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The significance of Iran’s presence in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori



At least since 2014 the presence of Iranian forces in the Syrian war has certainly ensured both political stability and military success on the ground for Assad’s regime. Some Syrian sources maintain that since December 2013 Iran’s engagement in the Syrian conflict has cost at least 6 billion US dollars a year, while other Western sources think the financial support provided has been twice as much.

With at least 3,200 soldiers and officers from the Revolutionary Guards and other Shiite semi-official organizations, composed mainly of Afghan and Pakistani militants, Iran is second only to the Russian Federation in terms of engagement in the Syrian war to support Assad.

Moreover, Hezbollah – the Lebanese militant Shiite faction – is present in Syria with at least 4,500 soldiers and officers, but there are other Shiite groups, such as the People’s Mobilization Units (PMU), the former “popular defence brigades”, operating in the Syrian region.

In all likelihood, it was Iran to persuade Russia to intervene in support of  Assad, but the logic of Russia’s presence in the Syrian war is much more complex than it may appear at first glance.

In fact, the Russian Federation has placed the war against Daesh-Isis at the centre of its presence in the Syrian region, thus creating a new network of relations with the whole Arab world, including the one previously connected to the United States.

Russia made it clear it was necessary to eradicate the most immediate and severe danger for all Sunni Arab States, namely jihad, and this has led to its establishing new and effective relations with all those States.

Furthermore, Russia’s presence is a sign conveyed to Westerners that Syria’s “cantonization” will never be accepted by the Assads’ Russian traditional ally because this would mean creating missile, terrorist, geoeconomic and naval positions that would directly undermine Russian interests in both the Mediterranean and the Greater Middle East, up to the Southern borders of the Federation.

Let us examine, however, the forces still operating in the Syrian war, including the smallest ones.

In addition to the friendly countries operating on the ground, support for Syria – including at military level – is provided by China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Polisario Front, also in clear contrast with Morocco, which indirectly supports – also through Saudi Arabia – the forces of the Syrian Democratic Army that is armed and supported mainly by the United States.

Besides the aforementioned Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, on the ground there are also some Palestinian groups and some Iraqi forces supporting Syria, especially with regard to intelligence and military activities on the border between Syria and Iraq.

Diplomatic support to Assad-led Syria is provided by Oman, Bolivia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Armenia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Syrian Alawite regime is also backed militarily and economically by Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Vietnam and India.

Russia has also sent to Syria some Chechen and Dagestan battalions as combat forces.

However, the opponents of the Assad regime – and hence of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – include many groups of various origins, obviously all Sunni. Let us analyse them.

Jabhat al-Nusra, now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, is a network created by al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria in 2011 – which became known in January 2012, during the possible Syrian “Arab Spring” – which also operates in the Lebanon, as well as in Syria.

Since its inception said movement was supported by Qatar and Turkey.

Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya is a coalition of jihadist groups  supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, as well as Kuwait and Qatar.

Therefore, if Syria remains a Shiite Iran’s ally, at geoeconomic and political levels the strategic risk for the Gulf Emirates and for Saudi Arabia itself may become very high, especially in a phase of oil and financial crisis such as the current one.

Iran’s control over the Greater Middle East and the Persian Gulf would block any geopolitical autonomy of the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with evident repercussions on the management of their oil resources.

The groups opposing Assad’s regime also include Asala wal-Tamiya, a coalition supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Indeed, it was armed precisely by the United States and in the past it had operational links with Daesh-Isis.

Jabhat al-Shamiyah is an alliance of nineteen jihadist groups originating from the Muslim Brotherhood and this is exactly the reason why a Syrian ally like Egypt tacitly supports Assad’s Alawite regime.

Jaysh al-Muhjahiddin is a further alliance of various Sunni guerrilla groups, all trained in Qatar, which in December 2016 merged with two other jihadist groups and later joined Ahrar al-Sham.

Therefore tribal equilibria, strategic and operational advantages, as well as interests of the funding countries, are at the origin of this multiplying and merging of militant jihadist groups.

Ajnad al-Sham is a typically Salafi group, always operating closely with Ahrar al-Sham.

Jaysh al-Islam, identified as terrorist organization by Russia, Egypt, Iran and Syria, is the second main pole of the Saudi indirect presence in Syria.

On the contrary, the groups siding with the Syrian Baathist government include Quwat Muqatili al-Ashair, a tribal force in which there is also a Druze contingent.

The list of these groups also include Liwa al-Jabal, consisting of five units  originating from the Suwayda Governorate.

