China’s Offer to Send Troops to Syria Threatens U.S. Interests

In the past several years, China has gradually sought to expand its influence in East Asia and the Pacific and undermine the American-led order in the region. But, writes Joel Sonkin, it is also turning its attentions farther afield:

Indeed, Beijing has been busy actively pursuing its much-discussed “Belt and Road” initiative to invest in infrastructure linking China by both land and sea to markets in Asia and Europe. As part of these efforts, President Xi Jinping made a visit in July to the United Arab Emirates to sign a host of financial and trade agreements. . . .

Just across the Arabian Peninsula, in what would be a key component of China’s sea route, Beijing established in 2017 its first overseas military base in Djibouti. This small African country sits at one of the most important maritime locations in the world: the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the key chokepoint connecting Asia and Europe. Ships bound for Europe pass through the narrow waterway between Djibouti and the southern tip of Yemen into the Red Sea and continue through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. In short, Djibouti is poised to serve as a launchpad for China to project its power between Europe and Asia, i.e. the Middle East and North Africa. . . .

Finally, in what would be perhaps Beijing’s most audacious move yet, it was reported this past week that the Chinese ambassador to Syria offered his country’s assistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The ambassador said that China is willing to participate “in some way alongside the Syrian army,” as it looks to finish off the Sunni opposition. . . .

The situation [in Syria] was made drastically more difficult when the U.S. allowed one of its fiercest competitors, Russia, to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime. But the [effect of the] potential entrance of America’s other ostensible global competitor into the Syrian arena is hard to fathom. A Chinese presence in the region . . . is unprecedented, and would bring the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies into uncharted waters. . . . [I]t is not too soon for the Trump administration to pursue vigorously a policy of preventing China from gaining a foothold in the Middle East.

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More about: China, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East