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Iran’s moves in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori



A recent article published on the Russian Pravda, which is certainly not just the result of grey propaganda, namely that kind of “grey” communication operations mixing truth and falsehood, may be useful to clarify what has really happened in Syria since 2011, the fatal and terrible year of the so-called “Arab springs”.

And even year of destabilization – against Iran and the Russian Federation – of the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, it is worth clarifying that said “springs” had evidently been prepared on the basis of Gene Sharp’s techniques and his “non-violent revolution”, with the addition of “rebels” parachuted by others.

This was certainly seen with the young people of Tahrir Square in Egypt, as well as with the Head of Google in Cairo, who enabled the protest to overcome the Internet blocks organized by Mukarak’s regime, while even at that time the Muslim Brotherhood militia protected the crowd from the Rais police attacks.

Moreover, at that time Gene Sharp’s books were explicitly recommended on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website in Egypt.

Summarized in very simple terms, Sharp’s theories and the theories of his Einstein Institute envisaged a series of mass actions which raised the political temperature and progressively isolated “the Tyrant”.

The idea that there only existed a “tyrant” to be toppled speaks volumes about the naïvety of these models, but the US theorists never relinquish their myths of the “noble savage”, namely the people, who is supposed to be manipulated by a single “wicked person”.

Firstly, Sharp thought there was the “conversion” of the peripheral members of the regime, then the destruction – again with the techniques he recommended – of the whole power system of the usual “Tyrant”, especially with the peaceful destabilization of the infrastructural and organizational links which kept his power alive, mainly through communication and information, or rather “misinformation”.

In the case of Syria, as Sharp’s recipes were not enough, as was also the case with Libya, there was – as also in the first phase of the French-British actions in front of the Benghazi coast – the violent action of “rebels “, based on the formula: “military infiltration + psychological warfare.”

In fact, the protests of March 2011 soon spread to several Syrian cities, precisely due to the contagion of the “Arab springs” – and it was by no mere coincidence that the revolt started from Deraa, a city very close to the Jordanian border, where US, British and Saudi instructors already operated.

We all remember that the protests began with the demolition of the Hafez al-Assad statue, as the end of the Iraqi regime had started with the demolition – again by US psyops connected with some local “rebels” – of the Saddam Hussein statue.

Obviously the very harsh repression by the Syrian Baathist regime started while the grey operations created – as it would also be the case for the uprising in Libya – local personages, previously unknown, operating under the label of “human rights defenders”, a concept completely unknown to the Arab world, regardless of its being secular or religious.

The news about the victims of repression (it happened also in Italy during the so called “Years of Lead”, the years of socio-political turmoil marked by a wave of terrorism) were emphasized, while there was a mobilization of the Al Jazeera networks, owned by the family of the Qatar’s Emir, traditionally linked to the funding for Al Qaeda, and Al Arabija, the satellite network located in the Emirates but owned by Saudi Arabia.

As is always the case now, many NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – both accused by US sources of raising funds coming from Saudi Arabia – added to this clearly Sharp-styled “media bubble”.

As happened also in Libya, within the Syrian insurgency, there were already groups engaging in firefights artfully, as the US Field Manual 3-05.30 and the State Department’ manuals, with the Joint Publication 3-132, taught.

Moreover, King Abdullah of Jordan officially stated that the British operators of the Special Air Service (SAS) had got organized, on the Jordanian territory, to operate in Southern Syria with a mechanized battalion composed of unidentified “rebels”.

Again according to Pravda, at that juncture there was the need to “break up the militia group” to employ and then disperse Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

The Syrian Forces, however, were not at all suitable for the jihad asymmetrical war. Conversely they had been conceived for a “final” confrontation with Israel and hence they were easily put in trouble by the “rebels”, trained by the “Brown Berets” (the Turkish Special Forces), the Saudis, the British SAS and, finally, by the Americans of the Delta Force – exactly the force that a future Head of the Italian intelligence SISDE had encircled by our Carabinieri forces in the Sigonella base.

