jihad, which operates as a satellite of Iran, and radical Sunni groups inspired by Islamic State—are the primary ones that want to ratchet up the violence into a full-scale war. For them, a major war in Gaza could be an opportunity to build themselves up on the ruins of Hamas. It also looks as if Iran, too, has an interest in escalating the situation in Gaza and pulling Israel into a war that will detract from its ability to focus on its main defense activity right now: keeping Iran from digging down in Syria.

The third player consistently working to worsen the situation in Gaza and torpedo Egypt’s efforts to broker a cease-fire is the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas, for whom—as he once said in Jenin— “the worse things are, the better.” . . .

All of these considerations are counterbalanced, paradoxically, by Hamas’s interest in continuing to dictate the terms of any cease-fire with Israel while refraining from a war, which the Hamas leadership knows would be self-destructive. Its moves to escalate the conflict—arson balloons, breaches of the border fence—have been intentionally selected as ways of taking things to the brink without toppling over into the abyss. . . .

And Israel? A harsh, well-defined blow is vital for it to maintain its mechanism of deterrence. A missile hitting Beersheba is not a trivial occurrence. However, as far as possible, and given the broader considerations of the regional balance of power as well as Israel’s fundamental interest in avoiding a ground war, it would be best to make the most of Egypt’s mediation.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority