FT reports Jordan may invade Syria soon

As Turkey’s civil and military leadership spar over whether or not to invade northern Syria (full story➚) to establish a unilateral buffer zone for refugees, a similar drama is playing out on the other side of the war-torn country within one of the region’s absolute monarchies.

The Financial Times earlier this week broke the story that Jordan is planning to invade southern Syria and take over part of the country by force to assist the rebels, under the guise of a “humanitarian” mission to establish a buffer zone southeast of Golan Heights in the Daraa area next to the Jordanian border.

Click to enlarge: Detailed conflict map of Southern Syria, July 1, 2015, including Daraa. Red = Syrian regime. Green = FSA/Nusra rebels. Blue = Hezbollah. Dark Gray = ISIS. (Adapted by Arsenal For Democracy from Wikimedia)

Click to enlarge: Detailed conflict map of Southern Syria, July 1, 2015, including Daraa. Red = Syrian regime. Green = FSA/Nusra rebels. Blue = Hezbollah. Dark Gray = ISIS. (Adapted by Arsenal For Democracy from Wikimedia)

More details from the FT:

It is also unclear how much co-ordination has so far taken place to prepare southern Syria’s existing brigades of rebel fighters for the operation: senior figures in the southern brigades contacted by the FT said they were unaware of the plans. While Jordanian intervention is likely to be welcomed in Deraa, there is also a question over whether forces backed by Amman will be so readily supported in neighbouring Suwayda province, where Druze tribes have an uneasy relationship with anti-Assad forces.

 
The U.S. State Department claimed it had not seen any evidence that Jordan or Turkey were planning such invasions or buffer zones. But the State Department never seems to have any clue what’s going on in Syria, so. I don’t take that at face value. The contention also seems to be wrong based on the large troop movements everyone else is noticing and the fairly public debate in Turkey.

Both countries have absorbed huge numbers of Syrian refugees and appear to have reached saturation of what they are willing to handle internally. Jordan also appears to be concerned about the possibility of ISIS reaching key border points. In February, Jordan stepped up its air campaign against ISIS (full story➚) in Syria and Iraq after the execution of a hostage Jordanian Air Force pilot.

AKP, military spar over whether Turkey should invade Syria

Hurriyet Daily News: “Turkish army reluctant over government will to intervene in Syria”.

An alternative version of that headline might be: Caretaker Turkish government without parliamentary mandate tries to start a doubly illegal war in Syria. Military politely declines request.

Click to enlarge: Detailed conflict map of Northern Syria, June 29, 2015, including Kobani. (Adapted by Arsenal For Democracy from Wikimedia)

Click to enlarge: Detailed conflict map of Northern Syria, June 29, 2015, including Kobani. (Adapted by Arsenal For Democracy from Wikimedia)

Maybe back off on this, AKP. It’s not like you were rushing to invade Syria when you had a parliamentary majority at any point during the last four years of war. Now you don’t even really control the government because it’s an interregnum during coalition talks and you’re suddenly picking a fight with the military to dare them to defy you — as they probably should in this case. Why would you do that? Probably, in case fresh elections are called, so you can re-engage the ranks of anti-militarist voters who appreciate the AKP’s efforts to curb military meddling in Turkey’s politics and defiance of civilian authority.

Here’s the military’s rationale, per Hurriyet Daily News:

Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel has delayed the government directive with justifications of international law and politics and the uncertainty of reactions from the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, as well as from its supporters Russia and Iran, together with the United States.
[…]
The military does not want to get into a major military action on the directives of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government which lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 elections. The coalition talks to form a new government with either the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) or the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will start next week and if a new government is formed in weeks’ time, the directive which might lead to a war could be obsolete. It is a fact that if the CHP becomes a coalition partner, which is more likely, that Turkey’s policy on Syria and ISIL could change.

There is also the factor of a reshuffle among military ranks. The office of Özel ends in August and civilian sources speculate that he is playing with time in order not to become the general that takes Turkey into war at a critical time.

 
Generally fairly solid reasoning, I would say.

