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Vol. 81/No. 45      December 4, 2017

(front page)

Israeli, Saudi conflict with Tehran grows as war in Syria winds down

In response to Tehran’s growing clout in the Mideast, Washington is seeking to bolster its long-term alliance with the Saudi Arabian monarchy and its allies as a counterweight. Similar concerns are driving growing contacts between Riyadh and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel.

Iran’s capitalist rulers made the most gains through years of fighting — alongside Tehran-backed Hezbollah forces and more recently Russian airstrikes — to shore up the once teetering Bashar al-Assad dictatorship against efforts by the Syrian people to bring it down.

Gains by Iranian-trained militias with officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighting alongside Iraqi troops strengthened Tehran’s influence over the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Iraq. They dealt a blow to the Kurds fight for independence, seizing Kirkuk and 30 percent of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s territory, some of which had been part of its autonomous region there since 2003.

Tehran is on the verge of consolidating a land route to move weapons and combatants from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based.

Riyadh’s concerns about developments in Lebanon led them to press their ally, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, to resign, and he did so Nov. 4. Other Lebanese officials and Hezbollah have charged Riyadh was holding Hariri in Saudi Arabia and forced him to step down.

Hariri traveled to Paris Nov. 18 to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron. Hariri announced he will return to Lebanon in a few days to “make known my position on all
the issues.”

To counter Tehran’s growing influence in the Mideast, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken steps to open the kingdom to more modern social development and consolidate the nation’s financial capital. The regime arrested over 200 people, including royal family members, current and former government ministers and oil-monopoly billionaires, for “corruption.” The detainees are now being offered plea-bargain deals, where they can pay their way to freedom by putting large amounts of their wealth into government coffers.

The regime is also promoting foreign investment in the government-run Saudi Aramco oil company and moving to wean the economy off over-dependency on oil resources through construction of industrial zones and resorts.

Shifts in the Middle East

The consolidation of the Assad regime and recapture of virtually all territory from Islamic State in all but a few isolated areas in Syria, raises new concerns in Tel Aviv and Washington about what Israel will now face on its borders. “A lesser enemy is being supplanted by a far more dangerous one — Iran and its allies,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

Tehran has stepped up verbal threats against Israel, including the slander that Tel Aviv and Washington were responsible for the Kurds’ efforts to win independence.

In recent talks with Moscow and Washington, Tel Aviv has sought to win agreement to establish a “buffer zone” of some 25 miles inside Syria from its border. But a new “deconfliction” agreement between U.S. and Russian forces would allow Hezbollah or other pro-Tehran forces to remain just three miles away, reports the Jerusalem Post.

In response to these developments, the Israeli government admits it has begun to share intelligence with the Saudi regime.

Moscow, with five military bases in Syria, plans to maintain its presence there as an ally of Assad. Washington with some 13 military bases across Syria has supported Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in beating back Islamic State, while also seeking to counter Tehran’s efforts to open a land route to Lebanon.

In the changed landscape in the Middle East, Washington, Moscow and all the capitalist regimes in the area are maneuvering to protect their economic and political interests.

In Iraq, U.S. forces have operated out of nearly a dozen regular and temporary bases, with at least 5,000 troops in the country, according to official Pentagon figures. Over the past three years U.S.-led coalition forces have conducted over 24,500 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, targeting Islamic State but leading to “collateral damage” killing thousands of civilians.

“The Uncounted,” an article in the Nov. 19 New York Times magazine, reports that deaths of civilians from U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq occurred at a rate 31 times higher than authorities acknowledged, causing some 2,800 deaths in the last 18 months in Iraq. The Pentagon claims just 89 were killed.

Kurds face threats across the region

The governments of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria all bitterly oppose any move toward Kurdish independence or autonomy. The over 30 million Kurdish people are divided between the four countries, where they’ve faced decades of persecution and national oppression — the world’s largest nationality without their own state.

As part of a “de-escalation” agreement with Moscow and Tehran, Ankara has been setting up “observation posts” in Idlib province in northern Syria, ostensibly to keep the peace. But the location of what are in fact Turkish military bases — and recent belligerent threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — make it clear their goal is to prepare to attack the adjacent Kurdish-controlled Afrin canton. Turkish and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire across the Afrin-Idlib border Nov. 20.

“There is a growing assessment that the US is using both Daesh [Islamic State] and the YPG [Kurdish People’s Protection Units] as an excuse to stay in eastern Syria,” Ibrahim Kalin, a special adviser to Erdogan, wrote in Daily Sabah, “as a potential counter-weighing force against the Russian-Iranian presence.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq said Nov. 14 that it would retreat from the Sept. 25 Kurdistan independence referendum, approved by over 92 percent, and respect the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court ruling declaring that no Iraqi province could secede.
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