After this useful digression, let us revert to the Iranian operations, and especially the Pasdaran operations in Syria.

The Iranian envoys in Syria included not only the Pasdaran elite brigades, but also the Afghan “volunteers” and other Shiite groups not officially recorded and filed as combatant structures, in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

In this respect, it is worth recalling that the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif has always denied, but only to the irrelevant EU authorities, any kind of Iranian boots on the ground operations on the Syrian soil.

The Iranian “Revolutionary Guards” brigades operating in Syria, however, are the Saberin units and the best-known Al Quds Force, both belonging to the Pasdaran, the “Revolutionary Guards”.

The Saberin units are basically the Iranian equivalent of the aforementioned British SAS.

But many Saberin leaders have already been killed.

Think of Farhad Hassounizadeh, killed in Southern Syria in 2015, or Abbas Abdollahi, killed in the Deraa Province in February 2015, or the over 300 Iranian soldiers who were killed – “several” soldiers, as the Iranian government said – in addition to the 13 “military advisers” to the Pasdaran who were killed, much more recently, in Khan Tuman, near Aleppo, by an alliance of jihadist groups linked to Jaish Al Nusra, the “front” which is the owner of Al-Qaeda in Syria, and Jaish Al Fatah, another Sunni jihadist organization acting as an “umbrella” organization for almost all the jihadist “rebels” operating around Aleppo.

A total of over 700 Iranian soldiers out of over 2,000 were killed in Syria, not to mention the Saberin units that formed the Iranian expeditionary force in the Syrian State.

Not to mention the old leader of the Hezbollah, Badreddine, killed earlier this May, an “assassination” for which the Iranians directly blamed the Israelis.

Furthermore, as many as 13 Shiite “militia groups” operate in Syria which, including the Pasdaran, total over 3,500 soldiers.

Therefore, over the last three years, 693 Iranians died in Syria, including the 13 ones killed in Aleppo recently.

Now, in all likelihood, after the Al Quds Brigade, it will be the turn of the Saberin, an IRGC brigade capable of carrying out OPFOR actions (OPposing FORce), as well as “hybrid” and asymmetric operations against the jihadists like those which led to the victory of the Russians in Crimea and in the part of Ukraine already de facto conquered by them.

With reference to the clash in Khan Touman, the battle of May 6 waged a few kilometers southwest of Aleppo on Road 5, the main highway to Damascus, this operation is likely to soon change the war in Syria.

Hence more Iranian soldiers in the region and maybe closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, but a probable victory for the jihadists which could cost Assad’ Syrian Arab Army exactly Aleppo, the “center of gravity” of the whole clash in the North.

And it is also the “gateway to Turkey”.

The available data points to an ambush organized against the Iranians (both Pasdaran and Hezbollah) by Jaysh Al Fatah, a group of Sunni “rebels” linked to the Al Nusra Front, which will probably conquer many of the ISIS positions, while the “Caliphate” is turning into an organization mainly operating outside the traditional borders of this war, namely Yemen, Sinai and, in the future, Jordan.

Due to the usual intelligence “gaps” on the ground, the leaders of the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah did not know that the Sunni “rebels” had acquired a supply of MILAN, the light anti-tank missiles manufactured in Europe, with a 2 kilometer range and a penetration rate of the armor of self-propelled units between 350 and 900 mm.

The MILAN missiles had been supplied by Turkey, but paid by Saudi Arabia.

Certainly it is a painful mystery how it is still possible to accept Turkey within NATO without President Erdogan being made accountable before the NATO Secretary-General for the Turkish operations in the Syrian war.

Clearly Turkey wages and fights a war against the Kurds, and sometimes not even by proxy, but the operations and the much-trumpeted “peace in Syria” are also in Turkey’s hands, faced with NATO’s empty gestures, as well as its all talk and no action.

Iran later admitted that 17 of their soldiers had been killed in the Khan Touman battle, and additional 22 soldiers had been injured, including 13 victims belonging to the 25th “Karbala” Division, usually stationed in Iran.

This was a clear sign of Iran’s overstretching.

