MENA, MENA, Tekel, Parsin (Middle East, North Africa & other Geopolitical Hotspots) 2018

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Daniel reads the words "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN" and interprets them for the king: "MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed ... and found wanting;" and "PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made… that he should rank third in the kingdom; [and] that very night Belshazzar the Chaldean (Babylonian) king was killed, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom."[3]

Yemen, Israel, Syria, Iran and Iraq and more

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 17 January 2018 05:51 (one month ago) Permalink

U.S. officials tried to help the Saudis improve their targeting. They eventually expanded a “no strike” list to include thirty-three thousand targets. “We broadened and broadened and broadened that list over time as the Saudis kept striking things that we would have thought they wouldn’t strike,” Konyndyk told me. The State Department sent an expert, Larry Lewis, to Saudi Arabia. When a civilian target was hit, Lewis wanted to help the Saudis implement ways of investigating the incident, to “avoid the same kind of thing happening again,” he said. Lower-ranking Saudis seemed pained by the casualties. “There was definitely a feeling that, of course we want to protect civilians, you know, we’re good Muslims,” Lewis said. The Saudi leadership was less concerned; as Lewis put it, from the rank of lieutenant colonel upward “there was less pressure for change.”

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 17 January 2018 05:55 (one month ago) Permalink

Some 60,000 African migrants entered Israel prior to the construction of a barrier on its southern border with the Sinai in 2012. Israel, which considers them economic migrants, not refugees from persecution, until now has encouraged the Africans to leave by handing them cash — generally about $3,500 — and a plane ticket. About 20,000 have taken the offer, leaving nearly 40,000 in Israel, most living freely.

This month, Netanyahu said those who do not take the deportation offer face jail. Rwanda and Uganda reportedly are the likeliest destinations for deportees, though both governments deny it.

Plans to bring a first-ever group of Ugandan Jews to Israel on a Birthright trip are in jeopardy following the recent deportation of a member of their community.

The group of 40 Ugandans had been scheduled to arrive in Israel in late May on the free 10-day trip available to young Jewish adults from around the world. But Birthright officials are now concerned the group may be turned away upon arrival, just as 31-year-old Yehudah Kimani was, because the immigration authorities do not consider them Jewish...In late December, Kimani, who hails from Kenya but lived for a year among the Abayudaya while converting, was detained upon entering Israel and deported the following morning, even though he had a valid tourist visa.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 17 January 2018 06:02 (one month ago) Permalink

Meanwhile in Afghanistan

The huge spike in airstrikes is the product of new rules of engagement, adopted as part of a strategy that President Trump announced in August. U.S. forces can now strike Taliban targets at will, whereas under the Obama administration they were restricted to defending Afghan forces under imminent attack.

“U.S. strategy is so military-centric. Even 100,000 troops couldn’t finish the Taliban, and ever since those days, they have been zealously confident,” said Borhan Osman, senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group. “The U.S. is misreading Taliban psychology. Their whole fight is about saying, ‘We were a legitimate government and you toppled us and installed a puppet government.’ This new U.S. strategy will only make them more willing to fight.”

U.S. military leaders acknowledge that the Taliban controls or contests nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts — a number that has slowly crept higher through the past year,

curmudgeon, Thursday, 18 January 2018 04:19 (one month ago) Permalink


Syria crisis: Why Turkey is poised to attack Kurdish enclave Afrin
Syria 'ready to down Turkish jets attacking Kurds Afrin'
Turkey targets Kurdish forces in Afrin: The short, medium and long story

Am I a bad person for hoping this provides a major distraction to the Trump administration from its North Korea plans?

Sanpaku, Thursday, 18 January 2018 22:26 (one month ago) Permalink

You're not. Also because as far as distractions go, this one actually *means* something, instead of the 'my dad has a bigger car than your dad' USA-North Korea stupidity.

Fact of the matter is Trump's not spoken out on any of this. Obv for one, he doesn't even know where the hell Syria is, let alone have a plan or idea about it. The US army has handled things on their own pretty well actually, for once showing at least a hint of loyalty to the Kurds who helped push back ISIS.

The interesting thing is: will America budge when Erdogan puts things to the test? Am I a bad person for hoping your buffoon president will stick to his guns and fend off Turkey in this one? Slim chance, but it's one of the instances I find myself hoping Trump's narcissism actually brings something good to the table.

