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Daily Briefing: Israel Expands Operations Beyond Syria (September 10, 2019)

F-35A Lightning II aircraft (Source: DOD)


The Campaign Between Wars: Faster, Higher, Fiercer?:  Amos Yadlin, Assaf Orion, INSS Insight No. 1209, Aug. 30, 2019
What Are Turkey-U.S. ‘Joint Patrols’ In Eastern Syria And Why They Matter:  Seth J. Frentzman, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 9, 2019
To Win in Syria, America Must Rethink Its Kurdish Policy:  The National Interest, Sept. 8, 2019

What ‘Victory’ Looks Like: A Journey Through Shattered Syria:  Vivian Yee, New York Times, Aug. 20,2019


The Campaign between Wars: Faster, Higher, Fiercer?

Amos Yadlin and Assaf Orion
INSS Insight No. 1209, Aug. 30, 2019

Over the last two years, the “campaign between wars” (CBW) waged by Israel has focused on Syrian territory, reportedly entailing hundreds of strikes against targets linked to Iran or its proxies, in a bid to prevent their entrenching militarily there, which would necessarily increase the threat to Israel. With this well under way, the past year raised the possibility that Iran would redirect some of its force buildup efforts to Iraq and Lebanon, and senior Israeli figures who warned of this possibility publicly pledged to prevent it. Over the past month, voices in Iraq attributed responsibility to Israel for attacks that blew up four weapons depots belonging to the Shiite-Iraqi militia al-Hashd al-Shabi. American officials relayed that it was Israel that had attacked at least some of the targets (while other US sources noted that some of the explosions were possibly caused by high summer temperatures and inferior safety standards), and in Israel too there were those who hinted as to Israeli responsibility. Israel recently announced that it had thwarted an attempted terrorist explosive drone attack that the Iranian Quds Force planned to launch from the Golan Heights, and that the operational squad had been struck in Aqraba, near Damascus. In parallel, it was reported that two explosive drones operated in Hezbollah’s bastion in the southern Shiite suburb of Beirut (ad-Dahiyeh), with one of them blowing up and damaging a local Hezbollah office. It was later reported that the target of the attack was precision-guided missile production equipment. Close to the time of a speech by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, which featured a fierce commentary on the matter, another air strike took place against Shiite militia vehicles on the Iraq-Syria border, causing fatalities and destroying rocketry. It is possible that the next day, an additional attack was carried out against a Shiite militia in the Albu Kamal area of northeast Syria.

The recent operations represent a deviation from Israel’s previous conduct, in the following respects:

a. Theaters of operations: Expansion of Israel’s campaign boundaries to Iraq occurred in response to Iran’s efforts to broaden its own theaters of operations against Israel to include Iraq and after the Iraqi government and American efforts fell short in preventing this development. Iraq serves as a link in the logistical chain of the Iranian proxy warfare network and as a base for prospective precision-guided missile launches against Israel. The inclusion of the Iraqi theater of operations within CBW boundaries that in recent years were mainly confined to Syria is a significant change. Attention to the change in Israel has so far been minimal, perhaps because of the absence – for now – of immediate and tangible consequences from this decision. But such convenience may not last for long.

Far more significant is the operation in Lebanon – an explosive drone strike in Beirut against the precision-guided missile project. Although Israel initially avoided commenting on the operation, the President and Prime Minister of Lebanon deemed it a “declaration of war.” In his speech, Nasrallah made clear that he regards it with extreme gravity and stressed profusely that as far as he is concerned, two red lines had been crossed: a first, open, and blatant attack in Lebanon in contravention of the “rules of engagement” established since the 2006 war, and the killing of Hezbollah operatives in Syria. He also highlighted the new development posed by the offensive use of drones as suicide weapons for attack purposes. … [To read  the  full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

What Are Turkey-U.S. ‘Joint Patrols’ In Eastern Syria And Why They Matter

Seth J. Frentzman
Jerualem Post, Sept. 9, 2019

The US and Turkey began joint military patrols in northeast Syria along the Turkish border, a possible sign that the US is trying to cater to Ankara’s demands regarding the future of eastern Syria. The patrols, which saw Turkish military vehicles and US military vehicles, each with their country’s large flags attached, driving around dry farmland, come after a year of Ankara’s threats to launch an attack on eastern Syria against US partner forces.

