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Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Forest - Seeing the Broader Danger in Syria

As so many are concentrating once again on individual trees, here's what the forest looks like.

President Trump wanted to fulfill a campaign pledge to withdraw US troops from "endless wars" and decided to remove the limited number of US troops in Syria. Ostensibly, these troops were there to aid in the defeat of Da'esh, which the President, against the analysis of most in the know, declared to have been defeated. However, while US SPEC OPS did help in that regard, those in northern Syria were primarily in place to prevent the Turkish government from using the chaos in Syria to attack the Kurds, whose brethren in Iraq are our allies. As I write this, such an offensive has seemingly begun and the American President is threatening severe sanctions on Turkey, if it progresses.

The immediate consequences of the US withdrawal in the north and subsequent Turkish attacks are the possibility of ISIS and Al Qaeda associated prisoners being freed and those movements reorganizing in Syria in the power vacuum created in the space among the warring parties, harm to America's Kurdish allies in the north with the possibility of large scale casualties among both soldiers and civilians, and harm to US credibility as an ally more broadly. 

The latter impact, that as an ally, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it has been similarly problematic for the US to work so closely with the Kurds as an enemy of our NATO ally, the Turks, regardless of the problematic nature of Turkey's current government. The US has substantial military and economic connections with Turkey and the US actively standing against Turkey in favor of the Kurds obviously is and has been an issue for the Turks.

Another thing that is often lost on those looking at the situation in Syria is that it is a multi-lateral conflict, not a simple one. This isn't simply a conflict between the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Kurds. Just to list some of the other major players involved in some way, we have the Russians, the Syrian government, Iran and the IRGC, Hizballah, Da'esh, Al Qaeda affiliated groups, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, Iraqi Kurds, who will aid their Syrian brethren, the Iraqi government which faces instability already, Israel, Jordan, which could face a worsening refugee situation, and the Saudi, Egyptian, and UAE anti-Muslim Brotherhood anti-Iran alliance. Each of these will interact with other parties in the conflict and if the situation deteriorates further will become more involved.

Those American troops in Syria's south at Al-Tanf were/are there to prevent Iran from controlling a land route that would enable the rapid build up of military strength across a wide swath of territory. That land route could destabilize Israel's northern border, allowing Iran to move large amounts of missiles and troops into threatening positions. Stability in Al Tanf also limits the flow of jihadi fighters toward the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

Should ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters escape from Syria, many will bring veteran military experience, IED expertise, and a commitment to become a martyr with them wherever they go. It would not be surprising to see increased terrorism in Syria, Iraq, the Sinai, and Europe, but also, with fighters returning home from a number of countries, new or worsened problems in other nations as well.

In relation to Israel and Turkey specifically, the two nations have seemingly had an agreement, that the Turks would not aid Hamas and harass Israel as long as Israel did not actively aid the Syrian Kurds against Turkey. The possibility of dramatically increased threats against Israel coming from a destabilized northern border and substantially increased threats from those enemies of Israel involved in the conflict will compel Israel to become more involved. That Israelis are overwhelmingly in support of the Kurds and are greatly angered by what they see happening in Syria, may lead the government to act in support of the Kurds. This will almost certainly not be with open action against the Turks, but may include action against their proxies and will likely include replacing the US in relation to training and potentially helping to arm Kurdish forces. 

Turkey may then renew hostile actions in relation to aiding Hamas, but the Israeli public is further along in support for taking more substantial action against Hamas. It is reasonable to conclude that if Hamas launches an offensive, Israel will respond more forcefully than it has in recent times. This would be especially true if the threat of a second front in the north becomes more of a concern. Without a US presence, the likelihood of flareups in Syria leading to the possibility of an Israeli-Hizballah or Israeli-Iran conflict increases substantially.

The SDF leadership has threatened to negotiate an agreement with Russia or the Assad government. Just take a moment to consider that not long ago, the United States was in a place to mediate between Turkey and the Kurds with both wanting to please the United States. Should the Kurds end up seeking protection from Russia, we will be looking at a situation in which the Kurds protected by Russia instead of the United States would be threatened by a Turkey with Russian air defense systems and seemingly now in the Russian sphere, instead of using NATO air defense systems and in the American sphere. Russia would have fully replaced the United States' role in Syria and in regard to Turkey.

As Turkey will almost certainly see the opportunity to create a buffer zone against the Syrian Kurds as more valuable in the long term than the damage that would be done by even extreme US sanctions in the short term, the US will have to impose the threatened sanctions and relations between the US and Turkey will severely deteriorate even after the US conceded to its "ally" the ability to act in Syria. Thus, the act of giving in to Turkey here may result in the certainty of a fully deteriorated relationship that was only threatened by US shielding against a Turkish invasion in Syria.

