Rockets hit Damascus airport area in probable Israeli attack
Israeli fighter jets attacked a compound housing long-range missiles and other weapons near the Damascus International Airport around 2:30 a.m. on Friday, Syrian and Lebanese media reported over the weekend.
While Damascus and Hezbollah have yet to officially respond to the reports, unofficial sources in Syria were quoted as confirming the airstrikes. The sources said there were no casualties among Syrian forces from the attacks, but a number of warehouses inside the compound sustained considerable damage.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israeli Air Force aircraft carried out at least three sorties from Lebanese air space that targeted weapons depots and weapons intended for transfer to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Syrian and Lebanese media outlets reported that the strikes, which were heard throughout Damascus, sparked fires inside the warehouses. There were also reports of secondary blasts as weapons caches inside the warehouses exploded.
Eyewitnesses said Syria’s aerial defense systems unsuccessfully launched at least one missile toward the aircraft. Syrian and Lebanese media outlets, however, claimed the system successfully intercepted an Israeli drone that took part in the attack. They said the unmanned aircraft crashed inside Syrian territory.
Just a few hours before the attack, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel and the United States against attacking Syria and Lebanon in a videotaped message delivered to Hezbollah supporters at a mass rally in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahieh ahead of the Shiite holiday of Ashura. He said such an attack would be met with a fierce response from the terrorist group
Israeli officials have declined to comment on the reports of the airstrike.
Earlier this month, the Syrian army reported an Israeli air strike on a military site in Syria’s Hama province.
Israel says it has hit arms convoys of the Syrian military and its Iranian-backed ally Hezbollah nearly 100 times in the past five years.
Israel, which fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006, sees the shipment of anti-aircraft missiles, precision ground-to-ground missiles and chemical weapons to the Shiite terrorist group as a red line. (Israel Hayom)
Government fails to provide strategic direction for IDF, Knesset panel charges
Israel’s lack of a cohesive security strategy over the past five years led to some of the military’s failures in the 2014 Gaza war and continues to challenge the IDF today, a Knesset subcommittee responsible for the country’s overall defense outlook said in a damning report released Monday. It blamed the political leadership for failing to provide clear strategic guidance for the military.
The report focused on the IDF’s Gideon Plan, a five-year program that is poised to enter its second year and is meant to streamline the military and ensure its preparedness for the types of conflicts it is liable to confront in the near future.
The subcommittee, which is under the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, looked into both the drafting of the Gideon Plan and its implementation.
The report was prepared by the chairman of the subcommittee, Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah — a persistent critic of the current government’s security strategy — and by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, along with five other Knesset members from across the political spectrum.
The subcommittee’s central criticism revolved around the fact that the military determined its own needs for the multi-year plan, rather than the political leadership dictating to the army what it needs to do.
The report found this situation problematic both for hierarchical reasons and because the military is not necessarily best suited for determining its goals in practice.
“Gideon was designed ‘from the bottom up,’ by the IDF and from within it: This is without a written national defense outlook that was approved and presented publicly,” the subcommittee wrote.
A Knesset committee report on the IDF’s five-year Gideon Plan is presented to the public, at the Knesset, on September 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A public, 30-page version of the report was released on Monday. A full, 54-page classified version, which includes additional information, was also presented to the relevant defense bodies, Dichter said.
The report praised certain elements of the implementation of the Gideon Plan, including the military’s increased emphasis on exercises and training for conscripts and reservists. But it also found some areas that might be problematic in the future and need to be closely monitored.
Shelah also noted that many aspects of the Gideon Plan have yet to be fully implemented and it is thus impossible to determine if they were successful.
Generally, however, the report claimed that while the military has succeeded in crafting an impressive fighting force, it does not always prepare itself for the correct mission.
“Over the years, the IDF built a high quality, strong and valuable response — but it does not always address the real need. A deep change is needed in the army, not only in its capabilities but also in its outlook, in order for it to be in line with its true missions,” the subcommittee wrote.
In a statement, the IDF responded to the report saying that it received the full report and “a detailed response to its contents has already been sent.”
The military said the “lessons of the report will be learned” and that it “praised every process of examination and oversight.”