Two brigade-Generals of the Iranian forces died.

Currently at least ten soldiers of the “Karbala” Division are prisoners of the Sunni jihadists.

Five of the seven soldiers were killed immediately, others – even though we do not know how many – were taken away from the clash region towards an unknown destination.

The Hezbollah also claimed that none of their soldiers was killed or emprisoned, but other sources revealed that at least 15 soldiers of the Lebanese “Party of God” were killed by the so-called “rebels”.

Other Iranian sources reveal that now the tension between the Iranian hierarchies for the material cost and human toll of their participation in the Syrian war is skyrocketing, with many leaders, even within the Pasdaran, who would like to limit the Iranian actions and involvement in Syria.

Moreover, it is not yet clear whether Rezaei, a historical leader of the Iranian IGRC, will replace or not General Qassam Soleimani, killed a few days ago, as Supreme Commander of Iran’s operations in Syria.

The fact is that the jihadist “rebels” receive significant amounts of advanced weapons from their regional Sunni allies, while the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah are forces better suited to guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency, rather than being prepared for a showdown and clash at high technological, materials and military levels.

Even the Head of the Hezbollah in Syria, Mustafa Badar ad-Din, was killed by a surface-to-surface missile near the Damascus International Airport, which proves again the penetration of the various rebel “fronts” in the military and political Syrian fabric.

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, however, firmly believes that Mustafa Bader al-Din was assassinated by the US Special Forces, and rather oddly, by the Russian ones.

The Party of God base near the Damascus Airport was top secret – hence, within the balance of factors between the various forces on the field, Russia is probably trying to favor only the Iranians at the Hezbollah expense.

Maybe an unwanted ally, but necessary for the quality and quantity of the Iranian engagement in Syria.

Moreover, no military tank, group of people or other entity can enter the airport in the Syrian capital without an explicit and careful recognition or permission by the Russian Special Forces, which initially did not report the fact to Assad’ Syrian Arab Army or to the Iranians, let alone the “Party of God”, which was informed by third parties.

It must also be added that, days earlier, the United States had deployed their Special Forces, with attack helicopters, in the Ramelan base, in Northern Syria, near the Kurdish city of Hasakah.

It is a choice that, probably in agreement with Russia, enables the US Central Command for Operations in the Middle East (CENTCOM) to strike anywhere in Syria.

Hence, is Moscow thinking of a backroom deal with the United States so as to soon finish the “work” in Syria, in exchange for the US guarantee that Alawistan, with their bases of Tartus and Latakia, will remain untouched?

Moreover, the leader of the Hezbollah in Syria attended the meetings with Bashar el Assad regularly, although – precisely for his final assignment in Syria, but as early as 2013 – he had been designated as “international terrorist” by the United States and the international organizations related to them.

Or, in his future plan of irrenounceable “Greater Syria” in the Lebanon, Bashar does not want to have particularly powerful Hezbollah, to whom to pay a price for their participation in the Syria’s “liberation” from the Sunni jihad?

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, Hassan Nasrallah – who probably made the mistake of naïvety – viewed the base in the Damascus airport as absolutely top secret, but forgetting that at least three intelligence services cooperated with the Hezbollah and that, after some aerial reconnaissance, the United States – experts of Electronic Intelligence and other similar technologies – could easily identify the Hezbollah command.

Obviously the supreme leader of the “Party of God” knows all too well that hitting the Lebanese leader means also striking at the heart of Bashar el Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

Moreover the commander killed, Bader Ad-Din, had already planned to evacuate the Hezbollah militiamen from the various war fronts still open inside Syria, so as to concentrate them only on the Syrian-Lebanese front.

A threat which has obviously not been taken lightly by Assad, the ophthalmologist who was trained in London and is proving to be even more shrewder than his father Hafez.

Bader’s action, however, could not please Assad and it might have favored his assassination, regardless of who materially perpetrated it.