If all of this comes to pass, the likelihood of the United States needing to send troops overseas to defend US interests increases substantially and with the resulting conflicts requiring more US resources, both in terms of human assets and equipment, than the Syrian special operations have required. This may be true in Iraq alone.

In other words, the removal of a limited number of soldiers in northern Iraq could lead to a deterioration of the region that would result in the United States expending far more resources and in America and all of its allies being worse off. This all should have been determinant in foreign policy decision making. Because it was not, the dry tinder has already been lit.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Forest - Syrian Chemical Weapons and US Response April, 2017

Some people are asking why we would strike Assad's forces in response to him attacking civilians whom the administration doesn't seem to want to accept as refugees. It is important to understand the bigger picture foreign policy implications.
Beyond any moral or ethical feelings connected to what happened, or to US refugee policy, are several responses based upon strategic concerns.
One answer is that the primary reason to respond to this sort of action by Assad is to slow the flow of refugees out of the country. The primary purpose of chemical weapons is to cause people to flee en masse. Assad's use of these weapons is precisely to cause the flight of large numbers of civilians, to make them seek refugee elsewhere. For every person killed in such an attack, a high multiple will flee in fear of the next one and the effect is exponential. A second use, third, and so on will create a massive flow of refugees. So stopping these attacks will also slow the flow of refugees out of the country.
Secondarily, as I have noted before, the easiest way for terrorists to acquire WMDs, in this case weaponized Sarin gas, is to have it drop into their midst and fail to detonate. Those munitions could be used to create a horrific death total in a confined space anywhere in the world. So there is a grave threat to our own security and to that of our allies that comes from Assad's use of such weapons against people who seek to do harm to us. We don't want such weapons literally falling into the hands of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.
A third answer is that this was an excellent opportunity to take a relatively modest action that will establish some credibility to enforce diplomacy with the threat of military action. When dealing with those threatening the United States, its allies, and its interests, fear that the United States will carry out threats to use its military capability to respond is essential to the functioning of diplomacy. It is best that credibility be establish in a way that does not result in either mass casualties or the significant escalation of an already problematic conflict. More significant action may well be required to do this effectively, but this action could be seen as a start.
A fourth answer is that this puts significant pressure on Russia to reign in both Assad and Iran, while also putting pressure on China to address threats coming from North Korea as well as putting North Korea itself on notice that a US military response is now more likely than it once was.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Forest - The Week After The Election and The Future

There are numerous impacts and implications of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States as of right now, the last few weeks of the Obama administration, in the intermediate term, the beginning of the Trump administration, and in the longer term. As this is a Foreign Policy related blog, I will not address impacts that are solely domestic in nature, including on a number of social issues, many of which are primarily because a Republican and not a Democrat was elected. Also of importance is understanding Nationalism and Nativism as well as Internationalism.

A political principle which advocates a greater political or economic cooperation among nations and peoples, and whose ideological roots can be traced to both socialism and liberalism.

The Cold War was fought between Internationalist regimes, The West, led by America, and the USSR. The West was/is a Liberal Internationalist regime. The USSR was a Communist Socialist Internationalist regime. The Cold War was a battle for influence on other nations between the two.

Internationalism led to the creation of the League of Nations, the United Nations, and to other international organizations promoting cooperation, including defense organizations such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

American politics were primarily disputes between Liberal Internationalists.

The left stressed social issues and advocated for economic policies influenced by socialism. The right stressed capitalism based economic issues and advocated for more religiously conservative social policies. Both stressed the need to uphold liberty and to engage with the broader world to influence it.

Nationalists and Nativists, who oppose the general direction of Liberal Internationalists, periodically came on the scene to influence policies, usually working to limit immigration, but have never held the Presidency, until now.

A Nationalist is a person who advocates for the political independence of a country from other nations and for it to promote its interests. There are many subcategories. This is the umbrella definition.

White Nationalists and other Ethnic-Nationalists are Nationalists, but not all Nationalists are White Nationalists or other Ethnic-Nationalists. Those are more extreme versions of Nationalism.

A Nativist is a person who advocates protecting the interests of "native born" or "established" residents of a country against those of immigrants.

White Supremacists and other Ethnic-Supremacists are Nativists, but not all Nativists are White Supremacists or Ethnic-Supremacists. Those are extreme versions of Nativism.

