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The military situation
in Syria has turned against the U.S.-supported opposition over the past year,
due mainly to Russian intervention. Now, the failed coup in Turkey and subsequent
crackdown there stand to reduce the capabilities of a key U.S. ally. Without
some rebalancing now in favor of the opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar
al-Assad, the prospects for a satisfactory negotiated political transition are
In a dissenting internal memo last month, 51 State
Department diplomats advocated attackson Syrian government forces to end
their aggression against the country’s civilian population, alter the military
balance and bring about a negotiated political solution. President Obama has
focused instead on fighting terrorism in Syria, but U.S. targets are limited to
Sunni extremists such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates.
There is also a Shiite terrorist organization in
Syria: Lebanon-based Hezbollah. It should not be immune.
Hezbollah was founded to resist the Israeli
occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s and takes credit for the eventual
Israeli withdrawal from that country. Tightly allied with and supported by
Iran, it has become the dominant political force among Shiites in Lebanon,
where it not only participates in national politics but also runs its own
security forces and provides social services to Shiite populations.
Covertly since 2012, and overtly since 2013,
Hezbollah has deployed forces inside Syria, where its thousands of fighters are
aligned with Assad’s army and mainly Shiite and Alawite militias against mainly
Sunni forces that Assad regards as terrorists. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps pays Hezbollah’s bills and provides its command-and-control operations.
Hezbollah forces have been particularly effective along the border with
Lebanon, which provides it with strategic depth and supply lines.
Hezbollah is a major
factor in the military balance in Syria. Along with the Russian air interventionbegun last September and the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah’s fighters have enabled Assad to make progress
against his opponents, especially those associated with the Free Syrian Army
fighters backed by the United States. That progress has hardened Assad’s
negotiating stance and blocked the U.N. search for a political solution. Assad
is winning, and he sees no reason to accept a transition away from his rule.
A shift in the military balance is essential to
ending the war, which is what Washington says it wants. But Obama has
steadfastly refused to go to war against the Syrian, Iranian or Russian
government. Even if he wants to, it is doubtful he has authorization from
Congress to do so.
But Hezbollah is a
non-state actor. It is also a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has murdered
Americans, among many others. Most Republicans and Democrats would applaud an
attack on Hezbollah, even if some in both parties would bemoan a move that
suggested widening commitments overseas.
inform Tehran, Moscow and Beirut that Hezbollah should withdraw from Syria by a
certain date or the United States would target any of its troops attacking
non-extremist opposition forces in and around Aleppo and elsewhere. If
Hezbollah failed to withdraw, the United States would then need to be ready to
attack as soon as the ultimatum expired.
or U.S. targeting of Hezbollah would send a strong but still limited message to
the Syrian opposition and its allies in Turkey and the Persian Gulf: We are
prepared to attack Shiite as well as Sunni terrorists, but it’s up to you to
take advantage of the opportunity and come to the negotiating table ready to
reach a serious political settlement. It would also send a strong but likewise
limited message to Iran and Russia: We will not continue to tolerate your
intervention in Syria without responding. The time for a political settlement
How would the players
in Syria react? Hezbollah would likely try to strike at accessible U.S. assets
or citizens in neighboring countries, most likely in Lebanon or Iraq. It might
also launch rockets into Israel. The Islamic State, which uses Hezbollah’s
involvement in Syria as a recruiting tool, would be undermined. Russia and Iran
could in theory up the ante, escalating their involvement in Syria, but in
practice they both appear to be close to the limit of lives and treasure they
are willing or able to expend there. Assad would be outraged and promise
revenge, but the Syrian government is even more clearly at the limit of its
non-extremist Syrian opposition would applaud and press hard against the
territory where Hezbollah is deployed. Gulf states would likewise welcome the
U.S. action and redouble their efforts to support the opposition. Israel knows
all too well how to react to Hezbollah attacks in order to re-establish
deterrence. Turkey might complain that the United States was not also acting
against the U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters whom Ankara regards as terrorists, but
the Turks would still benefit from any consequent military progress against
Assad by non-Kurdish forces.