The pro-Assad forces count also Saraya al-Tuhid, the fully Druze force allied with Hezbollah, which was created in October 2016.

It is also worth recalling Labuat al-Jabal, the female Druze brigade created in July 2015.

Again in the Suwayda Governorate there is Qatib Jalamid Urman, patrolling mainly the border between Syria and Jordan. The Druzes operate also with Qatib Humat al-Diyar.

The Syrian Christians contribute to defend Assad’s regime with Asad al-Qarubim, a brigade created in 2013 after the attack on the Saidnaya Monastery.

There are other five Christian brigades, divided between Damascus, Homs and Quraytin, which were established to defend the Christian holy places in Syria and currently operate – together with Hezbollah and the Syrian Arab Army – throughout the Syrian national territory.

Conversely, Quwat al-Ghabab are the brigades created by the Greek-Orthodox communities and operate in Hama, Latakia and Tal Uthman.

The list of the groups siding with Assad’s regime also include Quwat Wad al-Sadiq, created in 2012 at the Sayyidah Zaynab Shiite Shrine near Damascus, which is connected with Hezbollah and composed of both Shiites and Druzes.

It is also worth recalling Liwa Muqtar al-Thiqfi, created in 2016 in memory of the ancient commander who attempted to avenge – against the Umayyads – the sacrifice of Imam Husseyn.

It operates on the Latakia front and is directly linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Unlike the other smaller brigades, it is a force of approximately 5,000 units.

Again in the Latakia area, there is Saraya al-Arin, a Shiite group founded in 2015, while Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi is present in the ​​Sayda Zaynab region, the centre of the traditional Shiite presence in Syria.

The group Liwa al-Imam Zayn Abidin, created in 2013, operates in Deir el Zur, the place at the core of the clash between what remains of Daesh and the Syrian regime, which has just been liberated by the “tigers”, namely the special forces of the Syrian Arab Army.

On the contrary, Liwa al-Jalil, the Galilean brigade founded in 2015, is a secular, leftist, nationalistic, Arab and pro-Palestinian organization.

The Syrian-Palestinians also operate within Quwat al-Jalil, created in 2011, while the “Leopards of Homs” (Fuhud Homs),  a special operations regiment, operates in the desert areas around Homs and have also participated in the Syrian Arab Army’s actions in the Daraya region.

Also Liwa Qibar, established in 2013 and counting  4,000 units, is active in Homs.

It has also operated at Hama and al-Mansura.

Qatib al-Jabalui is an Alawite military structure operating in Homs, Dara, and in the Jazal areas.

Another of the many pro-Assad groups, namely Fuj Mughuyr al-Badiya, set up in 2015, has carried out its actions in the desert of Homs and Aleppo. It is connected to the Shaytat tribe that is active in Deir El Zur.

Also Liwa Asad al-Huseyn was created in 2015 and is mainly active in Latakia.

Liwa Dir al-Watan was founded in 2015 and designed with the specific aim of defending Damascus.

These are the main groups supporting Assad’ Syrian Arab Army, accounting for 50% of its forces.

This means that all the brigades listed here are worth 50% of the Syrian Arab Army.

Furthermore, in Syria, Hezbollah immediately divided into two groups: Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi, fighting mainly in the Tartus and Aleppo regions, and Quwat al-Ridha, operating in Damascus and in the neighbouring areas.

Both groups operate in close contact with Assad’s forces.

While Russia wages its war in Syria, Iran tightens the clamps on the Syrian forces.

In the Qalamun region there is also Quwat Dir al-Qalamun, namely people’s brigades trained by the Syrian Arab Army that control the Al-Hadath pipeline and participate in the clashes against jihadists between Aleppo and Nassiriya.

People’s brigades coordinated by the Syrian Air Force military intelligence operate also in Hama.

Finally, the Fifth Assault Corps is a counterinsurgency organization set up in 2012 within the Syrian Armed Forces with the fundamental support of Hezbollah and Iran.

It is present in nine Syrian provinces and supervises enlistments, as well as closely controlling Syria’s civil society.

Hence what does Iran want to obtain with its engagement in Syria?

Firstly, Iran obviously need to establish safe transit routes to logistically support Hezbollah in the Lebanon.

This is the real strategic danger for Israel, rather than the danger constituted by the Golan Heights, which have somehow already been made safe.

Secondly, an equally important Iranian goal is to closely monitor the Euphrates valley, which is rich in oil deposits that must not be acquired by the United States and its allies, still present north of the Euphrates.