According to reports the US said that the patrols are part of the “security mechanism” that was announced last month amid renewed Turkish threats. The patrols are one part of a mechanism that has seen the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) uproot fortifications near the border and claims to illustrate that the YPG has left an area of eastern Syria along the border.

The complex backstory to this is that in 2014 ISIS attacked this area and threatened to exterminate and ethnically cleanse Kurds, minorities and anyone who didn’t adhere to the ISIS extremist interpretation of Islam. Instead ISIS was met with resistance from the mostly Kurdish YPG who eventually were able to push them back with the help of US and coalition airstrikes. Later, with more assistance from special forces and light arms, the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces helped liberate Raqqa and defeat ISIS in eastern Syria. But for Turkey this was problematic because Turkey claims the YPG is part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which Turkey had fought a war with after a ceasefire broke down in 2015. Turkey invaded Afrin in northwest Syria in January 2018 to defeat the YPG and has said it intends to do the same thing to eastern Syria. In Afrin more than 150,000 Kurds were displaced by fighting and hundreds of thousands of mostly Arab Syrian refugees settled in Afrin, changing the demographics of this historic Kurdish area. Turkey says it will return eastern Syria to its “true owners” and has said it wants to send a million Syrians, most of whom are not from eastern Syria, to move into eastern Syria in a “safe zone” that Turkey has demanded control over.

The US, which is partnered with the SDF and wants to see ISIS fully defeated, has objected to Turkey’s plans for a military operation, concerned it will destabilize eastern Syria at this unique time when the area requires peace and prosperity. When Turkey announced plans for a similar military offensive in Manbij the US came up with a concept of joint military patrols. But Turkey has said that it will not accept a Manbij-style solution to areas along the border. So it has demanded that its forces be allowed into Syria, which the US appears to have facilitated in order to avoid a possible Turkish offensive.
Last month Turkey said it had informed the US and Russia that an offensive would take place and only last-minute discussions with US military officials supposedly stopped the operation. Since then Turkey has gone to Russia to propose buying more Russian military equipment, has threatened to build nuclear weapons and threatened to “open the gates” of refugees going to Europe if its demands are not met in eastern Syria. It’s unclear if Ankara’s threats are just talk designed to see if the US will budge, or if it would actually launch an offensive in an area where US forces are present. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

To Win in Syria, America Must Rethink Its Kurdish Policy

Giran Ozcan
The National Interest, Sept. 8, 2019

Last month, the United States and Turkey reached a temporary agreement on a proposed “safe zone” in Northeastern Syria, marking the latest installment in a pattern of threats and negotiations that has characterized the past several years of the two countries’ relations. While the United States appears to have staved off a unilateral Turkish military operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for the time being, the details of the plan are vague—and it is likely to prove to be little more than a stopgap measure. Rather than negotiate from a position of strength, American diplomats intervened at the last minute, and prioritized a solution that would allow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to save face rather than force his government to address the root causes of the conflict at hand. In doing so, they have averted a temporary escalation by pushing its resolution further down the diplomatic road.

This crisis is symptomatic of a larger problem of regional strategy. Until now, American management of Turkey-SDF tensions has made three major mistakes: Privileging Turkey’s NATO history over Erdogan’s anti-Western turn, viewing Kurdish groups as military actors without the potential for political engagement, and separating the conflicts in Turkey and Syria despite their undeniable connections. Each of these failed assumptions is predicated on an outdated vision of the Middle East and the role that outside powers, including the United States, play in it. Each of them has also threatened America’s ability to achieve its stated goals in Syria. If the United States seeks to withdraw its forces from Syria while ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS and working towards a negotiated end to the eight-year conflict, these lessons of the “safe zone” crisis bring a new strategy to light.

A Reset with NATO

Turkey has been a member of NATO for nearly seventy years. Throughout this time, this has earned it near-unconditional American support for its foreign policy objectives—even those that relate to different geopolitical circumstances from those under which it acceded.

In joining the alliance, Turkey agreed to “settle any international dispute in which [it] may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered” and to “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of [its] peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” It would be hard to argue that Erdogan’s unilateral incursions into peaceful Syrian territory, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and jailing of tens of thousands of politicians, activists, journalists, academics, and dissidents meet this standard. It would be harder still to claim that his deepening political and military ties with Russia—whose interests NATO was founded to counter, and whose regional presence Turkey was admitted to NATO to balance—is compatible with the broader spirit of the treaty.