In short, U.S.
targeting of Hezbollah would mostly please and embolden Washington’s friends
and discomfit its antagonists. It would also reassert U.S. commitment to
fighting terrorism of all sorts, renew Washington’s commitment to holding
Hezbollah accountable, hasten an end to the Syrian civil war and make a
political settlement more likely. That is not a bad balance of risks and
* The writer is a
professor and director of the conflict management program at the Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies, as well as a scholar at theMiddle East
* This opinion was published first by Washington Post on 27/07/2016
US President Obama with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu
As the Republican and Democratic
parties convene in Cleveland and Philadelphia, we expect to see numerous signs
of the deepening polarization that has dominated this campaign season. One
issue that has traditionally shared bipartisan support is how the United States
should approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, this year both
parties have shifted their positions farther from the center and from pastDemocraticandRepublicanplatforms. This swing impacts whether
the Obama administration, which has devoted significant time and resources to
the negotiations, will issue a parting statement on the conflict.
In Cleveland last week the Republican partyadopted a platformentirely dropping the two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move that puts the party
further to the right than eitherAIPACorIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu. The platform states, “We reject the false notion that
Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment,
and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy
Israel.” This language, combined with Republican nominee Donald Trump’s
apparent disinterest in the conflict, makes it unlikely a Trump administration
would prioritize Israeli-Palestinian issues or make any serious attempt at
Conversely, this year’sDemocratic Party platformreaffirmed the United States
government’s long-standing commitment to seeking a two-state solution in the
region. But the party took a notably progressive turn, highlighting both the
importance of Israel’s Jewish and democratic future and Palestinian freedom “to
govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.” Thecontentious fight over the
Democratic Party language, combined with Democratic nominee Hillary
Clinton’s (and her potential First Gentleman’s) passion for this issue reveals
an intent by a future Clinton administration to reinvigorate negotiations.
Likely to drive the administration’s calculus are the Democratic
and Republican nominees and their political motives on the U.S. led peace
process. The time to watch for a potential move, therefore, is between November
and January. Given the administration’s support for its own party’s nominee, it
is in Obama’s interest to keep the peace process on life support—but without
resuscitating it—through January. Publicly, but somewhat unenthusiastically,
supporting the various international initiatives and allowing other states and
international organizations to sit in the driver’s seat sets a future Democratic
administration up with the best chance of success.
Lessons from getting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the
table over the years include the wisdom to refrain from yelling about past
progress in negotiations. Publicly revealing how far Netanyahu and Abbas were
willing to go in 2014 would only harm the next administration’s efforts at
resuming negotiations. Keeping the “Kerry Framework” in the administration’s
pocket allows a Clinton administration to take ownership of the peace process
should she be elected.
Alternatively, if Trump is elected, the Obama administration
would have nothing to lose in revealing the fruits of its efforts in 2013-14.
The administration would have little concern for derailing a possible Trump
attempt (which is not likely to take place in any event) and could determine
that releasing some sort of Obama or Kerry Parameters would shed a positive
light on the administration’s legacy. Furthermore, should the Republican Party
win the White House, neither Obama nor Kerry is likely to care about the damage
that releasing such a document might do to either Netanyahu or Abbas.
The party conventions have solidified the deep divides—both
between and within the parties—regarding the U.S. approach to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict this campaign season. This divide, combined with a
renewed international focus on the conflict, virtually guarantees that the
administration will keep the conflict on the back burner before November. The
election, therefore, will not only determine our next president but also the
fate of the “Obama/Kerry Parameters”.
· * Note:
Ariella Plachta, an intern with the Center for Middle East Policy, contributed
to this post.
