Turkey’s Syria strategy in doubt after US policy shift

Turkey’s Syria strategy in doubt after US policy shift
US soldiers guard an oil field in Deir Ezzor Governorate, Syria, March, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 February 2021

Turkey’s Syria strategy in doubt after US policy shift

Turkey’s Syria strategy in doubt after US policy shift
  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday said that about 900 US military personnel and contractors had been “disengaged” from Syrian oil fields since last August
  • With Washington’s focus now on defeating Daesh, the main question is whether this policy shift under the Biden administration will push Turkey to redesign its Syria policy

ANKARA: The US announcement that it will focus on fighting Daesh remnants in Syria rather than guarding oil fields in the region could force Turkey to rethink its strategy in the war-wracked country, analysts believe.

In a break from the Trump-era policy, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday said that about 900 US military personnel and contractors had been “disengaged” from Syrian oil fields since last August.

The move follows a deal between a US firm, Delta Crescent Energy, and the US-allied Syrian Kurds to develop and export the vast crude oil reserves in northeast Syria. 

US forces in the region “are not authorized to provide assistance to any other private company seeking to develop oil resources in Syria,” said Kirby, adding that the responsibility for the protection of civilians justifies the presence of US forces around the oil fields. 

With Washington’s focus now on defeating Daesh, the main question is whether this policy shift under the Biden administration will push Turkey to redesign its Syria policy. 

Navvar Saban, a military analyst from the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, believes the US move will have wide-ranging implications. 

“The US is now there to secure the area against Daesh by supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). US support is limited to military backup for the SDF,” he told Arab News. 

In its latest quarterly report, released on Wednesday, the Pentagon said that clashes between Turkey and the SDF near Ayn Issa have undermined the force’s fight against Daesh. 

“Coalition forces continued to advise the SDF on its independent operations against Daesh. However, the SDF, which has no air assets, relied on coalition air support, including for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and partnered with coalition forces during most of its operations,” it said.

However, Ankara is critical of Washington’s cooperation with the SDF, which it considers a terror organization. Turkey also fears that further support may encourage the Syrian Kurds to seek greater autonomy and also inspire their supporters in Turkey.

According to Saban, strengthening the SDF will lead to Turkey’s line of control being redrawn, and will eliminate joint patrols between the Russians and Turks in the east.

“There have been a lot of statements from Turkey about their advance into the area because of the terror threat. Now, after the Pentagon statement, it is crystal clear that such an advance will no longer happen,” he said. 

According to Caroline Rose, senior analyst at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, the switch in US policy away from guarding Syrian oil fields is a sign that the Pentagon is adopting “a new phase of force projection,” narrowing its focus on combating Daesh enclaves in the northeast and cooperating with local forces such as the SDF. 

“This development is taking place parallel to the US draw-down in Iraq, where the Pentagon has withdrawn from eight bases and reduced its force to 2,500 personnel,” she told Arab News. 

While increased cooperation between the US and SDF will be viewed unfavorably in Ankara, Rose believes it is unlikely Turkey will be compelled to launch a military campaign against SDF elements similar to Operation Peace Spring in 2019 or Operation Olive Branch in 2018. 

Turkey will likely seek to strengthen its control of the strip of territory it controls in the region — the so-called “peace corridor” — as a counterweight to its rivals in Syria and as a launch point for future influence, Rose added. 

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, doubts the latest Pentagon announcement will force a change in Turkish policy. 

Ankara will be reluctant to make any bold moves against the US in northeastern Syria that could antagonize the new administration until it gets a better feel for Biden’s policy in the region and toward Turkey, he said.

The US goal in northeastern Syria may have shifted away from “protecting Syria’s oil,” but the underlying strategy remains the same, Landis said.

“The US is not about to allow Damascus or Ankara to exploit Syria’s oil reserves in that area.”

He added: “This is an optics operation for the White House, which does not want to be associated with Trump’s crass economic imperialism.”

Landis said that for several years the US presence in the region has been explained as an attempt to gain leverage against and to weaken Assad, Russia and Iran. That effort has not changed. 

“The US continues to support Kurdish quasi-independence and supremacy in northeast Syria, which includes the exploitation of the region’s oil riches in cooperation with the US-based company,” he added. 


Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
Updated 59 min 25 sec ago

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
  • The Israeli army said two soldiers were also "lightly injured" in the violence
  • Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar

BEITA, Palestinian Territories: More than 140 Palestinians were hurt Friday in clashes with Israeli troops in the flashpoint West Bank village of Beita, medics said, during protests against an illegal Israeli settlement outpost.
The Israeli army said two soldiers were also “lightly injured” in the violence.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita, located in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar, an AFP correspondent said.
The area has seen regular demonstrations against settlement expansion on Palestinian land.
The Israeli army said that “over the last several hours, a riot was instigated in the area of Givat Eviatar outpost, south of Nablus.”
“Hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at IDF (army) troops, who responded with riot dispersal means,” it said in a statement, adding that the two “lightly injured” soldiers were taken to hospital.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 146 Palestinians were hurt during the clashes, including nine by live fire, 34 by rubber-coated bullets and 87 by tear gas.
Jewish settlers set up the Eviatar outpost in early May, building rudimentary concrete homes and shacks in a matter of weeks.
The construction came in defiance of both international and Israeli law, and sparked fierce protests from Palestinians who insisted it was being built on their land.
But following a deal struck with nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, the settlers left the outpost on July 2, while the structures they had built were to remain under army guard.
Israel’s defense ministry said it would study the area to assess whether it could, under Israeli law, be declared state land.
Should that happen, Israel could then authorize a religious school to be built at Eviatar, with residences for its staff and students.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.


Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
Updated 23 July 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
  • The crown prince congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli PM
  • Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness

DUBAI: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi received a call from the prime minister of Israel on Friday during which they discussed cooperation between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Naftali Bennett also discussed regional and international issues of common interest and efforts to achieve peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness, and the UAE and its people further progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the prime minister and expressed his hopes that peace and prosperity prevail for all of mankind.
The crown prince also congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli prime minister and expressed his aspiration that the UAE and Israel would work together toward peace, stability and development for the benefit of the region and the world.


Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Updated 23 July 2021

Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
  • ‘There are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,’ protester tells Arab News
  • Despite being rich in oil, the province’s Arabs are one of the most deprived communities in the country

 

LONDON: Iran’s Arab population has been on the frontline of water-shortage protests across cities in Khuzestan province this week.

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

“The reasons for the protests are many. In fact, there are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,” a protester told Arab News on condition of anonymity. 

Among the reasons are “oil and gas, and now the regime stole the waters of the rivers and dried up their lands,” the protester said, adding that Ahwazi Arabs “face many problems with unemployment and the obliteration of Arab identity.”

The protester said: “The demands are clear and legitimate: Provide agricultural water, restore rivers to their streams, open dams, employ Arabs in oil and gas companies, give freedom of expression and appoint officials from our governorate to feel our pain and concerns.

“Ahwaz hasn’t witnessed an Arab official since 1925. All officials are chosen from the center. They drain the governorate’s money then leave after stealing its wealth.” 

Videos shared on social media show water buffalos and fish lifeless on the ground due to dehydration in Ahwazi-Arab marshlands and villages.

Arabs in these areas rely on raising their cattle to get by, and water supply is essential for them to be able to make a living from agriculture. 

Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions,” including the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces. 

Among Iran’s Arab community, it is believed that the drying up of marshlands and the diversion of water are part of a state-led effort to displace them and change the province’s demography.

In a viral video released earlier this month, a local Arab sheikh tells officials: “We aren’t going to leave this land. You brought us floods and drought to make us migrate. We won’t leave. This is our ancestral land.”

US-based human rights advocate Rahim Hamid told Arab News: “Many Ahwazi activists have asserted that the state’s ongoing river-damming and diversion projects are part of a demographic change policy intended to force the indigenous Arab people from their lands.”

He added: “Protesters have voiced loud opposition to any such demographic change, chanting ‘no, no to displacement’ and ‘we protect Ahwaz with our blood and soul’.”

In his spring 2021 report, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Javid Rehman, noted “reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas” impacting Ahwazi Arabs.

Amnesty International has so far reported eight people killed by security forces during the protests.

Among them was teenager Hadi Bahmani, reportedly a Bakhtiari, who like others from that community joined the Khuzestan protests in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs. 

