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A Middle East Grand Bargain Must Create Kurdistan by Sherkoh Abbas and Robert Sklaroff

President Trump’s itinerary during his first overseas trip revealed both his goal and its attendant strategy—although it remains officially unstated—as he tries to fashion a durable end to the Syrian civil war and the birth of a restructured region.

In the process of touching-base with the nerve-centers of each of the three major Middle East religions, he attempted to eliminate the Islamic State without empowering Iran.

Conspiratorial Liberals yelp when he recruits Russia, and acolytes of the Obama Administration condemn his having maneuvered around Tehran.

But he must defang the ayatollahs, lest they ally with North Korean missile-rattlers and threaten World War III.

This is why he keeps an armada in the Gulf, while maintaining a beefed-up presence in the Sea of Japan and encouraging Beijing to block Pyongyang from nuke-testing, for he must stretch the depleted military in theaters a half-globe apart until it has been rebuilt.

And that’s why he has embedded Americans with Kurdish forces attacking Raqqa, for it is impossible to be a “player” without having placed pieces onto the board.Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the U.S. national security adviser, was triggered to inform Turkey on May 1st  that the Kurds were to receive heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, and armored cars after the Turks had lethally-bombed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria the prior Tuesday. That reflected autocrat Erdo?an having again  “distracted”  world attention from targeting the primary target, the Islamic State.

Accommodating this major reconfiguration of regional forces, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia saw no need to arm the Syrian Kurds, but said Moscow would maintain working contacts with them.

Secretary of Defense James “Jim” Mattis had decided to arm the Kurds directly rather than via any regional country, finally reversing Obama’s following-from-behind intransigent passivity.

He is implementing key aphorisms derived from his storied career defending America.

Indeed, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) recognized arming the Kurds constitutes “an immense milestone.”

In the process, Mattis has recognized The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan, an essay—illustrated by a settlement-map—that succinctly details the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.

Visiting Trump in this charged atmosphere, Erdo?an chose the wrong time to be bellicose against Israel and America.  His post-referendum dictatorial effort to promote Jihad was again manifest through two decrees; one that expelled more than 4,000 civil servants and another that banned television dating programs.

That these actions were  not being well-received. That was reflected in the fact that the latter two hyperlinks [al-Monitor and Aljazeera] are from Arab websites, suggesting welcome-recognition of a tilt toward inter-alia the Sunni Gulf states, plus Qatar, the locale of a major American military presence over NATO-aligned Ankara ,which is increasingly aligning with Iran against the potential for Kurds to achieve independence.

That  would serve as the culmination of battle-plans we have proposed for almost a decade.  In 2008, we identified  Kurds as  an “invisible people”  and   advocated confronting the major source of global terrorism,The Road to Iran Runs through Kurdistan – and Starts in Syria. In 2015, we showed why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot,[The Pathway to Defeating ISIS Runs Though Kurdistan – And Starts in America. In 2013, we  concluded The Kurds can lead a reconstituted  Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors.  In 2014, we suggested NATO Must Help the Kurds Now.

That is  why Kurds are seeking recognition of their enormous military sacrifice and their unique political feat, noting their carefully-constructed federal system in Rojava;  the area of Northern Syria comprised of four self-governing cantons.

Resolving vague territorial claims would yield a regional Diaspora in Turkey, Iran, and Russia, although Stalin purged much of the USSR-population a half-century ago.

Recognizing that Russia has unilaterally created safe-zones, and buzzed American jets near Alaska and Crimea, it will remain vital to coordinate militaries functioning in close-quarters, to ensure spheres of influence do not inadvertently trigger  conflict.

If America retracts support for anti-Islamist Kurds, Erdo?an will be free to promote his brand of Muslim Brotherhood ideology; the dangerous ramifications of which have been explored [Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future].

NATO can reassure Turkey that creation of an independent Kurdistan south of its border, joining with the federated section of northern Iraq, will remove inordinate fears that secession-agitation will persist on its eastern reaches.

Turkey needs to accept this type of endpoint, for its military killed six members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in air strikes in northern Iraq .

What really irks Erdo?an is that “U.S. arming Syrian Kurds shattered Turkey’s Ottoman Empire ambitions. ” Both  America and Turkey will face a de-facto proxy-war unless Erdogan heeds the more conciliatory tone struck by his Prime Minister.

The schism between the United States and Turkey was illustrated during their press  event.  These leaders deemed different entities as “terroristic”.  Trump cited PKK; whereas Erdo?an cited YPG/PYD .

This perhaps explains the anguish expressed by Turkish security guards, when they beatprotesters—primarily Kurds and Armenian outside t their D.C. embassy .

We suggest the following blueprint should be followed to prompt Moscow to help oust Iran from Syria . It would allow the Kurdish-plurality in northwestern Syria to extend its governance to the Mediterranean Sea, blocking Turkey from expansionist temptations.

The multi-front war against Islamists is recognized by Western leaders such as US Senator Ted Cruz (R, Texas) and globally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—to have supplanted the Cold War paradigm of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Perhaps the ultimate method to illustrate the wisdom of this approach is to discount an oppositional paradigm, such as the false claim that American involvement in Syria would merely be a manifestation of Western Imperialism in Rojava.

Instead, America should  implement Point 12  of Woodrow Wilson’s 14-Point Plan that advocated establishing Kurdistan more than a century ago.

At  long last, America Must Recognize Kurdistan  by serving as midwife for a new country [assuming this is the electoral outcome of the originally scheduled September 25 plebiscite sponsored by the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq. That  would assist in finally defeating  the Islamic State.  This would offer immediate and long-term geo-political  dividends.

ABOUT SHERKOH ABBAS

Sherkoh Abbas is President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.

ABOUT ROBERT SKLAROFF

Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist and supporter of Kurdish self-determination.

This article constitutes the policy of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, conveyed to America and to the world, representing the Kurds of Syria.

RELATED ARTICLE: Netanyahu, the First World Leader to Endorse Independent Kurdistan, Hits Back at Erdogan for Supporting Hamas

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

WARNING: The Turkey Trap — Erdogan thinks he can blackmail Trump

Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming to Washington, DC, on May 16 loaded for bear.

He has an ambitious agenda and apparently feels he can achieve it all because he holds “trump” cards against the President of the United States.

Erdogan and his proxies have publicly said they want to convince the United States to jettison its budding alliance with the Syrian Democratic Union (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group that has become the tip of the spear in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

On this point, they will encounter resistance from the U.S. military, which sent a U.S. U.S. Marines Stryker group into northern Syria recently to serve as a buffer between Turkish and Kurdish forces after the Turkish air force conducted air strikes that killed twenty of the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan can be expected once again to trot out “evidence” that the Syrian Kurds and their Iranian allies, known as PJAK, are puppets of the PKK, the Kurdish group that waged war against the Turkish state for 15 years before entering into negotiations in 1999.

Both the United States and the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization, while recognizing that the Syrian and Iranian Kurds have separate command structures. Neither the YPG nor PJAK has joined the PKK in military operations inside Turkey.

But Erdogan has more on his agenda than Kurds and Syria. He is also seeking the extradition to Turkey of former ally-turned-arch political rival, Islamist cleric Fetullah Gulen, who fled Turkey for Pennsylvania in 1999.

Erdogan accuses Gulen of having masterminded the failed July 2016 coup against him, a claim the cleric denies. Critics of the Turkish president who are not allied with Gulen have questioned the authenticity of the coup, citing the professionalism of previous coups by the Turkish military and the amateur nature of last year’s attempt.

This won’t be the first time Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. extradite Gulen, whom he has taken to calling the head of “FETO” – the Fethullah Terrorist Organization.

Since the botched coup, Erdogan and his strongmen have conducted sweeping purges of the military, police, criminal justice and even education system, firing more than 120,000 suspected Gulen supporters and arresting more than 40,000. Erdogan called the failed coup a “gift from God.” Indeed.

Many of those arrested have been accused of being “terrorists” because they were caught in possession of U.S. one dollar bills, which Erdogan claims Gulen supporters use as a “secret signal” to identify themselves to one other.

Among these victims was the 19-year old son of a U.S.-based academic, Dr. Ahmet Yayla, who until 2014 served as police chief in Sanliurfa, a city along the Syrian border, where he was ordered to provide security to wounded ISIS terrorists so they could receive treatment in Turkish hospitals.

Since moving to the United States in 2015, Dr. Yayla, who says he has no affiliation with Gulen or the Gulenist movement, has written scathing exposes of how Erdogan helped funnel arms to ISIS and “deliberately turned a blind eye to the Islamic State’s use of his nation as a staging ground for attacks.” Dr. Yayla has also accused Erdogan and his family of benefiting from the sale of ISIS oil, citing hacked emails from the account of Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s Minister of energy and natural resources. He believes his son was arrested in an attempt to silence him.

The third item on Erdogan’s agenda is by far the most troubling, and could pose a real challenge to President Trump.

He wants the President to order the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York to drop charges against a Turkish-Iranian national, Reza Zarrab, who is accused of a vast money-laundering scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran that allegedly involved huge bribes paid to top Turkish officials, including members of Erdogan’s own family.

Zarrab, also known as Riza Sarraf, was arrested while attempting to take his family to Disneyworld in March 2016. Despite offers to post a $10 million bond and to stay under house arrest in a luxury apartment in Manhattan, Zarrab remains in custody. His jury trial is scheduled to begin on August 16.

According to federal prosecutors, Zarrab offered his money-laundering services to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a 2011 letter, and worked in tandem with Babak Zanjani, who had deep ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The United States Treasury identified Zanjani and his Sorinet Group in 2013 as the principle operator of a vast money-laundering scheme that helped Iran to sell upwards of $200 billion of oil in violation of international sanctions. Zarrab and his Turkish political partners, reportedly including Erdogan himself, were instrumental in laundering the proceeds back to Iran through U.S. and Turkish banks.

Prosecutors in Turkey arrested Zarrab on December 17, 2013, on corruption charges involving bribes to four members of then Prime Minister Erdogan’s cabinet, including his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.

Erdogan struck back by firing the prosecutors, police investigators and judges involved in the probe, accusing them of plotting against him on behalf of Fethullah Gulen.

Two months later, five audio tapes of alleged phone conversations between Erdogan and his son, Bilal, on the day of Zarrab’s arrest, show why Erdogan panicked. In the tapes, posted on line, Erdogan can be heard instructing his son to remove $1 billion in cash from his home and the homes of family members before the police arrived.

That money reportedly had been paid to Erdogan and his family by Zarrab in exchange for allowing Zarrab to launder Iranian oil money through Turkish banks and to buy gold he subsequently shipped to Iran via the United Arab Emirates. Erdogan has not denied that he and his son are speaking on the tapes, but claims they have been doctored.

For a few months, it was touch and go for Erdogan, with many commentators suggesting the corruption scandal would sweep him from office. But as his purges expanded and he closed down all opposition media, he managed instead to consolidate power. By March 2014, he ordered Zarrab released from jail and even commended him as a prominent job-creator and philanthropist. (Among Zarrab’s charitable gifts was a $4.65 million contribution to a charity run by Erdogan’s wife, Ermine, according to U.S. court filings.)

President Erdogan’s close ties to the Iranian regime have often been downplayed in the media and among Middle East “experts,” just as they have downplayed his ties to ISIS.

But Reza Zarrab knows the truth. Erdogan desperately wants to keep him from appearing at a public trial in New York, where prosecutors could very well convince him to tell the truth about the payoffs to Erdogan and the money-laundering scheme in exchange for a reduction of the 75-year prison term they are currently suggesting.

Here’s where it gets personal for President Trump.

In March, Zarrab hired former New York Mayor and Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani onto his legal team, along with former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

The two traveled to Turkey to confer with President Erdogan about the case and spoke with senior U.S. officials as well, arguing that Zarrab was a non-violent offender who deserved clemency.

They attempted to keep their involvement in the case confidential until Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard outed them in public court filings, accusing the two of seeking to “muddy the waters” by downplaying the gravity of the charges against their client.

“The entities that benefited from this alleged scheme include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and agents or affiliates of that entity, Iranian banks that have been sanctioned for their role in providing financing for Iran’s nuclear programs, and Iranian commercial airlines,” Lockard said.

Giuliani’s lawfirm, Greenberg Traurig, is a registered lobbyist for the government of Turkey, giving rise to complaints from other members of Zarrab’s legal team that he might represent Turkey’s interests before their client’s. Mukasey’s lawfirm, Debevoise & Plimpton, is representing Iranian government-related defendants in a separate civil forfeiture case being prosecuted by Lockard, while Mukasey’s son has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Preet Bharara, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month.

Tayyip Erdogan is not known for his subtlety. In the days following the July 2016 attempted coup, he ordered Interior Ministry troops to surround the NATO airbase at Incirlik, which the U.S. Air Force uses for operations against ISIS, reportedly in retaliation for what he claimed was U.S. involvement in the coup.