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Thursday, 18 January 2018 23:04 (one month ago) Permalink

I guess this is not on Fox & Friends...

Plans for the operation were believed to have accelerated when US officials said earlier this month that it would help the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is dominated by the YPG, build a new "border security force" to prevent the return of IS.

Some 25,000 pro-Turkey fighters have joined the offensive, rebel commander Maj Yasser Abdul Rahim told Reuters. It is not clear how many Turkish soldiers are on the ground.

Turkey's military said it had hit 45 targets on Sunday, as part of its campaign.

It earlier said dozens of air strikes had taken out 153 targets belonging to Kurdish militants.

curmudgeon, Monday, 22 January 2018 20:42 (one month ago) Permalink

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, said Turkish troops “will take no step back” and expressed frustration with US calls for restraint, accusing the US of arming Kurdish terrorist groups. Mr Erdogan also said that Russia had given its backing to the operation.

Both Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said they were concerned over the fighting.

There are a number of British and other Western volunteers fighting with Kurdish forces in northern Syria, raising the prospect that Western citizens might kill Turkish troops or be killed by them.

The involvement of Western citizens in the fighting against Turkish forces would likely add more strain to the already-fraught relationship between Turkey and the rest of Nato.

curmudgeon, Monday, 22 January 2018 20:45 (one month ago) Permalink

expressed frustration with US calls for restraint

This fucking guy.

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Monday, 22 January 2018 20:54 (one month ago) Permalink

If Turkey keeps ignoring US calls for restraint, will Pentagon suggest more forceful action by US? Kurds may get dumped by US again.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 23 January 2018 21:44 (one month ago) Permalink

There's no way US will stand up against Turkey by using force. Too much 'at stake'. Of course the Kurds will get dumped again. "No friends but the mountains."

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 23 January 2018 21:48 (one month ago) Permalink

Seeing Pence and Netanyaho galloping hand in hand in the Knesset yesterday, while MP's protesting Pence's presence there were hauled away, made me vomit.

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Tuesday, 23 January 2018 21:49 (one month ago) Permalink

Israel and Egypt working together:

The jihadists in Egypt’s Northern Sinai had killed hundreds of soldiers and police officers, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, briefly seized a major town and begun setting up armed checkpoints to claim territory. In late 2015, they brought down a Russian passenger jet.

Egypt appeared unable to stop them, so Israel, alarmed at the threat just over the border, took action.

For more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have carried out a covert air campaign, conducting more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, frequently more than once a week — and all with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The remarkable cooperation marks a new stage in the evolution of their singularly fraught relationship. Once enemies in three wars, then antagonists in an uneasy peace, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war against a common foe.

curmudgeon, Monday, 5 February 2018 16:51 (two weeks ago) Permalink

This Israeli action is still in the news too. They want to send the mostly Sudanese and Eritrean men to Rwanda or Uganda:

Israel has started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave the country or risk being thrown in jail.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is offering the migrants, most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination in another country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel is posing a moral dilemma for a state founded as haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government is under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants, while others are calling for them to be taken in.

curmudgeon, Monday, 5 February 2018 16:56 (two weeks ago) Permalink

to this, add today's news about Israel, Syria, Iran, Russia:

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said that one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed early Saturday in northern Israel after coming under heavy Syrian antiaircraft fire and after Israel had shot down an Iranian drone that penetrated Israeli airspace from Syria.

The events appeared to be Israel’s first direct engagement with Iranian forces across the increasingly volatile boundary in the Golan Heights, risking a new escalation in Syria’s multifaceted seven-year war in the area.

Early assessments suggested that the Israeli F-16 had been hit by Syrian antiaircraft fire, according to a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, though he added that nothing had been officially confirmed.

...This appeared to be the first time in decades, probably since the early 1980s, that an Israeli jet was downed under enemy fire. In the past, Syria has claimed, falsely, that it had shot down Israeli aircraft.

The jet crash represented a severe blow to Israel’s prestige and could mark a major change after years in which Israel has acted against targets in Syria with relative impunity.

The Israeli military said in statement that it “sees the Iranian attack and the Syrian response as a severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty,” and added that it was “fully prepared for further action.”

After the initial assault on the drone launching facilities, Israel said later Saturday that it had attacked 12 additional targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets “that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.”