Hamid said Tehran is “maligning the protesters as separatist extremists, with regime officials and media adding insult to injury by using their customary racist anti-Arab language in their desperate efforts to delegitimize the protesters’ calls for fundamental human rights.”

Protesters have constantly assured Tehran that the demonstrations are peaceful and that their demands are not tied to separatism.

Instead, they want the regime to address both the water crisis and the multi-layered discrimination that Arabs in the country face.

Despite the oil-rich province, which is Iran’s largest source of foreign revenue, being Ahwazi Arabs’ home, they are one of the most deprived communities in the country and face abject poverty. 

In January, Mohsen Haidari, a senior cleric representing Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts — the deliberative body empowered to appoint Iran’s supreme leader — publically spoke of anti-Arab discrimination being rife in employment. 


Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
Updated 23 July 2021

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
  • Over 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon, UNICEF said
  • Most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next 4 to 6 weeks

BEIRUT: The shortages and currency crunch in Lebanon could lead to a collapse of the mains water supply in Lebanon within a month, the UN’s Children Fund warned Friday.
“More than four million people, including one million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon,” UNICEF said.
The UN agency said that maintenance costs incurred in US dollars, funding shortages and the parallel collapse of the power grid were rapidly destroying the water sector.
“UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks,” it said.
“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs,” UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Yukie Mokuo said.
Lebanon’s meltdown, which started with a financial crisis caused by state corruption and mismanagement, is fast spreading to every aspect of daily life.
The Lebanese pound, which for years was pegged to the US dollar, has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the past 18 months.
Electricity in most places is barely available an hour a day while the fuel needed to power generators is also in short supply.
Basic medicines have been missing from pharmacy shelves for months and private hospitals warned on Thursday they were “hours away” from losing all power supply.


American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was
Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2021

American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
  • The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel
  • The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel

ATLANTA: Iconic ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling its products in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories has reignited the debate over whether international companies should boycott Israeli settlements as part of the effort to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Officials from two Republican-controlled states — Texas and Florida — weighed in on the debate on Thursday, issuing statements threatening Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever with sanctions if the ice-cream brand does not reverse its decision. Officials also called on their citizens to boycott Ben & Jerry’s.

Texas and Florida are two of the 35 American states to have passed laws, or to have executive orders, that prevent companies from participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is designed to negatively impact Israel’s economy as a way of protesting its actions against Palestine.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the governors of those 35 states demanding they take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s. Israeli officials and pro-Israeli groups in the US have called the company’s decision “anti-Semitic,” “anti-Israel,” and “a new form of terrorism.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street — an influential liberal Jewish group based in Washington D.C, issued a statement rejecting those labels, however.  

“When a major ice-cream company founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs decides not to sell its products in occupied Palestinian territory, that isn’t antisemitism. It doesn’t ‘dehumanize Jews.’ It’s not an act of violence or hatred,” he said. “What it does is draw a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions inside the sovereign State of Israel, and those in the territory it occupies.”

Ben-Ami also decried Erdan for interfering in domestic US politics and for lobbying to pass “constitutionally dubious laws” — a reference to anti-BDS laws — that undermine the First Amendment rights of American citizens, then demanding the use of such laws against Ben & Jerry’s.

Rabbi Les Bronstein, board co-chair of the New York-based Jewish organization T’ruah, which represents more than 2,000 rabbis and their communities in North America, released a similar statement describing the labeling of Ben & Jerry’s decision as anti-Semitic as a “deliberate attempt to distract from the significant human rights violations faced by Palestinians every day.”

Bronstein called on American officials to reject calls to penalize Ben & Jerry’s and also criticized Erdan.

“Asking the US to target the company under unconstitutional anti-BDS laws is political gamesmanship with very real consequences,” he said. “We call on American officials to reject the request to penalize Ben & Jerry’s under anti-BDS laws, which violate the First Amendment and open the door to much broader government control of public discourse.”

Ben & Jerry’s is well-known for its support of various social causes. In a statement early last week, the company said: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

Vermont-based pro-Palestinian human rights organization Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) has, since 2013, called on Ben & Jerry’s to remove its products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel.

The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel.

Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 war and has since constructed hundreds of settlements for Jewish residents — an action that violates international law, which bans occupying powers from moving their own citizens into occupied territories.