Archive for January 9, 2019

Turkey’s Erdogan blasts John Bolton on bid to shield Syrian Kurds 

January 9, 2019

Source: Turkey’s Erdogan blasts John Bolton on bid to shield Syrian Kurds | TribLIVE

 | TuesdayJan. 8, 2019, 8:45 p.m.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech to MPs of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Erdogan said Turkey’s preparations for a new military offensive against terror groups in Syria are “to a large extent” complete. Erdogan made the comments just hours after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton met with Turkish officials seeking assurances that Turkey won’t attack U.S-allied Kurdish militia in Syria.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech to MPs of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Erdogan said Turkey’s preparations for a new military offensive against terror groups in Syria are “to a large extent” complete. Erdogan made the comments just hours after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton met with Turkish officials seeking assurances that Turkey won’t attack U.S-allied Kurdish militia in Syria.

ISTANBUL — White House national security adviser John Bolton traveled to Turkey this week to talk with Turkish officials about working together on President Trump’s plan to quickly withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Instead, he got an earful.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who declined to meet with Bolton, scolded him on live television Tuesday, describing as “a serious mistake” remarks Bolton made conditioning the American exit plan on protection of U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces terrorists and has vowed to attack them in northeast Syria as soon as the Americans leave.

The furious response in Ankara was the latest setback for the White House’s troubled effort to extricate 2,000 American troops from Syria — a withdrawal that Trump announced suddenly last month without a detailed plan to implement it.

Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are touring the Middle East, seeking to explain the policy and elicit support. But administration efforts at reassurance have instead raised doubts about the plan, laid bare internal disagreements and perplexed U.S. partners.

In Jerusalem on Monday, Bolton listed pre-withdrawal “objectives” — including the final defeat of the Islamic State and protection of Kurdish allies — that went well beyond Trump’s simple assertion that U.S. forces were heading home from Syria.

“The message that Bolton gave in Israel is unacceptable. It is not possible for us to swallow,” Erdogan said during a televised address to lawmakers in his political party. He suggested he also might ignore the Trump administration’s request to delay a Turkish military operation against the U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters. “Very soon, we will take action to neutralize terrorist organizations in Syria,” Erdogan said.

The administration encountered similar pushback elsewhere Tuesday, as U.S. allies pressed their own priorities.

In Jordan, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi greeted Pompeo with kind words and a smile, but was unyielding in demands that the United States coordinate any troop withdrawal from Syria with regional allies. The minister also rejected Israel’s request that the United States recognize Israeli sovereignty over Syrian territory that Israel occupies in the Golan Heights.

Safadi also emphasized the position of Jordan and other U.S. allies in the Arab world that a pending American proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace must recognize Palestinian statehood with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the administration’s special envoy tasked with establishing a U.S. military alliance with countries in the Persian Gulf resigned his position on Tuesday. Anthony Zinni, who was named to the job last year, said no progress had been made in resolving a bitter dispute dividing gulf countries, which was undermining the prospects for the security pact.

A retired Marine Corps general and former head of U.S. Central Command, Zinni is the latest senior military veteran to leave the administration, following last month’s resignation of retired Marine general Jim Mattis as defense secretary and the departure of retired Army general John Kelly as White House chief of staff.

Most attention, however, was focused on Turkey and the increasingly muddled administration explanation of its intentions in Syria.

Aaron Stein, the Middle East director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said the tensions over the administration’s Syria policy were largely the result of Trump’s staff ignoring “the intent of the president.”

“Whatever you think of Donald Trump, he has been very, very clear that he wants to withdraw from Syria. Instead of listening to that, what the national security bureaucracy is doing is putting together a plan that depends on a forever U.S. presence. Everyone is scrambling to reinterpret the president’s message.” As a result, the U.S. deliberations over Syria, which would normally occur behind closed doors, are “literally happening in front of the entire world,” Stein said.

Responding to media reports that Erdogan had snubbed Bolton by refusing to meet with him, National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said that the U.S. Embassy in Ankara had requested an Erdogan meeting but that because of a “scheduling conflict,” it was “never confirmed.”

Marquis said that Bolton had held a “productive discussion” with Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin during a meeting that lasted more than two hours.