Furthermore there are unchecked reports whereby Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite leader, met secretly, shortly before the assassination of Ad-Din – and it is worth recalling that Muqtada controls, with the Iranian support, much of the “green Zone” in Baghdad and many of the militiamen who have recently become members of the Iraqi Parliament – the Iranians and the Shiite leaders in Beirut (especially Nasrallah himself) to send Hezbollah forces directly to Iraq and, hence, inevitably dismantle and strip the real Syrian front of its defenses.

At the funeral of the “Party of God” General, in Beirut, the signals to Iran (and to Russia) were clear in the sense that they could not try to get away with it, as usual, by accusing the United States.

Hence, on the pro-Alawi front, some cracks and difficulties of understanding are starting to appear, which make us realize that now everyone is waging and fighting “their” war in Syria.

Bashar still wants to reunite the country and Iran thinks it cannot bear some costs, even in relation to the expected advantages and benefits. Russia wants to take quick action, because it has other open fronts with the West and does not want to manage too many of them at the same time. Iran wants its Shiite universe and is not interested in Syria only; the United States want to fight together some “jihad”, support their Saudi allies in the region against Iran and contain Russia.

Moreover, after the funeral-rites, the “Party of God” maintained that (unidentified) Syrian “rebels” had killed Ad-Din, with a salvo of artillery.

A patently false motivation which, however, shows that, for the Hezbollah, there is no strategic reason to still remain in Syria.

Hence a war which will probably be destined to create a Sunni Syrian area, protected by Saudi Arabia, with a para-Shiite “buffer region” constituted by Bashar El Assad; a decidedly pro-Russian Alawistan in the Mediterranean; an Iran which, thanks to a reduced operational burden of its actions in Syria, builds the great Shiite empire along its borders; and finally the United States which, as usual, submit to the wishes (and money) of the Saudis, their only true ally in the region, precisely when they are obviously walking out of the Greater Middle East.

Europe, as usual, will stand by idly without even understanding what is happening.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Middle East

Ahed Tamimi, the Detained Heroine

Sondoss Al Asaad



Ahed Tamimi has accepted a plea deal under which she will serve eight months in prison, during a closed-door hearing but must still be approved by the military court. Under the deal, offered by the military prosecution on 21 March 2018, Ahed Tamimi is expected to plead guilty to four charges, including assault, incitement and two counts of obstructing soldiers. Gaby Lasky, her lawyer, said the sentence would include four months already served and a fine of 5,000 shekels (£1,017).

Since her early years, Ahed Tamimi, 17 years old detained teenager has become an international poster girl in her home village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank where regular Palestinian protests take place against settlement encroachment. In 2012, a widely seen photo of 12-year-old Ahed, then, confronting an Israeli soldier earned her recognition. Another image went viral, in 2015, after she was photographed kicking and biting an Israeli soldier who was choking her brother Mohammed.

Palestinians hail Ahed Tamimi as a hero for kicking a heavily armed soldier who slapped her first and was illegally on her doorstep and in an illegal occupation of her country. On 15 December 2017, Ahed’s confrontation went viral was streamed on Facebook. In the footage, Ahed kicks one soldier and slaps his face, and threatens to punch the other, after they stormed into her house and shot her fifteen-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi who was severely wounded by a rubber bullet that entered his brain.

The Tamimis are at the forefront of regular protests, a frequent scene of demonstrations, they assert that a part of the Nabi Saleh’s land was confiscated and given to a nearby Israeli settlement. The enemy’s narrative alleged that the Tamimis had given their consent to Palestinians to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers from their home and that the soldiers were present outside at the time to remove the rioters from the house.

After the shooting, the West Bank village erupted in anger and began throwing stones at the Zionists, who attempted to put a stop to the unrest by patrolling at the site of a home where protesters were gathered. This aroused the anger of Ahed who ran outside her home and confronted two Israeli soldiers demanding that they leave the family property.