There are some significant policy implications that come from the change from Internationalism to Nationalism. Consider these differences:

From an Internationalist perspective, NATO was essential to create because it helped to unite a group of allies against a group of enemies. The alliance was/is more important than any of its parts.
From a Nationalist perspective NATO is only essential if it benefits the United States against its enemies. The alliance is not more important than the interests of the United States.

It is notable that while the USSR was an Internationalist regime, Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, is a Nationalist and Nativist regime. Where the USSR cared about Socialist and Communist countries, Russia cares for ethnic Russians and Russian interests. Putin has stated this quite clearly in regard to Crimea and the situation in Syria.

Back to the American election results and their implications.

Impact of the 2016 US Elections

As of right now, the following is true for the last few weeks of the Obama administration:
  • There will be no expectation of the continuity of American foreign policy from this administration into the next as there was not between the Bush and Obama administrations. Previously, policy would be expected to shift somewhat when there is a change in administration within the same party and somewhat more when it is between parties. Now, there is an expectation of potentially significant policies changes even in regard to long established policy positions.
  • It is now highly unlikely that President Obama would now consider allowing the United Nations Security Council to pass any proposals critical of Israel because the Trump administration is likely to be much less considerate of working within the United Nations framework going forward and providing an excuse for the new administration to disregard UNSC decisions or to act directly against them would harm the UN significantly, undermining its credibility and authority. In other words, while a UNSC resolution critical of Israel would be harmful to Israel, allowing such a resolution to pass could end up in serious long term damage being done to the United Nations as well.
  • The US will not be able to engage more significantly in the conflicts in Syria or Iraq.
  • Turkey, Russia, the Assad regime, the Sunni Rebels, the Kurds, the Iraqi government and Iran will all be lobbying the Trump administration hoping for continued support for their position, increased support, or a major shift in policy. None are certain of what will happen.

In the Intermediate Term:
  • The perspective has shifted from Internationalism to Nationalism and Nativism.
  • US Policy will shift in strong opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, including against its affiliates in the United States. The biggest losers here will be the Council of American-Islamic Relations CAIR and potentially the Islamic Society of North America ISNA.
  • The US will more strongly enforce the nuclear agreement with Iran.
  • Egypt, as a nationalist anti-Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State regime, will become a closer ally of the US.
  • Saudi Arabia will be happy with US positions in regard to its enemies, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, but will find itself under more criticism for financial support of Sunni based terrorism.
  • Israel will see US pressure toward peace removed, but EU pressure increased, especially if internal coalition politics move policy toward the right.
  • The US-Russia relationship will improve in relation to fighting the Islamic State and Sunni terrorists.
  • America will likely more strongly enforce, rather than end, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA; a.k.a. The Iran Nuclear Deal.
  • US relations with China will become more confrontational in the Pacific and over trade as the United States reasserts its interests.
  • American relations with Mexico as well as other Central and South American nations will be strained over immigration and trade.
  • US relations with Turkey will be strained over the administration's stance on the Muslim Brotherhood and may be worsened by stronger support of the Kurds.
  • US policy in regard to climate change will become fully skeptical. That said, the bigger impact on climate change will come from the shift from Internationalism to Nationalism. Concerns that primarily impact other nations or which have solutions that significantly harm Americans will no longer receive priority. The primary concern will be jobs in West Virginia, not sea level rise in Pacific Island nations.
  • Conservation and local environmental issues will get a boost. Nationalists may not be concerned with sea level rise across the world, but they are relatively more concerned about the preservation of and quality of their local environment. So local water quality advocates for example may not only maintain importance but even find new allies and increased attention.
  • Stronger border security will be developed between the US and Mexico. This may not be a "wall" but include fencing and other security measures to both deter illegal immigration and smuggling. Longer term solutions will include increased immigration enforcement and likely substantial growth of the Immigration and Naturalization Service INS.

The Longer Term:
  • We can expect to have challenges to Liberal Internationalism on both sides of the political spectrum in elections in over the next decade. On the left, Liberal Internationalism will face increasing challenge from Socialist Internationalists led by Bernie Sanders and his followers. On the right, Liberal Internationalism will face continued challenges from Nationalists and Nativists in future elections just as in this one.
  • Military alliances will become less stable because governments involved in Europe or the United States may not share the common values that underpinned Liberal Internationalism, whether progressive or conservative.
  • The nature of the Republican and Democratic parties could change substantially and challenges within either party could now come from the political center as each moves further away from it. Either party moving toward the center in the next election could potentially capture a significant majority of the vote.
  • The United States must now be considered a potentially short term ally, only able to make strategic alliance commitments for the remaining term of any sitting President due to the extent of foreign policy swings between administrations.
  • Should a combination of fiscal conservatism and support for the military continue, the US military will be better prepared for operations.
  • The United Nations will be weakened with neither Russia, nor the United States led by internationalists.
  • The overall political sphere will become more chaotic as pressure from internationalist superpowers continues to lessen and individual nations and ethnic groups take up their own causes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dramatic Change in the Middle East- Turkey, Russia, and Israel