Do You Know What Happened On This Day?

For Erdogan, Turkey’s NATO commitments are now little more than words on paper. For the United States, however, they allow policymakers to justify the current Turkish government’s worst authoritarian excesses. Turkish officials know this—hence their confidence in extracting concessions on Syria and maintaining international silence on their domestic crackdown. The United States must not allow Turkey to continue to take advantage of this difference in perspectives. Instead of viewing shared NATO status as grounds for appeasement, the United States should hold Turkey to the standards the alliance claims to have. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

What ‘Victory’ Looks Like: A Journey Through Shattered Syria

Vivian Yee
New York Times, Aug. 20, 2019

Picking our way around the ruins of the Damascus suburb of Douma, it took a little while to realize what was missing. There were women carrying groceries, old men droning by on motorbikes and skinny children heaving jugs of water home.

But there were few young men. They had died in the war, been thrown in prison or scattered far beyond Syria’s borders. Now, it had fallen to survivors like Um Khalil, a 59-year-old, round-faced grandmother, to reckon with their absence.
Three of her sons had been killed. Another had been tortured in a rebel prison, and a fifth had disappeared into government detention. Her daughters-in-law had to start working, while she was raising five grandchildren without her husband. He had died in an airstrike. “Sometimes I sit and think, how did this happen?” Um Khalil said in the apartment of a distant acquaintance, where her remaining family was squatting. “I had sons working. Everything was normal, and suddenly I lost them. I had a husband. I lost him, too. I have no answers. God forgive whoever was behind this.”

Then she burst out: “Forgive them, don’t forgive them, what difference does it make? I wish I could find whoever destroyed this city. I would kill him.”

Ruin and Recovery, Allotted Unequally

After eight years of civil war, the Syrian government now controls much of the country, and on Tuesday it appeared closer than ever to seizing control of Idlib, the last of the rebels’ territory. Whether President Bashar al-Assad will win has not been in doubt for some time. We — three journalists with The New York Times — had come to Syria to see what his victory looked like.
Visiting five government-held cities and villages over eight days in June, we found ruin and generosity, people grieving and people getting through the day. Suffering had been unequally distributed, landing most heavily on the poor and on former rebel-held areas. The recovery, too, was unevenly shared.

In Damascus, the capital, a gleaming $310 million mall, built during the war not far from a mountain where government forces once launched artillery shells at rebel territory, echoed with the clacking of high-heeled shoppers.

In nearby Douma, which was rebel-held for most of the war, running water was still more aspiration than reality. In the government stronghold of Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast, mothers wept beneath photographs of dead sons. More than two years after Mr. Assad retook the northern city of Aleppo, the factories and the ancient bazaars, or souks, were stirring again, but electricity was stuttering back one power-crew shift at a time. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference

ISRAEL’S Pushback in Syria:  Michael Herzog, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 2019 – Of all the threats in Israel’s strategic landscape, Iran’s ambitions and developing military capabilities in neighboring Syria and Lebanon have ranked highest in recent years in the attention of Israeli decisionmakers and strategic planners.
Assad’s Thinking: How Did Syria Get Here, and Where Does the Regime Want to Go Now?: Michel Duclos and Ambassador Robert S. Ford, The Washington Institute, June 21, 2019, Includes Video. — On June 18, Michel Duclos and Robert Ford addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Duclos is a former French ambassador to Syria (2006-2009), a special advisor to Institut Montaigne, and author of the new book La Longue Nuit Syrienne. Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

Israel Says Air Strike In Syria Sent ‘No Immunity’ Message To Iran:  Business Insider, Aug. 25, 2019 — Israel said on Sunday an air strike against an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria that it accused of planning “killer drone attacks” showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere.

Airstrike Targeted Al Qaeda Leadership in Syria, U.S. military Says:  Thomas Joscelyn, FDD, Aug. 31, 2019 — The American military conducted an airstrike against al Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) “leadership at a facility north of Idlib, Syria” earlier today, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). It is the second time the U.S. has struck al Qaeda operatives in Syria since late June.

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