In the meeting, Bolton told Kalin that an op-ed written by Erdogan and published Monday night by the New York Times was inaccurate and offensive, according to a person briefed by a senior administration official who attended the session. Erdogan said in the op-ed that Trump had “made the right call” in announcing a withdrawal from Syria but was seeking to put unwise restrictions on Turkey’s agreement to take the United States’ place.

Bolton presented Kalin with a document restating Trump’s intention to withdraw U.S. forces but also insisting on protection for Kurdish fighters, said the person who had been briefed, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the private diplomatic session.

According to U.S. talking points, American troops and their allies in Syria would continue attacks against remaining Islamic State forces during an “orderly” U.S. departure period. Though orders have been given to the U.S. military to begin preparing for withdrawal, troops will carry out operations against the militant group as they leave. To prevent an Islamic State resurgence, the U.S. will retain unspecified capabilities on the ground for ongoing operations.

The withdrawal order does not involve an immediate departure from Syria of a separate U.S. garrison at Tanf in southeast Syria, near the junction of the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq. The administration has said the force of several hundred U.S. and coalition troops provides a buffer against any expansion by Iranian forces and their proxies, which have been aiding the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Bolton’s delegation — which included Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and diplomat James Jeffrey, the administration’s special envoy for Syria and for the anti-Islamic State coalition — stressed that Washington was seeking a negotiated solution to Turkey’s concerns and would cooperate with Ankara on deconflicting airspace over northeast Syria.

During the discussions, Bolton stressed U.S. opposition to any Turkish mistreatment of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which have fought alongside the United States against the Islamic State. But Kalin did not budge from Turkey’s insistence that the bulk of those fighters, who are members of the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units, or YPG, are allied with Kurdish separatists in Turkey. He said that no offensive action would be taken in Syria while U.S. forces remained but that Turkey was fully within its rights to attack the Kurdish “terrorists.”

Bolton and Pompeo have both insisted on protection for all of the SDF, whose estimated 60,000 fighters include Syrian Arabs as well as Kurds. But this concern has not been made a formal condition of the pullout, according to one person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on sensitive policymaking. This person said that “there will definitely be a fight” between Turkey and the Kurdish forces once the Americans leave Syria.

One possibility is that the Kurdish forces will fragment while resisting a Turkish onslaught. Another possibility is that the Kurds will transfer their loyalty to Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers.

In Amman on Tuesday, Pompeo said the departure of U.S. troops would not affect U.S. priorities in the region, particularly the goal of stopping Iranian expansion in Syria. Repeating remarks he has previously made in media interviews, Pompeo said that stepped-up, but unspecified, “diplomatic and commercial” pressure would achieve that aim. Before Trump’s withdrawal announcement, Pompeo and Bolton had said U.S. troops would remain indefinitely in Syria, until Iranian-commanded troops and their proxy militias were gone.

Pompeo said that the U.S.-led coalition in the region “is as effective today as it was yesterday, and I’m very hopeful it will continue to be effective and even more effective tomorrow. This is not just about a particular tactic… . The president’s decision to withdraw folks from Syria in no way impacts our capacity to deliver” on the continuing fight against Iran and the Islamic State, he said.

Trump has also said he wants countries in the region to make a bigger financial and military contribution toward promoting their shared aims, a subject that Pompeo plans to address during visits this week and next to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt.

 

Erdogan rejoiced at Trump’s Syria pullout. Then he realized it was Trump 

January 9, 2019

Source: Erdogan rejoiced at Trump’s Syria pullout. Then he realized it was Trump – Syria – Haaretz.com

After Bolton remarks, Erdogan must decide between attacking Kurds and risking face-off with U.S. troops, or waiting for their departure ■ Erdogan cast aside as Putin helps Assad reintegrate into Arab world

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Asuncion, Paraguay, December 2, 2018.
\ JORGE ADORNO/ REUTERS

Who decides on American policy in Syria? Three weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump announced to the world that he had decided to withdraw the American troops stationed in northern Syria. But it turns out that Trump’s hasty decision, made during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is falling apart. Ergodan’s joy, as he immediately took up the role of substitute for the Americans in Syria, was relatively short-lived. This week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced during his visit to Israel that the United States would pull out of Syria only after the Islamic State was completely uprooted, and mainly after protection of the Kurdish forces in Syria was assured.