Coup and Purge in Turkey - On July 15, segments of the Turkish military engaged in behavior some of which resembled those that one might see in a coup. Much of the behavior of the military also resembled those that one might see from a military exercise and many soldiers who were arrested for having taken part in the coup were under the impression that they were taking part in such an exercise.

There are many reasons to question whether or not this really was a "coup," though none individually is conclusive evidence that it was not a legitimate coup. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of them:

  • 1. In any coup, the leader of the nation must be killed, arrested, or at least forced into exile. That didn't happen. There was an opportunity for those engaged in the "coup" to shoot down President Erdogan's plane while the coup was in progress, but they did not.
  • 2. Firing on the President's house makes some sense in a coup, attacking the symbol of the authority you seek to remove. Instead, coup participants fired on the People's house, parliament. That action can do nothing but anger the people as a whole and strengthen the President. Makes no sense.
  • 3. For any coup to be successful, the army, the ground forces of the nation, must be under the control of the coup plotters. Soldiers, not tanks or planes, are necessary to control the population. If anything is a potential smoking gun, this is it. No sane coup plotter would even consider trying to take over a country without control over a substantial portion, if not overwhelming portion, of the Army. Tanks and planes can't enter buildings.
  • 4. Failed coups generally result in the deaths of coup participants. Firing on hostile civilians, much less military forces would be normative. In a large nation like Turkey, one could have expected hundreds of dead and thousands of injured across the country at a minimum. Inexperienced soldiers being threatened by hostile civilians could have easily killed dozens just protecting themselves.
  • 5. In any coup, control of messaging is essential and preventing the leader to be ousted from rallying support from the populace, even more so. This didn't happen effectively at all.
  • 6. A coup requires effective timing and coordination in addition to an extreme level of trust. There is no chance at all that the leader of a coup attempt in Turkey could possibly deny involvement, because the leader of a coup would have to personally recruit and coordinate efforts. On the other hand, a military exercise or fake "coup" could easily involve authority figures manipulating lesser officials into action.
  • 7. After a failed coup, leaders usually flee to another nation in order to save themselves.
  • 8. You don't launch a coup having lost the last election 52-48. You wait for the next election.
  • 9. Any "pro-democracy" coup in which the military doesn't expect to slaughter significant numbers of civilians in order to obtain and maintain control, necessarily requires support from a large percentage of civilian leaders.
  • 10. The response to a failed coup is an investigation that begins with soldiers and might spread slowly beyond the military. Turkey's immediate and extensive purge of many thousands of Gulenist leaders, including judges at all levels of the judiciary, deans of schools, huge numbers of teachers and even soccer referees, is the best argument that this "coup" was orchestrated in order to enact the purge that has followed, rather than the purge being a response to a real coup.
The question is "What is the long term intent of the purge?" That we will address in the weeks ahead.
Meanwhile there have been other dramatic changes in Turkish policy in recent weeks, some even before the coup.

Turkey and Israel agreed on rapprochement. Israel sent Turkey a relatively small cash sum in exchange for a renewal of trade and full diplomatic relations. Those are the public terms, but behind the scenes developments seem to have been much more substantial judging by changes in behavior.

The day after it agreed to rapprochement with Israel (June 27), President Erdogan sent a letter to President Putin offering regrets for the November downing of a Russian aircraft and seeking to reestablish relations with Russia. In the intervening weeks, it appears that Turkey has practically abandoned Hamas, after being one of its primary advocates for years. That was almost certainly a concession in negotiations between Israel and Turkey, which brings up what Israel actually offered.

Israel likely offered to aid in reconciliation with Russia. That would explain the immediate and rapid development of that reconciliation in late June. Turkey not only needed help to avoid that relationship worsening, but it needed to seek a major concession from Russia, namely, as we found out today, the ability to launch a ground offensive within Syrian borders against Islamic State forces and Syrian Kurdish forces.