He will surely remind the U.S. president that Turkey still controls Incirlik. He may also suggest that should President Trump not agree to his demands, the Turkish government might penalize the Trump Organization, which is building luxury residential and office towers in the heart of Istanbul.

While Erdogan might be tempted by this crude attempt at blackmail, he has far more to lose than Donald Trump.

President Trump has consistently said that he puts the national interest before his personal or business interests. Standing up to Erdogan, even taking a hit from Erdogan’s thugs, would only enhance his reputation with American voters, whereas Reza Zarrab’s revelations could sink Erdogan for good.

As for Incirlik, many have suggested already that the United States should build replacement air bases around the region, starting in Iraqi Kurdistan. If Turkey does not take their NATO commitments seriously, then we should reconsider Turkey’s membership in NATO.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in FrontPage Magazine.

Turkey rejects secularism, turns Islamic

The news from Turkey is disquieting. The Guardian reported;” Erdogan clinches victory in Turkish constitutional referendum:”

Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has achieved victory in a historic referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will grant him sweeping new powers.

Sadi Güven, the head of Turkey’s high electoral board (YSK), confirmed the passage of the referendum on Sunday night, based on unofficial results.

The yes campaign won 1.25m more votes than the no campaign, with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted, Güven told reporters in Ankara, meaning the expanded presidential powers had been approved.

However, disparities persisted into Sunday evening, with the opposition saying not all ballots had been counted and they would contest a third of the votes that had been cast.

Güven said the YSK had decided to consider unstamped ballots as valid unless they were proved to be fraudulent, after a high number of complaints – including one from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) – that its officials had failed to stamp some ballot papers.

The no campaign said the YSK’s last-minute decision raised questions about the validity of the vote. But Güven said the decision was taken before results were entered into the system and that members of the AKP and the main opposition were present at almost all polling stations and signed off on reports. He said official results were expected in 11-12 days.

The result of the referendum sets the stage for a transformation of the upper echelons of the state and changing the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic, arguably the most important development in the country’s history since it was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Republic.

Erdogan said he would immediately discuss reinstating the death penalty in talks with the prime minister and the nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahçeli. The president said he would take the issue to referendum if necessary.

Not a resounding mandate was achieved  in today’s “muted victory” in the Turkish  national referendum leaving the country divided:

The narrow victory will nevertheless come as a disappointment for the country’s leadership, which had hoped for a decisive mandate for the plan that could see Erdogan remain in power until 2029 if he wins successive elections.

The result will set the stage for a further split between Turkey and its European allies, who believe Ankara is sliding towards autocracy. The European commission said on Sunday night that Turkey should seek the “broadest possible national consensus” in its constitutional amendments, given the yes campaign’s slim margin of victory.

Results carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed the yes vote had about 51.3% compared with 48.7% for the no vote, with nearly 99% of the vote counted. Turnout exceeded 80%.

The country’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – voted against the changes, and so did the vast majority of Kurdish voters and many of the coastal cities, indicating a general decline in the ruling party’s support

In a press conference in Istanbul following his party’s declaration of victory, Erdogan said that unofficial results showed there were about 25m yes votes, 1.3m more than no.

But in an unusually muted victory speech, Erdogan said foreign powers should respect the referendum’s outcome. He said: “We’ve got a lot to do, we are on this path but it’s time to change gears and go faster … We are carrying out the most important reform in the history of our nation.”

Erdogan claimed support for constitutional change had risen in south-east Turkey and hailed a “profound” jump in support for a presidential system that was unpopular just two years ago. Overseas votes were a “big part” of that success, he said, adding that his new executive presidency would probably come into effect after the 2019 election.

Erdogan called the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, and other political allies to congratulate them on the victory, although, in an indication of the ruling AKP’s disappointment, the deputy prime minister said they had received fewer votes than they expected.

Turkeys Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Our comment

Erdogan and AKP celebrate while concerned opposition challenges alleged narrow victory requesting a recount of 60 percent of votes cast.

Was there the expected jiggery pokery over the ballot counting in the nation referendum? Without independent foreign monitors present, how do we know if this vote count wasn’t tampered with? How can Turkish voters trust the integrity of the ballot system under the Islamist autocracy of the neo Sultan Erdogan and his cronies conspiring to overturn the 1923 Constitutional legacy of Turkish Republic founder Kemal Ataturk.

In a land of Islamic ascendency under Erdogan, dystopia will follow today’s referendum under cover of darkness at noon.

Darkness at Noon in Erodgan’s Turkey

If you want to know what was at stake in today’s National Referendum in Turkey read this New York Times Magazine article, “Inside Turkey’s Purge”. The article by Suzy Hansen rivals the paranoia portrayed in the thinly disguised world of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930’s in Russia in former Communist Arthur Koestler’s classic novel, Darkness at Noon.

Great swaths of lives swept aside by the dystopian vision of President Erdogan, that if implemented by today’s outcome would end the last vestige of freedom of thought, free expression with random imprisonment, torture sending those desperate to leave to opt for refugee smugglers to bring them to exile in Europe and elsewhere.

All because Erdogan brooks no opposition following his faux coup of July 2016 allegedly perpetrated by exiled former ally Sheik Fethullah Gulen’s mythical FETO network. Then there are the Kurds whose liberal Peoples Democratic Party leader, (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas and thousands of elected officials he accuses of being stalking horses for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, the cease fire of 2013 which he struck with jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan he overturned in July2015 with open warfare against the largely Kurdish southeastern region turning cities there into virtual moonscapes.

Erdogan’s quest of becoming autocrat for life will denude Turkey of its educated class, industrialists, journalists, educators, jurists, prosecutors and secular military. It will. likely lead to oppression of significant religious and ethnic minorities, prominent among them, Alevis and Kurds. The economy will suffer from lack of foreign investment, unemployment rising and real income plummeting. The Erdogan family and AKP operatives will reap enormous wealth from corruption. Foreign relations with the EU, UK and US may enter a dark period, with the threat of loss of NATO membership and alliance with another dystopian country Putin’s Russia.

Read this opening stanza of Ms. Hansen’s riveting and disturbing profile of Darkness at Noon :

The police officers came to the doctor’s door in Istanbul at 6 a.m. — dawn raids usually start then, sometimes 5:30 — and one of them said, “You are accused of attempting to kill President Erdogan.”

The doctor couldn’t help it; he laughed. “Really? I did that?”

The police officers smiled, too. “Yes. Also for attempting to destroy Turkey and for being a member of a terrorist organization.”

“Really?” He looked at them. They carried pistols. “Can I have a cigarette then?”

The police seemed surprised. They didn’t expect a Gulenist to smoke. I’m not a Gulenist, the doctor insisted. That didn’t help him. He would soon be one of the many thousands of people in Turkey caught in the machinery of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge.

The police searched the doctor’s house and his books and overturned his things, looking for evidence that he was a Gulenist, or a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who began preaching in Turkey in the 1960s and whose followers number as many as five million. Gulen has been living in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, which partly explains why the police were looking for American $1 bills whose serial numbers start with “F” — the Turkish government claims that these were used in some mysterious way by something it has branded the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization, or FETO, which it blames for the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

At present, several pieces of evidence can suggest that you may be a member of FETO, including having had an account at Bank Asya, which was founded by Gulenists; running the ByLock encrypted communication app on your phone (thought to have facilitated planning for the coup attempt); possessing those F-series dollar bills; sending your children to a school associated with Gulen; working at a Gulen-affiliated institution (a university, say, or a hospital); having subscribed to the Gulen newspaper Zaman; or having Gulen’s books in your house. One action implicated the doctor: When he returned to Turkey after living abroad for three years and moved into a new house with his wife and children, he opened an account at the nearest bank up the street: Bank Asya.

(READ MORE)

RELATED ARTICLE: How Erdogan’s Victory Might Be Europe’s Defeat

Will Syria’s Kurds join with Israel and the U.S.?

kurdnasLogoHiSherkoh Abbas , President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS), raised in  a recent Jns.com article the tantalizing prospect of a Kurdish- Israel- US Alliance to complete the work of destroying the Islamic State, “Are Syrian Kurds the missing ingredient in the West’s recipe to defeat Islamic State?” The thoughts expressed in this article reflect a recent conversation the author held with Sherkoh Abbas and Dr. Mordechai Nisan, author of  Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression.

The Kurds have earned political and military capital in both Iraq and Syria as the most effective boots on the ground combating the extremist Salafism of the Islamic State. This largest non Arab ethnic group in the Middle East has long been denied the promised statehood at the Versailles conference of 1919 that ended the First World War and the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 that established the modern Republic of Turkey.

Nevertheless, the Kurds have been resilient despite numerous tragic setbacks in their history over the past century. The establishment of a no fly zone in northern Iraq under US auspices led to the creation the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and its much praised fighting force, the Peshmerga.

Further, it demonstrated the capabilities of the Kurds to govern themselves, overcoming internal differences and external geo- political threats from a hegemonic Iran and the Ba’athist regime of the late Saddam Hussein. Having vast energy resources helped to fuel the KRG’s development. KRG’s Peshmerga exemplary role in the current battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, in coordination with Iraqi national security and US forces, demonstrated its proficiency. Its humanity was demonstrated providing safe havens for Yazidis, Chaldean Christians and other ethnic non Muslim minorities that brought the KRG global recognition and respect.

On the surface the situation in Syrian Kurdistan, while complicated, has the potential for fostering the development of an autonomous Kurdish region extending across northern Syria from the KRG frontier to the Mediterranean, despite the objections of Erdogan’s Turkey.

We only have to look at recent actions by both Russia and the US. Russia and the YPG concluded an arrangement potentially protecting the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Northwest Syria. Further, Russian meetings with Syrian Kurdish representatives in Moscow have evinced Kremlin interest in a federalized Syria in any agreement to end the seven year civil war with the Assad regime. After WWII, the Russians established a short-lived Kurdish Republic in Mahabad, Iran.  US Army Brig. General (ret.) Ernie Audino in our December 2015 New English Review interview, “No War Against ISIS Without the Kurds”, noted that history:

The well-educated and well-respected Qazi Muhammad was elected to serve as president of the Mahabad Republic, history’s first and only sovereign, Kurdish state. Knowing he needed a capable army to protect the state he requested help from the great Kurdish nationalist, Mustafa Barzani, who showed up with 5,000 of his peshmerga. During this period, a son was born to Barzani who named him, Masud. That son is now Masud Barzani, the current President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

The U.S. has acted as an umpire between Turkish forces of President Erdogan and Islamist Sunni opposition militia from entering Manbij, liberated by the YPG on the west bank of the Euphrates River.

Moreover, the US sent a message to Ankara that it was backing the YPG led Syrian Democratic Force in the battle to retake the Islamic State administrative capital of Raqqa. The Pentagon has dispatched a US Marine artillery unit. It also alerted a reinforced brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division for possible deployment in Syria.

On the political side of the Syrian Kurdish conundrum there is the daunting task of unifying the tribes, political parties, and the Kurdish National Council.

As Sherkoh Abbas of KURDNAS has pointed out that will require the delinking of the YPG/PYD leadership from outreach and involvement with the PKK, the Assad regime, Iran’s Qods Force, and its proxy, the Iraqi Hashd Shiite Popular Mobilization Force militia. There are indications that the YPG/PYD might consider doing this if there were US, Russian and potentially, Israeli auspices.

Israeli PM Netanyahu, a year and a half ago, issued a statement supporting the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the region; welcomed by the Kurdish communities.

The benefits would include having a reliable ally in a post Assad Syria with both political and military capacities and a secure source of oil to meet the Jewish nation’s growing domestic and regional demand.

Israel has to take an important step to achieve these desirable results. It has to reach out to both the Syrian Kurds and the Trump Administration to recognize the significant Kurdish role in the final destruction of the Islamic State threatening the security of Israel’s northern Golan frontier.

If that succeeds then both the US and Israel would have an important stable alliance with the largest non Arab ethnic polity in the troubled Middle East.  With the defeat of the Islamic State, that would turn attention to reining in the threat posed by a hegemonic Iran. With the possibility of a triple entente composed of both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistans, Israel and the US, it raises the future prospect of fostering regime change in Tehran giving rise to the aspirations for autonomy of minorities in Iran- the Kurds, Azeri, Ahwaz and Baluch.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

PODCAST: U.S. – Russia – Syria – Iran – Turkey – Israel a ‘Tectonic Policy Shift’

Listen to this compelling, yet disturbing Lisa Benson Show with guests Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy Center and best selling author and investigative journalist Ken Timmerman.

The round table discussion reveals the duplicity of Turkey, with Russia and U.S. complicity in Syria throwing the Kurds under the bus gutting the war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

The discussion revealed how the Obama Administration is:

  • abandoning the Persian Gulf to Iran,
  • destabilizing the world’s energy supply,
  • getting ready to withdraw U.S. Naval assets from the region
  • and avoiding Congressional appropriation authorities by paying Tehran with $1.3 billion from a State Department “slush fund” possibly via the Swiss Central Bank.

