Middle East update: November 12 2018


The Syrian government has reportedly changed the recently adopted property law that had threatened to dispossess refugees and internally displaced Syrians of their homes. The measure is known as “Law 10” and went into effect in April. The ostensible idea is to create redevelopment zones around the country where work can begin on rebuilding places that have been heavily damaged during the civil war. But the measure only gave displaced Syrians one month to claim their property and prove ownership after receiving a notice that it was part of one of these zones, before that property would pass to the government. With millions of Syrians having been forced to flee the war, most of whom probably didn’t have the foresight to bring their financial records along as they were running for their lives, one month was so little time that the measure seemed to be a transparently bad faith effort to justify massive property seizures. The new amendment gives people one year to prove ownership, which is certainly better but not as good as eliminating the law altogether.

Meanwhile, a car bombing outside police headquarters and/or a school in Turkish-controlled Jarabulus on Monday killed at least one person, according to the AP (see the article above). There are some less credible sources on Twitter claiming higher casualty counts but so far only the one death seems to have been confirmed. There’s been no claim of responsibility.

It’s unclear what got Turkey to stop bombarding the YPG in northeastern Syria, but there’s a decent possibility it involved some US promises about the future of Manbij. The Turks are keen to displace the Kurdish governing council currently in control of the town and replace it with their own proxies, but that’s simply not possible…as long as the US is protecting the Kurds. But that could change.


After a 12 hour pause in coalition airstrikes in Hudaydah on Monday that generated buzz about a possible ceasefire, the strikes resumed in earnest as did their accompanying street battles between Houthi and pro-government forces. The coalition secured its control over the city’s main medical facility, the May 22 Hospital, though operations there have been severely disrupted as medical personnel fled the coalition assault on the facility over the weekend.


The Turkish government responded angrily on Monday to criticism from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been using the Jamal Khashoggi murder to play a “political game” with the Saudis. Which of course he has, but that sin still pales in comparison to the, you know, murder. Le Drian was responding to reports that Turkey had “given” an audio recording of Khashoggi’s death to, among others, the French government, and suggested that Erdoğan was lying because France doesn’t have a recording. The Turkish government says it only told reporters that it’s “shared” the recording with other governments, as in it let representatives of those governments listen to the audio and blamed Le Drian for the “miscommunication.” Ankara wants to be sure the Saudis’ Western allies don’t attempt to change the subject to talk about Erdoğan’s conduct and downplay what happened to Khashoggi.


Gunmen, probably from ISIS, attacked the home of a Sunni militia officer in Anbar province on Monday, killing their intended target as well as at least eight other people.

Don’t look now, but protests have come back to Basra:

At the end of October the Human Rights office in Basra warned that people were mobilizing once again to protest over water, electricity and jobs. The provincial police chief tried to play down those comments claiming that gatherings were being postponed, but that proved untrue. That same day, November 1, there was a sit in near the Basra Oil Company marking the return of demonstrations. November 3, people gathered at Abdul Qasim Square in Basra city demanding jobs, an end to the water crisis, services, and for a minister from Basra to be appointed to PM Mahdi’s new cabinet. The next day dozens gathered again outside the Basra Oil Company. Things gained steam with protests every day from November 8 to 11 in Basra city, in the north and around the West Qurna 2 oil field.

New Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi didn’t think to name a single cabinet minister from Basra, which, come on dude. It’s not like Basrans were happy with the last cabinet, which had a couple of ministers from Basra, but this was obviously going to be seen as a slap in the city’s collective face. Now there’s talk about regional autonomy in the air, which probably isn’t good.


Welp, Gaza is as close to a full-scale war as it’s been at any time since the last Gaza war in 2014, and obviously it’s totally the Palestinians’ fa-

A covert Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip apparently went bad on Sunday, leaving at least seven Palestinians dead, including one senior Hamas military commander, and puncturing a nascent cease-fire with a flurry of airstrikes and rocket fire.

An Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed and another officer was wounded in the action near Khan Younis, the first known Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge, in July 2014, set off a seven-week war.

The impetus for the Israeli operation and its nature were unclear. Reports in the Israeli news media generally described it as an intelligence mission that went awry.

Oh man, I hate it when my intelligence missions go awry and me and the boys have to drive around blasting the fuck out of whoever we see to try to cover our asses. The Washington Generals Israeli commandos requested air support, which turned into dozens of missile strikes in the vicinity of their operation, to which the Palestinians responded with rocket fire against targets in southern Israel and AH-HA! THE PALESTINIANS ARE TO BLAME! Glad we cleared that up!

The Palestinians have spent most of the day lobbing rockets into southern Israel, while the Israelis have responded with airstrikes that, among other things, hit 70 Hamas military targets, Hamas’s al-Aqsa television and radio stations, and the homes of several Hamas fighters, some of which presumably also house the wives and children of those fighters. Only three Palestinians have been reported killed so far, but obviously that number may rise. At least ten Israelis have reportedly been wounded by Gazan rockets, including at least one critically in a rocket that hit an Israeli bus, though that number will probably rise as well.


The seven-plus minutes it allegedly took Jamal Khashoggi to die is apparently only the second most scandalous thing about the audiotape of his murder:

Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed last month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to “tell your boss,” believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to three people familiar with a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence.

The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist whose death prompted an international outcry.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

It’s not proof that MBS was directly involved in the murder–it is possible that Mutreb erroneously believed he was or that he was referring to somebody else–but short of a full public confession this is as close as anybody is likely to get to proving that he ordered the hit. Nevertheless, even a sliver of daylight between the prince and the murder is going to be enough for the Trump administration to absolve him completely.

The Saudis are doing their best to keep putting a good public face on things despite the Khashoggi fallout. But behind the scenes, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov says there are signs that the once untouchable crown prince is under some pressure within the royal family:

The return to Riyadh earlier this month of Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the sole surviving full brother of monarch, King Salman, has been widely interpreted as a first step in the restoration of an old order, in which decision making was made after extensive consultation among elders. Another senior figure, Khalid al-Faisal, led the Saudi delegation to meet Erdoğan in October, and the King himself – who has taken more of a chairman role since appointing Prince Mohammed as his heir – has been more visible and vocal in meetings, a second senior source says.

“MbS [the common acronym for the crown prince] has had his wings clipped,” the source said. “There’s no doubt about it. He doesn’t have the same swagger, and he’s just as scared of a mis-step as the next guy. That’s a big change.”

Also you shouldn’t miss this account of MBS’s irritation at his fake friends:

“He was blaming the Americans for betraying him initially,” said the regional source. “He’d seen Abu Ghraib, renditions, death penalties, and he felt comforted by Trump. He could not understand why this was happening to him.”

“He felt comforted by Trump.” It’s terrifying to imagine what kind of horrors MBS would be inflicting upon the world if he weren’t an idiot. He’s done enough damage as it is.


Iranian officials are denying reports that they’ve already begun executing the 22 people arrested in connection with the September 22 terrorist attack in Ahvaz. Both ISIS and Ahvazi Arab separatists have claimed responsibility for that attack.

Hey, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is still fulfilling its obligations under the nuclear deal. While the US punishes it anyway. The optics of that situation are one reason why economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani thinks Iran might be able to ride out and/or get around US sanctions more effectively in 2018 than it could during Barack Obama’s first term, the last time those sanctions were in full effect. However, President Hassan Rouhani’s neoliberalism is going to cost him–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cash transfer program helped cushion the sanctions’ blow on the poorest Iranians, but Rouhani opted to let that program wither on the vine.


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