The subcommittee also noted other shortcomings in the Gideon Plan, notably that it does not include the “tectonic shift” that is Russia’s renewed presence in the region, as it was penned before Russian President Vladmir Putin deployed troops in Syria, Shelah said.
“What can we do, what do we want, what are our options in a war” are all aspects of the plan that need to be revisited in light of Moscow’s return to the Middle East, the Yesh Atid MK added.
The report called for the government to revisit the plan and change it if necessary, as well as to start the process of putting together thoughts for a plan to succeed Gideon, which ends in 2020.
“The subcommittee calls for the [government] to immediately begin the process of designing, validation, and approval of a national defense outlook, from which the IDF’s implementation and operational outlook can be taken,” it wrote.
“This process needs to be carried out with the prime minister and defense minister at the head of it,” the subcommittee said.
Both Dichter and Shelah noted the importance in a democracy of presenting the public with information about the country’s large-scale security strategies.
Shelah said that while some aspects of the country’s defense strategies needs to remain classified, “the defense strategy needs to be public.”
Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, who is a member of the subcommittee, did not sign off on the public report, but did on the classified report, as crucial information was left out of the former, which he said gave it a “political bent.”
(Likud MK Yoav Kish also did not sign the public version of the document, but he was not present at the announcements of its publication and did not give his reason for not doing so.)
Shelah said that more important than the fact that a potentially superior strategic plan may come of his subcommittee’s efforts is the ongoing dialogue between the military and political levels that was required in the writing of the report.
To make his point, the Yesh Atid MK cited a quote from former US president and general Dwight Eisenhower that is often repeated by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot: “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Shelah praised the military for its openness and willingness to cooperate with the subcommittee and for readily providing it with all relevant information. “That doesn’t always happen,” he said. (the Times of Israel)
Greenblatt returns as US presses ahead with diplomatic efforts
US President Donald Trump’s chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt was scheduled to arrive in Israel late Monday, just days after Trump met separately in New York with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and reiterated his commitment to work toward a comprehensive peace agreement.
Greenblatt, whose previous visits here have focused on economic projects and an effort to improve the atmosphere and create the space where negotiations can resume, has no immediate plans to meet Netanyahu.
He was last here at the end of August.
In advance of Greenblatt’s visit, Netanyahu told his security cabinet on Sunday that a planned meeting of the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee to approve housing in the settlements will be postponed until later next month. He also briefed the security cabinet on possible economic gestures toward the Palestinians, including improving the road to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi near Ramallah and establishing a new industrial zone near Tulkarm.
Greenblatt gave a peek into the Trump Administration’s diplomatic approach last week at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee comprised of donor countries to the Palestinian Authority held in New York.
The US, Greenblatt said, “is deeply committed to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement” and to this end has held deliberations with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, as well as other leaders in the region.
“It is no secret that our approach to these discussions departs from some of the usual orthodoxy – for after years of well-meaning attempts to negotiate an end to this conflict, we have all learned some valuable lessons,” he said.
“Instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions about their future.
Instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we are focused on implementing existing agreements and unlocking new areas of cooperation which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.”
The White House announced Greenblatt’s trip on Sunday, saying he was returning to the region “to continue the peace track” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“While President Trump had productive meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas at the United Nations, we always said that the UN would not focus on peace conversations and that those conversations would be happening on a separate track,” the official said.
“The meetings are part of the administration’s quiet, steady discussions towards peace.”
Greenblatt will stay in Israel through Sukkot with his family.
Also on Monday, Israel welcomed the reelection of German Chancellor Angela Merkel but had no formal reaction to the rise of the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party.
At a Rosh Hashana toast in his office, Netanyahu told workers that Israel had many friends in the world, and “another friend, Angela Merkel has just won the German government elections.”
Then, in an apparent reference to his own political future and the four elections he has won – something now matched by Merkel – he said: “It is good that someone wins for the fourth time; it is a sign for the fifth.”
Already on Sunday evening, when Merkel’s victory was announced, Netanyahu – who has had a somewhat strained relationship with the German leader because of her opposition to his settlement policies – wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to Angela #Merkel, a true friend of Israel, on her re-election as Chancellor of Germany.”