Was this declaration coordinated with Trump? Was it formulated in consultation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes an American withdrawal? We can assume that Bolton still likes his job, because if he had made such a statement without asking his boss, he would likely immediately be fired on Twitter. Bolton also said the U.S. does not think Turkey should undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by Washington – at the very least to avoid endangering American troops.

Erdogan, in any case, was caught off guard and became furious. “It’s not possible for me to swallow this,” Erdogan said of Bolton’s remarks on Tuesday. The Turkish president canceled an upcoming meeting with Bolton, who had to make due with a two-hour conversation with Erdogan’s senior adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, which ended without an agreement that Turkey would refrain from attacking the Kurds. Moreover, the Turkish administration, which had held off on attacking northern Syria until a message from Bolton, made clear that an assault on the area is imminent.

Erdogan apparently thought that the article he published in The New York Times, in which he presented Turkey as “the only country with the power and commitment to perform that task,” i.e. replacing the U.S. in Syria and fighting terror, expresses the agreements reached with Trump. He even detailed how he sees Turkey’s continued control over northern Syria. Erdogan explained that he intended to institute local councils to assist the Kurdish population in managing their civil affairs, and bring about elections in Syria in which only those with no links to terror take part, meaning without the popular defense units that he considers terror groups affiliated with the Turkish Workers Party, the PKK. He also wants to establish a military force made up of all sectors of the population (without Kurdish forces) and wipe out the Islamic State’s bases.

Turkey's defense minister speaks with soldiers during a visit to Turkish troops stationed at the border with Syria, Kilis, Turkey, December 31, 2018.
,AP

Such an article could have only been written with the understanding that Trump had agreed to Erdogan’s plan, until he realized that he too had fallen prey to the cement mixer operating in the White House. But Erdogan was right about at least one thing: “The lesson of Iraq, where this terrorist group was born, is that premature declarations of victory and the reckless actions they tend to spur create more problems than they solve.” That is, Trump made a mistake when he hastily declared that the Islamic State had been defeated. If not, why was there a need for Turkey to step in to finish the job? But Erdogan did not conceal his satisfaction over the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, an action that he believes gives him a free hand to attack the Kurdish forces. Now he has a serious dilemma: whether to attack as he had planned and risk his forces in a face-off against the Americans still in Syria, or wait until they leave, not able to know at this point exactly when that will be, if at all.

But at this juncture, the Turkish decision must also take into account the actions of other countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other. According to an exclusive report by David Hearst, the editor-in-chief of the website Middle East Eye, the intelligence chiefs of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, and Mossad head Yossi Cohen met in one of the Gulf state capitals to discuss limiting the influence of Iran and Turkey in Syria and the wider region. Hearst quotes a source who said Cohen made clear that “Iranian power is fragile. The real threat comes from Turkey.” According to the source, the other participants agreed and proposed a plan consisting of four parallel phases.

The first is to help Trump withdraw some 14,000 American troops from Afghanistan, a proposal that was accompanied by a diplomatic meeting between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban in Abu Dhabi. The second is intensive involvement by the large Sunni bloc that won the parliamentary elections in Iraq to neutralize Turkish influence there. The third is renewing ties between the Gulf States and Syrian President Bashar Assad and returning Syria to the Arab league, which would give Assad a means of freeing himself from dependence on Iran and distancing him from Turkey. This decision also went along with diplomatic action, in which the Sudanese president – with the consent of Saudi Arabia and Russia – made his first visit to Syria, the head of Syrian intelligence, Ali Mamlouk, visited Egypt, and the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus. And finally, the fourth phase is to help the Kurds fight Turkey and strengthen diplomatic and economic ties with the Kurdish region in Iraq. If this report is reliable, it shows not only the moves being planned by the Gulf States, Egypt and Israel against Turkey, but also the new strategic priorities, in which Turkey – and not Iran – is the objective.

Erdogan does not need a journalist’s report to know he is standing on a dangerous traffic island with the traffic, heavy and hostile, Arab, Israeli and American, flowing wildly around him. He also cannot depend entirely on his Russian strategic partner, which is working to bring Syria back to the Arab field to attain international legitimacy for it. This road is closed to Erdogan because Turkey is not a member of the Arab League and is in a deep rift with Egypt, and recently also with Saudi Arabia over the Jamal Khashoggi affair. When he sets himself on a collision course with the United States over the security and future of the Kurds, and the Syrians see Turkey as a foreign occupying power, Erdogan doesn’t have very many options left.