Iran, along with Russia — which had helped propped up the government of President Bashar al- Assad in Syria — on Saturday denied any role in shooting down the Israeli jet.

...Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 war and fought off an invasion there in 1973. Though the area remained quiet for decades, it has become a growing flash point throughout Syria’s war.

Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria during the war, largely targeting what it says are advanced weapons stores or convoys taking weapons to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, but sometimes reportedly hitting Syrian government facilities involved in weapons development.

Syria’s government has always said that it would respond at a proper time and place, and it has occasionally returned fire with antiaircraft guns and missiles.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 10 February 2018 17:42 (one week ago) Permalink

I read that stuff before bed last night and dreamt that Israel had killed Nasrallah with a missile. Feel like one of the potential catastrophic wars that are potentially in the offing is going to start soon (well, remembering the Syrian Civil War has already been a catastrophic years long war).

khat person (jim in vancouver), Sunday, 11 February 2018 02:41 (one week ago) Permalink

Israel is trying as well diplomatically to get Russia to restrain Iran. Doesn't seem to be working.

curmudgeon, Sunday, 11 February 2018 06:39 (one week ago) Permalink

Did Israel clear its recent bombing missions in Syria with Russia?

curmudgeon, Monday, 12 February 2018 22:17 (one week ago) Permalink

So Russia and Russian fighters have been supporting Syria and Iran, but for now Russia is being quiet about the retaliatory strikes by both Israel and the US. They must see them as one-off actions that will not impact their influence

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 22:01 (one week ago) Permalink

i was thinking that they're likely concerned about escalation as well. things are going pretty tony for them in Syria and it has cost them a significant investment. w/ the sanctions, etc, they are likely v extended and cannot start taking on more conflagration. remember when the turkey stuff went down they ended up not making a huge deal out of it either (as i remember - someone else's recollection may be different). the alternative is that israel is liaisoning about the strikes at least in aggregate and russia is giving the thumbs up.

Mordy, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 22:10 (one week ago) Permalink

When Israel boasted that it took out half of Syria's air defenses the other day, I saw a semi-conservative tweeter say "why didn't Obama do that when Syria used chemical weapons," although the tweeter then acknowledged that this still wouldn't have totally weakened Assad back then and necessarily changed things completely for the non-Isis (US supported) rebels then

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 22:52 (one week ago) Permalink

i hadn't heard that boast! tbh i didn't follow it v closely so i didn't realize the campaign was so extensive. i do think iran would like to establish a front with israel from syria but i don't think they can afford to press it. w/ discontent at home, slowly recovering economy, these years of investment in syria, whatever amount they' re actually spending in yemen... i do wonder how extended they are too. it's so hard to measure the stability of these closed regimes but you'd have to think they are pretty thin and can't really afford to now pick a direct fight w/ israel.

Mordy, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 22:55 (one week ago) Permalink

Israel estimates that it destroyed nearly half of Syria’s air defense system in a retaliatory air force sortie after one of its F-16 fighter jets was shot down by a Syrian missile, according to a military assessment provided to local news media Sunday.

The fighting broke out Saturday after an Iranian drone, launched from a site controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, flew into Israeli airspace.

Israel said it hit eight Syrian army targets and four Iranian sites in Syria, including an Iranian command trailer at the so-called T4 base, near the ancient city of Palmyra, from which the drone was launched early Saturday. Israeli Apache helicopters downed the drone, and four F-16 jets were dispatched into Syrian territory to bomb the site from which it was launched.

One Israeli F-16 was hit by Syrian fire as it returned to Israel from the mission, leading to the massive Israeli retaliation.

The deputy commander of Israel’s air force, Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, said Saturday that Israel’s aerial reprisal was “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses” since the 1982 Lebanon War....

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 23:07 (one week ago) Permalink

Kommersant is reporting that the attempt to seize the air base was unsanctioned and that the Russian mercs were under the command of a local businessman who wanted to capture nearby oil fields.

There is apparently footage of the bombing raid and it was pretty clear they had no air support, either from Russia or Syria. The story goes that they took out a lot of US and Kurdish soldiers and the US called in air strikes to maintain hold of the base.

I wouldn’t bet against this kind of thing happening again. Russia has done something similar to the US in Iraq and pulled most of their soldiers out - with private contractors filling the void in return for a cut of oil revenue. The controls are so weak, you’re probably going to get mercenaries fighting against each other at some point.