With a view to accomplishing this strategic linkage, the Shiite Republic must transit through Iraq so as to reach Aleppo from Palmira.

Another Iranian route to penetrate the Syrian desert could start exactly from Deir El Zor and later expand into the Hasakah Province.

In fact, Iran has already sent over 3,000 Revolutionary Guards and People’s Mobilization Units (PMU), namely the Shiite paramilitary forces, to the area between Tanaf and Deir El Zor.

As to the other channel, considering that there are no significant Shiite, Druze or Alawite forces in the region, the Pasdaran are dealing directly with the Sunni tribes between Hasakah and Aleppo.

Russia, however, is backing the Iranian operations with its air forces.

Nevertheless Russia will not accept Iran’s gradual penetration of the Syrian State and military structures for a long period of time.

For the time being, precisely with a view to blocking Iran’s influence, the Russian Federation’s proposal has been to quickly establish a Fifth Division of the Syrian Arab Army.

This would obviously serve to absorb – under the Syrian command – the tribal and territorial forces that could soon become pawns of the Iranian game in the Syrian desert.

Nevertheless – as is locally customary, and considering that the ongoing war has even enhanced these traditions – the various militias that have so far agreed to enter the Fifth Division have maintained their chain of command and their tactical and strategic autonomy.

Hence, Assad, is about to accept – de facto if not de iure – the Iranian droit de regard enabling it to control his territory and his armed forces.

Therefore, in the absence of a rational US strategy in Syria and vis-à-vis Iran, Russia thinks that the best thing to do – at least for the time being – is to support Iran in Syria and Iraq so as to exploit its potential against the United States and keep the Turkish ambitions on Western Syria under control.

This happens while the Kurds are turning into a pro-Western militia to control Turkish operations in Syria – in tacit agreement with Russia.

 Moreover, the United States has already decided to defend the YPG Kurds (and, in the future, the PKK ones) only against the Turkish aims, while Iran and Russia will try to control all Syrian borders, including those with Turkey where US interposition forces are currently present.

Hence either the United States sends other troops to control Iran’s expansion within Syria – for the time being favoured by Russia – or the United States is bound to withdraw completely from the Syrian-Iraqi region.

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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The Coming Long-Planned Middle East War

Sondoss Al Asaad



Recently, a mounting risk of conflict between Hezbollah and the Zionist enemy, on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, has given fresh impetus against the axis of resistance by the tri-alliance rhetoric; i.e. the Zionists, the Saudis and the American. Various political and military analysts have concluded that a conflict with the Lebanese resistance; Hezbollah- a key ally fighting against the Takfiris; along with Iran and the Syrian regime, is becoming increasingly likely.

In November 2017, Lebanon’s army Chief Commander General Joseph Aoun said, “Troops should be ready to thwart any attempt to exploit the current circumstances for stirring strife as the exceptional political situation that Lebanon is going through requires you to exercise the highest levels of awareness.” The Zionists frequently threats that Lebanon could be subjected to a huge aerial bombardment in the opening days of a campaign with civilian casualties highly probable. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Zionist prime minister, has threatened that his hostile forces would intervene rather than allowing the resistance to establish its position on the Northern borders.

At a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, on 21 March 2018, War Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that the possibility of conflict is breaking out. He said that the Zionist soldiers may have to operate deep in Lebanese territory and manoeuvre on the ground on the battlefield if war breaks out, warning about Hezbollah’s attempts to arm itself with precision missiles produced in Lebanon. Lieberman also suggested in October, that the Lebanese military could also be considered an enemy combatant as it had become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.  He stated, “Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the manoeuvres of their allies who sit in Riyadh.”

The Syrian conflict has reached a very advanced phase as Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Hezbollah have proven to be more politically and militarily harmonious than at any time. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran primarily funds resistance movements that aim at dismantling the Zionist illegal entity and its tools, i.e. Takfiri terrorist groups. Unequivocally, the Zionists recognise that Hezbollah has emerged from the Syrian war as a battle-hardened and the most resilient military actor in the Arab region, with highly trained fighters and reservists. Further, its missiles system has been heavily resupplied, in spite of dozens of airstrikes on its convoys and depots.

Amid these threats, the Saudi dirty conspiracies against the Resistance axis has revealed its reckless and heinous policy regarding Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The military commentator of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel reported, “If Saudi Arabia is deliberately stoking the flames between the sides [Israel and Hezbollah], this becomes a tangible danger.” Additionally, the former US ambassador to the Zionist entity Dan Shapiro warned, “It is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon – an Israeli-Hezbollah war.”

