Dug in for the long haul in its increasingly bitter dispute with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Qatar is emerging as a key player in efforts to prevent tension between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, from spinning out of control.
Qatar’s increasing role counters Saudi and UAE efforts to shape Palestinian politics in their mould. It further underlines the two Gulf states’ 15-month old failed effort to force Qatar to bow to their will by imposing a diplomatic and economic boycott.
The Qatari role takes on added significance in the wake of the Trump administration’s cancellation of all funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and a US-Israeli effort to terminate the UN body’s mandate and rejigger the definition of a Palestinian refugee in a bid to restrict Palestinian rights.
The Qatari role is also likely to be a litmus test of the willingness of Gulf states to support US-Israeli policy with the Trump administration asserting that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern and European states would only be allowed to fund UNWRA for the time being.
Israeli media reports said the Trump administration was insisting that funders ultimately would have to align themselves with the US goal of closing down the agency and redefining who is a Palestinian refugee.
The redefinition would exclude the descendants of Palestinians originally displaced in 1948 and reduce the number of recognized refugees from five million to an estimated 500,000. It would undercut long-standing Palestinian insistence on the right of return of the 1948 refugees and their descendants – a demand viewed by Israel as an assault on its existence as a Jewish state and an undermining of its claim to the right of the land.
It remains unclear whether any of the multiple countries stepping in to compensate for the US shortfall are willing to accept US conditions.
But in a possible indication of a shifting playing field, Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to move away from his insistence on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by saying that he would entertain a US suggestion for a confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Mr. Abbas said he had said as much when asked by US Middle East peace negotiators Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt whether he would be interested in a confederation.
Mr. Abbas did not say when the exchange took place. The Palestinian leader broke off all contact with the Trump administration after Mr. Trump last December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israeli forces have since killed at least 166 Palestinians and wounded 18,000 others who participated in recent months in regular protests along the Gaza Israel border in demand of their right to return.
Israel and Hamas agreed in July to a ceasefire, mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations, to prevent Hamas rocket attacks and protesters flying kites with incendiary devices into Israel to which Israel responded with air strikes from spiralling out of control.
To make the ceasefire sustainable, economic support for Gaza where growth has been severely stunted as a result of a more than a decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade and now further aggravated by the US-Israeli assault on UNRWA is crucial.
Israeli media reported that Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman met in recent months in Cyprus separately with Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Qatar’s ambassador to the Palestinian territories Mohammed al-Emadi to discuss economic support for Gaza. Qatar, beyond financial muscle, has the longest-standing relations among the mediators with Hamas.
Qatar has also been negotiating the return by Hamas of two Israeli nationals held captive as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014 in Gaza.
Speaking in a series of interviews, Mr. Al-Emadi suggested that Qatari funding would depend on Israel and Hamas agreeing on a sustainable ceasefire. “It is very difficult to fund the reconstruction of Gaza in an event of yet another destructive war,” Mr. Al-Emadi said. He said he had “discussed a maximum of five- to 10-year cease-fire with Hamas.”
Mr. Lieberman’s discussions ironically constitute recognition of the utility of Qatar’s long-standing relations with Islamists and militants that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain cited as the reason for their diplomatic and economic boycott.
With exception of recent pledges to support UNRWA, countries like Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have focused on gaining political influence in Palestine rather than on economic development.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have concentrated on the purchase in Jerusalem of real estate adjacent to the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third most holy site, according to Kamal Khatib, an Israeli Palestinian Islamist leader, as well as Arab media reports
For its part, Turkey has sent thousands of supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) to visit the city. Turkish activists allegedly participated in last year’s protests on Haram al-Sharif.
Saudi Arabia’s position, moreover, on the US-Israeli effort to undermine UNRWA and redefine the Palestinian issue is muddied by apparent differences between King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been vocal in his support for M. Trump and empathy with Israeli positions.
Laying down the law, King Salman King Salman denounced the “invalidity and illegality” of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem. He told an Arab summit in Dhahran in April that he was donating $150 million to support Islam’s holy places in Jerusalem.
King Salman’s moves ironically brought the kingdom closer to the outright condemnation by Qatar, Turkey and other Muslim nations of Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem. This, however, has more to do with King Salman’s own views as well as domestic politics in kingdom. It does little, if anything, to prevent the Gulf crisis from muddying efforts to resolve the Gaza crisis.
“A bumpy road seems to be lying ahead of Qatar…as it faces strong internal and external obstacles that impede its management of the Palestinian dossier and stops it from communicating with the rest of the regional and international parties so long as its opponents keep their veto on its movements,” said Gaza-based Palestinian historian Adnan Abu Amer.
Turkey and the time bomb in Syria
The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.
Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.
The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.
Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.
It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.
Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.
The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.
Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa. One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.
In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.
European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.
Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.
Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.
There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.
The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.
In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.
Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.
From our partner Tehran Times
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
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