If you had said that Turkey would invade Syrian territory at any point before now, it would have seemed insane. The Assad regime is a Russian ally and having NATO forces operating on the soil of a close Russian ally would have been difficult to conceive. But not at this point because relations between Russia, Turkey, the US and the Kurds are now different. Israel and the US must have agreed to not support the Kurds in Syria against Turkey. Today, Vice President Biden announced that "Washington made clear to pro-Kurdish forces in Syria that they must not cross west of the Euphrates River" or lose US support. It is likely that Israel is also part of that agreement.

Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt have reached out to Vladimir Putin in response to an overture that Russia might help to moderate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israeli relations with Russia are now substantially strong with Putin and Netanyahu pledging to continue "intensive" contacts. Russia not only gets Israeli intelligence help and cooperation in combating Islamist elements in Syria, Chechnya,  and in Russia proper, but also in regard to strengthening relations with Former Soviet Union FSU nations. Beginning with the Russian aliyah of the 1990s, Israel now has over one million citizens who were born in the Soviet Union, a high percentage of whom are from Russia as such, and extensive economic and social ties with Russia and other FSU nations.

To put this into perspective, there are about the same number of Russians in the Crimea, which Russia considers to be part of its territory, roughly 1.2 million, as there are today in Israel with about 900,000 Israeli Jews of Russian origin and 300,000 more Israelis of Russian origin who are not Jewish. Israel now even has a Russian born, Russian speaking, Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. This all enables a level of economic, social, and security relationships between Israel and Russia that could not have existed in previous decades. Add in common concerns about political Islamist terrorism and instability in the Muslim world, especially in Syria, for both of which Israel is an essential strategic ally, and you have a Russia desirous of a stronger relationship with Israel than ever before. And this comes at a time when the United States has shown a desire to be much less present and directly influential in regional affairs.

Nothing like a situation in which Russia seeks a good resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Israeli side because doing so furthers Russian interests. It is also the case that Russia is Israel's best friend in keeping Iran in check.

There is dramatic change happening. Few seem to be taking note. It is a new world out there.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Forest - Globalism, Nationalism, BREXIT and the Israeli-Turkish Rapprochement - July 2, 2016

There are times when it is important to perceive the forest that includes the trees upon which we tend to focus. Now, may be a time to look even more broadly, at the landscape in which the forest sits, especially in regard to BREXIT, the British movement to exit the European Union, and recent developments in Turkish relations with Israel and Russia.

BREXIT- This week, a slim majority of voters in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, slim enough that it is quite possible, after the consequences of the results became known, that a majority of British voters do not currently support the decision. The immediate consequences were the drop in value of the British Pound and in falling stock prices, though both have moderated since. Long term consequences for Britain could be more severe, including the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted overwhelmingly for Britain to remain in the European Union and there has been a growing movement to declare Scottish independence. It may also be the case that England, perhaps also Great Britain as a whole, emerge stronger apart from the EU, something that could promote nationalist movements against the EU among other EU member nations.

BREXIT in relation to American election politics. It is not surprising that many have compared BREXIT to the success of the election campaign of Donald Trump. One of the major issues discussed by Trump, immigration, had been a primary issue in the discussions of BREXIT. More significantly, however, is the issue of nationalism. Trump's campaign slogans, "Make America Great Again" and "America First" are both nationalistic sentiments. One newspaper in Britain copied Trump's statement and stated post-vote, "Make Britain Great Again." Trump's comments on the BREXIT vote may be found here and are focused on "uncontrolled immigration." Immigration is one of many related issues connected to the assertion of national sovereignty.

Nationalism vs. Globalism- This is where the broader landscape comes in. We're not looking at a forest anymore; we're looking at a landscape including forests. If you see BREXIT as a nationalistic reaction to Globalism, an assertion of British, or at least English, nationalism in opposition to a European identity and European control, you begin to see how BREXIT connects with numerous other issues around the world.

Donald Trump represents an assertion of nationalism against the globalist mindset of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and much of the GOP establishment as well. Multi-national corporations tend to have a globalist outlook. Laborers and small business owners generally think with a nationalistic mindset, "How does this policy affect my job, my family, my factory?" Nationalists think of protecting jobs and businesses against foreign competition. Globalists think about expanding markets and international trade. Of note, dialogue within the United States about "states' rights" is also a nationalist vs. globalist discussion, one that has been a part of American political dialogue since the beginning of the nation. Policies that affect certain regions or industries are ones that could fit into this debate.

