U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is once again in town trying to reach a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One of the issues of dispute is the fate of the Jordan Valley, which is indispensable for Israel’s national security.
The Jordan Valley is the only available defensible border on the eastern front, which is the closest border to Israel’s heartland — the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv-Haifa triangle — which holds 70 percent of its population and 80% of its economic infrastructure.
Many pundits claim that Israel no longer needs the Jordan Valley as a shield against aggression from the east. They argue that the demise of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the weakening of civil-war-torn Syria, and the impressive stability of Jordan in light of the turmoil of the Arab world renders the threat of the eastern front and its proximity to Israel’s center a thing of the past. Yet this is a very short-term perspective, motivated by the desire to convince the Israeli public opinion that the Jordan Valley is militarily dispensable. Such a view ignores the immense potential for political upheaval in the Middle East, as recently demonstrated during the Arab Spring. The destabilization of Hashemite Jordan and Saudi Arabia and a radical jihadist Syria are not far-fetched scenarios for the near future. The re-emergence of the eastern front as a security threat could soon follow.
Moreover, the U.S. decided to cut its losses and leave Iraq and Afghanistan, which constitutes a victory to all radical forces in the Middle East. A more energy-independent America might decide that it has less of a stake in the Middle East, allowing greater freedom of action to Islamist elements to take over American allies. Israel cannot count on the U.S. to always lend its weight to Arab moderates. Under President Barack Obama, Washington supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and might make the same strategic mistake in Jordan.
Advocates of turning over the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians also discount its topographical importance by referring to current military technology, which allows precision strikes from a distance. They argue that the ability to launch defensive strikes from the coast eliminates the strategic need for the Jordan Valley as a means of defense. Yet, these armchair strategists overlook the history of military technology, which shows a clear oscillation between the dominance of offensive and defensive measures over the centuries. The belief that the technology of today — which indeed temporarily reduces the importance of topography — will remain unchallenged constitutes a dangerous strategic fallacy.
Designing stable defensible borders in accordance with the current, but transient, technological state of the art and political circumstances is strategically foolish. Therefore, if Israel wants to maintain a defensible border along the Jordan Valley it also needs to secure the road from the coast to the Valley, via an undivided Jerusalem and via Maaleh Adumim — 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the river. This is the only west-east axis with a Jewish majority and the only safe route via which Israel can mobilize troops from the coast to the Jordan Valley in a case of emergency.
Maaleh Adumim serves as the linchpin in establishing an effective line of defense along the Jordan Valley against aggression from the east. Building a Jewish populated corridor in the 5-kilometer-wide E1 area between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim will secure the road to the Jordan Valley and prevent the division of Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s importance to the Jews is not only historical and religious, but also strategic. There is great importance in controlling the only highway from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River Valley along which Jews can travel with little interference from concentrations of the Arab population.
The Palestinians plan to populate E1 with Arabs to create demographic contiguity between Samaria and east Jerusalem, thereby facilitating the division of the city. Such a development would also isolate Maaleh Adumim and undermine Israeli claims to the Jordan Valley. Settling Jews in E1 is an imperative to keep Jerusalem united and to consolidate Israel’s defensible border along the Jordan Valley.
The U.S. seems to understand Israel’s strategic need for the Jordan Valley, but is opposed to linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem as a vital component of the eastern defensible border. Yet, we should remember that the U.S. has opposed Israeli settlement efforts since 1967 and only rarely did American objections have an impact on Israeli decisions on this issue. Moreover, the Americans can be persuaded to tacitly go along with linking Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem if a clear strategic vision based upon the principle of territorial compromise is presented.
While the wisdom of indiscriminately settling the Land of Israel is not strategically compelling and is a hard sell diplomatically, a selective settlement policy focusing on areas within the Israeli consensus, including Maaleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley, can be pursued with less foreign opposition. Willingness for a territorial compromise in Judea and Samaria is also the position of most Israelis. The government must act to reflect this preference to convince the Israeli public that it is seriously pursuing peace. Israelis need such an assurance to support the government in case of international pressure to make dangerous concessions, or to fight a war if necessary. A selective settlement policy that distinguishes between important and less important strategic areas requires a gradual freeze in building and allocations to isolated settlements, and should be complemented with the removal of illegal outposts located outside the areas of consensus.
Building in E1 and the Jordan Valley will thus become easier in domestic and international terms. It is imperative to build homes for Jews there to establish a defensible line along Israel’s eastern border. Hopefully Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will finally implement the announced plans.
Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism
Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.
To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”
Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”
The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.
A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.
Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.
He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”
Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”
He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).
He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.
While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”
Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”
Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.
He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”
He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.
He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.
He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”
Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.
He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.
The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.
Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.
The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.
The views expressed are those of the author.
Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.
The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.
According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.
At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.
The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.
It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.
Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?
Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.
Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.
As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with 9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.
Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.
The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.
The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.
Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.
With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.
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