sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Geopolitical Observations

Cholera in Yemen

"War is Hell" - W. T. Sherman

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cholera epidemic in Yemen has become the largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history.

The WHO has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of the disease in Yemen and 2,156 deaths. It expects a million cases by the end of the year and at least 600,000 children likely to be affected.  About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily, more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all cases. 

WHO commented that the spread of the outbreak, which has quickly surpassed Haiti as the biggest since modern records began in 1949, has been exacerbated by hunger and malnutrition. There were 815,000 cases of cholera in Haiti between 2010 and 2017. Yemen has exceeded that number in just six months.

This is arguably the worst effect of a stalemated and increasingly pointless conflict in one of the poorest countries in the world. 

Iraqi Kurdistan

On 12 October, Kurdish forces in Iraq installed barriers to block the two main roads that connect Irbil and Dohuk with Mosul. They reopened the roads after a few hours later. According to a Kurdish military official, the closure "was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces" on disputed areas held by Kurdish forces outside the Kurdistan Region. 

Two days ago Kurdish officials began to react to reports that Iraq was sending Iraq army units and Shiite militia to seize areas that the Kurds liberated from the Islamic State. In those reports, Kirkuk was the supposed government target.

Prime Minister Abadi denied any intention to attack Kurdish forces, but tension has remained high and distrust runs deep.

The action taken by the Kurds near Mosul looks deliberate because it sends the message that the Kurds are aware of the leverage they have gained by liberating territory from the Islamic State. It enables them to bargain over territory, if the situation deteriorates and Iraqi forces threaten Kirkuk. 

Turkey in Syria

Turkey's mission in Syria is to kill Kurds. Let there be no mistake about their intentions or their goals. Make of that what you will. The first Turkish Army convoy crossed into Syria on 12 October. The convoy included about 30 military vehicles, according to a commander in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group based in the area. The Turks entered via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing.
A Free Syrian Army officer told the press, “The Turkish army convoy is entering under the protection of Tahrir al-Sham to take positions on the front line with the YPG (Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units).” (Note: Tahrir al-Sham is the name of the coalition led by the former al-Qaida associate, the al-Nusra Front.)
Turkey’s Anadolu press service published images of Turkish Army vehicles near the border crossing, but still in Turkey at the time.

The Turks have made deals with the al-Nusra Front to permit Turkish soldiers to enter Syria without resistance. Several open source reporters confirmed that the Turks entered without a fight. Apparently, the Turkish proxy forces, the Free Syrian Army, did not have permission to pass and had to fight their way in earlier this week.

Open sources have not reported about the arrangements the Turks have made have with the still-undefeated rebel coalition based in Idlib. However, the public collusion between the Turkish Army and the al-Nusra Front has negative implications for the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds and portends a possible prolongation of the civil war.

For one thing, Idlib remains the strongest base for rebel forces determined to overthrow the Assad government. It contains thousands of rebel fighters relocated from other areas of Syria and their families. They have not been defeated and have not surrendered.

The al Nusra Front consistently has refused to join the Russian de-escalation zone arrangement and refused to agree to a ceasefire. Its refusals raise questions about the arrangements the Turks have made because Turkish President Erdogan also remains determined to overthrow the Assad government if another opportunity arises.

The effect of Turkish actions is to create and protect an entire Syrian province as an armed preserve for anti-government forces. 

The Turkish action also ensures that the Syrian Kurds will remain under threat from Turkish Army forces in Turkey and in Syria. One local witness said that Turkish forces have occupied a hill that overlooks the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin. President Erdogan has not abandoned plans for a “Euphrates Sword” operation against the Syrian Kurds in Afrin. Turkish Army units have now outflanked the Kurds in that town.

Erdogan finally has a position in Syria from which he can pursue his goals of overthrowing the Assad government and containing the Syrian Kurds, under the umbrella of the Russian de-escalation arrangement. 

The Russians and the Iranians have not yet commented on Turkish movements, but both consider the al-Nusra Front and its coalition partners to be targets. With al Nusra Front cooperating with the Turks, it is impossible to determine who the enemy is.  Even if you have a spread sheet with pictures, you simply can't tell. 

Palestinian Authority

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal on 12 October. Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza to the Palestinian national unity government.
“We in Hamas are determined and are serious this time and just like all other times...We have dissolved the administrative committee (shadow government) ...We have opened the door to reaching this reconciliation,” Saleh Arouri, the head of Hamas negotiators in Cairo, said after the signing ceremony. 
Hamas also agreed to surrender to the presidential guards of the Palestinian Authority control of the Rafah border crossing. 

Multiple commentators observed that this agreement is the most promising made between Fatah and Hamas, but it is still fragile. Placing control of the Rafah border crossing under the Palestinian Authority might be its most important provision because that might persuade Egypt and Israel to allow goods and services to enter the Gaza Strip in order to alleviate the poor economic conditions.

The agreement does not address Hamas’ positions on refusing to recognize Israel, possessing weapons and armed resistance. The negotiators said the agreement will be implemented in stages. More talks are certain to take place.

The reaction of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) which is notorious for firing rockets into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip during ceasefires, has not been reported.

Nothing in this agreement creates conditions or improves prospects for a broader peace settlement. 

Israel opposes the reconciliation deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Israel is opposed to any form of reconciliation in which the terrorist organization of Hamas does not disarm and does not stop fighting for the destruction of Israel.” 

He said Israel will never accept Hamas’ determination to destroy Israel and will not deal with an organization that “advocates genocide” and launches “thousands” of rockets and tunnel incursions into Israel.

The end of the Syrian civil war with an enhanced position for Iran, the return of Lebanese Hizballah forces to Lebanon and a durable Palestinian reconciliation add to a negative shift in Israel’s strategic environment and increases the likelihood of more instability.

A positive dimension to the agreement is Egypt’s role. Egypt, and, thus, the Saudis, have replaced Iran as backers of Hamas. Hamas is back in the Arab fold. The Egyptian role is an indicator that multiple powerful interests have helped Egypt create incentives and conditions for the Palestinians to make progress.