Netanyahu had nothing to say about the success of the AfD, which surprisingly captured some 13% of the vote.
While the Foreign Ministry has in the past recommended that Israel not engage with some of the far-right European parties such as Austria’s Freedom Party and Sweden’s Sweden Democrat Party, no policy has been established toward the AfD. (Jerusalem Post)
At UN, Abbas deplores creation of State of Israel
Attacks on Israel’s legitimacy were in full flow at the UN General Assembly session in New York City on Wednesday, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the 1917 Balfour Declaration — in which Britain announced its support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” — as a “crime against our people,” while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the Jewish state as “the rogue Zionist regime,” in language harking back to the “Zionism-is-racism” days at the world body during the 1970s.
In an angry speech in which he repeatedly accused Israel of violating international law and abandoning the two-state solution, Abbas — moments after wishing Jews a “Happy New Year” on the eve of Rosh Hashana — slammed the United Kingdom for having launched the process which led to the creation of the State of Israel in the first place.
Abbas charged the British with having “inflicted a grave injustice on the Palestinian people” by issuing the Balfour Declaration, asserting that in 1917, “97 percent of the inhabitants of Palestine were Palestinians.” While 90,000 Jews lived in Palestine at the time, out of a total population of 600,000, the PLO — of which Abbas is the chairman — declares in its charter that Jews who “normally resided” in the country before the “Zionist invasion” of 1917 “will be considered Palestinians.”
Abbas: Palestine was ‘Prosperous, Progressive’ State
Claiming that the Palestine of 1917 was a “prosperous, progressive” country, Abbas said that the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent imposition of the British Mandate amounted to a “historical injustice.”
“What is worse is that this November, [the British government] wants to celebrate the 100th anniversary of this crime against our people,” Abbas said, before calling on the UK to “apologize” for the Balfour Declaration as well as “provide compensation.”
The uncompromising tone of Abbas’s comments on the Balfour Declaration was reflected in the rest of the Palestinian leader’s speech. Abbas furiously attacked American and Israeli efforts to end discrimination against the Jewish state at the UN, calling on the Human Rights Council to retain its notorious permanent “Agenda Item Seven,” which focuses exclusively on alleged Israeli transgressions.
Continually accusing Israel of practicing “apartheid,” Abbas called for a boycott of the country — albeit without mentioning the activist phrase “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS). The “international community,” he said, had to end “all forms of direct and indirect support to the occupation,” and he demanded that Israel be confronted with an international onslaught “similar to the international community’s approach to the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
Abbas also called for the publication of the Human Rights Council’s so-called “blacklist” of companies that conduct business with Israeli communities in the West Bank. “Why should we hide this list?” Abbas asked rhetorically. “It is like terrorism — everyone should see this list to know who violates international law.”
Abbas restated his commitment to the Palestinian “right of return,” regarded by most Israelis as code for the destruction of the Jewish state, positioning it as a critical final-status issue that could only be negotiated once Israel agreed to substantial territorial concessions. Insisting the Israel has foregone the two-state solution, he nevertheless thanked outside parties, including the US President Donald Trump’s administration, for attempting to revive peace negotiations.
Abbas Salutes ‘Martyrs’ and ‘Courageous Prisoners’
Nor was there any change announced to the PA’s policy of paying monthly stipends to convicted terrorists and their families at a cost of more than $300 million annually. Avoiding the payments question specifically, Abbas announced, “I salute our glorious martyrs and courageous prisoners in Israeli jails, and I tell them all that freedom is coming and that the occupation shall come to an end.”
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon expressed disgust with Abbas’ speech.
“Mahmoud Abbas has spread falsehoods from the UN podium which encourage hate, instead of ending the education towards violence in the PA,” Danon stated. “Today’s lies and excuses have proven once again that the Palestinian leadership is a serial evader of peace.” (the Algemeiner)
Russian defense minister to make rare Israel visit for talks on Syria
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will visit Israel next month to discuss the two countries’ ongoing security coordination in Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office confirmed on Sunday.