Due to the Saudi massive failure in Yemen and the resistance’s great victories, Riyadh has shifted its focus on Lebanon. In one of his influential speeches, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has urged the Saudis to find realistic goals regarding Lebanon. He mocked the Saudi coward threats to eradicate the resistance through encouraging Israel to wage the war. Sayyed Nasrallah has asserted that any future conflict could take place inside the occupied Palestinian territory. He said, “There will be no place that is out of reach of the rockets of the resistance.”

Besides, the possibility that an offensive against Syria and Lebanon might take place would be a direct result of Washington’s failure to oust the brave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their idiot plan was the fragmentation of Syria, Lebanon and other Arab states into smaller units. In the meantime, the Saudis continue their devastating war on Yemen, backed by Trump’s administration, which is also negotiating an arms deal worth billions to take an aggressive stance towards Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Iran. Further, the Zionists have expanded their illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, at unprecedented levels.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. essential objective is eliminating the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance. In addition, they aim to re-establish themselves as the hegemonic power in the Middle East, with absolute control over the natural resources including oil, gas and water. They understand that defeating Hezbollah would be unmanageable; therefore, they are scarcely exerting effort to reduce the resistance military capabilities with the possibility that the U.S. troops may coordinate targets with the Zionist War Forces and join the war through Syria.

Saudi Arabia dreams to remain a vassal state with unconventional political leverage over its neighbours. However, if it foolishly decides to wage an attack against Iran, the tyrant rulers of Bani Saud will inevitably collapse [Bani Saud as the Arabic use of ‘Al’ is an honourable title of a legitimate dynasty, such as the household of Prophet Mohammad (PBU’em); Al-Hashem]. Earlier this year, the Saudis have abruptly cut economical aids to the Lebanese government merely because it had refused to condemn ‘attacks’ on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Indeed, the Saudis spearheaded efforts to get the Persian Gulf states and the Arab League to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The brutal conspiracy against Syria has so far resulted in nearly half a million dead, six million internally displaced, and over five million refugees, an overwhelming percentage of whom have now spent years in neighbouring countries. The event of 10 February 2018 underscored the resistance axis military capabilities, as when the Syrian antiaircraft fire downed an Israeli F-16, the first Zionist fighter to be shot down in decades. Hezbollah has greatly enhanced its deterrence capabilities and fighting skills, for this reason, the Zionists would only fight a war to weaken Hezbollah, which is seemingly feasible.

Obviously, the war is predictable but inevitably, it is not going to be imminent. The enemy is aware that Hezbollah is part of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards; an army of 200,000 fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Further, Hezbollah has gained advanced weapons and experienced fighters and has access to 150,000 rockets; compared to the 33,000 in 2006. In addition, the resistance has stockpiled quality weapons and has built factories that can convert rockets to missiles, which could seriously make any war very costly.

It is worthy to mention that Hezbollah keenly understands that the Zionist enemy is not the same as it was in 2006. The Zionists’ so-called ‘Iron Dome’ air defence network is more sophisticated. This too means that the efficiency of the resistance rockets is questionable and need to be more advanced. Besides, the sectarian rifts and political conflicts in the region would make it difficult for the resistance masses to seek refuge in other countries, particularly Syria, whenever a war would kick off. During the previous wars, nearly 1 million Lebanese fled the country. Meanwhile, Lebanon hosts 2 million Syrian refugees, giving the country the highest per capita refugee count in the world, according to a New York Times report. An influx of additional refugees would be quite serious as the current regional status-quo is problematic.

Hezbollah has grown considerably stronger since the 2006 Second Lebanon hostile War. Following the battle of Qusayr, in Syria, the resistance has changed its strategies from insurgency to counterinsurgency in order to weaken the Saudi backed terrorists. Per its doctrine and as Sayyed Nasrallah frequently maintains, “As long as there is a missile that is fired from Lebanon and targets the Zionists, as long as there is one fighter who fires his rifle, as long as there is someone who plants a bomb against the Israelis.”

For their part, the Zionists have made it clear that their intentions are to hit the resistance “in the most muscular way possible.” The enemy seeks to invade the Lebanese territories in order to damage its political and military infrastructure, which is by no means unprecedented. Historically speaking, the aggressive invasion of southern Lebanon, in 1982; aimed at demolishing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), provides a complete failure and had transformed it into a regular army. During the Lebanese civil war, the PLO established a visible force that fielded heavy weaponry and artillery; however, its forces lacked the mobility that Hezbollah has demonstrated in the subsequent four decades.

