Middle East update: July 16 2018


The Syrian offensive in Quneitra proceeded apace on Monday, with the Syrians capturing al-Haara hill, a strategic vista that overlooks the Golan. It used to be the site of a Syrian radar installation to track anything coming across the border from Israel.

In Manbij, meanwhile, Turkey is complaining that the YPG hasn’t actually evacuated the town despite what the Manbij Military Council says. According to the Turks, “the process is still continuing.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a phone call with Donald Trump on Monday where the two men apparently stressed the importance of following their Manbij roadmap, which calls for the YPG to skedaddle.


Saudi Arabian authorities say that three civilians in the Jizan region were wounded on Monday by a Houthi “projectile” fired from Yemeni soil. It’s unclear what kind of projectile the Houthis used so I’m choosing to believe it was a rock launched with a trebuchet.


The State Department is making a last ditch effort to sell Ankara on the Patriot missile defense system in order to dissuade the Turks from completing their purchase of S-400 units from Russia. There are serious concerns about that purchase–the whole “ew, Russia” thing, of course, but also legitimate issues like NATO interoperability and concerns about Russian technical advisers getting access to areas where a lot of Turkish-purchased Western military hardware is stored. It’s unclear whether Turkey has any interest in the Patriot over the S-400.

Burak Kadercan assesses the nationalist MHP’s surprising performance in Turkey’s general election last month and what it means for Turkey moving forward:

The rise of ultranationalism in Turkey will likely lead to three outcomes. First, unless Erdogan finds a way to upend the MHP leader, Bahceli will ensure that AKP does not tone down its anti-PKK posture within and outside of Turkey. Second, Turkey’s relationship with the West will be increasingly shaped by the evolution of the triangular deadlock between Turkey, the United States, and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Third, Turkey’s new ultranationalism will exert even more influence in Turkish politics down the road. Put differently, the June elections showed that ultranationalism has evolved into a potent political force, the direction of which is hard to predict, and it is here to stay for a long time.


Protests continued for another day in Iraq on Monday, amid reports that police have begun mass arrests of protesters in Basra. There have also been more reports of protesters being killed by Iraqi police:

Basra is where this year’s demonstrations started, and has remained a center of activity. People have been outside the provincial council offices in Basra city for several days and took it over. That led the police to open fire on the crowd killing 4 and wounding 3. That raised the death toll to 15 since these disturbances began. There were also protests in the south where people tried to rush the gates outside the Zubayr oil field, which again resulted in gunfire and 5 people being hit, and at the Um Qasr port. Usually demonstrations are concentrated in the cities, but in Basra they have occurred all over the province from the cities to small towns. Since jobs have been a main demand people protests have focused upon economic targets such as the oil fields and the Um Qasr port.

The main demand of the protesters seems to be for reliable electricity, but of course Iraq’s supply of electricity has been significantly reduced thanks to cut backs from Iran. Apparently there’s been a good deal of visible anti-Iran sentiment embedded in the protests, at least in Basra.


Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday criticized the United States for breaking with the Iran nuclear deal:

“The unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement (in May) will have negative repercussions for security and stability in the region,” Aoun wrote on Twitter, his first public comment on the accord.

“Lebanon considered (the deal) a cornerstone for stability in the region, helping make it an area free of weapons of mass destruction,” Aoun’s office said in a statement summarizing a meeting between him and Iranian foreign ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari.

Aoun is, I grant you, a political ally of the Iran-aligned Hezbollah, but that said I’m not sure where the lie is here.


The Egyptian parliament on Monday passed a measure that grants immunity to military officers who participated in the 2013-2014 massacres of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters following the coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi. The law gives current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi–who bears ultimate responsibility for the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been killed since the coup–the power to put officers on a list of people who will be given immunity for any crimes that they may have committed during the period of the most violent suppression of Morsi supporters.

With that lovely story in mind, I’d like to let you know about an exciting new opportunity to buy yourself Egyptian citizenship. All you have to do is deposit 7 million Egyptian pounds, or about $392,000, in Egypt and then let the government have it after five years. At those prices you can’t afford not to become an Egyptian citizen!


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei revived the issue of Saudi management of the Hajj for some reason in a speech on Monday. Iran is still angry over the 2015 Hajj in which a stampede incident cost hundreds of Iranians their lives, plus of course there are all the other tensions between the two countries. An estimated 85,000 Iranians are expected to make the Hajj this year, assuming the Saudis don’t cut them off, and given Iran’s current economic situation I don’t think you can discount the possibility that Khamenei would like some or all of them to stay home and spend their money in Iran instead.


Iran has filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice over the Trump administration’s reimposition of sanctions. This should have about as much impact as pretty much anything else that happens in the international legal field, and you can take that however you want.

Iranian hardliners may be warming to the idea of making the financial and anti-corruption reforms necessary to get Iran off of the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklist. Coming into compliance with FATF could provide a boost to foreign investment in Iran, particularly if the Iranian government eventually decides that it can live with whatever benefits it’s getting from Europe, et al, and chooses to remain party to the nuclear deal. If the accord collapses altogether than FATF compliance won’t matter as much, though tackling corruption is important in and of itself.

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