For example, a key issue through which it is easy to see the nationalist vs. globalist divide is Climate Change. Globalists prioritize the impact that climate change has or may have on the world's climate with substantial concerns for effects occurring in distant lands. Nationalists prioritize local impact. "Why should I sacrifice jobs here to keep the water an inch lower in a place that I will never visit?" In regard to environmental concerns, nationalists would focus on conservation efforts such as creating parks, but not so much on limiting production of greenhouse gases for example. Globalists would cause local harm by shuttering coal plants, for example, in order to affect a change that would potentially be imperceptible locally.

How much would the people of West Virginia notice the weather being impacted by the shuttering of a single local coal plant? Likely not at all. How much would the shuttering of that single coal plant impact the community in which it operates? Hugely. I am not discussing positions on the "science of climate change" or really about how to address it. What I note here is that the concerns of globalists and nationalists differ even if they admit that there is climate change taking place and that it is caused by human activity. A mining family in West Virginia could well believe that climate change is taking place and that people cause it, but still believe that the mines and plants should operate.

Globalist institutions focus on multi-national concerns, not necessarily ones fully global in scope. Such institutions certainly include the United Nations and all of its affiliated organizations, but also the European Union, the Arab League, the former Soviet Union, the former British Empire and religio-political organizations. The latter once included the Roman Catholic Church at times when it wielded substantial political power. Today, the primary religio-political globalist organizations are Political Islamist ones that seek to create an Islamic Caliphate. The Islamic State is one example of this, but so are the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, all of which operate multi-nationally and have the goal of creating a global political entity.

Israeli-Turkish Diplomacy- Some have argued that issues related to Kurdish nationalism have driven the Turks to rapprochement with Israel. I believe that this misses the larger picture that Turkish nationalist concerns superseded PM Erdogan's globalist pro-Muslim Brotherhood thinking. From a globalist perspective, yielding to Israel on the blockade of Gaza is as bad as it can get. In so doing, Erdogan essentially gave up a major battle for Hamas, his Muslim Brotherhood ally. There is no doubt that Al Sissi's government in Egypt also demanded that the blockade be left in place and Egypt is itself a nationalist oriented government.

Erdogan chose to prioritize Turkish national concerns, inhibiting the Kurdish nationalist movement, ensuring the flow of natural gas, improved Russo-Turkish relations and combating Islamic State terrorism over and against opposition to the enemies of the globalist oriented Muslim Brotherhood for whom Erdogan's government has been a primary patron. Israel could well have been instrumental in helping with Russo-Turkish rapprochement and the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement opens the door for Turkey to work with the Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi strategic alliance against both the Islamic State and Iran.

While Israel officially will pay $20 million to the "victims" of the Mavi Marmara, seemingly officially admitting guilt, virtually going unnoticed in the media is Erdogan's somewhat shocking public statements in opposition to the organizers of that flotilla. Erdogan slammed the group for not seeking or receiving his permission to set sail. Added to fact that the agreement leaves the blockade of Gaza in place, the combination amounts to a substantial abandonment of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian project. Israel was already allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, so in essence the new agreement will result in little change in regard to Israel's relationship with Hamas.

Hamas finds itself in far worse of a strategic situation in 2016 than it has been in before. The naval blockade is intact. Egypt has severely constricted tunnel access in and out of Gaza. Now, Hamas has lost the diplomatic and economic pressure on Israel that Turkey could have brought to bear.

Looking back at how we arrived here, Turkey had been a primary beneficiary of President Obama's foreign policy tilt toward the Muslim world during his first term, being seen as the exemplar of a democratic and Muslim state, but, during his Pres. Obama's second term in office, because of the rise of the Islamic State and the failure of the Free Syrian Army and its Muslim Brotherhood allies to win the civil war in Syria, Turkey has suffered substantially, facing both significant national threats and political isolation.

Just consider this for a moment, over the past year alone:

  • Turkish allies in the Civil War in Syria have been largely defeated by Assad's forces, the Islamic State, and the Kurds in different locations,
  • Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane, potentially involving NATO in a fight it had no desire to enter, not to mention acquiring for Turkey a powerful military enemy with substantial concerns along its borders, and 
  • Since Turkey's natural gas supply comes from Russia also had the potential of causing severe national harm even without a war, 
  • The nation was flooded with refugees from a civil war in Syria that Turkey helped to promote,
  • Led by Germany, NATO arrayed warships between Turkey and the European mainland in order to curb the flow of refugees flowing through Turkey,
  • Terrorists were allowed to cross through its borders into Syria to fight for the Islamic State against the Assad regime and the Kurds only to then have those Islamic State terrorists conduct terrorist attacks against it, including the most recent attack in Istanbul,
  • There was a strengthening of the Kurdish national movement in Syria with the potential to join the well established Iraq one in creating a broader Kurdish state potentially leading to the strengthening of the Kurds within Turkey,
  • Diplomatically, the nation was all but disregarded by the major Arab powers who have ended up as strong strategic allies of Israel and lastly,
  • Turkey watched Israel be upgraded in status by NATO at the same time that Russia, China, India and Brazil have all improved relations with Israel.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Forest - June 12, 2016 - Terrorism and Uncertainty

