Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation
Pro-Turkey Syrian fighters and Turkish troops secure Bursayah Hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria, Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation

Turkish motion opens door to new Syria operation
  • The motion justified a cross-border operation if Turkey’s national security is put under threat
  • Turkey has warned of growing threats from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, east of the Euphrates River, northern Syria

ANKARA: Turkish Parliament has ratified a motion to extend troop deployment for anti-terror operations in Iraq and Syria for another two years, raising questions over whether another cross-border operation looms on the horizon.

The move coincided with the Turkish military’s deployment of massive convoys and reinforcements to the border with Syria.

Barring the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, the governing Justice and Development Party, Nationalist Movement Party and the opposition Good Party backed the motion that emphasized the risks and rising threats posed by ongoing conflicts along the Turkey-Syria border.

The motion also stressed that Turkey places “great importance on the protection of Iraq’s territorial integrity, national unity and stability,” although “the continued existence of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh in Iraq ... poses a direct threat to regional peace, stability and the security of Turkey.”

Turkey regularly targets PKK hideouts in the Qandil stronghold of northern Iraq, but the country’s government has condemned the operations, describing them as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

Regarding the situation in the rebel-held province of Idlib, the motion noted that “the peace and stability established via the Astana process continues to be under threat."

The motion justified a cross-border operation if Turkey’s national security is put under threat.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched three cross-border operations into northern Syria — Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018 and Peace Spring in 2019. Two were directed against Kurdish forces. The safe zone that covers Tel Abyad, Jarablus and Afrin is currently under Turkish control.

Recently, Turkey has warned of growing threats from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units in the east of Euphrates River in northern Syria, with artillery attacks targeting Turkish border towns and killing police officers. Turkish officials have begun voicing warnings about possible military action in the region.

Based on a senior source within the Syrian National Army, Arab News learned that the Turkish side advised forces to ready troops for a potential operation, but did not give details about the timing or target of the strategy.

Navvar Saban, a conflict analyst and expert at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, and a non-resident researcher at ORSAM in Ankara, said that Turkey is trying to put pressure on the Russian side by making preparations for a potential cross-border operation.

However, Saban added that Ankara will likely “wait until the regional circumstances become ripe” before engaging in military action.

“I don’t expect any immediate military operation. The Turkish side will only increase their artillery fire on the Syrian Democratic Forces positions in the north and will use the military operation as a bargaining chip against Moscow in this area,” he told Arab News.

“Turkey also ordered several army commanders to send more troops to Ras Al-Ain in northern Syria. I think that Turkey will take advantage of its proxy forces on the ground and gain more time in different active battlefronts before pushing the Russians to the negotiation table on terms that are acceptable for all,” Saban said.

Russia has not yet taken a clear position on a potential Turkish offensive, and as a security guarantor, is opting for a wait-and-watch policy to see how far Ankara is testing its boundaries in Syria within the limits of the bilateral commitments under the Astana process.

Separately, the US Senate confirmed on Monday Jeff Flake as the next US ambassador to Turkey. Ankara has long objected to the US support for the YPG, the main local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh.

Levent Kemal, a Middle East political commentator, said that Russia remains wary of giving a green light to Turkey for the launch of its next offensive in Tal Rifaat and Tal Temr.

Tal Rifaat, located in northwestern Syria, has been under the control of the YPG since 2016, and it is mostly populated by Kurds who fled Afrin following the Turkish operation in 2018. Ankara blamed the YPG for using Tal Rifaat as a “launchpad” to stage attacks.

“The US and Turkish presidents are set to meet this week. It is unlikely that Turkey launches an operation before the much-awaited meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Joe Biden. It would be too risky to anger both Russia and the US on the same battleground,” Kemal told Arab News.

There are reportedly negotiations between Turkish and Russian authorities over an exchange of control in Tal Rifaat and Idlib, where Ankara-backed rebels have been losing ground for several months.

If Turkey and Russia agree on the swap, it could also bring Erdogan strong support from nationalist constituencies in Turkey through the seizure of new strategic territory from Kurdish forces. However, experts said that Turkey would not totally abandon its commitments in Idlib just for control of Tal Rifaat, and would ask for more territories in return.


Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
Updated 28 November 2021

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
  • The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday

BAGHDAD: A roadside bomb attack by Daesh group fighters in northern Iraq killed five Kurdish forces and wounded four others, Kurdish state news agency Rudaw reported Sunday.
The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday. Daesh militants then attacked a peshmerga post, wounding four, according to the report.
Attacks targeting Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are common and have been on the rise since Daesh was defeated on the battlefield in 2017. Militants remain active through sleeper cells in many areas, especially across a band of territory in the north under dispute between federal Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Militants from Daesh still conduct operations, often targeting security forces, power stations and other infrastructure.
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani offered condolences to the families of the dead Sunday.
“The increase in the (Daesh) attacks sends a dangerous and serious message and brings forth a serious threat in the region. Therefore, further cooperation between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces with support from the global coalition is an urgent need,” he said in a statement.
The US-led coalition to defeat Daesh announced the end of its combat mission and said troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of December. Advisers will remain to continue to train Iraqi forces.