The soldiers’ restraint and refusal to act aroused anger among Israelis, as a result, the Zionists prepared a raid on the Tamimi residence, the next morning. In December 2017, the Tamimis woke up with a shock at about 3 a.m. to the noise of the Israeli forces banging on their front door and screaming. Ahed’s father, Bassem, opened the door for the soldiers, who pushed him aside and trooped into the house. At least 30 soldiers raided the house to arrest Ahed, without giving any reasons. They went rifling through the household leaving behind a mess and confiscated the family’s electronic possessing.

Ahed’s father is a prominent Palestinian activist since 2009, who successfully broadcasted the Palestinian peaceful protests in social media. He strongly believes that Ahed’s rights are being infringed and her trial should not take place,’ as the Zionist entity has no respect for international law and acts with impunity because of its ‘power’. He said, ‘There is nothing more provocative than Israel’s occupation [of Palestine]…so the normal reaction is to resist.’

Amnesty International has called for an immediate release of Ahed Tamimi, saying ‘the arrest of a child must be used only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and Africa have stressed, ‘As an unarmed girl, Ahed posed no threat during the altercation with the two Israeli soldiers who were heavily armed and wearing protective clothing.’ Besides, Human Rights Watch has emphasised that Ahed’s pre-trial detention is both a violation of international law and unnecessary and that ‘Israel’s military justice system, which detains hundreds of Palestinian children every year, is incapable of respecting children’s rights.

Within the Zionist entity, there are voices demanding to release Ahed. Some of Israel’s critics have said the case epitomises the Zionist brutal approach, half a century after its forces captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised Israeli’s actions, while the European Union has expressed concern over Israel’s detention of minors, including Ahed Tamimi.

Luisa Morgantini, the former vice president of the European Parliament said that the injustice of the Israeli occupation is so great that one cannot remain silent. Additionally, Alistair Burt, UK Minister of state for the Middle East at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said, ‘The truth is the soldiers shouldn’t have been there and the young woman shouldn’t have needed to do what she did.’

An online petition organised by Ahed’s father calling for her release has gathered 1.7m signatures. Twenty-seven American cultural figures have signed the petition including, Actors Danny Glover and Rosario Dawson, novelist Alice Walker, famed activist Angela Davis and philosopher Cornel West. The petition explicitly relates Tamimi’s fate to the children of immigrants and communities of colour who face police brutality in the United States.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli nongovernmental organisation, a parent has the right to accompany their child during an interrogation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ahed Tamimi has gone on trial before Ofer military court, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, which has been delayed several times. This postponing of the trial aims at holding Ahed for so long until she is broken down psychologically to the point that she would agree to sign a plea sheet.

On 13 February 2018, she arrived at the military courtroom escorted by Israeli security personnel, in a prison jumpsuit with her hands and feet in shackles. She appeared calm, smiling and flashing the ‘V for victory’ sign at photographers. Her father Bassem Tamimi waved to her from the audience, yelling out ‘stay strong’.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Ahed Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison, after the Ofer Military Court approved a plea bargain in which she allegedlyconfessed to ‘aggravated assault of a Zionist soldier, incitement to violence and disrupting soldiers on two other occasions.’

Gaby Lasky, Ahed’s Israeli lawyer, dismissed arguments that the continuous detention would violate Ahed’s rights as a minor and concluded she would pose a danger if released on bail. She said that although Ahed is only 17-years-old, ‘the court believes that her indictment is enough to keep her in detention until the end of the trial’. Lasky said she argued that the trial could not move forward because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its court system there is illegal.

UN experts expressed concern that Ahed’s place of detention, Hasharon prison, was in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that the deportation of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power, or to that of any other country, is prohibited regardless of the motive. They expressed that the case of Ahed violates the fundamental legal guarantee to have access to counsel during interrogation.

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Middle East

A Lone Wolf in Afrin

Timur Akhmetov



The International Reaction to Turkey’s Military Campaign in Afrin

Despite numerous efforts by the Turkish government to explain its concerns over the threats PYD/PKK represent for Turkish national security, Ankara’s western partners and international players showed little support for the military operation in Afrin. On January 25, US President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert stated that Washington would prefer Turkey to abstain from direct intrusion in Syria and instead focus on “long-term strategic goals” like ending Syria’s war. The major U.S. concern, allegedly, was that deeper Turkish involvement against Kurdish-controlled elements would spoil the power balance and risk major escalation with the participation of U.S. troops.

