Israel signals free hand in Syria as US, Russia expand truce

Syrian regime forces during their advance toward fighter-held positions west of Aleppo on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2017

Israel signals free hand in Syria as US, Russia expand truce

JERUSALEM: Israel signalled on Sunday that it would keep up military strikes across its frontier with Syria to prevent any encroachment by Iranian-allied forces, even as the US and Russia try to build up a cease-fire in the area.
US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday affirmed joint efforts to stabilize Syria as its civil war wanes, including with the expansion of a July 7 truce in the southwestern triangle bordering Israel and Jordan.
A US State Department official said Russia had agreed “to work with the Syrian regime to remove Iranian-backed forces a defined distance” from the Golan Heights frontier with Israel, which captured the plateau in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shiite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels.
In televised remarks opening Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not speak about the new US-Russian arrangement for Syria.
His Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi sounded circumspect about the deal, telling reporters that it “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand the there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north.”
“There’s reflection here of the understanding that Israel has set red lines, and will stand firm on this,” Hanegbi said.
That was an allusion to Israeli military strikes in Syria, carried out against suspected Hezbollah or Iranian arms depots or in retaliation for attacks from the Syrian-held Golan.
In the latest incident, the Israeli military said it shot down a spy drone on Saturday as it overflew the Golan. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed the drone on the Syrian government. Damascus did not immediately respond.
Repeating Israel’s warnings to Iran and Hezbollah, Lieberman said: “We will not allow the Shiite axis to establish Syria as its forefront base.”
Russia, which has a long-term military garrison in Syria, has said it wants foreign forces to quit the country eventually.
The US State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said that goal could be served by Russia’s pledge to remove Iranian-linked fighters from the truce zone in southwestern Syria.
“If this works, this is an auspicious signal, would be an auspicious signal, that our policy objective — the objective that I think so many of us share, of getting these guys out of Syria ultimately — that there’s a path in that direction,” the official said.


What next after Turkey’s former PM launches new party?

Updated 25 sec ago

What next after Turkey’s former PM launches new party?

  • Ahmet Davutoglu has previously attached high importance to ties between Turkey and the Arab world

ANKARA: Turkey’s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held the long-awaited publicity meeting for his new political party, the Future Party (Gelecek Partisi) on Dec. 13 in Ankara, a day after he registered it with the Turkish Interior Ministry.

The press conference was broadcast with English and Arabic simultaneous translations.

Davutoglu has previously attached high importance to ties between Turkey and the Arab world, and has repeatedly called for a reengagement with major Arab countries.

The party is expected to erode support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, diminishing his grip on the Turkish Parliament.

Gelecek Partisi is the first breakaway party from the AKP, which will be followed by a second, formed by Erdogan’s ex-economy tsar, Ali Babacan, with his technocrat and liberal team expected to launch in the first week of January.

Disgruntled voters

Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, said Davutoglu may well have some success in siphoning disgruntled AKP voters away from Erdogan with Babacan.

Davutoglu, once a close ally of Erdogan, gave many references in his address to the bad political management of Turkey. He underlined his support for freedom of religion and belief, liberty, equality, the fight against nepotism and corruption, transparency in party financing, the rule of law, and the return to the parliamentary system.

“Today we establish the party by saying: The future belongs to our people, the future belongs to Turkey,” he said.

According to Levin, unlike the clique that now rules the AKP, Davutoglu does not have the reputation of being mired in corruption and nepotism.

“He has strong Islamist credentials and his outspoken criticisms of the AKP’s authoritarian turn may entice some religious conservatives dissatisfied by the AKP to switch in protest,” he told Arab News.

The council of the party’s founders, which has 155 members, symbolizes different segments of Turkish society, with hijab-wearing women, Christians, Kurds, Alevites and others all represented.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The new party is expected to erode support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

• Davutoglu, 60, resigned from the AKP in September, saying Erdogan’s party was unable to solve Turkey’s immediate problems.

It is the first time in Turkish history that Turkish citizens with Greek, Armenian and Assyrian roots have taken part in a founders’ council. Several associations of Roma, Caucasus and Arab-origin communities were also present.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission, is one of the 18 former deputies from Erdogan’s AKP who initiated the party.

Future Party

He said they launched Future Party because the AKP drifted from its core principles like liberty, pluralism, and participative democracy.

“Our party is a new breath into Turkish politics. The participation of so many members to the council shows that there is a need for such a political move. It is an alternative for the voters,” he told Arab News.

The Future Party has the support of wealthy businesspeople and civil society representatives as well as academics.

Davutoglu, 60, resigned from the AKP in September, saying Erdogan’s party was unable to solve Turkey’s immediate problems because each intra-party criticism was labeled as “treason.”

His rebellion within the AKP was mainly triggered by the party’s critical losses in nationwide local elections in March, especially in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as other normally safe areas.

Levin said Davutoglu lacked the broad popularity of his rival, though, which could hinder him.

The next elections in Turkey are set for 2023, but there is a growing expectation for a snap election next year.

According to Turkish law, a political party is eligible to stand if it completes the establishment of local branches in at least half of the cities throughout the country, and holds its general congress six months before elections.

“Would Davutoglu be able to climb above the single digits in the polls? It would greatly surprise me and most other observers. Granted, the next election is scheduled for 2023, and that is exactly three lifetimes in Turkish politics, so never say never,” Levin said.

On the day of the party’s launch, the newly established nationalist Good Party’s leader, Meral Aksener, announced that it would support the Future Party with deputies to help make it into Parliament at the next election.

It is almost certain that the new breakaway parties will enter an alliance with relatively established political parties to overcome the 10 percent electoral threshold.