It will be Shoigu’s first official visit to Israel, and the first visit for a Russian defense minister to the Jewish state in many years.
According to Liberman’s office, the two defense ministers will “discuss the continuing coordination of the two militaries, the cooperation between the two countries and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, in which the Iranians are transferring advanced weapons to Hezbollah through Damascus.”
Liberman’s office would not give a specific date for Shoigu’s trip, but said it would take place sometime in mid-October.
Israel Radio, which first reported on the planned visit, said Israeli defense officials ascribe great importance to the trip.
While Shoigu has yet to visit Israel in his five years as defense minister, he has made multiple trips to Syria, including one earlier this month, as well as a surprise stop in Iran last year.
The soft-spoken defense minister is seen by many analysts as a driving force behind Russia’s aggressive support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
The visit would be a departure from recent years, which have seen Israeli leaders travel to Russia multiple times for diplomatic meetings, but almost no such sit-downs taking place in Israel. Last month, for instance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladmir Putin in the Russian resort town of Sochi.
Israel has repeatedly stated that it will act militarily in Syria if one of its “red lines” is violated, notably the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah. This is potentially problematic for the Jewish state’s relations with Russia, as Moscow has aligned itself with Assad, who is also allied with Iran and Hezbollah.
In order to avoid friction and accidental conflict for the past two years Israel and Russia have coordinated their military efforts in Syria.
Israeli officials do not generally discuss the full extent of that coordination, but they stress that the Israeli military does not seek Russian permission before carrying out operations.
As the Syrian civil war appears to be coming to a close, or at least stagnating, Israel’s attention has increasingly turned to the threats posed by Syria’s other ally, Iran, in establishing bases and military infrastructure near the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
Israel has reportedly asked Russia and the United States to include in ceasefire agreements for the Syrian conflict that Iran-backed Shiite militias not be allowed within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of the border. However, according to reports, these requests have been denied. (the Times of Israel)
Netanyahu convenes security cabinet to discuss Iran missile threat
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called a special meeting of his security cabinet following Iran’s testing of a ballistic missile that can reach Israel over the weekend.
The missile test, along with efforts to get world powers to cancel or fix the Iran nuclear deal, were the top priorities at the meeting, Israel Radio reported.
Netanyahu also planned to brief the body on his meetings last week in New York during which he held discussions with US President Donald Trump and separately with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
During the gathering, scheduled for 4 p.m., the prime minister was also expected raise the subject of the Iranian military presence in Syria, the Ynet website reported.
On Saturday, Iran said it had successfully tested a new medium-range missile, in defiance of warnings from Washington that it is ready to ditch the landmark nuclear deal over the issue.
Previous Iranian missile launches have triggered US sanctions and accusations that they violate the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday called the test a “provocation” to the United States and a threat to the entire free world.
“The ballistic missile that was fired by Iran is not only a a provocation and a slap in the face for the United States and its allies — and an attempt to test them — but also further proof of the Iranian ambitions to become a world power and threaten countries in the Middle East and all the countries of the free world,” Liberman said in a statement.
“Imagine what would happen if Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. That is what it is striving for. We cannot allow it to happen,” Liberman said.
Last Monday, Netanyahu met with Trump, Netanyahu, focusing on the Iran nuclear deal and the Islamic Republic’s military expansion in the region.
Israeli officials have raised their concerns over Iran extending its military influence into Syria –in particular to areas near the border with Israel — by way of its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah that has been fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime as it battles against an insurgency now in its sixth year.
During his speech to the UN General Assembly last Tuesday, Netanyahu urged an end to the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran that saw the lifting of sanctions in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program to prevent it producing weapons.
He also brought it up in his meeting with Trump. After the meeting, the White House said in a statement that the two men had discussed efforts to counter “Iran’s malign influence” in the Middle East, as well as “optimism in the region” about Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Trump has threatened to scrap and/or amend the agreement over the issue, saying that Iran’s missile program could give it the technical know-how for a delivery system for a nuclear warhead when a sunset clause in the deal expires in 2025.