· * Sarah Yerkes is a visiting fellow in
theCenter for Middle East Policyand a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs
fellow. She is a former member of the State Department’s policy planning staff,
where she focused on North Africa. Previously, she was a foreign affairs
officer in the State’s Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs.
Much has been made, particularly
by Israelis, of the expanding horizons for collaboration between the Jewish
state and Arab Gulf states. Israeli ministers and business people lose no
opportunity to tout Israel’s interest in expanding ties of all sorts in a
region viewed as a valuable market for Israeli industry and an intelligence
Meetings that once were held in the dark are now on public
display. Relations that were once conducted solely by intelligence officials
now feature diplomats and the formal establishmentof relations with countries such as
In a notable development, Saudi Arabia wonkey recognitionfrom Israel—and Egypt and the United
States—as a strategic partner in regional security in the Straits of Tiran.
Such achievements expose not only the alluring prospects of such a dialogue,
but also its enduring, critical limitations.
The nascent coalition linking Israel with the Gulf was born as a
coalition of countries that are united by their common failure to dissuade
Washington from its path of rapprochement with Iran.
Washington and Tehran just celebrated the one-year anniversary
of the J.C.P.O.A., which remains the signature foreign policy achievement of
the Obama administration. Saudis and Israelis looking to roll it back must
contend with the fact that, in an era when the Middle East is shaking under
their feet, the Iran deal represents a relative rock of stability and
policy achievement unmatched elsewhere in U.S. efforts in the region.
Washington’s relations with Tehran may not blossom, but they will be difficult
to reverse—a fact that critically weakens the foundations of underlying
Israeli-Gulf cooperation and limits the effectiveness of an ‘alliance’ based
upon undermining the principal diplomatic and strategic achievement of your
indispensable, superpower ally.
It is also true that one need only scratch the surface to reveal
vital differences in Israeli and Saudi views on Iran itself. Israeli bluster
aside, considered Israeli opinion and policy is far more sanguine about Iran
than is the case in Riyadh.
Even at the height of concerns about an Israeli military strike
against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Israel’s security establishment
successfully tamed the wilder, undisciplined instincts of many in Israel’s
political class. The generals have long understood the vitality of Israel’s
strategic superiority and are prepared toaccommodatean American-led deal with Tehran in a
fashion that contradicts visceral Saudi opposition to the mullahs.
Such differences are apparent in other arenas as well. This is
certainly the case concerning Syria, where the prevailing Israeli view is
sympathetic to the Assad regime. As a consequence of its understandings
with Russia, agreed-upon limits have been set to Iranian and Hezbollah
deployments—a display of realpolitik toward the Damascus regime that Riyadh is
loathe to adopt.
For Israel, its problems with Iran are of relatively recent
vintage. In contrast, it retains a historic and strategic interest in limiting
Arab power—an interest that stands in opposition to declared Arab objectives.
Israel’s newfound Arab friends must be ready to address the unexpected,
destabilizing pressures that will result from an Israel freed from any concern
about constraining Arab power—in Palestine and Lebanon in particular.
In Lebanon, Israel and Gulf states have a shared antipathy
toward Hezbollah, but there is no interest in Arab support for an Israeli
military campaign in Lebanon or more improbably Syria.
Similar considerations illustrate the limits of Arab
understanding of an aggressive Israeli policy toward Gaza.
Israel’s response to the Arab Peace Initiative is also an
instructive case in point.
Long ignored by Israeli leaders—Ehud Olmert did not even bother
to read it—Israel’s strategy is to pocket the historic promise of peace with
the Arab and Islamic worlds as simply a basis for further discussion.
More broadly, Israel has turned the historic formula at the
heart of A.P.I.—peace with Palestine is a gateway to rapprochement with the
Arab world—on its head. “The Arab Peace Initiative,”explainedSaudi prince Turki al-Faisal in a
public discussion with former National Security director Yaakov Amidror, “is
the formula that can bring us together. But the general [Amidror] sees
otherwise. He wants us to start cooperating with Israel, and do whatever is
done in that journey, and forget about the occupation of Palestine and various
other issues that deal with the daily occurrences that are taking place on the
ground in Palestine, whether it is expansion of Israeli settlements in the West
Bank, whether it is the roadblocks — all the issues that you are all aware of.”
