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With ISIS In Retreat Saudi Arabia Launches New Shia Provocation

Next Cold War 1/4/16

The R4+1 alliance of Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah, plus other militias, national defense forces and various other allies have been making progress in almost every direction. The map above shows the significant territorial gains in the past month. The Syria peace negotiations continue and the next big meeting will be held in three weeks. The territorial gains will strengthen their position at the negotiating table.

The Saudi, Qatar, Turkey and Israel most likely as a silent partner position has, by contrast, been weakened by the rejection of some opposition groups as terrorists, the assassination by Syrian airstrike of the Jaysh al Islam leader, and by Kurd / SDF progress further east, where Kurdish forces crossed Turkey’s red line, the Euphrates, with assistance from US air support and Russian air defense that made it impossible for Turkish air force to deter them.

Perhaps this is the reason why the Saudis provided a destabilizing provocation to Iran over the weekend. Their announced 34 country Sunni coalition has not materialized as yet, the R4+1 and allies are grinding up their proxy “rebels”, their ramped up propaganda campaign is not working particularly well and this leaves them fewer options to throw a spanner into the works of a peace process that aims to maintain a unified Syria with new, broader elected leadership, ceasefires and solidarity against all who will not ceasefire.  If that process succeeds, the goal of using this proxy/civil war to slice and dice Syria and divide the spoils would, presumably, fade away.

The news items and commentary below provide details and background about the events mentioned in this analysis.

Golan, Quneitra, Israel

Situation map Syria - Golan region as of Jan 3, 2016 (with new progress circled)

Situation map Syria – Golan region as of Jan 3, 2016 (with new progress circled)

_ The Syrian army and allies have been making serious progress in southern Syria (see pink areas in map above) near the Jordan border and also in the upper Golan area, taking advantage of recent heavy weather in the area, which has included fog and snow in the higher parts. At the same time that Syria makes progress to reclaim this territory from al Nusra and other rebel groups, Israel has been moving more troops to their northern border.

_ Iran says that Israel has shelled the Har Dov / Sheba Farms area of the Golan region in southern Lebanon for the past four days “out of concern that Hezbollah forces might take advantage of the stormy weather and the poor visibility to launch a revenge strike” near the upper part of the Golan. This morning, Naharnet reports that Hezbollah detonated a bomb near an armored Israeli patrol in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms and Israel fired artillery into southern Lebanon.  Israel also claims they are keeping a close eye on Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade is an ISIS affiliate that poses a threat to Israel near the lower part of the Golan. It so happens that the Syrian army and allies are making progress near both of these spots.


_ Syrian opposition exile group (Syrian National Coalition) leader travels to China.

“China has repeatedly called for a political resolution and warned that military action cannot end the crisis. Khoja’s visit comes two weeks after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem visited China. […]

“‘We believe that the future of Syria should be decided by the people of Syria, so China is now doing everything to move the Syrian issue along on the correct path of political dialogue as quickly as possible,’ Hua said.”

_ Pres. Obama thinks his Syria strategy is fine and the problem is that “folks just don’t get it”. So the White House “new communications campaign has gone into overdrive” even though it had already been expanded in the fall.  That’ll fix it.

Saudi Arabia and Iran

_ Saudi Arabia “executed 47 people convicted of terrorism Saturday, including prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, prompting condemnation throughout the Middle East.”  UN’s Ban Ki-moon said “Sheik al-Nimr and a number of the other prisoners executed had been convicted following trials that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process” and urged Saudi Arabia to “commute all death sentences.”  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the fact that Saudi Arabia executed “almost one-third of the 2015 total executed in a single day” was “a very disturbing development.”

_ Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Later it was in flames.  Reportedly no embassy staff were in the building at the time.  Iran’s president later said the embassy attack was “totally unjustifiable” while the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “God will not forgive” Saudi Arabia for Nimr’s execution and “divine revenge will befall Saudi politicians.”

_ On Sunday, Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir gave all Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave Saudi Arabia, announced diplomatic ties between the countries are cut. On Monday, Bahrain (Sunni royalty, population is majority Shia) cut ties and expelled Iran’s diplomats.

_ Different analysts have different reactions and predictions about the effects of this latest turn of events. There is a general sense that this is another of many accumulated strikes against the Saudis in the international community among many other recent grievances. The grievances include their bombing campaign and blockades against the poorest country in the Middle East.

_ The failed ceasefire talks on Yemen and the Houthi retaliatory attacks in southern Saudi Arabia are failures of the young Saudi defense minister prince and his father, the king.  Just hours after the executions and soon after admitting ceasefire talks had failed, the Saudis conducted another particularly punishing airstrikes on Sana’a, the capital of Yemen after having attacked the international airport the day before.  The bombardment continued on Sunday and are said to be the strongest since early September.