 

Israel welcomes European sanctions on Iran over plots to attack dissidents 

January 9, 2019

Source: Israel welcomes European sanctions on Iran over plots to attack dissidents | The Times of Israel

Foreign Ministry says measures offers ‘some hope’ that members of the 28-country bloc are willing to take action against Tehran’s ‘global campaign of terrorism’

European Union leaders attend a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, December 14, 2018. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

European Union leaders attend a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, December 14, 2018. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

In a rare show of support for European Union policies in the Middle East, Israel on Wednesday welcomed the EU’s declaration that it would sanction Iran over suspicions it planned to kill opposition activists in Europe.

“This is an important first step by the EU, combating Iranian aggression,” the Foreign Ministry tweeted. “The newly imposed sanctions offer some hope that a growing number of countries are willing to take an active, clear stand against Iran’s global campaign of terrorism.”

The statement came a day after the EU put an Iranian intelligence service and two senior officials on its terror list over suspicions that they were involved in assassinations and plots to kill opposition activists in Denmark, France and the Netherlands.

A freeze on their funds and assets was to take effect on Wednesday.

The EU supports maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015 between Tehran and world powers and abandoned last year by the Trump administration. Israel strongly opposes the agreement, which sought to curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions. The US has since reimposed sanctions, while the other parties to the agreement are striving to keep the pact intact.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the post of foreign minister, has in the past fiercely condemned the European Union for its policies on Israel, including in hot mic comments in 2017 that saw him lash EU leaders for their “crazy” treatment of the Jewish state.

In June 2018, Netanyahu reportedly refused a request by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to meet her in Jerusalem, prompting the envoy to cancel a planned trip to the country.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen speaks with the media at the conclusion of an EU-ASEM summit in Brussels, October 19, 2018. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Ministers from the 28-nation European bloc’s governments “agreed to enact sanctions” at a meeting in Brussels in what Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said Tuesday is a “strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behavior.”

Samuelsen said Denmark had worked with France to put the Direction of Internal Security at Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and its chief Saeid Hashemi Moghadam on the list, adding that the aim is “to create a resolute and robust European foreign policy; that we respond clearly and significantly when our borders are crossed.”

The Dutch government said that, based on information collected by its General Intelligence and Security Service, “the Netherlands considers it probable that Iran had a hand in the preparation or commission of assassinations and attacks on EU territory,” including the killing of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin in the cities of Almere in 2015 and in The Hague in 2017. Iran has denied involvement.

Paris alleges that Tehran’s intelligence internal security section is linked to an attempt to bomb a rally of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or MEK, on June 30 outside the French capital. The Danes say Iran in October was planning to kill in Denmark a member of the group that Tehran has blamed for a September 22 attack that killed at least 25 people. The group, called Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, condemned the violence and said it was not involved.

Iranian opponents of the Iranian regime belonging to the Iranian exile group People’s Mujahedeen organization stage a protest in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, November. 5, 2013. (Benjamin Girette/AP)

The blacklisting move could complicate EU efforts to keep alive the nuclear deal with Iran in the wake of the US pullout. Amid heated US rhetoric and sanctions, the bloc is struggling to establish a balance between encouraging Iran to stay on board while punishing it for alleged transgressions not linked to the pact.

Samuelsen said that some EU countries were “hesitant” Tuesday about the move due to the nuclear deal with Iran. He didn’t name them.

“We are behind the nuclear deal as long as they stick to their commitments,” Samuelsen said. “It is in the European interest that the deal is being respected.”

The Dutch government said that “as long as Iran fulfills its obligations under the deal, the European Union will do the same. Nevertheless, Iran will be held to account for matters that affect EU and international security interests.”

Samuelsen said he had conversations with a US colleague ahead of the decision and was told it was “a bold decision, bold initiative.”

“The fact that we’re clear on this was appreciated from the American side,” he told reporters.

In Denmark, Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen tweeted that the move was “very encouraging,” adding “EU stands united — such actions are unacceptable and must have consequences.”