Jordan is another useful example of both the advantages and
built-in shortcomings of such an Arab strategy. Egypt and Jordan enjoy
relations with Israel based upon signed peace treaties. Yet even this
achievement has not been sufficient to shield either country from dramatic
challenges posed by Israel.
There has been an indirect Israeli security umbrella over Jordan
since Black September 1970. This protection, however, has failed to pay
dividends for Jordan on the Palestine front. Indeed, in terms of national
security threats, the prospect of a Palestinian retreat to Jordan—pushed by
Israeli policy unfettered by Arab or international pressure—is a constant
source of concern to Jordanian officials. And among Israelis, there is a long
and widely held view that considers a Palestinian takeover of Jordan and the
demise of the Hashemites to be an Israeli interest, and only a matter of time.
With Egypt, there are many indications that relations with
Israel have never been closer. This honeymoon is fueled, however, by
unprecedented national security challenges suffered by Egypt in Sinai.
Israel’s unilateral retreat from Gaza in 2005, its serial wars there since, and
the attendant effort to force Egypt to assume the burden of Gaza’s welfare,
illustrate the limits of their cooperation.
A long, long road has been travelled since the famous ‘three
no’s of Khartoum’—no recognition, no negotiations, no peace—in the aftermath of
the June 1967 war. The iron wall separating Israel from its Arab neighbors is
indeed showing cracks, but the prospects for a turn from confrontation to
cooperation is still hampered by real differences of interests and priorities.
Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public
and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and
development issues. He has advised the World Bank on Israel’s disengagement and
has worked for the European Union Coordinating Office for the Palestinian
Police Support mission to the West Bank and Gaza.
Fighters posing with the flag of Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi.
The Syrian civil war has seen the
rise of a number of formations that promote the idea of building a native
Syrian Muqawama Islamiya('Islamic
Resistance') and Hezbollah. Examples includeQuwat al-Ridha(recruiting mainly from Shi'a in the
Homs area), theNational Ideological Resistance (based in
Tartous/Masyaf area), the Ja'afari Force(recruiting
mainly from Damascene Shi'a) andal-Ghalibun.
Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (the Imam Mahdi Brigade), referring to the
twelfth Shi'i Imam, is another group along these lines. For comparison, the
National Ideological Resistance also has the label Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi (The
Imam Mahdi Army).
Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi appears to have at least two sub-components:
the Imam Ali Battalion and the Special Operations al-Hadi Battalion. The
at least two squadrons: the first led by "al-Saffah" and
the second led by "Abu Ali Karar."
The information available on Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi through social
media is patchy at best, but I was able to speak to the commander of the Imam
Ali Battalion, who goes by the name of al-Hajj Waleed and is from Ba'albek in
the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.
According to al-Hajj Waleed (who is
a member of Hezbollah), Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi was set up two years ago by
Hezbollah and has recruits from all of Syria.
Of course, this latter assertion is a fairly standard rhetorical
line. Private Facebook accounts run by those associated with Liwa al-Imam
al-Mahdi largely point to origins in western Syria.
The commander added that the group has participated in a number of
battles, including Deraa, Quneitra, Ghouta, Aleppo and the Ithiriya-Raqqa
route. Some of these operations (e.g.fighting
in south Aleppo countrysideand
positions on theIthiriya
hills) have been mentioned on social media.