He is due to report to Congress on October 15 on whether he believes Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal. If he decides that it is not, it could open the way for renewed US sanctions and perhaps the collapse of the agreement. Trump said on Wednesday he had made his decision, but was not yet ready to reveal it.
Trump and Netanyahu also spoke about the moribund peace process with the Palestinians, with Trump telling Netanyahu there was a “good chance” such an accord could happen.
Netanyahu also held his first-ever public meeting with Sissi.
The two leaders had “a comprehensive discussion about the problems of the region,” according to a readout provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. Sissi “expressed his desire to assist in efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the region,” it said.
Finally, Netanyahu was expected to brief the security cabinet on his visit to Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Latin America. (the Times of Israel)
Signs of Hope in the Middle East? Don’t Hold Your Breath
By Dr. James M. Dorsey BESA Center (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Several indicators have sparked optimism that tensions in the Middle East may be starting to subside. The problem is that many of those indicators are speculative, and none holds out the possibility of a permanent resolution of multiple problems. In fact, the contours of a next round of volatility and violence are already visible.
Optimists see hopeful signs that the Middle East may be exiting from a dark tunnel of violence, civil war, sectarian strife, and debilitating regional rivalries.
The Islamic State (IS) is on the cusp of territorial defeat in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia may be groping for an exit from its devastating military intervention in Yemen. The Gulf states are embarking on economic and social reform aimed at preparing for the end of oil.
Haltingly, the Gulf states may be forced to find a face-saving solution to the more than three-month-old crisis that has pitted a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar. There may even be an effort to dial down tension between the kingdom and Iran.
Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls Gaza, said it is willing to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about joint rule of the Strip and move towards long overdue elections.
At first glance, these do appear to be reasons for optimism. But don’t hold your breath. Optimists are basing their hopes on shifting sands and tentative suggestions that the protagonists may be looking for ways out of the malaise.
The more sobering reality is that none of the indicators involve actions that would tackle the root causes of the Middle East’s multiple conflicts and problems. In fact, some of the solutions tossed around amount to little more than window dressing, while others set the stage for the next phase of conflict and strife.
Talks between the feuding Palestinian factions have repeatedly failed. It is not clear whether Hamas would now be ready as part of a deal to put its armed wing under Mr. Abbas’s control – a key demand of the Palestinian president that the Islamists have so far rejected. It also remains to be seen how Israel would respond. Israel, together with the US, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, sees Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Beyond Palestine, the contours of future conflict are already discernible. If Myanmar’s Rohingya are the 21st century’s rallying cry of the Muslim world, the Kurds could be one of its major fault lines.
The disputes over territory, power, and resources among Sunni Muslims, Shiites, and Kurds that fueled the rise of IS in Iraq are resurfacing with its demise. In a twist of irony, a recent poll showed Sunnis were for the first time more positive about Iraq’s future than the country’s majority Shiites.
The reconstruction of Sunni cities in the north destroyed by the fight against IS will be key to maintaining a semblance of Iraqi unity. With no signs of massive reconstruction gaining momentum, old wounds that have driven insurgencies for more than a decade could reignite IS in new forms. “All the writing is on the wall that there will be another IS,” said former Iraqi foreign minister and Kurdish politician Hoshyar Zebari.
The initial flash in the pan threatens to be the fact that the Iraqi Kurds are certain to vote for independence in a unilateral referendum scheduled for September 25. If the independence issue did not provide enough explosive in and of itself, the Kurds’ insistence on including in the referendum the ethnically mixed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk and adjacent areas further fueled the fire.
The referendum and the dispute over Kirkuk reopen the question of what Iraqi Kurdistan’s borders are. They will do so even if the Kurds opt not to hold an immediate vote on independence and remain part of an Iraqi federation for the time being.
The issue could blow a further hole into Iraq’s already fragile existence as a united nation state. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi has denounced the referendum. His efforts to persuade the Iraqi parliament to fire Kirkuk governor Najmaldin Karim for backing the poll, as well as calls for parliament to withdraw confidence in Iraqi President Fuad Masum and sack ministers and other senior officials of Kurdish descent, could push the Kurds over the edge.