Israel worries Iran will get sanctions relief without capping nuclear projects

Israel worries Iran will get sanctions relief without capping nuclear projects
Updated 28 November 2021

Israel worries Iran will get sanctions relief without capping nuclear projects

Israel worries Iran will get sanctions relief without capping nuclear projects
  • Negotiators will convene in Vienna on Monday in a last-ditch effort to salvage a nuclear deal which the United States under then-President Donald Trump quit in 2018

JERUSALEM: Israel worries Iran will secure a windfall in sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb-making potential, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday.
Negotiators will convene in Vienna on Monday in a last-ditch effort to salvage a nuclear deal which the United States under then-President Donald Trump quit in 2018, reimposing sanctions on Iran. That led to breaches of the deal by Tehran, and dismayed the other powers involved.
Israel, which is not a party to the talks, opposed the original 2015 pact as too limited in scope and duration. Israeli leaders have long threatened military action against Iran if they deem diplomacy a dead end for denying it nuclear weaponry.
The Islamic Republic says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round begins after a hiatus caused by the election of a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric.


Six Sudanese soldiers killed in Ethiopian attack

Six Sudanese soldiers killed in Ethiopian attack
Updated 28 November 2021

Six Sudanese soldiers killed in Ethiopian attack

Six Sudanese soldiers killed in Ethiopian attack

KHARTOUM: Six Sudanese soldiers were killed on Saturday in an attack by Ethiopian forces on a Sudanese army post near the border between the countries, Sudanese military sources told Reuters.
Sudan’s army said in an earlier statement on Facebook that “groups of the Ethiopian army and militias attacked its forces in Al-Fashaga Al-sughra, which resulted in deaths ... our forces valiantly repelled the attack and inflicted heavy losses in lives and equipment on the attackers.”
The army statement did not provide any details about the death toll.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a Reuters message seeking comment on the incident.


UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day
Updated 28 November 2021

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day

UAE orders release of 870 prisoners ahead of National Day
  • This comes ahead of the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2

DUBAI: The President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the release of 870 prisoners on Sunday ahead of the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2, according to state news agency WAM.
The prisoners, sentenced for various crimes, will also have their debts and fines paid off, the statement added.


US options when Iran nuclear deal talks resume

IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 28 November 2021

US options when Iran nuclear deal talks resume

IAEA representative carries out in inspection at nuclear power plant of Natanz, Iran. (AFP file photo)
  • The goal is to buy some time, as Tehran is much closer to possessing a nuclear bomb than before

WASHINGTON: The United States under President Joe Biden is to resume on Monday indirect negotiations with Iran in Vienna — but is far less optimistic than in the spring about the possibility of saving the Iranian nuclear deal.
And its options to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb are limited if talks fail.

As president, Donald Trump withdrew from the international deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions lifted under the accord’s terms.
In response, the Islamic Republic has flouted many of the restrictions set on its nuclear program.
Biden has said he wants to return to the deal — negotiated in 2015 by then-president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president — so long as Iran also resumes the original terms.
The indirect negotiations in Vienna resume Monday after a five-month suspension imposed by Iran.
“There is room to quickly reach and implement an understanding,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said Wednesday.
But the American envoy on Iran, Rob Malley, has said that Tehran’s attitude “doesn’t augur well for the talks.”
Washington has accused the Middle Eastern nation of dragging its feet and increasing its “radical” demands — while still making progress that would bring it significantly closer to developing a bomb.

If, when talks resume, it quickly becomes apparent to the United States that Iran only wants to buy time to step up its nuclear advances, then Washington will not “sit idly by,” Malley warned.
“We’re going to have to see other efforts — diplomatic and otherwise — to try to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” he said.
One of the diplomatic options mentioned was a possible interim agreement.
“The Biden administration could look at a short-term deal, a limited agreement that freezes some of the most proliferation-sensitive activities in Iran in exchange for some modest sanctions relief,” Kelsey Davenport, the head of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told AFP recently.
The goal is to buy some time, as Tehran is much closer to possessing a nuclear bomb than before.
But such a move risks provoking an outcry in Washington, among Republicans but also among several members of Biden’s Democratic Party, who would see it as too generous a concession to Iran.

“If Iran comes back to the negotiating table with a long list of demands outside of the JCPOA, the US could reciprocate” and present its own list about Iran’s role in regional conflicts and its ballistic missiles, said Davenport, using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.
But doing so would open up long and complex negotiations with an uncertain outcome.
And there is nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear program during that time.

For Suzanne DiMaggio, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, the “options beyond restoring the deal are not great.”
“If there was a better plan out there, we would have heard it by now,” she said Friday during an exchange with reporters.
One possibility would be to increase economic sanctions, even as the Democratic administration continues to blast the Trump era “maximum pressure” approach as a failure.
Punitive measures could also target China, which continues to buy Iranian oil despite a US embargo. But Beijing is unlikely to change its stance.
US hawks opposed to the 2015 deal — and there are many, particularly among conservatives — argue that Washington should increase economic, diplomatic and even military pressure without waiting for the outcome of the Vienna negotiations.

Accused of weakness by proponents of a harder stance, the Biden administration began to toughen its approach in October, warning that “other options” than diplomacy were on the table to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
The White House did not specify what those options were, but it has clearly hinted at the possibility of military action.
However, in a noted op-ed, former US diplomat Dennis Ross said that the “routinized” reference to “other options” had become insufficient, as “Tehran no longer takes Washington seriously.”
“The Biden administration needs to put the prospect of military escalation back on the table if it hopes to make progress on the nuclear issue,” he wrote in the essay, published October 27.
Israel, for its part, has clearly embraced this option as a possibility.
But for DiMaggio, military force “will not ultimately solve the problem.
“In fact, precedent is for the Iranians to meet pressure with pressure,” she warned.
“More aggressive steps beyond sanctions, including further sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, run the risk of resulting in a miscalculation, mistake or an escalation that cannot be managed, potentially sparking violent conflict.”