In total, Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi's contribution to the fighting in
Syria seems similar in scale to that of theJa'afari Forceand
theNational Ideological Resistance. Al-Hajj
Waleed gave his toll of killed ('martyrs') and wounded at 25 and 55
Thus, the military capabilities of these groups should not be
exaggerated, but it is apparent how Hezbollah is trying to project influence
into Syria through the creation of multiple formations and brands in order to
* Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a
research fellow at Middle East Forum'sJihad Intel
Turkey's July 15 coup, as cartoonist Assad Binakhahi suggests, was a gift for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
It is amazing that the Crescent and
Star never ceases to shock with the most unexpected insanity. The capacity to
shock is a feature most observed at times of war. And Turkey is at war – a
schizophrenic civil war.
The May 1960 coup was a conventional
coup d'état but, like July 15, was outside the chain of command. So it was
simply called a coup d'état.
March 1971 was called a "soft
coup." September 1980 was a conventional coup – this time inside the chain
of command. Some called it the "people's coup" after more than 90
percent of Turks approved its constitution and generals as their leaders.
Turkey had a "post-modern
coup" in February 1997 and an "e-coup" (in reference to the
anti-government, pro-secularist memorandum posted on the military's website) in
If history will have to name the failed
coup of July 15 the best way to recall it would be as the "absurd
coup." The events of July 15 looked less like a coup and more like a
Turkish opera buffa, a tragic one though, with the curtain closing with more
than 200 people getting killed.
Fortunately, even an absurd coup can
give an unruly nation a temporary sigh of unity. Pro- and anti-president Turks
seem to have united - which is great - probably until they start firing at each
other again, which is not so great.
With or without unity against any
military intervention in the democratic system, absurd or not, the great
Turkish divide is there and will probably deepen, exposing Turkey's hybrid
democracy to further risks of "road accidents" of this or that kind.
Turkey's "war of religion"
will not disappear just because the pro- and anti-president forces of the
country have united against a coup attempt. It is a war of religion between the
adherents of the same sect of the same religion.
It was not without a reason why the
anti-coup crowds that bravely stood against the troops and their commanders did
not mostly chant pro-democracy slogans when they took to the streets but rather
passionately chanted "Allah-u Akbar" (God is the greatest).
They were there not to defend democracy
in the word's liberal meaning. They were there to defend the man whom they view
as the guardian of their faith, hence their readiness to kill or die, or to
lynch the pro-coup troops, and a journalist who was just photographing the
scene. Willing lynchers who defend democracy chanting Islamist slogans? Nice
Whether the perpetrators belong to the
clandestine Gülenist terror organization or were a bizarre coalition of
secularist and Gülenist officers, they were simply moronic thugs in military
uniforms. Speaking to a "pro-democracy" crowd of fans who interrupted
his speech with the slogan "we want the death penalty [back],"
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the Gülenists had been secretly – and
illegally - trying to capture the state over the past 40 years. And now they
finally staged a coup.
The president was probably right. But
he did not explain why he allied with them during the 37.5 years of the
Gülenist campaign to capture the state – until he and the Gülenists broke up in
December 2013. Remember his famous complaint: "Whatever they [Gülenists]
wanted, we gave them."
This is the last act in the
hundreds-of-years-long opera buffa of in-house fighting between various
Islamist factions, not just Turkish. Despite the bloodshed and tragic scenes,
like in any other Turkish opera buffa, it often can be amusing, too.
Newswires dispatched a story that said
Saudi King Salman congratulated President Erdoğan for the return to
"normality" – normality here must mean the defeat of undemocratic forces
and return to the democratic regime. Hybrid or not, Turkey at least features a
ballot-box (head-count) democracy. Let's hope one day King Salman's Kingdom too
returns to normality.
· * Burak
Bekdil is an Ankara-based columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet
Recent regulations on
sukuk (Islamic bonds) are helping drive growth in Oman’s Islamic banking
sector, with sharia-compliant lenders gaining ground.
Growth of Islamic banking is far outstripping that of
the conventional banking segment with Islamic banking assets up more than 62%
year-on-year (y-o-y) at the end of March, according to a report issued by the
Central Bank of Oman (CBO) in mid-May.