The elected civilian leadership should be paramount to the military leadership in virtually all circumstances, but this is an exceptional situation: after elections and before the formation of a new government. Launching a non-defensive war of choice is probably not within the current government’s authority. Therefore the military is probably making a reasonable point in stalling here.

Plus, the conditions in northern Syria since at least April primarily have tipped in favor (at least temporarily) toward the anti-government rebel forces most closely aligned with Turkey, with the exception of Syrian Kurdish fighters who are doing their own thing and not really causing a true emergency for Turkey either (despite the Turkish president’s fearmongering). So there’s no apparent, genuine urgency now, relative to any other moment in the past six months.

Turkey’s military is right to urge patience and a new government before making any huge decisions like invading a neighbor engulfed in civil war.

ISIS preps Palmyra classical ruins for demolition

Following the collapse of a short-lived defense by the Syrian Army, the ancient city of Palmyra fell into the hands of ISIS.

The latest: “Islamic State group plants mines and bombs in Palmyra, says monitoring body” – France 24

Of course ISIS wants to blow up Palmyra. It’s the symbol of a very brief empire that started in central Syria, rapidly expanded across the Middle East with little resistance from existing regional powers, was crushingly destroyed 3 years later by Western armies of Rome, and has since been virtually forgotten by the world. What does that sound a lot like? ISIS, in a few years. Sadly, Syria (and the world) will have lost another UNESCO World Heritage site in the meantime…

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Ancient Syrian city safe from ISIS for now

Two days later, on May 20, 2015, the Army made a hasty retreat and the city fell to ISIS.

State and opposition media both confirm that the Syrian Army has pushed back and blocked an approaching ISIS offensive on the ancient city of Palmyra (pictured below).

The international community was very concerned that the city’s antiquities would be dynamited as ISIS has done in many other areas. The counter-offensive was likely undertaken more over strategic concerns about Palmyra’s position relative to other key regime-held cities than over concern for the heritage sites, however.

The regime and FSA, in western Syria, have both systematically shelled and destroyed at least five of six UNESCO world heritage sites in Syria when they became battlefields. Palmyra is one of the six sites and has been subject to looting and some moderate battle damage.

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

US-backed Syrian rebels make great al Qaeda partners

Background

– In November 2014, the CIA-trained and armed Harakat Hazm fighters in Syria got into a confrontation with Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in the Syrian Civil War, and basically fled the battlefield, abandoning their U.S.-supplied anti-tank weapons to the extremists.
– By late December 2014, Nusra Front had taken effective control of all major insurgent operations not aligned with ISIS. All “moderate” and “pro-Western” forces essentially joined forces with Syrian al Qaeda or were cut loose from the action.

Latest Development

McClatchy: “U.S.-backed rebels team with Islamists to capture Syrian city”

Rebels, including members of U.S.-backed groups and al Qaida’s Nusra Front, captured the strategic town of Jisr al Shughur in northwest Syria on Saturday, the second major setback for the government of President Bashar Assad in Idlib province in a month.
[…]
The latest rebel victory came surprisingly quickly, apparently aided by U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles. Islamist groups announced the battle only Wednesday.
[…]
Videos posted on social media showed that U.S.-supplied TOW missiles played a critical role, destroying dozens of government tanks and vehicles. The opposition run Masar News Network reported that rebel forces captured dozens of regime troops as well as three tanks and three other armored vehicles.
[…]
The U.S. in recent months has severed relationships with some moderate rebel groups that had surrendered weapons to Nusra.

Video posted on social media Saturday showed fighters from two major groups that still receive U.S. support, Division 13 and the Sukur al Ghab Brigades, participating in the fighting, including firing TOWs.

 

Bill’s Inner Monologue

“Teamwork!” he cried, sarcastically, as he thought about how great it is to be a taxpaying adult in the U.S. and to have the ‘opportunity’ to covertly fund heavy arms for extremist groups in Southwest Asia, just like his parents got to do in the 1980s. “These are definitely not policy actions that will ripple back negatively later in my lifetime,” he added, cynically predicting the opposite of his words.