On January 28, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, when asked about the Alliance’s official position on the “Olive Branch” operation, responded by saying that even though Turkey has a right to self defence, it is important to pursue national security objectives in a proportionate and measured way, implying that military actions may contribute to the destabilization of Western-led efforts in Syria.

On January 29, UN General Secretary Spokesman Stephane Dujarric suggested that the Turkish military operation had led to losses among local civilians in Afrin, directly challenging Turkish official statements, particularly the claims of the Turkish General Staff about the absence of civilian casualties, despite the reports that the operation is complicated by instances when PYD fighters are spotted in civil clothes.

In early February, officials from the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), while acknowledging Turkey’s right to protect its borders, criticized a large-scale crackdown by the Turkish state authorities on anti-war campaigners and dissenters who demanded a quick end to the Turkish army’s military involvement in a foreign country. Western officials underlined that security concerns should not lead to disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, abuse of the state’s imperfect anti-terrorism laws, and detainment of people on charges of terrorist propaganda due to social media posts.

In late February, French officials, in several separate initiatives, called on the Turkish government to respect UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the Syrian ceasefire, spare civilian lives in Afrin and ensure the supply of humanitarian aid to the region. On February 26, in a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Emmanuel Macron stressed that the ceasefire covered all Syrian territory, including Afrin, and must be put into effect everywhere and by everyone without delay, implying that the PYD shouldn’t be targeted by Turkish forces.

On a regional level as well, the Turkish military operation was received negatively. On January 21, an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry described the operation as a serious threat to Syria’s national sovereignty, while Turkish efforts were said to hamper plans to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis and combat terrorism.

Another regional actor, Iraq, whose principal position has been historically important in Turkey’s fight against the PKK insurgency in the Qandil Mountains along the northern border regions of Iraq, linked the operation in Afrin with its own efforts to solve the problem of Turkey’s military presence in Iraq. On February 20, Baghdad issued a statement where it once again called upon Turkey to evict its Turkish base and compromise with the country, whose claims have been backed multiple times by the Arab league. Less critical voices were also heard from the Gulf monarchies, except for Qatar, which Turkey has been supporting since the diplomatic crisis broke out last year.

The regional allies of the Syrian government, Iran and Russia, stated that Turkish security concerns can be understood, though the sides must exert self-restraint and avoid turning the Afrin canton into another source of instability. On February 19, Iranian minister of foreign affairs Javad Zarif stated that even though Tehran understands the threats Ankara is facing, Turkey should seek other ways to solve security issues, because intrusion into a neighboring country will not provide a tangible solution. The Russian official position emphasized the provocative actions of the US government in Syria, characterized by its building a military presence using Kurdish elements in the SDF, which ultimately provoked Turkey to undertake extreme measures against the PYD elements in Afrin.

Domestic Politics in Turkey and the Olive Branch Operation

From the very beginning of the Olive Branch operation, the Turkish government adopted a hardline approach toward its critics. By the end of January, the Turkish government had ordered the arrest of more than 300 people on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda over social media. Anti-war campaigners and civil society groups faced outright defamation from high-level officials.

The heavy-handed approach of the Turkish officials was not limited to efforts to silence anti-war critics. On February 15, Turkish former Chief of the Staff Ilker Basbug made a statement that the military campaign should not be turned into “material for domestic politics,” suggesting that both the ruling party and opposition should avoid using security matters for political gains, especially to rally the support of the population before the season of critical national elections. The general’s comments were criticized by Turkish President Erdogan.

Meanwhile, major political parties expressed their support for the military campaign in Afrin. Considerable support has also registered among broader layers of Turkish society. According to the MAK polling and survey firm, the level of public support for the operations in late January was stood at 85%.