In frustration at Hezbollah’s victorious during the 1980s, the Zionist enemy lashed out against the resistance twice. In 1993’s ‘Operation Accountability’ and 1996’s ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’, the enemy attacked Lebanon with an overwhelming air and artillery power. These aggressive wars wrought considerable damage; however, they barely harmed the resistance. The resistance’s heroic elusiveness ensured that the Zionist enemy made no battlefield gains, and Hezbollah continued to fire Katyusha rockets until the thorough victory on 25 May 2000.

In 2006, the enemy Air Forces struck at Hezbollah headquarters and command facilities and bombed Lebanese infrastructure to force the Lebanese government to pressure the resistance into returning their detained soldiers. Three minutes after a missile struck the Zionist naval vessel INS Hanit, which was patrolling off the coast of Beirut, on 14 July 2006, Sayyed Nasrallah announced, “The surprises which I promised you will begin now. Right now, in the midst of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli military warship, which aggressed against our infrastructure and against the houses of the people and civilians. Watch it burn. It will sink and with it dozens of Israeli Zionist soldiers.”

The 1982 invasion aimed at eliminating the PLO; however, it has resulted in the establishment of Hezbollah. Therefore, the reckless Zionists, Americans and Saudi mercenaries should expect that any coming aggression would equivocally bear similar advanced fruit. Hezbollah, after 2006 experience, has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into the enemy’s terrains. The resistance arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads as well as substantial conventional explosives.

The resistance would unquestionably hit Tel Aviv’s military bases and airports. Sayyed Nasrallah has stressed that the resistance fighters would be reinforced by hundreds of thousands of fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within the Zionist occupied territories. The enemy may clearly face attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, which it has not faced since the 1973 war.

However, we should admit that the Zionists are preparing to wage this new war in a more deliberate and calculated manner, in contrast to previous decades when war decisions were a disproportionate response and collective punishment, more whimsical and hardly ever planned for in an educated manner. As far as the Zionists are concerned, their fundamental objective is that Hezbollah will be eliminated forever; just as the resistance aims at eliminating the Zionist occupation and liberating the occupied territories. For this reason, the enemies are precisely studying and postponing the war as any coming conflict may jeopardise the Zionist and American dreams in the region. On the other hand, meanwhile, Hezbollah is seemingly interested in establishing the great victory against the Saudi backed terrorist in Syria.

Clearly, the Zionist objectives are undermining Hezbollah’s war paradigm and reducing the Iranian influence, which is explicitly impossible because of the Russian presence in the region. The enemy’s infrastructure is not resilient to even a limited missile attack from Hezbollah. The next war will immensely affect the Zionist economy will shrink within a short-time period, which may cause long-term devastating damage to the enemy’s reputation as a key player in the global economy.

Hezbollah is a deeply rooted Lebanese political movement that has significant support in the country. It has gradually become Lebanon’s strongest political and military force, possessing veto power in Lebanon’s cabinet and playing the decisive role in getting President Michel Aoun elected. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has long reminded its enemies that the resistance’s supporters will standstill and fight for their country. In case of an urgent incident on the borders, both sides will regard it as a game-changing or an equation breaking. The Zionist foe would not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from the resistance’s land, sea and air strikes, whether it is going to be entitled as the ‘Third Lebanon War’ or the ‘First Israeli-Iranian War.’

The U.S. policymakers have long declared their intention to resolve resistance movements. In contrast to Obama’s, Trump’s administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region and has already signal led that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy and that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in any conflict, no matter how such a war is conducted. The Zionists, U.S. and Saudi Arabia might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict against Hezbollah and the Iranian targets.

The reckless Zionist-desired Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman appears willing to take up the fight. This Saudi Zionist boy has persistently asserted that Saudi Arabia’s modernisation requires an embrace of “moderate Islam,” i.e. an American Islam. As far as bin Salman is concerned, Iran is a major threat and the only way to surpass the dispute in the Middle East is through openly normalising harmonious ties with the Zionist enemy. Military analysts have assessed that the Palestinian resistance would likewise partake in the confrontation. Along with Hezbollah, the duo major Palestinian resistance organisations; Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement, funded and backed by Iran, are estimated to have thousands of fighters, significant stockpiles of rockets, mortar shells, and attack tunnels, some of which reach the occupied terrains and others that are designed for warfare inside the coastal enclave.

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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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