Listen to the broadcast and share it widely as this is not being covered by mainstream media in the run up to the Presidential campaign foreign policy debate.

THE TURKEY-RUSSIA-IRAN AXIS: Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East

A tectonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and counter-moves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22 M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

RELATED ARTICLE: Iran regime arrests 450 social media users for ‘immoral activities’

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared FrontPage Magazine.

Turkey Needs To Go Play In Its Own Sandbox

Turkey’s President Erdogan, and close Obama friend, recently spoke to a group of you guessed it, mostly Muslim crowd, at the opening of a Turkish funded Islamic school in Lanham, Maryland, which is not far from D.C. The opening of the $110 million Diyanet Center is said to go three stories beneath the ground with a pool, fitness center and last, but not least a Turkish bath.

The opening of America’s largest Islamic Center coincides with a recent story of five Northern Virginia Muslims arrested for ties with ISIS. Understandably, local Maryland residents are concerned as the frequent reporting of Islamic terrorism occurring not only world-wide, but state-side increases.

According to an RT article Erdogan, speaking at the dedication of the center, chastised the politicians in America and our society by stating that,

 “there are still people walking around calling Muslims terrorists.”

He added that Muslims in America are making this country stronger, and shouldn’t have to hear anti-Muslim sentiment.

He continued,

“It is unacceptable for the Muslims of the world to be forced to pay the price of a horror of a pain and suffering created by a handful of terrorists, infamous terrorists here in the aftermath of 9/11,”

First of all, no leader of another country should be allowed to step foot on our soil and proceed to tell Americans what we can or cannot say, nor do we have to look as far back as 9/11 for Islamic terrorists. It is hard to swing a dead cat and not hit one these days.

Yet that is what Obama,  Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and  Hillary Clinton along with the rest of the liberal left and the democrats are pushing in the way of UN 1618, which is to criminalize any criticism of Islam.

As a matter of fact,House Resolution (H.Res. 569), was introduced towards the same ends as the UN 1618. It is about,

“Condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims in the United States”.

An article contained in The Counter Jihad Report states,

“The Resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Democrat Donald S. Beyer (Virginia) on December 17, 2015 — a mere 15 days after Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook gunned down 14 innocent Americans and wounded 23 in an ISIS-inspired terror attack at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.”

The bill sounds like an angle right out of Ergodan’s playbook.

“the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes and rhetoric have faced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse because they were Muslim or believed to be Muslim,” and the House of Representatives “expresses its condolences for the victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes.”

Secondly, it is rather difficult to take this man seriously when he demands respect be paid to all Muslims in America, when his own security team is involved in violence right outside the Brookings Institute  in D.C. where he chose to visit.

Apparently several journalists were kicked, pushed and thrown to the ground outside the liberal think tank when they were peaceful protestors gathered. The State Department condemned the behavior as “totally unacceptable.” Yet this is a perfect example of  leaders and movements who cannot tolerate an opposing view, so they must crush free speech and any form of expressing it.

Incidentally, while Erdogan is in the Eastern United States spreading the Islamic ideology and symbolically conquering land for Islam, Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and billionaire who lives in the Poconos, is attempting to open up an Islamic school on an Air Force base in Colorado. Gulen presently is uner investigation as he is living here under a self-imposed exile avoiding prosecution in Turkey.

According to Dr. Rich Swier’s article quoting Robert R. Amsterdam, founder of an international law firm based in D.C. and London, of The Hill,

“A secretive Islamic movement is trying to infiltrate the U.S. military by establishing and operating publicly-funded charter schools targeted toward children of American service personnel.”

He continues,

“Our investigation, still in its early stages, reveals that the Gülen organization uses charter schools and affiliated businesses in the U.S. to misappropriate and launder state and federal education dollars, which the organization then uses for its own benefit to develop political power in this country and globally.”

These two Turks need to be shown the door, and not to let it hit them on the way out. Mosques and Islamic Centers are breeding grounds for Islamic terrorism.  Trump is right, there needs to be a ban on Sharia compliant Muslims coming into America. In addition, we must have a halt in the construction or designating of any more mosques or Islamic centers in this country.

Maybe Erdogan and Gulen would do well to play, or in their case fight in their own sandbox and leave us alone.

*Please research the Gulen movement here. This group takes numerous legislators, school teachers, parents, and school children on expense paid trips to Turkey.

EDITORS NOTE: You may follow Suzanne on Twitter here @srs808.

“This is a war and there will be thousands of deaths all across Europe.”

Over the past 24 hours Lisa Benson and Dr. Jill Bellamy, Dr. Jill Bellamy, noted bio defense  expert, member of the UN Counterterrorism Advisory Council  and Founding Director of Warfare Technology Analytics , held conversations and emails exchanges regarding the ISIS suicide bombings in Brussels at the Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek Metro near the EU Complex and European Parliament. The toll has now risen to 31 dead, two of whom are Americans, 330 injured, half of whom remain in hospital with extensive shrapnel wounds and burns. What follows are exchanges between Benson and Bellamy. Bellamy will be a guest on the Sunday, March 27, 2016 The Lisa Benson Show that airs at 4:00 PM EDT in the U.S.

Benson: Jill I started to write an article tonight on the brothers of the 9/11 attacks – and the brothers of Charlie Hebdo, Paris, Boston, and Brussels. The New York Times published a profile of the criminal brothers and suicide bombers, Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. These are same EU countries contending with terror from émigré Muslim communities  who have Lars Hedegaard charged with mentioning his Danish Palestinian émigré ISIS assailant’s name or  trying  Geert Wilders in a political trial at the Hague  charged over  his 2014 campaign statement “fewer Moroccans.”  I have so little hope — more bloodshed is coming — many more will die and political correctness will live on.

 Bellamy: I have colleagues stateside recommending that my children and I come back to the States. Although I don’t carry an active US passport, nor do my children, I have decided to apply for new passports. This is a war and there will be thousands of deaths all across Europe. This is just the very beginning. We will look back on the attacks in Paris and Brussels five years from now and understand that it was just the beginning.

Benson: This is an interesting time line from The Guardian, given that the Dutch apparently didn’t keep track of suicide bomber Ibrahim Bakraoiu deported by Turkey. They are the same folks who lost track of other terrorists. Meanwhile the Dutch are trying Geert Wilders for raising concerns about Islamic terrorists in the Netherlands.

Bellamy: As a Belgian of course I want to stay and raise my children in Belgium.  However, the Dutch policies and approaches are putting us all in great danger. I have far more faith in the Belgians and French. I know how they operate and what their views are. The Dutch are off in outer space when it comes to understanding and countering Islamic Jihad. They bend over backwards to help their Muslim population target us for death. The Belgians and French would do no such thing. I am quite sure they are giving Salah Abdeslam  some interesting experiences. The Dutch would never do this as it conflicts with their ingrained Calvinistic approach to fairness. Unfortunately, ‘fairness’ and laws which protect terrorists have left the Netherlands totally vulnerable. They are sitting ducks. Yes, they had to leave one of the larger bombs behind as it didn’t fit in the taxi. Another larger one did not detonate. They got that one to the airport. The fact that the one they did detonate brought down a part of the second floor, I just hesitate to think what may have happened had this other one gone off. Indeed I think the real target was Schuman or Luxembourg (these are metro stops running right under the Parliament). I would get off at Schuman and literally take fifty steps into the Parliament buildings.

Now that they suspect that there was a second terrorist with the one who bombed Maelbeek, it seems likely that they may have aborted putting a second bomb on perhaps the first metro. I think their real target was Schuman. I wonder if the bomb detonated early or if there was supposed to be a second bomb. This would make more sense to me. They wouldn’t just use one and they wouldn’t want it detonated at Maelbeek. It wasn’t the prime target, almost but not quite. I am very hopeful Belgian forces will capture the second and third terrorists who appear to have escaped. I also think with Abdeslam chirping away, that other networks across Europe will now be activated very quickly. I suspect we will see within the next few weeks, more major attacks. I can’t wait for Abdeslam to be extradited. Wait until the French get a hold of him.

Benson: If I am reading this correctly:

The train line running under the European Parliament could have been a secondary target….and they could not get all the explosives in the cab. My Israeli friend said that much of Europe believe they can be targeted. In the United States the supporters of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz believe that our government is appeasing ISIS terrorists.

 Bellamy:  Certainly, with the train line running under the European Parliament, this was intended to put the entire EU on notice that their countries are next. As I’ve written before our transportation networks are incredibly vulnerable.

Madrid was just the opener. I really believe that Schipol, with trains running conveniently under it, is next on the list. The Dutch refuse to believe they are in any way a target. They believe they are exempt from terrorism because they have tulips and windmills or some such nonsense. They also refuse to call a spade a spade. They refuse to acknowledge that they are next due to their large population of Muslims. While Muslim communities may be better integrated here compared to Belgium or France, they are still planning jihad. One is not necessarily related to the other and this is what the Dutch totally miss. They pin all their hopes on integration. The Dutch think they can appease Muslim communities by doing things like putting Geert Wilders on trial. This is a very naive and dangerous approach.  France and Belgium top the list mainly due to their colonial past. The Dutch are there because they are bombing Syria and they are a very soft and vulnerable target.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English ReviewThe featured image is from an Islamic State propaganda video claiming responsibility for the attacks in Brussels. The video calls for more attacks.

Florida: U.S. Arrests Iranian Turk in $110 Billion Illegal Gold for Gas Deal

Patrick Goodenough’s CNS article chronicles this latest expose of corruption by Turkey’s Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a $100 billion dollar gold for gas scheme, discovered in 2013, evading UN and U.S. sanctions against dealing with a  Nuclear Iran Iran-Related Arrest in Florida Could Have Political Implications for Turkey’s Islamist Ruling Party.  Goodenough gives credit to the investigation team at the Washington, DC based Foundation for Defense of Democracy research uncovering this duplicity, while the Administration was actively pursuing negotiations over an Iran nuclear pact.  Goodenough writes:

The arrest in Florida of a prominent Iranian-Turkish businessman accused of conspiring to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in financial transactions to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions may have major political implications in Turkey, where the same man was linked to a corruption scandal reaching into the upper ranks of the ruling party.

A senior opposition leader expressed the hope that the arrest of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish businessman, may lift the lid on a scandal which many critics suspect was covered up by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The Hurriyet daily quoted Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu as saying in parliament Tuesday that as a result of Zarrab’s arrest, “I am sure many will not get a wink of sleep tonight; they won’t be able to sleep in comfort in their beds.”

“Reza Zarrab will speak there, you will see,” he said, adding that “dirty relations will be exposed” and the facts will emerge about four AKP cabinet ministers who were the subject of massive fraud and corruption allegations three years ago.

The Department of Justice announced Monday the unsealing of an indictment in the in the Southern District of New York against dual Turkish-Iranian citizen Zarrab, 33, who was arrested in Florida on Saturday; and two Iranian nationals who remain at large, Camelia Jamshidy, 29, and Hossein Najafzadeh, 65.

John Carlin, assistant attorney-general for national security, said that according to the charges the three had “circumvented U.S. sanctions by conducting millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government and Iranian businesses.”

“These alleged violations, as well as the subsequent efforts taken to cover up these illicit actions, undermined U.S. laws designed to protect national security interests,” he said.

According to the indictment, between 2010 and 2015 the three allegedly conspired to thwart U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran by concealing financial transactions that were on behalf of the Iranian government or government-controlled banks and other entities.

They used a network of companies located in Iran, Turkey and elsewhere to conceal from U.S. banks, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and others the fact that the transactions were benefiting and on behalf of Iranian entities.

The indictment quotes from a Dec. 2011 letter from Zarrab, addressed to the general manager of the Central Bank of Iran saying in part, “[i]t is not secret that the trend is moving towards intensifying and increasing the sanctions, and since the wise leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran has announced this to be the year of the Economic Jihad, the Zarrab family, which has had a half a century of experience in foreign exchange, … considers it to be our national and moral duty to declare our willingness to participate in any kind of cooperation in order to implement monetary and foreign exchange anti-sanction policies …”

[…]

Earlier research into the “gas for gold” scheme by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Roubini Global Economics found that Iran and Turkey’s Halkbank were exploiting loopholes in U.S. sanctions law.

Here’s what we wrote about Zarrab and the emergence of the illegal gold trading back in a NER/Iconoclast post in January 2014.

Meanwhile the main secular opposition, the People’s Republican Party (CHP) lead by Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Turkey’s parliament has kept up a stream of constant criticism of Erdogan endeavoring to place him at the center of the corruption probe. Yesterday, he questioned the Turkish Intelligence (MIT) report on the illegal gold trading submitted in April 2013 involving Azeri Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab. Today’s Zaman reported Kilicdaroglu saying:

In a weekly meeting of his party’s parliamentary group on Tuesday, Kilicdaroglu addressed reports published Monday in a number of media outlets claiming that the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) submitted a report to Erdogan on April 18, 2013 detailing the shady relations – involving bribery and influence-peddling – of certain ministers with Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who is under arrest. “I would like to ask the prime minister about what he did upon receiving this report. Did you call these ministers and talk to them? Did you talk to your children? He didn’t. He is the one who gave these orders,” Kilicdaroglu said.

