Report

Russian Airstrikes Continue in Syria, Turkey Shells Kurdish Rebels

Despite international diplomatic discussion of a ceasefire in Syria, intense fighting between rebels and Russian-backed government forces continued through the weekend. Rebels are under attack from Russian airstrikes in the flashpoint cities of Azaz and Tal Rifaat. A hospital and a school that was housing displaced Syrians were bombed in Azaz, killing at least 15 ...

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Despite international diplomatic discussion of a ceasefire in Syria, intense fighting between rebels and Russian-backed government forces continued through the weekend. Rebels are under attack from Russian airstrikes in the flashpoint cities of Azaz and Tal Rifaat. A hospital and a school that was housing displaced Syrians were bombed in Azaz, killing at least 15 people, and a hospital run by Doctors without Borders was destroyed in Idlib Province, killing at least nine.

Syrian rebels are trying to reinforce the towns under attack. Some rebels reported that they were receiving new ground-to-ground missiles with a 12-mile range in “excellent quantities.” However, Turkish forces shelled advancing Kurdish militias through the weekend and into Monday to prevent them from reaching Tal Rifaat and Azaz, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In an interview today, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned the Syrian Democratic Forces, the rebel coalition in which the Kurds are participating, to vacate Minnigh air base, which they had captured. “If not, the airport will be rendered unusable,” he said.

Saudi Troop Deployment in Doubt Again

Despite strong comments from Saudi officials that they would be willing to deploy a ground contingent to help the U.S.-led coalition fight the Islamic State in eastern Syria, Saudi officials backpedaled again over the weekend. “The Kingdom’s readiness to provide special forces to any ground operations in Syria is linked to a decision to have a ground component to this coalition against Daesh in Syria — this U.S.-led coalition — so the timing is not up to us,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference, noting that the size of the prospective force has also not been decided. While a Saudi ground campaign is in doubt, Saudi Arabia did send aircraft to Turkey to renew its participation in the air campaign.

Headlines

  • Four U.S. journalists covering the fifth anniversary of the government crackdown against Arab Spring protesters in Bahrain were arrested today; the U.S. embassy in Manama confirmed they are aware of the arrests but could not discuss them.

 

  • After talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini on Friday, Netanyahu said Israeli-EU relations have returned to normal; Netanyahu froze EU involvement in the peace process last November after an EU decision to label goods that originated in Israeli settlements.

 

  • Libya’s presidential council, established in an effort to reconcile the country’s two rival governments, proposed a new political lineup in an effort to gain support from the government based in Tobruk, though two members of the council did not sign the proposal.

 

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called for Saudi-Iranian reconciliation in a speech last Friday, saying that the two countries “cannot exclude each other from the region” and “need to work together.”

 

  • Former Israeli President Ehud Olmert, who was convicted in 2014 of accepting a bribe during his tenure as the mayor of Jerusalem, began his 19-month prison sentence today; shortly before departing for the prison, Olmert posted a video maintaining his innocence.

Arguments and Analysis

The Gulf’s New Social Contract” (Sultan Al Qassemi, Middle East Institute)

“Taxation may prompt a rewrite of the ‘Gulf social contract.’ Scholars have used this phrase to describe an unwritten agreement between Gulf citizens and their governments. This unwritten agreement basically stipulates that Gulf citizens — including the merchant and elite classes — will agree to delegate the running of the state to the ruling families so long as governments refrain from taxing them. The concept of taxation, at least understood by Americans, is that it should equal democratic representation. It is unlikely that this concept will apply to the GCC’s vision of taxation, which will take a more security focus at a time of heightened instability. Today, the GCC remains one of the world’s last clusters of states that have successfully, and without descending into chaos, resisted the spread of democracy around the world that has swept Latin America, Eastern Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa since the end of the Cold War. That is not to say that the Gulf states are completely uninterested in citizen participation. In fact, all six countries have taken steps toward citizen empowerment in various fields, but these come with a caveat: this empowerment should not impinge upon the so-called ‘sovereign state portfolios,’ such as the ministries of interior, defense, foreign affairs and intelligence.”

 

How to Unwind the Iran Nuclear Agreement” (Matthew Kroenig, The American Interest)

“This approach raises the risk that Iran will use the re-imposition of sanctions as a pretext for expanding its nuclear program. Indeed, some movement in this direction may be inevitable, but so long as Iran stops short of crossing red lines, the risk is manageable. To deter Iran from dashing to a nuclear weapons breakout as we wait for the economic pressure to build, Washington must keep all options to the table — and seem credible as it does so.The United States should establish clear red lines, affirming that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for even a single nuclear weapon, and that the United States will use all means necessary, including military force, to prevent this. The new President should declare this to be U.S. policy and ask Congress to formally endorse it. Of course, Iran may make a reckless dash for a nuclear weapon anyway and, if so, Washington must be fully prepared to use force to stop it. In all likelihood, however, Iran’s leaders will be deterred. These stated red lines will box Iran in, allowing time for the economic pressure to mount.”

-J. Dana Stuster

MUJAHED ABUL JOUD/AFP/Getty Images

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