Greater Middle East

Russia bombs ISIS —not!

Russia launched its first air-strikes in Syria today. CNN informs us that the Russian Defense Ministry said warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, "including arms, transportation, communications and control positions." But US Defense Secretary Ash Carter isn't buying it. "I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces," he told reporters. Carter is actually hedging his bets here. You don't have to have the Defense Intelligence Agency at your disposal to figure out that Russia is lying. The Institute for the Study of War notes that the first air-strikes were in Talbisah, north of Homs—controlled by the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. As Vox points out, this is some 100 miles from the nearest ISIS-controlled territory. In fact, it is in a pocket of rebel-held territory just outside regime-controlled Homs. So the Russian aim is pretty clearly not to fight ISIS but to prop up the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Syria's state news agency SANA said the Russian strikes hit "ISIS dens in al-Rastan, Talbeisa, al-Zaafran, al-Tolol al-Humr, Aydon, Deir Fol and the area surrounding Salmia..." But these are all in Homs and Hama governorates—again, nowhere near ISIS territory to the north and east. Do the Russian Defense Ministry and SANA think we are incapable of looking at maps?

Syria war prompts 'doomsday' seed bank withdrawal

A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.

Putin pries Western leaders from anti-Assad stance

We've noted that the proximity of Western and Russian military forces in Syria holds the potential for escalation to World War 5, even if both sides are ostensibly part of the global convergence against ISIS. Now comes a further sign that the centripetal tendency will prevail—the common interest in figting jihadism propeling the situation back into World War 4. At the UN General Assembly session in New York, British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can be part of a transitional government, although adding that Assad has "butchered his own people" and that "Assad cannot be part of Syria's future in the long run." This comes across as weak lip service in light of his capitulation. (Al Arabiya News, The Guardian, The Telegraph)

China enters Syrian war?

We noted a year ago that China was an official but not very active member of the global covergence against ISIS. Now Pravda reports the claims of Russian Senator Igor Morozov that Beijing has taken the decision to send warships to the Syrian coast. Morozov, a member of the Russian Federation Committee on International Affairs, said: "It is known that China has joined our military operation in Syria, the Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, aircraft carrier follows it." The growing Russian military presence in Syria is viewed with unease by the West, revealing a tension (at least) within the global convergence. This tension will be significantly augmented if China really enters the fray. 

HRW: Egypt violated international law in Sinai

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Sept. 22 that Egypt violated international law during the creation of a "buffer zone" between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. According to HRW, the creation of the buffer zone required demolition of more than 3,200 buildings in the Sinai Peninsula between July 2013 and August 2015, resulting in the displacement and eviction of "thousands of families." The Egyptian government maintains that the buffer zone is necessary to prevent the importation of weapons from the Gaza Strip to separatist rebels in Sinai who are affiliated with the Islamic State. HRW asserts that the manner in which the buffer zone was created violated international law in multiple respects, including treatment of civilians and proportionality under the laws of war, the right to housing contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the right to property contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right. HRW called on the Egyptian government to halt the demolitions in Sinai, provide for adequate compensation of land owners, create a fair resettlement plan for the displaced, and studying whether less destructive means could be employed to neutralize the smuggling tunnels.

Kurds punished for success against ISIS —again

The Rojava Kurds of northern Syria continue to be punished for their success against ISIS. Their ground offensive has throughout the summer been driving ISIS back towards Raqqa, the "Islamic State" capital. The autonomous Rojava cantons, previously cut off from each other by areas of ISIS control, are now linked by swaths of liberated territory. This dramatically contrasts recent ISIS gains in central Syria. Now Middle East Eye reports that the Rojava Kurds's YPG militia is advancing on Jarabulus, the last ISIS-controlled town on the Turkish border. The account cites the widespread perception among the Kurds that the Turkish government has been conniving with ISIS: "Taking the Jarabulus crossing would be a major advance for the YPG since they are convinced that IS gets supplies of recruits and weaponry through Turkey. YPG officials claim the crossing is open, and IS has no need for smugglers or breaks in the border fence." In a particularly sinister game, Ankara has collaborated with ISIS even while equating ISIS and the anti-ISIS YPG as both "terrorist" (sic!). Such propaganda will doubtless be escalated if the entire Syrian border with Turkey falls under YPG control, raising fears in Ankara of an independent Kurdish state.

FAIR serves up more lies on Syria

"Leftist" (sic) shilling for fascist dictator Bashar Assad reaches new levels of deception in an entry from one Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), perversely entitled "Down the Memory Hole: NYT Erases CIA's Efforts to Overthrow Syria's Government." The chutzpah of invoking Orwell in his title is downright Orwellian, as his distortions reveal the very name "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting" to be pure doublethink. Wedded to the persistent pseudo-left hallucination of a US campaign to destabilize Assad, Johnson gripes: "This past week, two pieces—one in the New York Times detailing the 'finger pointing' over Obama's 'failed' Syria policy, and a Vox 'explainer' of the Syrian civil war—...didn't just omit the fact that the CIA has been arming, training and funding rebels since 2012, they heavily implied they had never done so." So what is Johnson's evidence that the CIA has been doing this? In defense of his claim, he links to articles in (funny) the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the Washington Post. But if you bother actually click on the links (perish the thought), you'll find that none of them quite back up Johnson's assertions...

Turkey: Kurdish left resists 'political genocide'

Street clashes continue in the Sur district of the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakır, which has for days been under siege by Turkish security forces. On Sept. 13, Diyarbakır's governor declared a 24-hour indefinite curfew in the district, but it was widely defied as angry protesters continued to fill the streets. Police threatened to shoot curfew violators, and have opened fire on protests—thus far resulting in no casualties, apparently. "Everywhere is Sur, everywhere resistance," crowds chant. Protests have spread to the nearby Koşuyolu Park, were demonstrators are rallying around the local offices of Democratic Society Congress (DTK). Police are trying to round up leaders of the PKK-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), who they say are behind the uprising. The Democratic Regions Party (DBP) has called on all residents of Diyarbakır to join the protests and converge on Sur district. Apparently fearing escalation, the city's government lifted the curfew after one day. (JINHA, Today's Zaman, Sept. 14)

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