Middle East update: October 2 2018


According to Rudaw, the Syrian Democratic Forces are only about 150 meters away from ISIS’s defensive line in the town of Sousa, in Deir Ezzor province. It should be the next part of ISIS’s pocket around Hajin to fall to the SDF. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports at least 211 ISIS fighters and 113 SDF fighters killed since the SDF’s Hajin operation began in mid-September. Elsewhere, ISIS fighters reportedly executed a 25 year old Druze woman, one of the 30 or so Druze the group took hostage during a late July attack across Suwayda province. The Syrian government has been negotiating for the hostages’ release.

Attention to all my IDF readers: the Russian government has reportedly completed the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Syria. Please adjust your future airstrike plans accordingly.

Speaking of missiles in Syria, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps says that its Monday missile strike on the Hajin region in eastern Syria killed “40 top leaders” of ISIS. And sure, why not. Let’s go with that.


The Saudis checked the couch cushions in King Salman’s palace and came up with around $200 million on Tuesday that they’re giving to Yemen to slow the collapse of the Yemeni rial. The rial’s value has been in steep decline for a few weeks now, adding to the difficulties people are facing in trying to obtain food, medicine, and other basic necessities. The need for which is particularly acute right now, as the country is experiencing yet another cholera outbreak, this time in Hudaydah. Coalition airstrikes have damaged the city’s water and sewage treatment facilities, hence the outbreak.

Meanwhile, over one million displaced Yemenis are stuck in camps in the northern part of the country where aid agencies are unable to reach them because of the war and the general breakdown in order. They’re now on the verge of famine for lack of aid:


Iraq’s political gridlock got unlocked on Tuesday in a major and very quick fashion. The Iraqi parliament elected Patriotic Union of Kurdistan politician Barham Salih as the country’s new president, and he turned around and tapped Adil Abdul-Mahdi to serve as prime minister and form a new government. Abdul-Mahdi is an economist, a former vice president, has been rumored as a PM candidate in the past, and most recently served as Haider al-Abadi’s oil minister from 2014 to 2016. He’ll now have 30 days to form a governing coalition.

At this point I can’t tell you for certain what political bloc Abdul-Mahdi comes out of or who’s backing his candidacy. From what I can tell both Iran-backed elements and US-backed elements in Iraq have had decent things to say about him, and he may represent a compromise between the nationalist Sairoon party and the pro-Iran Fatah party, Iraq’s two largest parties coming out of the May election. He’s recently been meeting with higher-ups in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, so it’s possible that Salih agreed to name him PM in return for the KDP dropping its challenge to his presidential candidacy. But that’s pure speculation on my part.


ISIS on Tuesday announced the passing of Abu Hamza al-Maqdisi, who was reportedly its operations manager in Sinai. The group didn’t say about Maqdisi died, but it’s believed he was killed on Monday by an Egyptian airstrike in northern Sinai. He will be missed.


Prominent Saudi journalist and sometimes Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi is reportedly missing:

Friends and relatives of Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran journalist from Saudi Arabia who has recently become a vocal critic of the kingdom’s leadership, said they were worried about his safety on Tuesday after losing contact with him during his visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi entered the consulate around 1 p.m., according to his fiancee, who said she accompanied him but waited outside. The fiancee, who asked that her name be withheld, called police when Khashoggi did not emerge at 5 p.m., after the consulate had officially closed.

By 10 p.m., there was still no word from him, according to the fiancee and other friends, who stood outside the consulate.

Spokesmen for the Turkish and Saudi foreign ministries did not respond to messages seeking comment on Khashoggi’s possible whereabouts.

Khashoggi has been a critic of the authoritarian turn Mohammad bin Salman has taken, and consequently he exiled himself to the US to evade Saudi authorities. If he’s been disappeared by Saudi authorities it will be a sign that MBS’s media crackdown is reaching a new level, nabbing critics abroad as well as at home. And given that they’ve nabbed him in Turkey, a country with which the Saudis already have a rocky relationship, this could become bigger than just one writer.

Khashoggi in 2011 (Wikimedia)


The International Atomic Energy Agency suggested on Tuesday that it will review Israel’s claim that Iran has a secret undeclared nuclear warehouse in Tehran but will not take Israel’s word for it. Without mentioning the particulars, IAEA boss Yukiya Amano made it clear that the agency will do its own legwork before taking any action:

“All information obtained, including from third parties, is subject to rigorous review and assessed together with other available information to arrive at an independent assessment based on the agency’s own expertise,” Amano said.

“In order to maintain credibility, the agency’s independence in relation to the implementation of verification activities is of paramount importance,” he added.

Meanwhile, the French government on Tuesday said it has concluded that the Iranian government did attempt to bomb a Mujahedin-e-Khalq rally in Paris in June. Two Iranian diplomats have been fingered in the plot, including one who was arrested in Germany in July and is about to be extradited to Belgium. The French government says it’s taken steps to freeze the assets of both men “as well as the Internal Security Directorate of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.” The Iranian government continues to deny the charge.

Closer to home, the Iranians are upholding law and order by executing rape victims after first coercing them into confessing to crimes they probably didn’t commit:

Iran on Tuesday executed a teenage rape victim who was abused by her husband and convicted of killing him in a “grossly unfair trial”, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

An ethnic Kurd, Zeinab Sekaanvand was 15 when she married her husband. She was jailed two years later, while still legally a juvenile, for stabbing him to death.

She later retracted her confession, saying it had been extracted under duress.

Sekaanvand, who also accused her brother-in-law of raping her several times, was 24 when she was executed, Amnesty said.

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