These latest developments on the Zarrab illegal gold trading for Iranian gas call into question the Administration’s policy of supporting Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS supporters like Erdogan. Erdogan’s Turkey, while criticized  by the US and  NATO, hasn’t been dismissed as a member of the mutual defense pact,   given his war against the Kurds inside the country,  across the border in north Syria and even in the Iraqi Kurdish region. All while surreptitiously supporting ISIS emboldening his family’s shipping and oil smuggling profiteering. Question why Israel wants to renew relations with Turkey after the May 2010 Mavi Mamara free Gaza incident paying $20 million in alleged wrongful death compensation for the nine Turkish nationals killed in the scuffle with Israel Naval commandos.  Note this recent anti-Semitic comment by the AKP woman official following the Istanbul blast that killed three Israelis, two of whom were American citizens, injuring ten others, from a Jerusalem Post report:

 An official from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party tweeted that she “wished the Israelis” who were said to be wounded in Saturday’s Istanbul suicide blast were dead. Irem Aktas made the provocative tweet immediately after the attack. Turkish sources said that Aktas is the head of the party’s media relations and women’s outreach department.

Credit the team at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for sleuthing the gold for gas scheme from open sources that we wrote about back in 2014.   Cliff May, President of FDD wrote this in an email:

This week, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of Turkish-Iranian national Reza Zarrab, upon his arrival in Miami. Among the charges: defrauding the US government.

Zarrab briefly made news in late 2013, when he was arrested on charges of corruption in Turkey, where he then resided. He was presumed to have coordinated Iran’s largest and most sophisticated sanctions evasion scheme on behalf of Babak Zanjani, an Iranian formerly under U.S. and EU sanctions who was recently sentenced to death in Iran for embezzlement.

The Turkish government quashed the police investigation against Zarrab — presumably because of the involvement of senior government officials in the corruption scheme he devised to grease the wheels of his operation.

The U.S. administration, keen not to undermine the chances of a nuclear deal with Iran, declined to pursue the dozens of companies and individuals involved in a giant financial scam that enabled Iran to launder more than $100 billion worth of oil and gas revenue, transform it into gold and ship it back to Iran through a trail of companies that went from Dubai to Turkey, from Istanbul to Tajikistan, from Tashkent to Malaysia.

For years, FDD has tirelessly and doggedly documented these networks. FDD Senior Fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi identified Mehdi Shams, one of Zanjani’s key associates, and mapped out his network of front companies in Europe and the Middle East as early as September 2013.

Despite reluctance by U.S. officials to take any action against Shams, Emanuele kept pushing the story as did others at FDD. When the Zarrab-Zanjani connection was exposed in December 2013, the Daily Beast extensively quoted Emanuele and exposed Shams’ links to Zanjani.

FDD’s Executive Director Mark Dubowitz and VP for Research Jonathan Schanzer detailed in hard hitting pieces the nature of the sanctions scheme. Their work helped inspire Congress to make important legislative changes designed to close a critical loophole in the sanctions architecture.

With the corruption scandal case in full swing in Turkey, Emanuele and FDD Fellow Saeed Ghasseminejad exposed another Zanjani associate in early January 2014 in a piece published in Turkey’s daily, Hurriyet. The man they named, Hamid Sallah Heravi, was sentenced to death along with Shams and Zanjani two weeks ago.

Then, in March 2014, with Turkey’s Erdogan determined to quash the investigation, the Turkish prosecutor’s indictment was leaked. FDD Turkish affairs analyst Merve Tahiroglu provided critical analysis based on a 330-page document that FDD promptly provided to Treasury.

Our team continued to follow the story and its many angles and to provide critical open-source intelligence to government authorities.

Our efforts have now paid off: Revelations from the Zanjani trial vindicate our insistence on going after his networks and his associates. They confirm our fellows’ open-source research on Iranian illicit finance networks. And the arrest of Zarrab in the United States is now sure to further expose the high levels of collusion and corruption within the Erdogan government.

Meanwhile, President Obama fresh from his fractious trip to Cuba with autocratic aging Communist dictator Raul Castro disputing the country’s notorious human rights record and family control over the economy has another problem upon arrival in Buenos Aires when he meet with President Mauricio Macri, whose election ended the corrupt 12 year reign of the Peronista Justicia party of former President Cristina Kirchner and her late husband. It concerns the release of US intelligence on Iranian involvement in the 1994 AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires that figured in the murky circumstances behind the murder of the late Argentinean special prosecutor Alberto Nisman in January 2015.  Stay tuned for developments in these stories dogging the President’s valedictory lap in Cuba and Latin America.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Defending Free Speech in an Islamic Europe

“Keep the Faith. Don’t be intimidated. You might as well be killed standing than crawling on your knees.” – Lars Hedegaard

LISTEN to this interview with Lars Hedegaard Founder of the Danish and International Free Press Societies that aired on the Lisa Benson show, Sunday, March 13, 2016:

Hedegaard discusses his struggle and survival fighting a Palestinian émigré shooter disguised as a Danish postman in an attempted assassination in February 2013 by who fled Denmark. Today he lives under 24/7 protection of the Danish security police in what he calls “a near Fort Knox-like complex.” He addresses Denmark’s inundation in the current massive wave of Muslim immigration, desperate assertion of border control and repression of free speech concerning the Islamization of Europe.  See our original interview with Hedegaard published in the New English Review Press collection, The West Speaks. 

Hedegaard was forthright, honest about his experience in the face of the attempt on his life in February 2013 by a Palestinian émigré, a well educated engineer who had become radicalized.  The perpetrator, “BH”, as Lars discussed on the program fled Denmark only to be arrested in Turkey in April 2014, later traded to release Turkish diplomats in Mosul, Iraq in October, despite Danish extradition requests. “BH” could have ended up in Syria with the Islamic State, as did a colleague who Hedegaard said had been killed by the Americans recently. Almost Kafkaesque  was Hedegaard’s discussions of the fines levied recently on him and others in the Danish Free Press Society publishing group, other Danish  media and Pegida.dk for revealing “BH’s” true identity.

His discussion of the political and social environment in neighboring Sweden, that we heard from Kent Ekeroth, Sweden Democrat and Riksdag parliament deputy in our interviews with him, is appalling. Hedegaard spoke of Geert Wilders being denied speaking in Sweden by hordes of protesters, persecuted Jews of Malmo fleeing Sweden for safety and the rapine misogyny of Muslim migrant males inflicted on unwary Swedish girls and women.  In Sweden, today, “it is nearly impossible to hold an open meeting.”

Hedegaard gave to truth to power about the ineptness of the current center right ruling coalition government in Denmark.  He suggests that the public outrage in his country presages a move to the right politically in the hopes that might stanch Islamic immigration and bolstering free speech from intimidation by the EU and sharia Islamic blasphemy.

While Denmark’s Jews may not be as threatened as our Sweden’s; nevertheless, Hedegaard cited the recent occurrence of a 16 year girl Islamic convert from Kundby, Denmark and her 24 year old boyfriend, an ISIS returning fighter ‘mentor’, caught attempting to bomb a Jewish Day school in Copenhagen. More of that, as Hedegaard opined, might spur sending Denmark’s 6,400 Jews to Israel, Canada or the US which as he pointed the Jewish community made many contributions to the Scandinavian country.

Hedegaard readily admitted that he is not a man of the right by virtue of his former Marxist political background that he now rejects. Nevertheless, he believes that background has enabled him to analyze the dangers of Islamization to his country, Europe and the West.  His response to a final question about what message he wanted to send to the Lisa Benson Show program listeners, “Keep the Faith. Don’t be intimidated. You might as well be killed standing than crawling on your knees.”  Brought a rejoinder from host Benson about a General saying, “keep up the fire.” That reminded this writer of how Danish editorial cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, responded to a similar question in a 2009 interview , “free speech, use it!!”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Weaving a Stronger Sunni Axis

By Gallia Lindenstrauss and Yoel Guzansky:

Gallia LindenstraussYoel Guzansky

Saudi Arabia’s declared objective, driven in part by sectarian fervor, is to stop Iran’s growing influence in the region. To those in charge of making the necessary adjustments to Saudi Arabia’s security and foreign policy in light of regional developments, Turkey is a key player. From Riyadh’s perspective, Turkey is a Sunni regional power that has not realized its potential because it has failed to adopt a more aggressive policy toward Iran. For Turkey, Russia’s military involvement in Syria and the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations following the downing of the Russian fighter jet prompted an adjustment of Ankara’s foreign policy. More specifically, these developments, as well as Ankara’s  diplomatic isolation in the region, have accelerated Turkey’s drive toward a closer alignment with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Should Saudi Arabia succeed in leveraging the economic assistance it provides to Egypt and mediate effectively between Cairo and Ankara, this could lead to stronger relations between Turkey and other Gulf states, and thereby help weave a stronger Sunni front in the region.

Topics:

Gulf States, Turkey

The nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 and the initial lifting of the economic sanctions on Iran in January 2016 were formative events for Saudi Arabia that strengthened the supporters in the kingdom of a proactive policy against Iran. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s declared objective, driven in part by sectarian fervor, is to stop Iran’s growing influence in the region. To those in charge of making the necessary adjustments to Saudi Arabia’s security and foreign policy in light of regional developments, Turkey is a key player. From Riyadh’s perspective, Turkey is a Sunni regional power that has not realized its potential because it has failed to adopt a more aggressive policy toward Iran. For Turkey, Russia’s military involvement in Syria and the crisis in Turkish-Russian relations following the downing of the Russian fighter jet prompted a adjustment of Ankara’s foreign policy. More specifically, these developments have accelerated Turkey’s drive toward a closer alignment with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. This process reached new heights with the deployment of Saudi fighter aircraft at the Turkish air base Incirlik (which may expand to the deployment of ground forces as well) – officially as part of the struggle against the Islamic State, but in effect, to signal inter-state unity.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (l) with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (r) in Riyadh, January 31, 2016. Photo: AFP / SPA / HO

Since King Salman Bin Abdulaziz ascended the Saudi throne in January 2015, there have been noticeable attempts to forge closer relations between Riyadh and Ankara. Already during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Riyadh in December 2015 (which was the Turkish President’s third visit to the kingdom that year), Turkey and Saudi Arabia decided on the establishment of a council for strategic cooperation. Soon after, Saudi Arabia executed Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and for Riyadh, a nation’s reaction to the execution was akin to a loyalty litmus test. Speaking of the execution, Erdogan said it was “an internal [Saudi] legal matter,” and Ankara condemned the subsequent arson at Saudi Arabia’s missions in Tehran and Mashhad, calling the fire-bombings “unacceptable.” Beyond the rhetorical support for Riyadh, Turkey joined the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, announced in December 2015 by Saudi Arabia, which includes 34 nations – but not Iran. In addition, as part of their attempt to balance Iran’s influence in Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have exhibited more public support than in the past for the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq; this month Saudi Arabia will opening a consulate in Irbil (Turkey has had a consulate there since 2010). Furthermore, Turkey supported Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen and did not criticize the action’s negative humanitarian repercussions.

Following the late January 2016 visit to Saudi Arabia by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was accompanied by several ministers and the head of the secret service, there was renewed speculation about a possible strengthening of cooperation between the two nations.  Particular emphasis may lie on coordinating positions in the (currently suspended) third round of talks in Geneva on efforts to end the civil war in Syria. It seems that both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are frustrated with US policy on Syria, in part because it does not completely rule out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retaining his position, at least for an interim period, and are trying to use one another to change this policy. Pressure on the United States has already resulted in some success: the decision that representatives of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), though the dominant element among Syria’s Kurds, would not be among those invited to the Geneva talks. This reflects Turkey’s contention that the PYD is an extension of the PKK, the Kurdish underground operating in Turkey, and therefore unacceptable. Moreover, both Ankara and Riyadh are frustrated by Russia’s military intervention in Syria, not only in that this intervention prolongs Assad’s tenure, but also threatens the opposition forces supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the ability to send supplies and other assistance.

Along with its increased closeness with Riyadh, however, Ankara has called on Saudi Arabia and Iran to return to the diplomatic channel and work on reducing tensions between them, evidence of Turkey’s desire to maintain correct relations with Iran and its reluctance to become overly involved in the Riyadh-Tehran conflict. This is not surprising, given Turkey’s need for  energy imports from Iran, especially natural gas (after Russia, Iran is the second most important provider of gas to Turkey; in 2014, Turkey imported about 18 percent of its natural gas from Iran), and Turkey’s desire to increase the scope of trade with Iran with the lifting of the economic sanctions.

While Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its opposition to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime in Egypt are an obstacle to closer relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia itself is at present exhibiting a more pragmatic approach than in the past toward the Muslim Brotherhood. From its point of view, Iran’s expansionism is the greatest threat, leading it to desire a large, cohesive Sunni bloc in the region. Moreover, alongside the parties’ geostrategic considerations, the Gulf states – especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar – are significant investors in the Turkish economy.

For some years now, Turkey has enjoyed closer relations with Qatar; these reached a new peak in December 2015 when the nations announced the construction of a Turkish military base in Qatar for the stationing of some 3,000 troops. Although Turkey has soldiers stationed in northern Iraq, the construction of the Qatari base and the scope of forces to be stationed there set new precedents in terms of a Turkish military presence in the Middle East. Turkey also committed itself to continue military training for Qatar’s army. In addition to this strategic security cooperation, the two enjoy joint economic and energy ventures. Indeed, Turkey would like to increase the amount of liquefied natural gas it buys from Qatar, but the size of its existing facilities makes this problematic.

Turkey is also making efforts to rebuild its relations with the UAE, and in particular to ease the same tensions that existed with Saudi Arabia, namely Ankara’s intense criticism of Sisi and Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood and, conversely, the UAE’s support for the toppling of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in July 2013. Manifestations of these tensions are the standstill in the scope of trade between Turkey and the UAE (compared to the growth in trade between Turkey and the other Gulf states) and the fact that there has been no UAE ambassador appointed to Ankara for a long time, both prima facie evidence of Abu Dhabi’s dissatisfaction with Ankara’s policy. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently stated that he intends to visit the UAE soon, apparently in an attempt to turn over a new leaf.

Another reason for Ankara to want to forge closer relations with the Gulf states concerns its diplomatic isolation in the region. Turkey currently has no ambassador in Israel, Egypt, and Syria. Should Saudi Arabia succeed in leveraging the economic assistance it provides to Egypt into mediating between Egypt and Turkey, which would be manifested by the return of the ambassadors to Ankara and Cairo, this could lead to stronger relations between Turkey and other Gulf states, and thereby help weave a stronger Sunni front in the region. At the same time, some kind of rapprochement between Ankara and Cairo could also allow Israel to rebuild its own relations with Turkey. Currently, one of the deterrents to a normalization agreement between Israel and Turkey is the Egyptian concern that in the context of concessions Israel would provide Turkey, Ankara would gain a more significant role in Gaza, which would strengthen Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A stronger Saudi-Egyptian-Turkish bond might mitigate some of that concern.

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December 16, 2015 The Islamic State: How Viable Is It?

December 09, 2015 Clash of the Titans? Turkish-Russian Relations on a Slippery Slope

Kurds with Russian Support Cross Turkey’s “red lines” in Syria

The Munich Communique reached by 20 countries last week imposed a cessation of hostilities by the opposing forces in the Syrian civil war with its mounting death toll. It has been breached by Erdogan, Russian backed Assad regime forces and their allies, Iran and proxy Hezbollah. The latter have successfully blocked Syrian opposition forces in both Latakia and Aleppo provinces. There are enough holes in the Agreement to permit freedom of action by Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

This weekend   brought news concerning Turkey’s cross border shelling of Syrian Kurdish YPG/PYD forces with Russian air support violating Erdogan’s “red line” crossing the Euphrates and seizing another strategic  air field.  This occurred despite Obama’s Special Middle East envoy in the war against the Islamic State (IS),  Brett Mc Gurk, meeting with Syrian Kurdish YPG/PYD forces in Syria and Vice President Biden’s meeting with Erdogan and Premier Davutoglu in Ankara last week.  Erdogan considers the YPG/PYD forces as an extension of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that Turkey, the EU and US consider as a ‘terrorist group”. This despite his breaking a cease fire agreement with PKK head Abdullah Ocalan under house arrest.  Erdogan’s security forces have a real battle on their hands in predominately Kurdish Southeastern Turkey trying to subdue stubborn urban resistance, a change from the 30 year war with Turkey’s Kurds. The advent of a Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the HDP, in the Ankara parliament, that Erdogan has endeavored to isolate but failed to vanquish. is a reflection of the growing Kurdish minority flexing its political strength.

These developments in both Syria and Turkey underline the Administration’s virtual abdication of the countervailing power vacuum in the Middle East that Putin has seized possibly bolstering the regional Kurdish aspirations for a long sought independent resource rich state.  This might be viewed as further pushback against the Islamist AKP regime of Turkey’s Erdogan.  All of these developments arose following Turkey’s shoot down of a Russian SU -24 bomber in October 2015 and dramatic break off in relations and joint economic projects between Russia and Turkey. Now, there are rumblings from Russian Prime Minister Medvedev in an interview indicated that the rising conflict with Turkey might possibly lead to “new Cold War era.”  Frederica Mogherini, EU Foreign Relations Commissioner downplayed that saying she had seen any evidence of that  in the last few days. Meanwhile both Poland and the Baltic States aren’t so sanguine. Turkey is a NATO member which can invoke an Article in the Charter of the mutual defense group requiring all members to come to its aid should there be an alleged attack by Russia.

Note this background  in a EUobserver report, “Turkey clashes with allies over attack on Syria Kurds:”

France and the US have urged NATO ally Turkey to stop firing on Kurdish groups in Syria, putting at risk a new “cessation of hostilities” accord.

The French foreign ministry appealed on Sunday (14 February) for an “immediate halt to bombardments, by the [Syrian] regime and its allies in the whole country, and by Turkey in Kurdish zones”.

It added that the “absolute priority is the implementation of the Munich communique” – a deal to pause fighting agreed by almost 20 states at a security congress in Munich last week.

The White House said US vice president Joe Biden had made a similar appeal to Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu by phone on Saturday.

“The vice president noted US efforts to discourage Syrian Kurdish forces from exploiting current circumstances to seize additional territory near the Turkish border, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area,” it said.

Brett McGurk, a US special envoy on the fight against Islamic State (IS), said on Twitter: “We have … seen reports of artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border and we have urged Turkey to cease such fires.”

Turkey warns Kurds have crossed its red lines in Syria:

The appeals came after Turkish howitzers shelled Kurdish PYD and YPG groups in northern Syria, killing dozens of people, after Kurdish fighters, helped by Russian air strikes, seized territory including the Menagh air base near the Turkish border.

The US and EU powers see the Kurdish militias as allies in the fight against IS. But Turkey says they are a branch of the PKK, a Kurdish group designated by the US and EU as a terrorist entity, which has been fighting a 30-year insurgency against Turkish authorities.

The Turkish leadership has refused to back down.

Davutoglu told German chancellor Angela Merkel over the phone on Sunday that his forces “gave the necessary response and will continue to do so”, according to his office.

He added that the PYD-YPG offensive was aimed “not just at Turkey but also the European Union” and that it would prompt a “new wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees” from Syria.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking in Munich to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, urged the US and EU to back safe zones for refugees inside Syria if they wanted to stem the flow of people.

Turkey’s deputy PM, Yalcin Akdogan, told the Kanal 7 TV broadcaster:.

“The YPG crossing west of the Euphrates is Turkey’s red line.”

The comments follow strident words by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, who told the US: “Are you together with us, or are you with the PYD and YPG terror groups?

The February NER featured a discussion with Dan Diker and Shoshana Bryen  about what motivated Putin’s entry into Syria,Russian Intervention in Middle East Conflicts .” One is the ability to attack radical Sunni Islamists; the other is achievement of  Russian national  security and economic interests. Further,  as pointed  out the alliance with Iran and proxy Hezbollah is tentative at best.

Obama in his final year in office has abdicated the traditional Sunni alliances creating a power vacuum via the rapprochement with Islamist Iran to achieve a fragile equilibrium in the Middle east.   Putin allegedly has no intentions of threatening Israeli national security on its northern frontier or engaging in support of Palestinian aspirations.

The Russian  aerial assault on Turkmen and rebel Sunni forces supported by Turkey and  Saudi Arabia in Syria’s north sealing off  Sunni rebel opposition groups and supporting  Syrian Kurds is also part of Russian strategic moves in the region.   It threatens Erdogan’s and US aspirations of creating a no fly zone to stem the tide of further Sunni Muslim refugee  flight to Turkey and hence to Europe. It may also enable the closure of the remaining gap in the northern frontier of Syria between the autonomous Kurdish enclaves of Rojava and Afrin. This would cut off the open border through which foreign Sunni jihadis and smuggled oil and other trade with Turkey from ISIS has poured. Erdogan is also under enormous economic pressure given Russian economic sanctions and the suspension of the gas pipeline deal struck in 2014.

Erdogan has euchred baksheesh in billions of Euros from the EU to stop Muslim migration to no avail. Erdogan blusters about invading Syria to block irredentist Kurdish aspirations in Syria while conducting an inflammatory counterterrorism campaign against stubborn Kurdish resistance in the urban centers of the country’s Kurdish dominant Southeast. Putin is poised to support Kurdish autonomy aspirations on both sides of the Syrian/Turkish border as leverage against Erdogan.

That would enable the Syrian Kurdish forces to vanquish Sunni rebel and ISIS forces in Syria’s north blocking the Islamic state. This offensive operation might set the stage for a massive Russian aerial campaign against the Caliphate. That is something the US led coalition has failed to achieve because of the Administration’s rules of engagement and failure to supply both Iraqi Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish forces with heavy arms. Thus, Putin is using his playbook from the seizure of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the Middle East. Russia is fast becoming the strong horse that Israel, the Gulf Sunni States and the Saudis must come to some form of accommodation.  Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow in September 2015 enabled the Jewish nation to exercise its sovereign national security interests attacking Iranian supply of strategic arms to proxy Hezbollah. Netanyahu’s security concerns on his northern frontiers are complicated with Russian support of Assad operations aimed at retaking Daraa in the country’s south not far from the Golan frontier with Israel.  That might raise the possibility of Iranian Basij paramilitaries and Quds Force based along the Syrian side of the Golan threatening cross border terrorist actions. That would add to the mix of threats there including al Nusra and ISIS units.

This is the 21st Century version of the classic great game that Czarist Russia played in the 19th Century against imperial Britain in Russia’s march to the Far east and Pacific that failed to achieve warm water ports in the Mediterranean and South Asia.  See:  Peter Hopkirk’s, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia.

The difference in the 21st Century is that Putin has his warm water bastions in the naval and air bases he has built on the Mediterranean coast of the Alawite Latakia province in Syria.

As to the blustering statements made by Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump during primary debates suggesting a strategic alliance between Russia and the US in the Middle East, that awaits the outcomes of the fractious nomination process for both the Republican and Democratic parties in the run up to the 2016 elections in the US. Suffice to say 2016 exemplifies the ancient Chinese curse. May you live in interesting times.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Kurdish YPG fighters: Seen as allies by the US and EU, but as PKK-linked terrorists by Turkey. Photo: Kurdishstruggle.

Russian Intervention in Middle East Conflicts

In the waning months of the Obama Administration, its lack of effective leadership in the war against the Islamic State and the civil war in Syria created a potentially dangerous power vacuum. The White House was pre-occupied with concluding a UN-endorsed pact, hoping to rein in Iran’s quest for a nuclear capability – a capability that a number of analysts have concluded it may already have. Purported cooperative development may have been behind North Korea’s fourth nuclear test since 2006 on January 6, 2016. While official propaganda from Pyongyang suggested that the test involved elements of a possible fusion or hydrogen bomb, a few astute observers suggested it might have been a so-called boosted fission weapon. It was likely a nuclear warhead for a missile. Iran has derived test data and been a customer for North Korea’s missile technology. Iran violated UN sanctions and JCPOA bans against missile tests with the launch of two precision guided missiles in the Persian Gulf in October and November 2015. In late December, Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval forces staged a live fire missile exercise provocatively firing less than 1,500 yards from the USS carrier Harry S. Truman, accompanying destroyer, the USS Bulkley and a French frigate.

Mahdist Iran had endeavored to assert its hegemony in the Middle East encircling Saudia Arabia and the Sunni Gulf States by supplying Revolutionary Guards and proxy Hezbollah forces in support of the beleaguered Assad regime in Syria. Further, Iran had lent Quds force leadership to provide technical assistance to Iraqi Shia militias in the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq. Both countries had squared off in Yemen with Iran supporting the Shia Houthi rebels while Saudi forces supported the overthrown government. These roiling geo-political conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two major oil producers in the Gulf Region, came to a flash point in early January 2016. The Saudi Wahabbist regime in Riyadh summarily executed a long held dissident Shia Imam. That provoked a torching of its Embassy in Tehran by Basij paramilitaries loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei.

These actions resulted in a break off of diplomatic relations between these two Islamic countries. Both propound extremist Qur’anic doctrine and interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) that have origins in the contending meta-narratives of the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s succession. The Shia in Tehran contend that the rightful inheritor of Islam’s jihad should have been the prophet’s son-in-law Ali, killed at the battle of Karbala in what is now Iraq. The Sunni Wahabbists in Riyadh contend the rightful successor to be one of the early Caliphs and companions of Mohammed, Abu Bakr.

