U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Russia today to discuss a plan for increased military cooperation in Syria. The arrangement would involve establishing a “Joint Implementation Group” in Jordan where the U.S. and Russian militaries could share intelligence and coordinate airstrikes, according to a draft of the proposal. Russia would limit its strikes to designated areas and curtail strikes by the Assad regime and provide humanitarian access to besieged areas under the plan. The proposal has been characterized by U.S. officials as a “final offer” and comes several weeks before a deadline for diplomatic progress set by the Obama administration, the Associated Press reports.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed in an interview with NBC News, taped yesterday, that Russia has never pressured him to leave office or tried to effect a political transition in Syria. He also said that the United States is not serious about fighting the Islamic State.
Assad Denies Targeting French Journalists
In an interview with NBC News, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that his military did not deliberately target Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, French journalists killed in a rocket barrage in Homs in 2012. Assad’s statement is a reaction to a suit filed by Colvin’s relatives in a U.S. court. Their case uses captured government paperwork and statements from defectors to argue that the Assad regime knew Colvin’s location and targeted her and other journalists to suppress coverage of the war. In the interview released Thursday, Assad said that Colvin “worked with the terrorists” and was responsible for her own death.
- The Islamic State claimed that Omar al-Shishani, one of the group’s senior military commanders, was killed fighting in al-Shirqat, Iraq, near Mosul, contradicting U.S. and Iraqi claims that he had been killed by an airstrike in Syria in March.
- Violence in Yemen killed at least 44 people yesterday ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Kuwait tomorrow; Yemen’s severe food crisis has worsened in recent weeks as the country’s frozen banking system has prevented payment for imports.
- Abu Dhabi announced yesterday that it has installed a new public surveillance system, Falcon Eye, that uses thousands of cameras to monitor traffic as well as “significant behaviours in the city such as public hygiene and human assemblies in non-dedicated areas.”
- In the latest move in an ongoing crackdown on political dissidents, Bahrain has increased its use of travel bans to prevent the movement of doctors, lawyers, academics, and journalists; nearly 20 people have been prevented from leaving the country in the past month.
- A gay pride parade scheduled in Beersheba, Israel, was canceled after the Israeli Supreme Court restricted the parade’s route on account of safety concerns; a protest rally will be held today instead.
Arguments and Analysis
“The Islamic State of Decline: Anticipating the Paper Caliphate” (Cole Bunzel, Jihadica)
“It is still too early to predict the collapse of the Islamic State, but it is telling that the group’s own media, which usually keep to a narrative of unstoppable progress and battlefield success, have begun signaling decline. Last week, an editorial in the most recent issue of the Islamic State’s weekly Arabic newsletter, al-Naba’ (‘News’), well captured this new outlook. Titled ‘The Crusaders’ Illusions in the Age of the Caliphate,’ it offers a grim view of the future, both for the Islamic State and for those seeking to destroy it. I provide a full translation below. Much of the editorial echoes the downbeat sentiments expressed by the Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, in his recent audio statement of May 21 of this year. While in that statement ‘Adnani was sure to project a measure of confidence, remarking that the Islamic State is ‘becoming stronger with each passing day,’ some of his comments betrayed the starker reality of a caliphate under siege. This was clear in the following queries: ‘Do you think, America, that victory will come by killing one or more leaders?’ ‘Do you reckon, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or the loss of territory?’ Responding to his own questions, ‘Adnani declared that killing the Islamic State’s leaders would not defeat the greater ‘adversary’ — the group itself — and that taking its land would not eliminate its ‘will’ to fight. Even if the Islamic State were to lose all its territories, he said, it could still go back to the way it was ‘at the beginning,’ when it was ‘in the desert without cities and without territory.’ The allusion here is to the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq, which between 2006 and 2012 held no significant territory despite its claim to statehood. For this reason it was derided as a ‘paper state.’ ‘Adnani is thus suggesting that even if defeated the Islamic State could take refuge in the desert, rebuild, and return anew.”
“Boris Johnson’s Position on Syria Is a Problem for the UK” (Tom Eaton, Chatham House)
“Newly appointed British Prime Minister Theresa May has moved quickly to announce Boris Johnson as her foreign secretary. As recently as two weeks ago, Johnson was seen as a leading contender for her job. Now he is to be the face of the UK government’s foreign policy. His appointment is likely to divide opinion, not least due to his penchant for bold statements and controversial positions. His position on Syria will challenge the UK’s credibility in the Middle East. An article written by Johnson in December 2015 advocated that ‘Britain should do a deal with the Devil: we [Britain] should work with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria’ to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).’ This puts Johnson publically at odds with the UK government’s position, which has been steadfast in its opposition of Assad and of the suggestion that he might play any role in a post-settlement Syria. Britain has thus far justifiably identified Assad as the primary cause of Syria’s descent into chaos and rejected the arguments of his regime’s international supporters that he is the only credible force that can defeat ISIS on the battlefield. Given Johnson’s dissenting view, questions immediately arise: Will Johnson recant his view? Is the UK government about to change its policy on Syria?”
-J. Dana Stuster
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