Terrorism in Tel Aviv - The cousins who perpetrated the teror attack at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv came from Yatta, just south of Hebron in the the West Bank. The two passed through a gap in the Israel's Security Barrier near the Israeli settlement of Meitar. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack which killed four and wounded many others. Primary attention has focused on the heinous nature of the crime. The two men ordered dessert before opening fire on patrons at Max Brenner. Ignored by most media outlets is the fact that the attack was celebrated among Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.

The Saudis condemned the attack more strongly than the Palestinian Authority - As a further demonstration of the changing face of the region, the Saudi Arabian government strongly condemned the attack. The JPost article stated that:
Reporting about the shooting on its Facebook page, the well-known Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya referred to the people injured in the attack as "victims," and not as "settlers" as most of the Arab outlets usually refer to Israelis. 
Security Barrier- It is likely that the fact that the terrorists exploited a gap in the security barrier will spur action to complete the entire route of the barrier separating the areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinians and those areas in which Israelis live. This will continue to establish the parameters of a possible two state solution as Jewish settlers will almost certainly not make any attempts to settle areas on the Palestinian side of the barrier, while they will also feel more secure in doing so on the Israeli side.

Israeli-Russian Relations- As I noted in the previous edition of The Forest in May, Israeli-Russian relations are strong and improving. The relationship between the US and Israel remains strong, but uncertainty due to American elections, what appears to be a desire for the US to be less involved in the broader politics of the world by leaders in both political parties, and US efforts to both appease Iran and take a more neutral position in relation to Israel and America's traditional Sunni nationalist allies, has driven Israel to improve its relationship with Russia further. The Russo-Israeli relationship is now so strong that Netanyahu felt a need to mention that Israel's relationship with America remains essential, but also noted that Israel needed "other partnerships."

Orlando Terrorist Attack on Pulse nightclub- The shooting carried out by Omar Mateen, who claimed allegiance to ISIS, demonstrates several points. 1. America's gun laws allow potential terrorists to legally and openly acquire guns and ammunition sufficient to do extreme harm. 2. The FBI's screening procedures utterly failed. Mateen was interviewed twice on suspicions of terrorism. Law enforcement is crippled by a combination of political correctness and the application of civil laws in fighting against those at war with America within America. 3. The LGBT community, alongside the Jewish community, is a primary target for terrorists motivated by jihadi ideas. 4. Again we see that American citizens can and will involve themselves with the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations while attacking Americans.

Uncertainty in the Presidential elections with the Democratic party struggling to define its foreign policy, especially in relation to involvement in the Middle East and the strength of support for allies, and with the Republican party nominee both having no track record of behavior in relation to foreign policy and having made conflicting and problematic statements about allies will make it more difficult for America to respond appropriately to terrorist acts and threats in the interim.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Forest - May 26, 2016 A Focus on The Middle East

The Forest - Seeing the Big Picture

One of the most important trends seen in the Middle East during the spring of 2016 are attempts by Turkey and Qatar to reestablish a strong support network for Muslim Brotherhood MB affiliates in the aftermath of the removal from power of the Morsi government in Egypt by Al Sisi during the summer of 2013, during the collapse of the "Arab Spring" movement. Qatar's role in the network is primarily financial, but secondarily diplomatic. Turkey is the primary actor and is attempting to coordinate support for Hamas, essentially the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, and the government of Sudan, which is connected to the MB as well.

A side note- efforts to bring increased pressure upon Israel have failed spectacularly as, since the beginning of the Arab Spring, which was essentially a Muslim Brotherhood anti-Nationalist movement, and the completion of the Iran Nuclear JCPOA, Israel has become a strategic ally and even partner of the leading Sunni powers, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as all three stand in opposition to both the MB and Iran.