Wag1 Shree Rajneesh (ShariVari), Wednesday, 14 February 2018 18:39 (one week ago) Permalink

Good piece by Nataliya Valilyeva on the (officially) five Russians who were killed by the US airstrike:

They were working for Wagner, the biggest private contractor / mercenary company - essentially Russia's answer to Blackwater.

It looks like there is pressure within the Duma to start properly regulating the contractors:

Wag1 Shree Rajneesh (ShariVari), Friday, 16 February 2018 10:10 (one week ago) Permalink

U.N. security council report on Yemen that was released the other day is grim reading

khat person (jim in vancouver), Friday, 16 February 2018 17:39 (one week ago) Permalink


curmudgeon, Tuesday, 20 February 2018 06:03 (three days ago) Permalink

Why more Iranians don't use "Ultrasurf" to access the internet

China, the world’s biggest Internet censor, objects to the development of programs that can circumvent its repressive censorship. Obama administration officials admitted that State Department funding decisions in such matters are based, at least in part, on the department’s desire to keep the Chinese from “go[ing] ballistic.” Now similar concerns for Chinese sensitivities appear to be shaping the Trump administration’s response to the Iranian people’s protests for freedom.

Iranians have been using UltraSurf to circumvent the mullahs’ censors, but recently the number of Iranian users has exploded to about 2 million, with daily hits on the website numbering about 1 billion. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because of the lack of funding from State, UltraSurf’s servers are in danger of crashing for lack of capacity to meet the exploding Iranian demand. Too many Iranians have joined the people in other closed societies who are trying to use the software.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 20 February 2018 06:09 (three days ago) Permalink

More on Iran from a kinda neo-con, sometime moderate W. Post columnist Jackson Diehl

Iranians are still nationalists: More than 70 percent still favor developing missiles and a nuclear capacity. Only 16 percent told the pollsters that “Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change.” Yet far fewer support the regime’s foreign adventures. Forty-two percent say “the government should spend less money in places like Syria and Iraq.” A plurality say Iran should negotiate with other countries rather than try to become a regional hegemon. And though 75 percent say the nuclear deal has not improved living conditions, 55 percent still favor it.

What this tells us is that one of the best ways to counter Iran’s interventions in Iraq, Yemen and Syria is to ally with the large bloc of Iranians who oppose them. In part that means helping Iranians find out what their government is up to; the news that it was planning to cut food subsidies while increasing spending on the Revolutionary Guard was one of the triggers of the protests.

Only a tiny number of Iranians — 8 percent, according to the new poll — get information from foreign radio broadcasts, but more than 60 percent depend on the Internet or apps such as Telegram. The United States could do a lot more to help people get around the regime’s attempts to block these channels.
...Rather than pursue such strategies, Trump seems intent on voiding the nuclear deal by May, basically on the grounds that it was negotiated by President Barack Obama. The pact is far from perfect, as I have argued before. For now, though, it has helped to open a rift between the regime and its public and created a potent new source of pressure on Tehran’s foreign adventures. If Trump kills it, expect some quiet celebrations in Tehran.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 20 February 2018 18:18 (three days ago) Permalink

Attacks by forces loyal to the Syrian government have killed more than 100 people in a rebel-held Damascus suburb, aid agencies and monitoring groups said Tuesday, calling it one of the bloodiest 24-hour periods in Syria’s seven-year war.

People cowered in their basements and doctors worked around the clock as warplanes pounded the cluster of towns and villages east of Damascus known as Ghouta, which government forces have surrounded for the past four years.

Even by the standards of Ghouta, the opposition’s isolated last bastion outside the capital, the latest assault has been brutal. Just last month, government warplanes killed at least 210 people and sent hundreds fleeing to what remained of the hospitals.

In the latest attack, hospitals appeared to be the target. More than five of them were hit on Monday, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM). The France-based charity put the toll of the strikes on Monday at 97 dead and more than 500 injured.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 20 February 2018 18:55 (three days ago) Permalink

Assad is brutal, and nothing will happen to him.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 15:03 (two days ago) Permalink

Meanwhile, in another part of Syria--

Turkey warned on Wednesday that pro-Damascus forces would face “serious consequences” for entering Syria’s Afrin region to help Kurdish fighters repel a Turkish offensive.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 15:08 (two days ago) Permalink

x-post: Got forbid anything happened to him. That would mean regime change.