Iraqi military officials as well as the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are aligned with the military have vowed to prevent the referendum from being held in Kirkuk. “Kirkuk belongs to Iraq. We would by no means give up on Kirkuk even if this were to cause major bloodshed,” said Ayoub Faleh aka Abu Azrael, the commander of Imam Ali Division, an Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia.
Nor will the fight necessarily be contained to Kirkuk. Kurdish and Iraqi government forces are vying for control of areas from which IS has been driven out, stretching westwards along the length of northern Iraq. Mr. Al-Abadi warned that he would intervene militarily if the referendum, which he described as unconstitutional, provoked violence.
Add to that the ganging up on the Kurds by Iran, Turkey, and the US. The US is backing the Iraqi government, though it was Washington that put Kurdistan on course towards independence when it allowed the autonomous enclave to emerge under a protective no-fly zone that kept the forces of Saddam Hussein at bay. (Breaking with the US and its Arab allies, Israel has endorsed Kurdish independence.)
Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Iranian al-Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani have warned the Kurds on visits to Iraqi Kurdistan to back away from the referendum. Iran has threatened to close its borders with the region.
Describing the referendum as “a matter of national security,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, “no one should have doubt that we will take all the necessary steps in this matter.” Turkey fears that Kurdish independence would spur secessionist aspirations among its own Kurds, who account for up to 20% of its population. It also suspects that an independent Kurdistan would harbor Turkish Kurdish insurgents already operating from the region.
Mr. Abadi alluded to possible Turkish and/or Iranian military intervention to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdistan by suggesting that the referendum would be “a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders.” He said, “The Turks are very angry about it because they have a large Kurdish population inside Turkey and they feel that their national security is threatened because it is a huge problem for them. And, of course, the Iranians are on the same line.”
The Kurdish quest for some form of self-rule is likely to manifest itself in Syria too. The US backs a Syrian Kurdish militia aligned with Turkish Kurdish militants in its fight against IS. The militia that prides itself on its women fighters is among the forces besieging the IS capital of Raqqa.
The Kurds are hoping an end to the war in Syria will leave them with an Iraq-style autonomous region on the Turkish border – an aspiration that Turkey, like Iraq, vehemently opposes. The Kurds, who have been the target of strikes by the Turkish air force, hope to benefit from the force’s shortage of pilots resulting from mass purges in the wake of last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (To make up the pilot shortfall, the air force last month ordered all former fighter pilots flying for Turkish airlines to report for service.)
The Kurds may provide the first flashpoint for another round of volatility and violence, but there are others. Sectarian and other ethnic divisions are likely to wrack Iraq and Syria once the current round of fighting subsides.
As it tries to find a face-saving exit from its ill-fated invasion of Yemen, which has pushed the country to the edge of the abyss, Riyadh will have to cope with a populous country on its border, many of whose citizens harbor deep anger at the devastation and human suffering caused by the Saudis – consequences that will take years to reverse.
Similarly, the three-month-old rift between Qatar and an alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is likely to leave deep scars that will hamper integration among the six states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Middle East’s only functioning regional organization prior to the crisis. The failure of talks between Qatar and its detractors, mediated by US President Donald Trump, even before they got started, suggests that a resolution to the crisis is nowhere in sight.
Coping with the fallout of the Qatar crisis and the Yemen war simply adds to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s woes as he prepares to at some point succeed his ailing father, King Salman. Prince Muhammad, who is popular among the country’s youth in expectation of economic and social change, has already had to backtrack on some of that promised change. Foreign lenders have moreover indicated a lack of confidence as they head for the exits rather than explore new opportunities.
In addition, Prince Muhammad has signaled concern about opposition to his proposed reforms within the kingdom’s ruling Saud family, his determination to avoid political change, and his willingness to rule with an iron fist. Prominent religious scholars with significant followings and activists have been arrested in recent weeks while dissenting members of the ruling family have been put under house arrest.
The optimistic view may be that the Middle East is six years into an era of political, economic, and social change. If historic yardsticks are applicable, that amounts to one-third of a process of transition that can take up to a quarter of a century to work itself out. There is little reason to believe the next third will be any less volatile or violent.