New rules released by the Capital Market Authority
(CMA) in April regarding the issuance of sukuk should further broaden the
segment’s base by encouraging corporate issues.
Rise in Islamic
Total assets held by Islamic banks and the Islamic
banking windows of conventional lenders in March amounted to OR2.5bn ($6.5bn),
compared to OR1.5bn ($3.9bn) one year earlier, according to the CBO.
This took the Islamic banking’s market share from
5.1% of the financial system’s overall assets in 2015 to 7.8% by March 2016.
Financing to the public and private sector is also on
the rise, with sharia-compliant entities having extended OR1.93bn ($5bn) worth
of financing as of end-March, up 58% over the OR1.2bn ($3.1bn) recorded in
March of last year.
Growth was also strong on a month-on-month basis,
with assets held by Islamic banks and windows up OR100m ($260m) over February,
deposits expanding by OR90m ($234m) and financing rising by OR80m ($208m).
For their part, sukuk are expected to play an
important role in the country’s Islamic financial markets as they offer an
alternate means of fundraising for local companies, according to Abdulaziz Al
Balushi, group CEO of Ominvest, an Oman-based investment company.
“Growth in total sukuk issuance is driven by a number
factors, including: fiscal deficits led by low oil prices – necessitating
government borrowing in the local and international markets, corporates seeking
alternative funding options in the wake of tighter liquidity and Islamic
financial institutions’ desire to grow their financing books,” he told OBG.
The growing penetration of sharia-compliant finance
is in line with a forecast made by ratings agency Moody’s late last year.
In its November outlook on the Omani financial
sector, Moody’s predicted the Islamic banking segment would continue to gain
traction, with Islamic assets to account for between 10% and 12% of total
banking assets within the next two years.
The sector will benefit from expansion in new lending
and through the conversion of customers from conventional to Islamic banking
services, the report said.
In contrast with the performance of the Islamic
segment of the market, assets of conventional commercial banks rose by 9.1%
y-o-y to the end of March to OR28.6bn ($74.3bn).
While still a strong result, the pace of expansion of
the Islamic segment indicates growing demand for sharia-compliant products in
Oman’s Islamic banking sector has two dedicated
sharia-compliant banks, Bank Nizwa and alizz islamic bank, which both began
commercial operations in 2013.
In addition, six of Oman’s seven domestic
conventional banks have opened Islamic banking windows, giving them access to
the growing market for sharia-compliant products.
New regulations to
spur corporate sukuk
Looking ahead, the country’s Islamic financial sector
stands to benefit from new regulations from the CMA that clarify requirements
for issuing sukuk and provide a legal framework.
In particular, the new rules aim to provide greater
transparency and protection to investors in sukuk transactions by building on
existing codes covering company law and capital markets.
The regulations, which came into effect in mid-April,
introduce a trust structure and terms for sukuk programmes, providing
flexibility for corporations looking to raise money through sukuk.
Importantly, there are no restrictions on the amount
of the sukuk based on the company’s capital.
The new regulations are expected to expand the range
of investment instruments available in the sector, gradually generating greater
investor interest, according to Sheikh Abdullah bin Al Salmi, executive
president of the CMA.
“Companies have been waiting for this guidance, and
there are a number of sukuk in the pipeline, which have been aided by the
issuance of the first government sukuk,” Sheikh Abdullah told OBG. “However,
most corporations will likely wait a bit longer for the government to issue
more in order to provide a benchmark for corporate bonds.”
The CMA is hopeful that codifying sukuk requirements
will further develop Oman’s Islamic financial sector and the broader capital
markets by giving companies and investors a more stable fundraising platform.
“A vibrant fixed-income market is essential to the
development, financial stability and diversification of the regional economy,
including Oman,” Sheikh Abdullah said in early June. “This is also an integral
part of the overall strategy of the CMA to enable the capital market to play
its vital role as an alternative fundraising platform for companies in the economic
development of Oman.”
* This report was published by Oxford Business Group on 26 June 2016