_ Read this to find out more about the Saudi “PR blitz” and lobbying spending spree in the US after they launched their war in Yemen and after the kingdom became even more repressive and punitive (executions, beheading, crucifixions) and after their support for jihadis, al Qaeda, and ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

_ Analyst “Moon of Alabama says that the execution of Al-Nimr and the predictable Iranian backlash was a “smart move” that might bolster support and distract from the Sunni executions, at least in the short term, for the current Saudi royal administration that is rumored to be teetering and headed for a palace coup.  Glenn Greenwald predicts that the reaction from the US and UK will be business as usual and homage to the Saudi King.  To the contrary, NYU prof and analyst Ian Bremmer says the “prospects for U.S.-Saudi alliance dimmig by the day” and believes the “U.S. relationship with Iran will be significantly closer than with Saudi Arabia within a decade.”  GWU prof and Carnegie Institute associate Marc Lynch says “Saudi execution of Nimr mirrors its Yemen war: reckless, poorly conceived, counterproductive and forcing everyone else to pay grisly price.”

_ Iranian army reportedly spoke out, via an official communique and for the first time against Saudi Arabia though it is unclear whether this means direct action but it is important because the Iranian “Army never intervenes in political affairs.”  Hezbollah leader Nasrallah also spoke out, condemning Saudi Arabia as the “main source of radicalism/terrorism.”

_ “The Nation That Executed 47 People in 1 Day Sits on the U.N. Human Rights Council — Saudi Arabia enjoys the support of allies like the U.S. and U.K. at the human rights body”.  Same council that would “deal with Saudi’s latest mass execution of dissidents” is chaired by Saudi Arabia.

Southern Syria, Daraa Province

Al Sheikh Maskin, Daraa Province, Southern Syria

Al Sheikh Maskin, Daraa Province, Southern Syria

_ The Battle for Al Sheikh Maskin (Shaykh Maskin, Miskin, Miskeen)


_ “The US-Iraq Disconnect Over Fighting ISIS

_ Arming and training northern Iraqi (KRG) peshmerga forces is a huge policy change for US who in past respected Iraqi government by allowing them to decide which and how many arms go to different militias in their country (which probably meant little or none to the KRG).  Other countries have been arming them and almost certainly US has too via heavy CIA presence in Erbil or third parties or just covert means.  Republican senator Royce says “The goal obviously is not Kurdish independence, and we make tihat clear in the legislation.” I don’t think there is a person on thel planet who believes that.  In addition to the training and small weapons, vehicles, provisions will include serious heavy weaponry.  It certainly looks like the break up of Iraq has begun.

“The US has given its approval to deliver heavy equipment to us,” Jabar Yawar, spokesman of the Peshmerga Ministry told local TV Rudaw in December. “There are now long-range artillery and gunships in Kuwait waiting to be delivered to the Kurdistan region in [January]”. In another interview with Rudaw, Yawar also talked about “armored vehicles, Humvees and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected [vehicles ] (MRAPs)”.

_ OIR spox Col Warren makes numerous denials of US special operations raids that have been reported in Iraq, with video from alleged raids.  Pieces of of the video in Iraqi news reports were identified as a training mission in California from the DVIDS US military imagery and video repository.  RT Arabic (via Ruptly) is using the same video and should issue a correction.


Middle East Partitions, New Borders

_ Liz Sly of the Washington Post writes about how the battle against ISIS is “redrawing the map of the Middle East” (coincidentally, of course) not mentioning that a new slicing and dicing has been the goal of  neoconservatives, hard line factions in Israel, of former colonizers and power brokers in the Middle East.  The subject of partitioning and redrawing borders comes up in the US media on a regular basis and has, with increasing frequency, over the course of the Syrian war.  The peace process calls for a unified Syria and does not call for partitions.

Asymmetric Wars

_ As Ivan Arreguín-Toft demonstrated in How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict,” between 1800 and 1998, weaker actors won 30 percent of all asymmetric wars, and fully 55 percent between 1950 and 1998.” (from Micah Zenko’s “The Best Worst Quotes of 2015” from U.S. government officials and politicians, a rare worthwhile listicle)

Daniel Ellsberg at the microphone with Medea Benjamin (Code Pink) on the left at the 2006 Independence Day Troops Home Fast Hunger Strike at The White House on July 3, 2006. (Wikimedia Commons / Elvert Barnes)
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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.