Middle East update: June 9-10 2018


According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian rebels launched new attacks overnight on the predominantly Shiʿa Idlib province towns of Fuʿah and Kefraya, but were driven back. Rebels have been besieging both towns for over three years.

The Syrian Democratic Council, which is the political wing of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces organization, says it would be amenable to “unconditional talks” with the Syrian government. Something like this probably became inevitable as soon as Washington began to signal that it’s getting ready to cut the Kurds loose in order to maintain its relationship with Turkey, but at the same time it’s the only possible way to solve the issue of Kurdish control over northeastern Syria short of the SDF and Syrian government going to war with one another. It will be interesting to see if these remarks affect US-SDF cooperation against ISIS and/or cause Turkey to rethink its plans for northern Syria.


“Heavy fighting” was reported between Houthi and coalition forces in areas dangerously close to Hudaydah. The United Nations is continuing to work on a diplomatic way to protect the city, which in addition to being a major population center also contains Yemen’s largest port and the main conduit for humanitarian aid to get into the country. Despite apparent US opposition to such a move, an attack on Hudaydah still seems like it could come at any time, and aid agencies are already making plans to withdraw personnel. It goes without saying that this would have a devastating impact on Yemenis who depend on international aid to survive the war, not to mention on people living in the city who will be in the line of fire.

Saudi media reported that three people in the city of Jizan were killed on Saturday by a Houthi rocket. Meanwhile, a UAE-supported colonel in the Yemeni army, Radwan el-Wassabi, was gunned down in the city of Taiz on Saturday evening. It’s unclear who was responsible. The Houthis are certainly a candidate, but it may also have been a faction within the coalition opposed to the UAE and its clients.


A bomb in the town of Khalis, in Diyala province, killed at least two people on Saturday. ISIS, which retains a presence in Diyala, seems the likeliest perpetrator though they haven’t claimed responsibility.

Meanwhile, in what is potentially a very troubling story, a Baghdad warehouse containing materials related to the May 12 election, including ballots, caught fire on Sunday. It’s unclear what caused the fire, but given that the Iraqi parliament just approved a hand recount of ballots a few days ago the timing here is awfully interesting. At this point it’s not known if any ballots were caught in the blaze.

In the latest sign of Iraq’s water crisis, measurements of the Little Zab River, which originates in Iran and runs through Iraqi Kurdistan to feed the Tigris River, show that it’s lost 70 percent of its flow. Iraqi Kurdish officials blame the Iranians for holding water back behind a dam they recently built on the river near the city of Sardasht in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province.


Jordan’s King Abdullah is attending an impromptu summit in Jeddah featuring officials from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE who may offer Jordan billions of dollars in aid to help ease its current budget crisis. Jordanians are continuing to protest austerity measures that have resulted in higher prices and higher taxes, and as fellow members of the Arab Monarchs Club, it behooves these three countries to bail Abdullah out lest the protests reach Arab Spring-esque levels and spread to other countries in the region. Jordan is heavily dependent on foreign aid, so this summit as well as the news that the European Union plans to keep pitching in are good news for Abdullah.


It’s good to see that the Trump Israel-Palestine peace initiative is proceeding apace:

President Donald Trump’s special Mideast envoy lashed out at a veteran Palestinian official on Sunday, saying his “false claims” and rhetoric haven’t brought peace closer.

Jason Greenblatt was responding in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper to an earlier op-ed by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accusing American officials of acting as “spokespeople” for Israel and criticizing the U.S. for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

Sniping with Saeb Erekat after overseeing 16+ months’ worth of policies intended to shit all over the Palestinians is an excellent use of Mr. Greenblatt’s time to be sure. Erekat got the last word, for now, writing in another Haaretz op-ed Sunday evening that Greenblatt’s “role is nothing less than peddling Israeli policies to a skeptical international community.” I’m struggling to find the lie.

The PLO has reportedly started circulating its own peace plan independent of the US. It calls for a two-stage process whereby the Palestinian Authority is given control over both Gaza and Jericho, with negotiations to follow about the contours of the rest of the Palestinian state in the West Bank. In reality it would be a three-stage process, with the first stage involving a massive international rebuilding effort in Gaza followed by an end to the Israeli blockade as the PA takes over there. It’s similar in that regard to the arrangement Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin negotiated as part of the Oslo Accords back in the 1990s, though obviously the Gaza bailout is new and a function of Israel’s 11 year effort to destroy any quality of life there. The whole process would be overseen by the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States).

The hangup here would be Israel, which refuses to ease up on Gaza and can bring Donald Trump along in blocking the whole effort. Stunning, I know, but we are dealing with an Israeli government that won’t even complete its own West Bank security barrier because it doesn’t want the barrier to preclude its annexation/ethnic cleansing of the rest of the West Bank. The Israelis constantly complain that the Palestinians are standing in the way of peace, but this is mostly an example of the old adage that you should accuse your enemy of doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

The Trump administration’s approach to Israel-Palestine seems to be widening the gap between Israeli and American Jews on Palestinian issues. A poll from the American Jewish Committee finds that 77 percent of Israeli Jews approve of Trump’s handling of Israel-Palestine issues compared with 34 percent of American Jews.


The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill looks into the somewhat underplayed pieces of the big Trump collusion investigation. While everybody is focused on Trump’s possible collusion with Russia, they’re overlooking the clear evidence of his equally damaging collusion with Israel, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, plus Erik Prince, mostly in an effort to engineer regime change in Iran:


The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says its forces killed six “terrorists” who had crossed into Iran from Iraq on Sunday and were planning to carry out some sort of attack. That comes two days after IRGC forces, again according to the IRGC itself, killed nine people who did the same thing. The IRGC didn’t go into details about who these people were. Iranian authorities use the word “terrorist” to describe Sunni militants, but that could mean ISIS or Kurdish separatists.

Iran, Russia, and China praised the Iran nuclear deal and pledged to try to maintain it at this weekend’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit:

Russian and Chinese unwillingness to go along with Trump’s decision to violate the nuclear accord will weaken the sanctions Trump is reimposing, and if their resistance emboldens other SCO member states to reject US sanctions that will weaken them further. Already some of Iran’s biggest oil customers, including Trump’s pals in India, have said they intend to keep doing business with Tehran.

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