 

In Israel interview, Kuwaiti TV host stands by call for ties with Jewish state 

January 9, 2019

Source: In Israel interview, Kuwaiti TV host stands by call for ties with Jewish state | The Times of Israel

Fajr al-Saeed responds to death threats over her New Year’s tweets in favor of ‘normalization’ by appearing on Israeli evening news

Kuwaiti TV personality Fajr Al-Saeed in a video interview on Israel's Kan Channel 11 TV news following her new year's tweet calling on Arabs to normalize ties with Israel, January 8, 2019 (Screenshot, Kan)

Kuwaiti TV personality Fajr Al-Saeed in a video interview on Israel’s Kan Channel 11 TV news following her new year’s tweet calling on Arabs to normalize ties with Israel, January 8, 2019 (Screenshot, Kan)

A Kuwaiti media personality made a rare appearance on Israeli television on Tuesday and brushed off death threats that she received over tweets she made calling for normalization with the Jewish state.

“I didn’t suddenly establish normalization,” the controversial Fajr al-Saeed, 52, said in a video interview from Kuwait with Israel’s Kan public broadcaster. “It’s not like I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and entered Israel and said to you, ‘Let’s go, I’m normalizing relations with you.’”

“I expressed a wish and a hope. You can take it or leave it, but it’s my personal opinion.”

The feisty founder of Kuwaiti satellite TV station Scope said she has never shied away from controversy.

Saeed, whose New Year’s tweets in Arabic and Hebrew called for Arab-Israeli ties and trade relations, said her opinion of Israel started to change after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

“The turning point for me was the funeral of Rabin, when I saw world leaders present there,” she told Kan, saying that if an Arab leader had died at the same time only heads of state from the region would have attended and world leaders would have sufficed with condolence messages.

فجر السعيد 🇰🇼

@AlsaeedFajer

אני אוהד של מספרים בודדים, אני מצפה לשנה החדשה 2019. זהו אירוע שמח, אני רוצה לומר שאני תומך בנורמליזציה של היחסים עם מדינת ישראל והפתיחות המסחרית שלה, ואת ההשקעה של ההון הערבי להשקעה ותיירות. כיפת הסלע והכנסייה

“I received threats because of what I said about Israel, like any threat I get on the ideas I raise,” she said in the interview. “I’m used to getting threats — it’s not something new for me, nor for my opinions.

“I think that at this particular time especially, there is a possibility of greater acceptance of peace with Israel,” she said. “I’m only afraid of Allah, praise be to Him.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry used the opportunity to tweet back in Arabic, praising Saeed’s courage to “change the landscape” and saying cooperation with Israel would bring benefits to the citizens of Arab countries.

Saeed’s show was once ordered off the air by the Kuwaiti government after she poked fun at government members. In 2010 Scope TV’s offices were trashed by an angry mob after her comedy show ridiculed Kuwait’s ruling family and religious leaders.

Kuwait maintains a hostile relationship with Israel. Unlike other Gulf states, Israelis are barred from entering Kuwait and foreigners having an Israeli stamp in their passport may be turned away.

In a 2017 meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, Kuwait parliament speaker Marzouq Al Ghanim called the Israeli delegation “occupiers and murderers of children.”

Israel has been investing much effort in recent years in improving its ties with Arab and Muslim countries, including Chad, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October made an unexpected visit to Oman, and Israeli ministers have in recent months made stops in other Gulf countries.

Earlier this month, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa defied Arab consensus and defended Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also expressed support for Israel’s operation to expose and destroy attack tunnels the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah has dug across the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Israel has also been among the stanchest international defenders of Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the case of the killing of a journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The warming of ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh, which has yet to become official, has been linked to the two countries’ common enemy, Iran.

 

Outgoing IDF chief calls Gaza front the ‘most volatile’

January 9, 2019

Source: Outgoing IDF chief calls Gaza front the ‘most volatile’ – Israel Hayom

 

US Mideast envoy: Palestinians need to accept reality 

January 9, 2019

Source: US Mideast envoy: Palestinians need to accept reality – Israel Hayom

 

For first time, EU blacklists Iranian intelligence unit 

January 9, 2019

Source: For first time, EU blacklists Iranian intelligence unit – Israel Hayom