Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

Turkish army tanks enter Afrin, an enclave in northern Syria controlled by US-allied Kurdish fighters, in Hassa, Hatay, Turkey, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Turkey claims capture of 15 villages on Day 3 of Afrin offensive

ANKARA: Turkey claimed the capture of 15 Kurdish-held villages on Monday on the third day of Operation Olive Branch aimed at driving out Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from their Afrin enclave in northwest Syria.
Turkish artillery shelled YPG targets inside Syria and ground troops opened a new front by moving on Afrin from the town of Azaz to the east.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 civilians, six of them children, had been killed in the operation.
Ankara denied causing civilian casualties, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”
France called for a UN Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss concerns over flashpoint areas in Syria, including the Turkish offensive. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had Russia’s support for the operation and would not back down. “We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back,” he said in a televised speech in Ankara.
In a sign of the risks to Turkey, 11 rockets fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli on Sunday, killing one Syrian refugee and wounding 46 people, 16 of them Syrian.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 170 Kurdish military targets had been destroyed since Saturday and the Turkish army had suffered no losses.
Turkish authorities detained 24 people on Monday accused of posting “terror propaganda” on social media in support of the YPG and against the military operation. Ankara views the YPG and its political wing the PYD (Democratic Union Party) as terrorist groups linked to the outlawed PKK.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller met Turkish officials in Ankara on Monday and said all countries had the right to self-defense, provided “this is done in a proportionate and measured way.”
Turkey claims to have captured up to 8km of territory in Afrin, and Naim Baburoglu, a military strategist and retired Turkish brigadier general, told Arab News he did not expect the operation to last much longer.
“In each military operation, there should be a political objective which precedes military targets,” he said. “For this one, Turkey wants to neutralize the PYD, to prevent a Kurdish corridor from reaching to the Mediterranean shores and to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity.”
Afrin was merely a tactical operation, he said, while the strategic objective was to eradicate the PYD threat east of the Euphrates, and the offensive was likely to be extended in that direction.
“If not, Turkey’s territorial integrity and border security will still be under threat from the PYD presence in the region in the short to medium term,” Baburoglu said.
Kerim Has, a lecturer in Turkish-Russian relations at Moscow University, warned that if the Turkish army suffered heavy losses in the offensive and sought further Russian military, political and diplomatic support, this would change the whole picture in Syria, Turkey and throughout the region.
“Requests to Russia from Ankara in such a scenario can directly cause a sharp and irrevocable break in Turkey-NATO relations,” he told Arab News.
The US State Department has already asked Turkey to restrict the scope of the operation and “to exercise restraint.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey had been “candid” and had informed Washington beforehand about its operation.
Sakir Dincsahin, a Middle East expert from Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep, told Arab News: “Russia’s influence in the region has risen considerably and it has become a real power broker in Syria. So Moscow’s diplomatic support for the operation contributes a lot to its success.”
Washington was losing influence over Turkey because of its close partnership with the YPG and its latest attempt to establish a Kurdish-led border security force, he said.
“And at the same time it will also suffer an enormous image loss as it is currently not in a position to safeguard its local PYD/PKK allies from Turkish attacks.”


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.