Frederik B, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 17:43 (two days ago) Permalink

given that apart from ypg the opposition are all takfiri jihadists there really isn't a "good" outcome to this horrible war

khat person (jim in vancouver), Wednesday, 21 February 2018 17:48 (two days ago) Permalink

Of the 5 listed in this article, Faylaq al-Rahman: The Faylaq al-Rahman organization, or al-Rahman Legion, is also based in Eastern Ghouta, looks like the least bad

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 19:40 (two days ago) Permalink

there really isn't a "good" outcome to this horrible war

Considering the near-certainty that whoever wins on the battlefield will indulge in mass reprisal murders, even the outcome of "peace" won't bring much peace. As a practical matter, the fact that all sides understand the inevitability of reprisals means there is every motivation to fight on to complete exhaustion. The winners will rule over rubble, but at least they will be alive, and by now that's all this war is about: survival.

A is for (Aimless), Wednesday, 21 February 2018 19:58 (two days ago) Permalink

NY Times Editorial Board says Assad and Russia should be charged with war crimes for current attacks on Ghouta

curmudgeon, Thursday, 22 February 2018 16:25 (yesterday) Permalink

I kinda would like to see Assad out of office and facing a war crimes trial, even if Syria would just become Libya like, or requiring a UN presence to try to hold off all the other bad options. Alas, UN has messed up in Congo, and Russia, Iran and current US government would never support such an idea. A chaotic Syria without Assad using an Air Force to drop barrel bombs, might not be perfect, but it might be slightly less worse.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 22 February 2018 17:37 (yesterday) Permalink

There's no reason to think it wouldn't be worse. Libya is now a failed state/nightmare of a country.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 18:04 (yesterday) Permalink

And Syria isn't?

Frederik B, Thursday, 22 February 2018 20:34 (yesterday) Permalink

In Syria if the jihadists are conclusively defeated - I'm no expert on military affairs but with the help of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah they might well be - Assad's government will be able establish control over the country, with a possibility of something similar to the status quo ante prevailing.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 20:40 (yesterday) Permalink

So is an authoritarian state with Assad having an air force that drops barrel bombs, and has support from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah better than Libya? I dunno. Maybe less chaotic I guess, and thanks to Assad's ruthlessness, lots less people around.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 22 February 2018 20:51 (yesterday) Permalink

The benefits of a central authority, no matter that it is despotic, is better than total chaos and lawlessness.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 20:56 (yesterday) Permalink

I also believe, fairly strongly, that if somehow, magically the people rebelling against Assad could gain control over the country, it would be a hellhole.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 20:59 (yesterday) Permalink

Wikipedia says there's been something like 400.000 people killed in the Syrian civil war and 10.000 in the Libya Civil War. Take that with a BIG grain of salt, but still. And not getting rid of Assad means the country could explode all over again. It's not the first uprising they've defeated.

Frederik B, Thursday, 22 February 2018 21:03 (yesterday) Permalink

this study from 2015 had casualties at 20k for the Libyan Civil Wars (2011 and 2014-present) Although Syria is more than 3 times more populous than Libya obviously the war there has just been so much more brutal, with huge atrocities from both sides, most notably government forces deliberate targeting of civilians, and targeting of enemy forces in populated areas in ways sure to kill many civilians - war crimes.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 21:14 (yesterday) Permalink

I also believe, fairly strongly, that if somehow, magically the people rebelling against Assad could gain control over the country, it would be a hellhole.

What do you think Assad turned Aleppo into? What do you think he's doing now to Ghouta?

curmudgeon, Thursday, 22 February 2018 21:38 (yesterday) Permalink

Yeah I'm aware we're talking about the outcome from the end of the conflict. The outcome of the Civil War in Libya that ousted Gaddafi is a failed state and an ongoing war that has no signs of abating. In Syria this war may finally come to a conclusion soon.

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 22:01 (yesterday) Permalink

only in the sense that it'll become an occupation. assad is still going to need to ongoingly pacify resistance. the war isn't coming to a true *conclusion* imo any time soon, and this is putting aside that iran may be spoiling for a new war right around the corner w/ israel.

Mordy, Thursday, 22 February 2018 22:04 (yesterday) Permalink

that's a very interesting and very odd article

khat person (jim in vancouver), Thursday, 22 February 2018 23:40 (yesterday) Permalink

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