A second issue, largely gone unnoticed by many in the west, was the strategic alliance between Hamas and Islamic State affiliates, both at war with Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas had been offering aid and sanctuary to IS fighters in Gaza. As noted above, Hamas is an ally of Turkey. Turkey had seen the Islamic State as a potential strategic partner in the Syrian conflict, though not necessarily as a formal partner. IS opposes Assad, Iranian influence generally, and the Kurdish nationalist movements. However, the Islamic State sees Turkey's active support for the Muslim Brotherhood's efforts in the rebellion in Syria as harmful to its future success. The MB and Islamic State potential strategic alliance was always problematic. With Islamic State terror attacks in Turkey in March, 2016, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood have now begin actively fighting IS forces. Thus, Hamas is now also countering IS forces in Sinai and Gaza.

A third issue, Israel is now positioned to be a primary mediator between Russia and the US, Russia and Europe, and Russia and the Sunni Arab powers. The fact that Israel now includes over one million Russian speakers with numerous familial and business connections in the Former Soviet Union nations has created a situation in which Israel can easily reach out to leaders in Moscow as well as to other FSU national leaders and do so with personal relationships often based in a history of cooperation. Israel is also increasingly becoming a prime vacation destination for Russian speakers. These relationships make Israel unique among nations, having strong relationships with both Moscow and Washington DC and place Israel in a position to advocate for strategic concerns with Russia, not just in Washington DC. Having its own concerns about events in Syria, Israel is able to advocate for its own interests, help the American and Russian forces combat common enemies in Syria, and prevent unwanted conflicts between the forces of the superpowers.

Bringing Russian born Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party (a party made up significantly of Russian immigrants to Israel) into the Israeli governing coalition furthers this relationship with Russia. Liberman will both seek to improve Russo-Israel relations and be seen by Russia as someone with whom they can work.

On the other hand, the implications of Liberman's entrance into the Israeli government as Defense Minister and the exit of Bogi Ya'alon will have an impact on Israeli politics in a number of ways, but it is also likely considering how rapidly Israeli politics shifts, that the current coalition makeup will be temporary. The real concern from the left in the longer term is whether or not the political left has the ability to win the next election and form a coalition that leans left of center in an environment that appears to be shifting further to the right.

A fourth issue, because of its ability to work with pro-western Kurdish networks and its extensive intelligence networks in the region, Israel is an even more essential strategic partner for NATO than it had been previously and is a vital strategic partner for any nation threatened by Iran, the Islamic State, or the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel's ability to work with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, for example, makes it a potential strategic partner with Russia in countering Sunni terrorist forces seeking to operate within the Former Soviet Union.

A fifth issue, Turkey's positions in relation to the crisis in Syria, the resultant refugee crisis, its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and it's opposition to Israel have all resulted in the increasing isolation of Turkey. The Turks are stuck between seeking to advocate for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and needing Israeli help in countering terrorism from both Turkey's traditional Kurdish enemies and the Islamic State, while also addressing Turkey's concerns in Syria.

A sixth issue, there is much talk about the fact that the failure of the Zionist Union to negotiate entrance into the Israeli coalition and changes in Israeli policy with the help of the American and European leaders will torpedo peace talks in the near future. Please see the article that I wrote about this issue for We Are For Israel.

The Foreign Policy Impact

The adage, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," does not apply in 2016. In many cases, the enemy of an enemy might even be a worse enemy. Multi-lateral conflicts do not follow the same rules as bi-lateral ones. The future of the Arab world will be centered around strategic alliances confronting immediate threats, not as much on longer term traditional alliances. Where traditional alliances attempt to stand in the way of newly formed strategic ones, the long term existence of traditional alliances will be strained. Thus, the Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan strategic alliance will strain both traditional Arab and Muslim alliances and specifically efforts to promote the Palestinian cause against Israel. A need to work with Israel by India and China both on economic issues and security issues will undermine efforts to have those nations pressure Israel. Finally, Russo-Israeli relations will undermine efforts by Iran to threaten Israel effectively or to have Russia lead efforts to promote Palestinian arguments.

Arab nationalists are now significantly dependent on Israel. Muslim Brotherhood activists are now increasingly dependent upon a weakened Turkey.

Additional News Articles

Russia delivered the first of a promised four S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran.

Terrorists conducted three attacks in Baghdad, Iraq killing dozens. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility. See also this link from CNN. 

Turkey carried out a raid using "elite forces" against Islamic State positions in Syria on the Turkish border.

****This post was updated on May 25, 2016****
  • Rabbi David Kaufman in the rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa. He is also the co-founder and lead blogger for, and co-founder of and adviser to the United Sudanese and South Sudanese Communities Association. Rabbi Kaufman regularly teaches about current events and the Foreign Policy issues for the Ray Society of Drake University and hosts an internet television show and podcast called "The Whole Megillah!" You may find links to all of these at