It is not without precedent that former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi chose that name when he declared the Islamic State during of the Civil War in Syria. Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State put out the call to the global sunni ummah, gathering more than 30 to 40,000 foreign fighters and settlers to experience seventh century pure Islam in a renewed jihad to restore the Caliphate. That jihad created a virtual state the size of Britain that burst the borders between Syria and Iraq armed with US and Russian weapons captured from fleeing Syrian and Iraqi forces. The Islamic State has its own Sharia law courts, and a treasury filled with plundered gold and cash. These are funds from sales of smuggled oil, jizya taxes collected from conquered subjects and human trafficking of enslaved religious minorities like the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq and Syria.

The barbarous beheadings and crucifixions of infidels were grisly props for the Islamic State prompting millions of refugees and internally displaced persons to flee to sanctuaries in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. One million of those refugees from the hot spots across the Muslim Ummah made treacherous crossings of the Mediterranean. They burst the borders of the open Schengen system in a new Dar al Hijrah immigration wave deepening the Islamization of Eurabia. Among that stream of asylees were ISIS foreign fighters who became shahids, martyrs, in the November 13, 2015 Paris massacres that claimed the lives of 130 and hundreds of injured innocent civilians at open air cafes, a music hall and outside a soccer stadium. Less than a week later the Belgian-born ISIS commander and other jihadis who participated in the attack were killed in a shootout with French police swat teams in a Paris suburb. Now we have the release of an ISIS video showing the nine attackers beheading hostages and training for the Paris attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State.

Into the cockpit of the Syrian civil war in September 2015 came Russian President Putin. He sent Russian forces to establish airbases and launch air assaults against Syrian opposition forces from the Alawite bastion of Latakia with its Mediterranean naval base. Putin, fresh from his adventures in both Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, entered the fray to prop up Russian interests in Syria and President Assad. The downing of a Russian Metro-jet flight on October 31, 2015, in an alleged terrorist bombing by an Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, resulted in the deaths of 224 civilians and air crew aboard. The Islamic State propaganda machine claimed responsibility for the bombing. That resulted in extending Russian air assaults to target the Islamic State, especially its administrative capital of Raqaa in Syria.

However, it was the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by a Turkish F-16 jet fighter on November 24, 2015, ordered by Turkish President Erdogan that ratcheted up the geo-political conflicts in the Middle East. The Russian plane had purportedly penetrated Turkish airspace for less than 20 seconds. The Russian flight had targeted Syrian Turkmen opposition forces in the border region with Turkey. Putin called Erdogan’s action “a stab in the back” and would not accept his “apology.” Putin promptly cut off diplomatic contact imposing sanctions on significant trade between the two countries. That included Putin suspending construction of a $12 billion pipeline deal with Erdogan. Erdogan had clearly miscalculated. That sent Erdogan scrambling to replace it with Israeli offshore gas from its Mediterranean fields amid talks about renewing diplomatic relations cut off after the Mavi Marmara Free Gaza flotilla incident in 2010.

Putin put out word to Syrian Kurdish YPG-led forces that it would provide air support by establishing an air field at Qumishli in the Kurdish enclave of Rojava in northeastern Syria. The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured a key Euphrates River Dam in late December 2015. It was given offers from the Russians of air support to assist it in closing the Turkish border to join up with the western enclave of Afrin. The Turks in turn began military preparations on their side of the border. Erdogan is engaged in an internal operation against the YPG affiliated Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), that Turkey, the EU and we have designated a terrorist organization.

Putin Netanyahu Moscow September 2015

Russian President Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Moscow September 2015.

That left the Israelis, concerned about Al Qaeda, Iran proxy Hezbollah and ISIS ranging on all of its borders. Of special concern is the threat on Israel’s Northern border with Lebanon and Syria, but also its Southern border with ISIS affiliates in the Egyptian Sinai. Israeli PM Netanyahu and several top military and security aides flew to Moscow on September 21, 2015 to establish a mutual understanding with Putin over national security issues in Syria. Israel would continue to attack shipments by Syria and Iran to the latter’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Putin has no agenda involving Israel. Netanyahu was immediately concerned with a low-intensity terror war waged daily since September 2015 by Palestinians and some Israeli Arabs allegedly incited by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian and Israeli Arab violence has claimed 28 Israeli, US and foreign migrants dead and dozens injured from knifings, car rammings and shootings. 149 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security. In one troubling case, in January 2016, an Israeli Arab using a semi-automatic weapon at a Tel Aviv café killed three persons. He fled the scene and was eventually tracked by Israeli security forces to his home area in Northern Israel and killed.

On the weekend of January 17, 2016, the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, announced that Iran had complied with the JCPOA declaring the start of Implementation. President Obama released to Iran upwards of $100 billion in impounded Iranian oil revenues held in several foreign banks. As a result of a 14 month long secret negotiation, four Americans hostage and an American student were released in exchange for clemency for seven Iranians, six, dual US citizens and one Iranian national. They were convicted or charged with engaging in illicit procurement of sensitive technology. Subsequently it was revealed that $1.7 billion had been wired to Tehran in what Congressional critics called a “ransom payment.” In the week prior to these dramatic developments, 10 US sailors and their Riverine command boats wereseized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces and held for 24 hours on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf waters controlled by Iran.

Against this background, we convened another in the series of 1330 AM WEBY international Middle East Round Tables with Daniel Diker, a Fellow and Project Director for Political Warfare at the Jerusalem Center for Public affairs, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Shoshana Bryen, senior director at the Washington, DC-based Jewish Policy Center.

Michael Bates

Michael Bates:  Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn. This is Bates. We are doing our special periodic International Roundtable about what is going on in the Middle East and I have joining me in the studio, Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast. Welcome, Jerry.

Jerry Gordon

Jerry Gordon:  Glad to be back, Mike.

Bates:  Joining us by telephone, Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington. Shoshana, welcome back.

Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen:  Thank you.

Bates:  And, from Jerusalem, Israel, Dan Diker, head of the Political Warfare Program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a columnist forThe Jerusalem Post. Diker, welcome.

Dan Diker

Dan Diker:  Shalom to you and Florida from Jerusalem.

Bates:  Shalom. Question, I’ll open with you, Dan. What is the security situation in Israel right now? I’m reading a lot about more of daily attacks, shootings and stabbings, I don’t want to say small time because if you’re the victim it is pretty significant. But, it doesn’t appear from this vantage point in any way that it is a full blown intifada with suicide explosives going on. What are you seeing in Israel right now?

Diker:  Mike, it is a very good lead in to the question because the signs are not pointing to a third intifada which in Arabic means “uprising.” These are “Lone Wolf Attacks” that are suggestive of network terrorism. The kind of terrorism that we saw in Paris recently. However, most of the attacks here have been stabbings or car terrorism – running over victims with cars. We finally saw in the last week and a half a meaningful shift in the type of sophistication of attacks. One Israeli Arab terrorist was neutralized by Security Forces just a few days ago, after they took a little over a week to find him up in Northern/North Central Israel. His methodology was suggestive of ISIS and Al-Qaeda in that he wore a black outfit and his shooting attack was very reminiscent of what we saw in some of the Paris attacks. This type of attack had enormous cognitive echo effect frightening Israelis throughout the entire country. The fear factor was rather extraordinary because security forces could not find him for seven days which was quite unusual for Israel. I do think that last week’s shooting attack on Dizengoff Street, which is one of the main streets in Tel Aviv, was a concern of people here because it is rather easy for people to get their hands on an M-16 or another automatic weapon and just fire indiscriminately as he did into a Tel Aviv bar. So, that has really created concern, deep concerns here, and has had a profound psychological effect on the population. Overall, bottom line though, Mike, terrorism is at a reasonable level, even though it sounds strange to say that. It is not at a front burner level, the flames are not super high, Security forces, as well as citizens legally carrying firearms, especially in Jerusalem and in the Gush Etzion have done a good job in killing terrorists when they try to stab Israeli children, men and women. So, things are at a reasonable level. The psychological effect though has been stronger following the last shooting attack in Tel Aviv.

Bates:  If these attacks are being done by Lone Wolf operatives, how can the Israel security forces predict or prevent them because it’s not like they are intercepting communications from the conspiracy. It’s all in the guy’s head. So, does that complicate things?

Diker:  It certainly does. In fact, this type of Lone Wolf network terrorism is very difficult for Security Forces to use traditional lines of Intelligence in order to snuff this out and prevent it before it happens. There are strong signs that Hamas has been directly involved in the planning and in the directing of some of these attacks, not the majority, but Security Forces and Intelligence Services have been focusing on what it requires to address this type of terrorism.  What it requires is very quick reaction on the part of Israelis in the street. If you come to Jerusalem, you will see the epicenter of the 240 attacks in the last 3 1/2 months. I would say well over 200 have been in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. I’m actually speaking to you directly from Gush Etzion, which is a bedroom community of Jerusalem. Here, there have been 20 to 25 attacks within five minutes from where I live in the very intersection where people go to fill up their cars with gas or take their children to schools. I take my daughters to school there every day and there you can see soldiers from very top units stationed about 15 feet, one from the other around a traffic circle. People here are legally able to carry firearms as you have thousands of people in Jerusalem. It really requires this quick type of response because traditional Intelligence-top down Intelligence – is not quite as effective against this type of terrorism.

Bates:  Are the perpetrators of these attacks Arab Israeli citizens. Clearly they’re not coming from Samaria and Judea through the wall, right?

Diker:  There is a breakdown of the 240 attacks. The majority have been Palestinian Arabs from areas in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria

Bates:  Oh, okay.

Diker:  Where Jews and Arabs live together, they are on the Israeli side of the security barrier; however, others of them are Palestinians. There are some 100,000 Palestinians from the Palestinian controlled areas of the West Bank that cross into Israel every day to earn 2-3 times from the Israeli employers what they would be earning from their Palestinian Authority employers. That illustrates the kind of risk that Israel is still prepared to take upon itself in order to ease Palestinian area employment problems. They still allow 100,000 Palestinian workers to come into Israel every day and some of those have been found to be knife terrorists. Others of them have been Jerusalem Arabs who are not citizens of the State.  However, they receive all of the social benefits of Israel Arabs although they live in Jerusalem in areas that have not yet been decided whether they will become Israeli citizens or whether they will stay under Palestinian Authority control. The minority of these attacks has come from Arab Israeli citizens and there is a real question as to why. Many believe that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal to the State of Israel. They want to work and get ahead and send their children to good schools and flourish in the democratic Jewish State of Israel. That is the way things are looking right now.

Gordon:  Shoshana, Prime Minister Netanyahu made an announcement this week regarding the fact that he wants the rule of law for one state and not two peoples. What did he mean by that and what kind of initiatives did he announce?

Bryen:  Actually I’m going to send most of that question back to Dan who deals it on a more day to day basis. Essentially what the Prime Minister said was for Israeli Arabs and for Israeli Jews, you have one national grouping and you need one set of laws. There is a concern in Israel that Israeli Arabs are often held to a lesser legal standard than Jews. You see it most definitely in the housing field. The Israeli Arabs build houses without legal Israeli Government permits and, these are people who are full citizens of the State. They ignore the laws that they don’t care to obey. This kind of general lawlessness, this ability to say that I don’t have to follow the laws of the State gives rise to people who will either attack Jews or in some other way undermine the State. The Prime Minister was saying, “One people, one national people, one set of laws.”  As Jews are held to a standard, Arabs have to be held to the same standard inside the State of Israel.

Gordon:  Dan, do you have a response to that?

Diker:   I think that Shoshana makes the basic point in a very distinct, eloquent manner. I think that the context here is there has been an unspoken agreement from the Israeli Government to agree not to enforce certain laws for Arab Israeli citizens for fear that would cause unrest. For fear that it would exacerbate a sensitive situation where their identities in some cases are split. They are subject to incitement to murder and violence by the Palestinian authority. Some 20 to 30 Israeli Arabs have gone off to fight the global jihads in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. There is a sense here that the Israeli Government would not enforce (to the same severity) domestic law and criminal law that they would for Israeli citizens of Jewish and other backgrounds. Netanyahu was basically trying to do a reset, especially in the aftermath of this terrible shooting in Tel Aviv which was perpetrated by an Israeli Arab from a family that, on one hand had cooperated with the Israeli Authorities. His father and family had been good citizens of Israel. On the other hand, what the authorities have discovered in the aftermath of the shooting is that the terrorist received a great deal of assistance from his extended family, cousins, uncles and others as well as neighbors where he lived in the North. So there is this sense by Netanyahu and the government that they want to do a reset and stay with one law for one state and this is something that echoed with the Bedouins in the South which have been in many cases as lawless as some of the Arab Israeli citizenry, in the North. This is a real attempt to clear the table and say look, we are one state, different culture, but it’s one law. This is democracy and it’s a state of law, a country of laws and it will be enforced equally. It was also a message to the Arab Israeli leadership in the Knesset, which has been extraordinarily irresponsible in representing local constituencies. The Arab Israeli leadership traditionally, certainly in the last 25 years could be deemed an extension of the Palestinian National Movement in the West Bank. This was also a call to them to try to bring them onto the same page as the law enforcement agencies and the government.

