Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

Israeli forces are seen near a border fence between the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights and Syria on November 4, 2017. (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Updated 13 November 2017
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Israel issues Syria warning after concern over Iran-backed forces

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled Monday that Israel would take military action in Syria when it sees fit as it seeks to ensure Iran-backed forces stay away from its territory.
Israel has long accused Iran, its main enemy, of taking advantage of Syria’s civil war to send its Revolutionary Guard and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah into southern Syria, close to the border with the Jewish state.
It has sought to avoid being dragged into the fighting but has carried out dozens of air strikes to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, which fights alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Israel was reportedly seeking a buffer zone in southern Syria near Israeli territory of some 50 kilometers (30 miles), but an agreement reached last week between the United States, Russia and Jordan fell short of that demand, Israeli media said.
“I have made it clear to our friends, first of all in Washington and also to our friends in Moscow, that Israel will act in Syria — including in southern Syria — according to our understanding and according to our security needs,” Netanyahu told senior members of his Likud party, according to a party statement.
“This is what is happening and this is what will continue to happen.”
The November 8 agreement between Jordan, the United States and Russia seeks to build on a cease-fire already in place in southwestern Syria.
On Saturday the Israeli military said it shot down a Syrian drone carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.
“We will not allow the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria” as a base for operations against Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement after the incident.
Speaking later Monday in parliament, Netanyahu said some of Israel’s Arab neighbors shared its concerns.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries of the moderate camp in the Arab world, in the face of radical Islam, no matter where it comes from, be it Iran, the Daesh group or elsewhere,” he said, without naming the countries.
“I think that this growing closeness and consultation is first and foremost good for security and ultimately for peace,” he added.
Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia has long been at loggerheads with Shiite, non-Arab Iran but friction has been Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the Yemen's Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles.
The kingdom says one was fired toward Riyadh from Yemen on November 4 but brought down by its air defenses.
Iran denied any involvement.
“Iran knows very well, and everyone else should be aware, that we shall not agree to nor accept its military deployment in Syria,” Netanyahu told parliament.
In September, Israel’s military shot down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by arch-foe Hezbollah on a similar mission.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.


Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

Updated 8 min 54 sec ago
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Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces the biggest ballot box challenge of his 15-year grip on Turkey, seeking to overcome a revitalized opposition against the background of an increasingly troubled economy.
A self-styled heavyweight champion of campaigning, Erdogan has won successive elections since his Islamic-rooted ruling party came to power in 2002, transforming Turkey with growth-orientated economic policies, religious conservatism and an assertive stance abroad.
But he appears to have met some kind of match in his main presidential rival Muharrem Ince, a fiery orator from the left of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has been unafraid to challenge Erdogan on his own terms.
The intrigue is deepened by the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day under controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by Erdogan which will hand the new Turkish president enhanced powers and scrap the office of prime minister.
The vote takes place almost two years after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, a watershed in its modern history which prompted Turkey to launch the biggest purge of recent times under a state of emergency that remains in place.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown whose magnitude has sparked major tensions with Ankara’s Western allies.
Only a knockout first round victory for Erdogan and a strong parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be seen as an unequivocal victory for the Turkish leader.
And many analysts believe Ince can force a second round on July 8, while AKP risks losing its parliamentary majority in the face of an unprecedented alliance between four opposition parties.
“This is not the classical opposition that he has been facing for 15 years and which he more or less succeeded in managing and marginalizing,” said Elize Massicard of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“It’s a new political dynamic that has grown in magnitude,” she said.
The opposition was already boosted by the relatively narrow victory of the “Yes” campaign in the April 2017 referendum on the constitutional changes.
Most opinion polls — to be treated with caution in Turkey — suggest Erdogan will fall short of 50 percent in the first round.
Erdogan remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician and inspires sometimes near-fanatical support in the Anatolian interior, where he is credited with transforming lives through greater economic prosperity.
“A great Turkey needs a strong leader,” says the slogan on election posters of Erdogan plastered across Turkey.
But the elections come at a time when Turkey is undergoing one of its rockiest recent economic patches despite high growth, with inflation surging to 12.15 percent and the lira losing 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Erdogan brought the elections forward from November 2019 in what many analysts saw as a bid to have them over with before the economy nosedived.
The opposition has sought to play on signs of Erdogan fatigue and also echoed Western concerns that freedom of expression has declined drastically under his rule.
For the first time, Erdogan has been forced to react in the election campaign as the opposition set the pace.
He had to deny quickly when Ince accused him of meeting the alleged architect of the 2016 failed coup, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan promised to lift Turkey’s two-year state of emergency only after the CHP had vowed the same.
“The opposition is able to frame the debate in the election and this is a new thing for Turkish politics,” Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said.
“A party that has been in power for so long is, in an economic downturn, going to experience a loss (in support) and lose its hegemony over politics,” she added.
While the CHP sees itself as the guardian of a secular and united Turkey, Ince has also sought to win the support of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who make up around a fifth of the electorate.
A rally held by Ince in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir in the southeast attracted considerable attention. “A president for everyone,” reads his election slogan, over a picture of the affably smiling former physics teacher.
The opposition, which argues that Erdogan has been given a wildly disproportionate amount of media airtime in the campaign, has sometimes resorted to creative and even humorous campaign methods.
The Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener, once seen as a major player but lately eclipsed by Ince, put out humorous messages on Google ads and even devised a computer game where light bulbs — the AKP symbol — get destroyed.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), has campaigned from his prison cell following his jailing in November 2016. He made an election speech on speaker phone through his wife’s mobile but was allowed give a brief election broadcast on state TV, albeit from prison.