Maybe we can finally drop the pretenses that there’s a serious, non-extremist, independent opposition force of any military significance in Syria…

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Study on Syria finds concrete link between drought, climate, the war

A new study found that prolonged drought conditions (directly associated with warming of the global climate) in Syria for several years preceding the war pushed over a million people to migrate from the northern countryside to cities in the 2007-2011 period, fostering substantially more unrest and instability than usual by the time the Arab Spring sparked protests and an uprising that became the Syrian civil war. While many factors caused the war, this seems to have exacerbated or accelerated it.

“There are various things going on, but you’re talking about 1.5 million people migrating from the rural north to the cities,” said climate scientist Richard Seager at Columbia, a co-author of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”

 
These results are among some of the most definitive so far in proving not just a general environmental/resource stress factor in civil unrest but stress factors specifically connected to global warming.

The study in Syria is also not the first link identified between global warming-related droughts and the upheaval of the Arab Spring. Previously, drought conditions in Ukrainian and Russian export breadbaskets in the summer of 2010 — also thought to be a result of global warming — have been tied to skyrocketing wheat and bread prices in Egypt, which was a major contributing factor in the January 2011 revolution.

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Tomb of Suleyman Shah, future casus belli, revisited

Editor’s note, February 22nd, 2015 at 3:25 PM US ET: In a surprise move, Turkey staged a dramatic military operation overnight with 600 troops and 100 tanks/vehicles to evacuate and demolish the tomb site and re-locate the crypt itself to a new site closer to the Turkish border but still apparently inside Syria.


Original Post:
In late September, early in the siege of Kobani, I discussed what might provoke Turkey to participate in the war against ISIS in Syria. One scenario I mentioned — because the Turks have tried to hype it up a lot — was a potential attack on the Tomb of Suleyman Shah, an unusual Turkish territory inside Syria.

[…] if ISIS forces directly attack Turkish troops — a scenario raised again this week by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc in relation to the Turkish Special Forces stationed at the Tomb of Suleiman Shah in an enclave near Aleppo. The tomb, guarded by Turkey’s military since 1938 under the terms of a 1921 treaty with France, has been repeatedly and publicly identified by ISIS as a target all year. ISIS may have hesitated to attack the Turkish enclave, given that a direct assault might trigger an automatic invasion of Syria by all of NATO, under Article V. Turkey beefed up security at the tomb significantly earlier in the year (rather than withdrawing), but the troops there are reportedly tenuously supplied due to deteriorating local conditions as the Aleppo region becomes the center of fighting between Turkish-backed Syrian Arab rebels, the Syrian government, and ISIS.

 
You can also hear an audio discussion of the situation from the October 8th, 2014 episode of our radio show.
Turkey’s role in Syria:
Part 3 – Turkey/Syria – AFD 102

Recent Syrian Army efforts to encircle Aleppo completely may also strain the Turkish supply capabilities at the tomb further, but this remains a manufactured problem. Turkey has continued to escalate the tomb situation, either for reasons of national pride or for creating a casus belli (cause for war) that might lead to the de facto partition of Syria with northern Syria under semi-official control of Turkey.

Turkey contested control of that territory, partially successfully, with the French between the world wars, and the tomb was a consolation prize for not getting more. Hardline Turkish irredentists likely still believe that northern Syria rightfully belongs with Turkey.

However, a new Al Jazeera America op-ed argues that it is extremely unlikely that NATO would agree with the Turkish government’s viewpoint on the significance of an attack on the tomb:

[…] Erdogan should not get his hopes up. Invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is not automatic. Any country which feels it has been the victim of an attack and wants NATO’s assistance must first secure a unanimous vote from all 28 members of the alliance.

Ultimately, invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is a political decision taken by the elected leaders of each member state.

Turkey is viewed by many in NATO as more of a hindrance than a partner under Erdogan’s leadership. Many in NATO are puzzled as to why Turkey has not played a bigger role in taking on ISIL.

They have also been put off by Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent, limitations on press freedom, and his drive to bring a more conservative brand of Islam into what is still a largely secular society.

Consequently, in the current political climate it would be inconceivable to believe that all 28 NATO members would vote to invoke Article 5 to defend what many outside Turkey might consider to be a post-imperial anomaly.

 
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