Gordon:  Shoshana, the Russians are having more and more involvement in the Middle East. What are they up to?

Bryen:  The Russians have two goals in the region. One is to keep their warm water port and their naval base at Latakia and the other is to kill Sunni jihadists. In order to pursue both of those goals, they need to keep the central Syrian state alive as long as possible and that means allying with Bashar al-Assad. It also means that they ally secondarily with Hezbollah and Iran. However, Russian relations with Hezbollah and Iran are not those of allies. They are those of people that work together because they need the same sorts of things at the moment. Russia is hardly tied at all to Hezbollah and is only marginally tied to Iran. They have been very careful. For example, what they sell to Iran. They announce big stuff but they sell small stuff. What the Israelis have been able to do is talk to the Russians about Israeli red lines in Syria. I don’t mean water colored pink lines like the Obama Administration has. We are talking about serious Israeli red lines of which there are two. One is that there will be no Iranians or Hezbollah on the Syrian side of Golan Heights and the other is that there are certain weapons that will not be permitted to go to Hezbollah. Those are the red lines. The Russians seem to have respected them to date. The killing of Samir Kuntar (a terrorist convicted in Israel for the murder of a four-year-old girl and her father) was because he was working on terrorist activity that would emanate from the Golan and reach into Israel-and the Israelis said, “No, that’s not acceptable, he has to go.” There are reports right now that Hezbollah is receiving more sophisticated weapons from Russia than the Israelis would permit. However, if you trace those reports back to their sources, the sources are all Hezbollah. Hezbollah says, “We are getting laser guided missiles and we’re getting sophisticated weapons and we’re getting them directly from Russia.” For the moment at least, I cannot find an independent source that suggests that is true. What you really have is the Russians laid down their markers, having determined what is important to them, and they are carrying that out with a variety of countries including Israel.

Bates:  Shoshana, the Russians clearly want to keep Bashar al-Assad in power and the policy of the American Government is regime change. Those obviously cannot coexist at the same time. Are we potentially going to have to confront the Russians over Syria?

Bryen:  I’m not sure that the American position is any longer that al-Assad has to go. It used to be that we told him to be a “reformer.” Then we told him to step down: ”We want you to go right now.” Then we armed people to try to take him out. Now we have told the Russians, in the context of a political conversation al-Assad will have to make a promise to go at some point. The Russian position is not that firm either. The Russian position is that someday there will be an election in Syria and perhaps in the context of an election in Syria perhaps al-Assad will go. So, nobody is saying that al-Assad stays permanently. Both sides are edging their way toward a mechanism that could separate al-Assad from the seat of power in Damascus.

Bates:  The Russians clearly have an interest with that warm water port in Syria on the Mediterranean. Whoever replaces al-Assad, the Russians are going to want him to be friendly to them.

Bryen:  Yes, of course. By the way, that is not something to which the United States can very well object. We have ports all over the world. If the Russians’ goal is to keep the port, the Russians care less who sits in Damascus than whoever sits in Damascus will allow them to maintain the port they need. We shouldn’t object to that.

Gordon:  Interesting question for you both. How does Russia support the Kurds who are allies of the United States in Syria and also support the Kurds in Turkey?

Bryen:  Russians have to support the Kurds in Turkey at least nominally because the Russians and the Turks are not on good terms at the moment. Anything that irritates the Turks is good from the Russian point of view so they support the Kurds. There seems to be a difference with the Kurds in Syria because the Kurds in Syria are among the best fighters in Syria. At the moment, they don’t bother the Russians but there is no reason for the Russians to support them, either.

Bates:  Shoshana, you said the Russians and the Turks are not on good terms right now. How would you describe the terms that the United States and the Turks are on?

Bryen:  Terrible, actually. Erdogan came into office in Turkey with the policy called “No Problem with the Neighbors.” By this he meant no problem with Syria, no problem with Iran, no problem with Israel. No problem with anybody. He was going to be friends with everybody. When that was true, Turkey’s economy took off and he looked like the great hero of the Middle East. He has today, poor relations with all of his neighbors, very bad relations with the Russians and very bad relations with us.

Bates:  Those relations with the Russians of course were made worse by the recent shooting down of the Russian jet ostensibly over Syria. The map I saw indicated that the Russian fighter was over Syria for probably less time that it takes time to introduce yourself, a few seconds at most, but it was in fact shot down and one of the pilots killed. Right?

Bryen:  Yes.

Bates:  So, what has the fallout been from that?

Bryen:  The biggest piece of fallout has been the suspension of a pipeline called Turkey Stream that the Russians were building. It was a 12 billion dollar project that was going to bring Russian gas to Turkey and into other European countries. The Russians have put it on hold. The Turks did not expect that. That is one of the reasons they turned to Israel. They are concerned now that they will not have access to Russian gas in the future. Where does Erdogan go? He looks at Israel and says, “Can we have yours please?” The Israelis are handling this very cautiously.

Bates:  Dan, what are you seeing?

Diker:  I just wanted to add an additional point that the way we understand and hear the Obama Administration had pursued Erdogan and Turkey quite aggressively in its first Administration. That things have gotten sour has been a major source of frustration to the Obama Administration because the White House had really made overtures to Turkey to be the new emerging power. The political Islam, or Muslim Brotherhood based government that Erdogan leads today was looked at by the Obama Administration as the model for his new Middle East. The fact is that Turkey is having its difficulties with Washington as they are with Russia.

Bates:  Dan you were addressing the Israeli/Turkish relationship. Please finish that thought.

Diker:  Yes for the first time since 2010, the Turks and the Israelis have instead kissed and made up to a certain degree. Trade is at an all time high, military cooperation has continued and it seems that the Turks are looking to balance their interests. They don’t like what they see around them and in terms of Iran and because of Russian involvement in Syria on Turkey’s border. They look at the Israelis as sharing of some of their views vis-a-vis the Iranian threat.

Gordon:  Dan, why did Erdogan virtually crawl back to Israel after five years of suspended relations over the Mavi Marmara Free Gaza Flotilla event in May of 2010?

Diker:  At that particular time, Turkey was pressing a lot of buttons around Hamas trying to assert itself, you know, as an emerging hegemon in the region, opposite Iran. In a region in which Arab states were collapsing left and right every time you turned around. Today, Turkey’s fortunes have changed. They look at the Assad regime on their border, they look at Iran crawling through the Middle East and funding, directing, and arming a Shiite terror group. They look at the United States as conducting outreach to the Iranian regime. They see a nuclear weapon problem coming from Iran. They see a serious regional terror spread from Iran. I think that Erdogan as Shoshana mentioned, has difficulties with the United States. I think they have agreed to re-engage with the Israelis. I will say it may not be that Erdogan will make a state trip to Israel or that Netanyahu will make a state trip to Ankara. Clearly there is a lot more cooperation than there was six years ago.

Gordon:  Shoshana, the world has been stunned by the sectarian divide, almost an abyss between the Wahabbist Saudis and the Mahdist Shia in Tehran. How is that going to impact on the Russians and the U.S.?

Bryen:  It shouldn’t be surprising because Saudi Arabia is the chief funder of Sunni jihad. The biggest fear the Russians have is Sunni jihad because it happened in their country. The Saudis turned the Chechen War in Russia from a nationalist war – the first war – into a religious war – the second war – in the earlier part of this century. So, the Russians and the Saudis really despise one another. The Saudis for a long time now maintained a strategy of pumping lots of oil. They pumped oil to maintain their market share and drop the price. Dropping the price drives the Russians crazy because the Russians have nothing to sell but oil and gas. They’re not a sophisticated country; they’re not a first world economy. The Iranians, the Russians and the Venezuelans, by the way, have been driven crazy by Saudi policy. The Russians needed oil to be $119 a barrel to balance their budget. Last year Moscow admitted that it reconfigured the budget using $85 a barrel of oil. Oil is right now is at $30 a barrel.

Bates:  I think it’s actually below $30.

Bryen:  Let’s say that it doubles because the price is going to go up at some point and it goes back up to $70, it’s still not enough. So the Russians hate Saudis. That has largely been missed because what the Saudis do, they do quietly and they do it behind the scenes. They are a major driving factor in Sunni jihad. Now, at the moment, that is an uncomfortable place to be for the Saudis. They don’t really want to be funding jihad. They are afraid it will come home to hurt them. So, I don’t think it will change Russian policy at all. They hated them before, they hate them now. The Saudis are probably withdrawing some of their financial support. The Saudis also have budgetary issues although they are very well placed to ride out this wave of low oil prices. They have an enormous stash of cash.

Bates:  Shoshana I read that the Saudis had a 98 billion dollar deficit.

Bryen:  Yes, they do. However, they have $600 billion in hard currency reserves. If they want to cover that deficit they can. They are probably good for the next five years. Five years is a very long time in the Middle East.

Bates:  I have this theory about these low oil prices. I’m curious to know if you subscribe to it or if I’m way off base. During the Regan Administration, there was an alignment with the Saudis and the Vatican to bring down the Russians through the Solidarity Movement in Poland.  That was the Vatican’s connection with Pope John Paul II. With low oil prices through Saudi Arabia in order to bankrupt the evil empire, Soviet Russia. It appeared to have worked. Are we seeing something like that again, where the Saudis are part of a geopolitical strategy to bankrupt the Russians, Venezuelans and ISIS and all of these other oil producing bad guys?

Bryen:  That would give too much credit to the United States for having a strategy. Saudi Arabia is very definitely opposed to Russia and is doing this on purpose with an eye toward as much damage as they can inflict on Russia and on Iran. I think the Venezuelan thing is a happy accident but if you want to ask the question is it being driven by the United States or somehow coordinated with the United States, absolutely not. Because it is not in the President’s interest to collapse the Iranians. It’s not in the Obama Administration’s playbook.

Bates:  Yes, I would love to see the Iranian regime collapse but Barack Obama is not interested in that. Shoshana, you were talking about the interest of the Obama Administration in regime change with Iran. I’m quite interested in getting those Mad Mullahs out of Iran but is it not official U.S. policy to do so anymore?

Bryen:  No, it’s not. It has been the Obama Administration Policy to find a way to work with Iran, to bring Iran into the family of civilized countries. It seems to me, that the Obama Administration’s view of the Middle East was to have Turkey take care of the Sunni side and Iran takes care of the Shiite side and the United States leave. The people who most adamantly objected to that were the Saudis. So part of this cheap-oil flood-the-market deal is the Saudis’ desire to create pain in Iran. Had we been smarter, more farsighted and we had a different Administration, it was the perfect time to collapse the Mullah regime. Sanctions were working, sanctions were making it terribly difficult for the Mullahs to maintain their grip on the population and the Saudis were about to administer the coup de grace. Instead the Obama Administration saved them. We told them we will lift the sanctions. We told them they don’t have to do anything about their internal problems. They didn’t have to do anything about the boot they have on the neck of the Iranian people. We saved them. Looking at the economics of Iran, it’s still in terrible shape.

Gordon:  One of the more significant events this past week was the explosion of a fourth nuclear device in North Korea. The question is less whether it was a miniature hydrogen bomb, but really the connection between that test and he Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Bryen:  It’s an intellectual connection. The Iranians would like to know how far they can push us without penalty. The North Koreans would like to know if they could claim that it was a hydrogen bomb and we would believe it. But it wasn’t. Even though the Iranians fired a missile within 1,500 yards of the U.S.S. Harry Truman, an aircraft carrier, as it was sailing in international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. We didn’t do anything about it; we didn’t acknowledge that it happened for about a month.

Bates:  I saw the video of that incident. The missile wasn’t shot towards the American Carrier, but it was only 1,500 yards away. Is that a violation of International Law? The Iranians did announce it over the radio, so it wasn’t a surprise attack. Do you, Shoshana know if that is legal under the Laws of Navigation, Laws of the Sea?

Bryen:  Firing ballistic missiles in international waterways is frowned upon by the international community. It doesn’t really matter if they announced it or didn’t announce it; to put a missile like that out there in international waters is a violation of common sense among other things. So, no, it is not an act of war, it’s not that they were firing at the Harry S. Truman in order to start a war with us. However, it also does not comport with the way countries normally do business. So, it should have concerned us. What it really is was another test by the Iranians, “What can we do and what will they say?”

Bates:  They can do anything and we will do nothing. Do you see a connection, Shoshana, between the North Korean Nuclear Program and the Iranian Nuclear Program?

Bryen:  There is a very definite connection. That connection has been uncovered for a long time. For example, when Israel bombed a reactor site in Syria, there were people who were killed who were North Korean scientists. The North Koreans built that facility, the Iranians paid for it. It was meant to be outside Iran in the hopes that nobody would touch it. Actually, it made it easier to get rid of it because it was in Syria. Notwithstanding, it was a North Korean/Iranian joint center.