These conditions contributed to the consolidation of the information environment in Turkey. The trend was further reinforced by the Turkish government’s efforts to tame critical media over the period before the start of the operation). Lack of security and guarantees against arbitrary arrests of journalists, both Turkish and foreign, also contributed to the lack of discussion on the necessity of the military campaign and critical self-reflection on the part of government officials in regards to the anti-PKK fight in previous years.

International Coverage and Comments on the Olive Branch Operation

From the official statements of Western, regional and local players, we can assume that there are several issues that cause criticism of the Turkish military operation in Syrian Afrin. A major problem for the Turkish government is proving the legitimacy of its military invasion of a foreign country. The Turkish government justified the move by invoking the UN Charter provisions that give states certain rights to such acts in cases when national security is under threat and other means of diplomacy fail to solve the issue.

The problems with the justification of the military campaign partly stem from the fact that the Turkish government has not been cooperating with the Syrian government, a legitimate representative of the Syrian people in the UN, to resolve the PKK issue. A further problem was presented in statements declaring that the Syrian PYD is not a terrorist organization and does not present a threat to Turkish security. These claims are supported by the fact that the Turkish government has been in contact with the PYD on several occasions, most famously during the Shah Euphrates Operations in February 2015. Another point supporting the thesis against Ankara’s justification of the military campaign deals with the cooperation between the PYD-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces and the United States of America, a major ally of the Turkish government in security matters and the fight against the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.

Further criticism of the military operations revolves around claims that the move is directed either against the Kurdish population of Afrin or the civilian population of the canton. This thesis is supported by claims that the Turkish government uses paramilitary groups, whose background may be traced to the moderate Islamist Syrian movement. The fact that Free Syrian Army groups are not affiliated with the Turkish government via a legal framework prompted many critics to say that the military campaign could lead to war crimes in Afrin.

Finally, a considerable number of comments critical of the Turkish military operation touch upon the Turkish government’s utilization of the move for domestic political interests. The narrative of a Turkish struggle against Western-supported terrorists in Syria suits the plans of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party to consolidate the electorate around nationalist slogans and the idea of a strong ruler at the helm of Turkey.

The Constraints of Turkish diplomacy

Official Turkish diplomatic efforts since the operations began have been directed at the clarification of Turkey’s concerns to the country’s allies and partners in Syria. The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 16 should be seen in the context of these efforts. The meeting is considered a part of the initiatives to clarify Turkish objectives in Afrin, influence public opinion in the West, and resolve the PKK/PYD issue through diplomatic means. Contacts between Turkey, Russia and Iran have also been serving to mitigate concerns over the military operation in Afrin on the official level. On the local level, the Turkish government approached foreign representatives to explain Ankara’s official position with regards to the PKK in Syria and the security concerns the Turkish government has in light of the military build-up in northern Syria.

On the level of public diplomacy, governmental efforts to clarify the official position and bring the Turkish narrative to the broader international community seem to have failed. The primary reason behind this misfortune is domestic politics, where the Turkish government, through its own actions, contributes to the main theses of the critics of the Olive Branch operation in Afrin. Of particular importance in this context is the use of Ottoman and Islamic narratives in the Turkish media. In the absence of Western journalists in Turkey, and with wide-spread biases around the world, such messages reinforced negative coverage of the military operation. Moreover, the arrests of Kurdish activists and harassment of Kurdish politicians contributed to the narrative that the operation is directed not at the PKK elements in Afrin, but at the Kurdish population per se. In a number of statements, Turkish officials resorted to anti-Western whataboutism without providing objective clarification on the military and defensive necessity of the operation.

The Practical dimension of the Mishandled Diplomatic Efforts

It is important to emphasize that the informational environment and coverage of the military operation in the world is tightly linked to Turkey’s efforts to support counter-terrorism and its own political interests in Syria. Failed attempts to withstand the negative reactions from its regional and global partners may negatively impact Turkey’s ongoing fight with the PKK. First of all, a failure to present the Olive Branch as an operation against the PKK, and not the Kurdish population of northern Syria, contributed to the narrative of the PKK’s sympathizers and large support network in Europe, from which the terrorist organization manages to send financial aid to its headquarters in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, thus influencing its activity against Turkish state. Moreover, as the example of Germany shows, failure to provide a credible narrative for the anti-terrorist operation in Afrin may force the European government to listen to the vocal pro-Kurdish community and impose restrictions on the Turkish government, especially with regards to arms exports.