Bates:  Is there any danger that the Iranians under the JCPOA will simply develop their nuclear capability in North Korea and then just ship the missiles home when they need them?

Bryen:  That has been a theory for a long time. That North Korea is actually the testing grounds for Iranian capabilities. It wouldn’t surprise me. No, I don’t think we have specific evidence of it.

Bates:  No evidence but certainly a possibility.

Bryen:  Certainly a possibility. The North Koreans need money more than anything else. Iran has it and they are willing to spend it on that program, I would be shocked if they weren’t doing it.

Bates:  Jerry, what about the documentary on PBS Frontline on Benjamin Netanyahu. Do you see that and if so, what did you think of it?

Gordon:  Yes, I saw it. I thought it was kind of contrived. However, in retrospect, I think the presentation probably overcame many of the extreme left wing speakers in Israel and even here in the United States. There were two episodes in the documentary that were disturbing. One had to do with an event that was held in Tel Aviv at which Bibi appeared to a throng of protestors in Tel Aviv and the second were comments which I think had been subsequently denied by Martin Indyk, the former US. Ambassador to Israel. He was a Special Aide to the Obama Administration in negotiations before he left in 2013 and those comments were alleged to have occurred between Indyk and Bibi at Rabin’s funeral, and I think those were the most disturbing. Shoshana and Dan, do you have any comments about that?

Bryen: Let me just comment on the Indyk incident that was alleged to have happened. Martin Indyk said that sitting next to him at Rabin’s funeral was Bibi and Bibi leaned over to him and said something like, “it’s too bad Rabin is dead because now he will be a martyr and when he’s a martyr he will make it harder for the right and it’s going to cost me votes.” Indyk said directly to the camera that Netanyahu had told him that. As it turns out, there is photographic evidence from Rabin’s funeral that they weren’t sitting together. That part of the story fell apart and Indyk’s response to that was, “Oh well maybe it happened somewhere else.” So, I think it is pretty clear that comment was put into Bibi’s mouth directly by Martin Indyk. I don’t want to say that he lied, but he lied. So that should give you an idea what was going on in that segment.

Gordon:  Dan, you had comments about Bibi?

Diker:  A couple of things. Martin Indyk was a two time US Ambassador to Israel and he made his disdain for center right wing politics in Israel very clear. That is a very questionable position for an ambassador to take, commenting and intervening in the internal polices of the country in which they are situated. There were a number of examples of Ambassador Indyk doing that in Israel. That was one example of what we have seen over the last 20 years from Ambassador Indyk. The other was what you mentioned, Jerry, in the Frontline documentary was Netanyahu’s alleged incitement. The context for that was in the days preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. It was shown to be false, that Netanyahu incited the protesters. Netanyahu did not incite the public he was attempting to calm the crowds below and to hold a civil discourse. In fact, it has also been revealed which may be a surprise to our American friends, that Israel internal security services had actually put up some of the posters that violently portrayed former Prime Minister Rabin in Arab keffiyeh, trying to liken him to an image of Arafat. That was shown to be a setup by political activists. Talk about political warfare, political activitism by Israel’s left. This will go down in history as a very internally, civilly violent period by the left towards the center right and the right in Israel. It actually had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s alleged incitement. It was in fact a staged political event by the left wing political sector of Israeli society. It is a rather shameful episode and all too misunderstood in the West.

Bates:  Dan, I’ve got to ask the question because I think it’s important. How do you see the Israeli-American relationship and for terrorism around impacting the U.S. election cycle.

Diker:  Middle Eastern terrorism, the global jihad, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, and others in radical Islam, and Iran will be a major American election issue. Israel is leading the Western counter-attack against radical Islam in the Middle East. I think all of the candidates frankly recognize that and I do think we’re going to see a major shift away from the current White House strategy and treatment of Israel.

Bates:  Foreign Policy and National Security, the Republicans win. Domestic Policy and Welfare the Democrats win.

Bryen:  Dan was making a point that terrorism within the United States raises the threat level in the eyes of the American public. That is not a political statement and it’s very true. I think that the President has told us that we have nothing to worry about. However, for very good reasons the American people believe we do. And, that’s going to be an argument. The President says “no, no it’s fine, it’s no problem’ and the people here say “Hey wait a minute, what about this killings, what about the killing over there? What about the attacks on military recruiting centers?” 2015 was a banner year for arresting and trying domestic terrorists, all of whom happen to have been Muslims.

Bates:  We will see where it leads and I’m certain we will have this conversation again many times before the November 8th election. Thanks so much for joining us, Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog The Iconoclast, Bryen, Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington and Diker, Head of the Political Warfare Program of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

War between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkey?

This Business Insider article by Fabrice Balanche of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) reflects the potential confrontation by advancing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed of Kurdish PYD, Arab and Assyrian units with Erodgan’s Turkey after seizing the strategic Tishrin Dam and crossing to the West Bank of Euphrates River with the support of U.S. coalition air support.

Islamic State window into Turkey

Map Source:  Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The border area is a largely rural agricultural area with mixed Arab and Turkmen population.  There is evidence that the Arab tribes in the region would pledge support for the PYD led SDF. There is a  possible link up between advancing Assad forces with Russian air support and  SDF units cutting off IS  from the open border to Turkey possibly resulting in isolating  the self declared Caliphate of the Islamic State  at Raqaa. The Kurds consider this border region as historically Kurdish legacy area.  The Russians have already coordinated with the advancing Kurdish YPD led SDF in northern Aleppo province.

The combined Saudi/ Turkish Jaish-al Fatah (JF) rebels are defending a supply road against Kurds to the West and Assad forces to the south. Russian aerial bombardment could result in loss of control and encirclement of the JF rebels. Hence, the likelihood of a dilemma for the U.S. coalition in the war against ISIS with a NATO ally determined to bar any Assad-SDF linkup closing off the current open border with Turkey.

What follows is analysis by Balanche in this Business Insider article drawn from a definitive report published by WINEP, ”The Kurds may be winning against ISIS, but they could end up making tensions in the region worse:”

Although the latest Kurdish offensive runs the risk of spurring direct Turkish intervention, it could also help isolate Islamic State forces in the area from their capital, with significant implications for the rest of the combatants in Syria.

Since October, Islamic State (IS) forces in the eastern part of Syria’s Aleppo province have been under pressure and compelled to fight on several fronts: against the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its Arab allies near the large Tishrin Dam; against the Syrian army and Russian aircraft around Kuwaires military airport and al-Jaboul Lake; against the rebel umbrella group Jaish al-Fatah (dominated by Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra) in the Azaz corridor between Aleppo and the Turkish border; and against the local population in Manbij, toward which the PYD and its allies are advancing.

With the PYD seizing the only intact bridge across the Euphrates River for several hundred miles and the Syrian army potentially advancing further north or west, a large group of IS fighters in the Aleppo area could be left without land access to their capital in Raqqa. This prospect raises the question of who would benefit from eliminating IS on this front, and how.

Kurds consider large parts of this area as their own, including the long zone along the Turkish border — not only the Kurdish-held cantons of Afrin to the west and Kobane to the east, but also the sections in between that are currently held by rebel groups or IS. The Kurds have similar views on Manbij, which lies well south of the border. Even if the population in some of these areas is mostly Arab, the PYD still considers them “historically Kurdish,” seemingly basing their argument on notions from the Middle Ages and Salah al-Din.

Accordingly, the PYD aims to ensure territorial continuity between its Afrin canton and the rest of its self-proclaimed Kurdish region (called Rojava). The group has already annexed the predominantly Arab district of Tal Abyad further to the east, but it will be difficult to replicate that feat in more heavily populated districts — as of 2010, more than a million people resided in the contested districts of Azaz, al-Bab, Manbij, and Jarabulus, compared to around 130,000 in Tal Abyad.

Of course, hundreds of thousands of civilians have since fled to Turkey, but the Kurds would still face the challenge of integrating a large Arab population into Rojava — not to mention the local Turkmen minority, which is under Ankara’s protection.

Indeed, Turkey refuses to let the Kurds control the entire border and has warned several times that it will attack them if they cross the Euphrates, as it did in July when it shelled a PYD position near Jarabulus. On December 26, the Democratic Forces of Syria (an umbrella group for the PYD and its Arab allies) seized Tishrin Dam, and then took the village of Abu Qilqil on the other side of the river three days later, bringing them only twelve kilometers from Manbij.

Since the November terrorist attack in Paris, Europeans have insisted that the Islamic State’s two-way route through Turkey be closed for good. In the absence of a moderate Arab Sunni force able to meet this demand, the West would prefer that the corridor be closed by Kurds rather than al-Qaeda-linked groups such as Ahrar al-Sham or Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Kurds are eager to fulfill their dream of a united Rojava along the entire northern border, and to deny them at least some progress toward that goal would be to stop the only effective ally against IS in northern Syria. If the West does not work with them on this objective, it will push them into the arms of Moscow, which has made clear to the PYD that it is quite willing to help; in fact, there is already clear Kurdish coordination with Russian forces in northern Aleppo province.

At the same time, allowing the PYD to seize the entire border is unacceptable to Turkey, and the West needs Ankara’s assistance on several fronts, including the refugee issue and the fight against IS. Therefore, if the PYD offensive continues toward Manbij and perhaps even further beyond Turkey’s Euphrates redline, the United States and its coalition partners will need to be careful in determining whether, where, and how to support the advance — and what to say in response to Turkish protests.

For its part, Ankara will need to decide how far it is willing to go in enforcing that redline given the political and diplomatic risks of deeper intervention, especially against the only ground force making progress against IS in Syria. In that sense, the PYD’s offensive is as clear a signal as Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon: the die is cast.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

PODCAST: Pakistani Terrorist Camps in the United States

Listen to this podcast of the January 3, 2016 Lisa Benson Show on KKNT 960 AM Radio – The Patriot. Lisa Benson and New English Review Senior Editor Jerry Gordon co-hosted this show with the assistance of Board of Advisers member, Richard Cutting.

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Foundation of Islam and Democracy and the U.S. Commission for international religious discussed the recently launched Freedom Muslim Reform Movement, the deteriorating situation inside Syria and U.S. failure to contend with NATO ally Turkey under Islamist President Erdogan in the war against ISIS.

Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Washington, D.C.-based Jewish Policy Center, addressed allegations in a recent Wall Street Journal expose of NSA spying on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Congressional Members and American Jewish leaders, Israeli preparedness against ISIS threats in Syria and the Sinai and the tacit cooperation with Egypt and the fascinating understanding struck with Putin’s Russia to contain Hezbollah. We will be posting Bryen’s written responses to these and other questions, separately.

Jamaat ul-Fuqra fbi

FBI agents embracing members of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, a Pakistani based terrorist group in the United States.

Ryan Mauro, National Security Analyst at The Clarion Project addressed the terrorist training camps established in both Canada and America by radical Pakistani Sufi Sheik Mubarak ali Gilani, who has not been investigated by the FBI despite his founding a network of Jamaat ul-Fuqra/Muslim of America (MOA) paramilitary camps in both Canada and the U.S. that conveyed extremist Islamist ideology and provided weapons training for prison converts to Islam. These MOA camps fostered a three decade record of attempted assassinations, criminal activities supporting terrorism akin to that of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacres. Yet, as Mauro pointed out, Sheik Gilani does not support ISIS.

Our usually astute European listener had these comments on the January 3, 2016 Lisa Benson Show:

To hear Dr. Jasser state the plan to reform the religion of Islam was very interesting. The Sharia Islamic law actually promoted by Sunni Islam is both political and religious. For these extremists their ideology requires them to conquer the world and forcefully ask all the non-Muslims to convert to Islam or become third class citizens of their caliphate.

What Dr. Jasser is proposing is to separate religion state from religion in Islam. A modernized religious law will take a lot of time.  However, this is the only way to advance eliminating extremist Islam from all around the world. Dr. Jasser should not call this reform a new Sharia law, but the New Moslem Religious law. The word Sharia has another meaning for all Moslems. It will be interesting to watch how many mosques and Imams would adopt Dr. Jasser’s propositions because many are still funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Moslem Brotherhood. Let us not forget that Muslim Brotherhood/CAIR members have been engaged by the Administration in such policy considerations.

Dr. Jasser has to be congratulated for the dangerous and wonderful work he is doing.

Wonderful to hear Shoshana Bryen giving her opinion and analysis. The Israelis know that they are being tapped and they know quite well what encryption services they can use for their communications which are Top Secret. Shoshana knows all about what is going on and she writes about it explicitly.

The details that Ryan Mauro provided are diagnostic of the chronic illness of these Islamist Muslim of America camps.  It is unbelievable that the FBI, even with limited resources, has not taken the necessary steps to indict all those who are embedded in these groups. I sincerely hope that there will not be a major terror attack in the US perpetrated by members of these Islamist camps.

I think the radio show is really getting better and better. The American public needs to hear these comments to wake up and contact their law makers in order to have a safe America.

EDITORS NOTE: This podcast originally appeared in the New English Review.