Negative coverage of Turkish actions in Afrin may hinder Ankara’s efforts to gain a stable foothold in the region as well. With a narrative that the Turkish operation is part of an occupation by Islamists or an Ottoman-inspired Turkish voluntarist government may harm Turkish plans to build legitimate self-governance in the Kurdish-majority area in Afrin. A failure to gain credibility and trust among Kurdish civilians may prompt Turkey to tighten its grip on the territory, a step that would definitely raise concerns among Turkish partners in the Astana process and players in the region that have been allergic to Turkish ambitions in recent years.

Olive Branch revealed an ongoing trend in Turkey’s isolation from its Western partners. The trend is further reinforced by the prevalence of anti-Turkish narratives in the Western media. The speculations and narrative, however, are supported by the actions and badly managed PR campaign of the Turkish government. The resulting effect negatively impacts not only Turkey’s relations with Europe and the US, but also the Turkish image in the region, especially among the Arab countries, where the media has been directed by political regimes opposing Turkish activism in the Middle East. A lack of critical debates in Turkey has been a contributing factor to the shift in Turkish foreign policy from diplomatic to military means for resolving national security issues.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Turkey’s 18-month state of emergency has led to profound human rights violations

MD Staff



The United Nations on Tuesday called on Turkey to end its 18-month-old state of emergency, saying that the routine extension of emergency powers has resulted in “profound” human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of people and may have lasting impact on the country’s socio-economic fabric.

“One of the most alarming findings of the report […] is how Turkish authorities reportedly detained some 100 women who were pregnant or had just given birth, mostly on the grounds that they were ‘associates’ of their husbands, who are suspected of being connected to terrorist organizations,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a news release announcing the findings.

“Some were detained with their children and others violently separated from them. This is simply outrageous, utterly cruel, and surely cannot have anything whatsoever to do with making the country safer,” he added.

While taking note of the complex challenges Turkey has faced in addressing the attempted coup in July 2016, as well as a number of terrorist attacks, the report cites that the sheer number, frequency and lack of connection of several emergency decrees to any national threat seem to point to the use of emergency powers to stifle any form of criticism or dissent vis-à-vis the Government.

During the 18-month state of emergency, nearly 160,000 people have been arrested; 152,000 civil servants dismissed, many arbitrarily; and teachers, judges and lawyers dismissed or prosecuted.

The report also documents the use of torture and ill-treatment in custody, including severe beatings, threats of sexual assault and actual sexual assault, electric shocks and waterboarding by police, gendarmerie, military police and security forces.

It also notes that about 300 journalists have been arrested under allegations that their publications contained “apologist sentiments regarding terrorism” or other “verbal act offences” or for “membership” in terrorist organisations.

Over 100,000 websites were reportedly blocked in 2017, including a high number of pro-Kurdish websites and satellite TV channels.

Covering the period January to December last year, the report also states that the April 2017 referendum which extended the President’s executive powers into both the legislature and the judiciary as seriously problematic, resulting in interference with the work of the judiciary and curtailment of parliamentary oversight over the executive branch.

By the end of 2017, 22 emergency decrees were promulgated with a further two more since the cut-off date of the report.

The report further underlines the need ensure independent, individualized reviews and compensation for victims of arbitrary detentions and dismissals and calls on Turkey to promptly end the state of emergency, restore normal functioning of State institutions, as well as revise and release all legislation not compliant with its international human rights obligations, including the emergency decrees.

“I urge the Government of Turkey to ensure that these allegations of serious human rights violations are investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Mr. Zeid, also calling on the Government to allow full and unfettered access to his Office (OHCHR) to be able to directly, independently and objectively assess the human rights situation in the southeast of the country.

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