Sunday, 12 July 2020

Iran under attack

          International media reported a devastating building-shaking explosion in northern Tehran on the night of Saturday, 11 July. Reports indicate that it had been caused by the detonation of about 30 stored gas cylinders. It was the latest in a string of mysterious explosions to rock the country. In the small hours of the previous day, Friday, western Tehran had suffered an unexplained blast that initial reports claimed was at a missile depot belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). At least three other explosions are known to have occurred in or around Iranian nuclear facilities. Occurring over a period of about two weeks, they cannot be easily explained away. The regime is undoubtedly under attack. The question so far unanswered is, by whom? 

          Is this a covert onslaught masterminded by Israel, the US, or the two acting in concert? Did Israeli F-35 fighters actually bomb one of the sites? Are a group of anti-regime activists, working within Iran’s nuclear industry, taking covert action to prevent the regime acquiring nuclear weapons? Were the incidents the result of sophisticated cyber attacks, or were they sabotage, caused by old-fashioned explosives? There is a great deal of speculation, but so far nothing definitive has emerged.

          It was on June 26, 2020 that the first of this series of incidents occurred. Despite initial assertions by the Iranian Defense Ministry that there had been a minor detonation in the Parchin military complex, satellite images showed that it was at the nearby missile production complex at Khojir that a bomb had damaged a cache of gas tanks. The blast was later described as “a massive explosion” that had “burned a hillside”.

          On June 30 a detonation inside a medical centre in Tehran resulted in a fire and the death of more than a dozen people.

          The third, and perhaps the most serious, of this series of incidents occurred on July 2. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that there had been an explosion in one of the industrial sheds under construction at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. US analysts identified it as a new centrifuge assembly workshop. Centrifuges are needed to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.

          Hours before the AEOI statement, however, according to reports on the BBC’s website, journalists working for BBC Persian had received an email from a hitherto unknown group calling itself "Cheetahs of the Homeland", claiming that it had attacked the building. The group said its members were part of "underground opposition with Iran's security apparatus", and that they had deliberately arranged for the attack to take place above ground so that it “couldn't be denied”.

          That the BBC did indeed receive an email with advance information about the Natanz explosion, and that the mysterious “Cheetahs of the Homeland” claimed responsibility, must be accepted. What remains unclear is the source of that message. Is there really a covert group within Iran, seeking to disrupt the regime’s nuclear program? Or was that email a piece of disinformation designed to camouflage the true source of the explosions?

          Then on July 4 another massive fire damaged a power station in Khuzestan province. According to the on-line Intelli Times, the plant’s method of operation − regulating electricity through automation and industrial controllers – makes it open to a cyber attack.

          As for the Natanz attack, the New York Times reported that two well-placed, but anonymous, sources had confirmed that that explosion was not the result of a cyber attack, but had been caused by a “powerful bomb”, and that Israel had masterminded the operation.

          This version was countered by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida which maintained that Israeli F-35 fighters had bombed the Parchin site (not the nearby Khojir nuclear facility), but the Natanz incident was an Israeli electronic attack targeting computers controlling storage pressure devices.

          Whichever agency carried out the Natanz attack, Iran has not attempted to deny that it has had a significant effect on the country’s nuclear program.

          "The incident could slow down the development and production of advanced centrifuges in the medium term,” said the AEOI spokesman, quoted by the State news agency. “…Iran will replace the damaged building with a bigger one that has more advanced equipment."

          However, the damage to Iran’s nuclear project may be considerably more serious than this. Al-Jarida pinpoints the target as UF6 gas (uranium hexafluoride), used specifically for uranium enrichment. Iran has recently begun to produce UF6 for injection into the advanced IR-6 centrifuges it has been constructing at Natanz. The paper asserts that Iran has now lost 80% of its stock of this gas. Moreover, the Natanz explosion led to a “crack in the reactor building. Specialized groups went to the reactor to discover whether there was leakage of radioactive materials.” The building, which took six years to construct, became operational in 2018.

          At a recent press conference Israel’s defence minister and alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, said: “A nuclear Iran is a threat to the world and the region, as well as a threat to Israel and we will do everything to prevent that from happening.”

          Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, was somewhat more succinct. "We take actions that are better left unsaid."

Published in the Eurasia Review, 11 July 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/10072020-iran-under-attack-analysis/

Published in The Times of Israel, 12 July 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/iran-under-attack/

Published in the MPC Journal, 12 July 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/2020/07/12/iran-under-attack/

Thursday, 9 July 2020

The controversial Tzipi Hotovely – Israel’s new voice in Britain

This article of mine appears in the issue of the Jerusalem Report dated 20 July 2020, 
          At 42, Tzipi Hotovely is still comparatively “young” in the political realm. Indeed her youth, allied to her outstanding abilities as student, lawyer and politician, has marked her career. In 2009 she was the youngest member in the 18th Knesset. From 2013 onwards she served as a youthful government minister in three departments of state. Later this year she will become Her Excellency the Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Court of St James’s − the official designation of ambassadors to Britain. No stranger to controversy, Hotovely has already stirred up a veritable storm within Britain’s Jewish community merely by accepting the post.

          The announcement of Hotovely’s forthcoming appointment was the signal for immediate objections from left-wing Jewish opinion in Britain. Na’amod, a fringe British-Jewish organization that campaigns against the occupation and in favour of Palestinian rights, helped organize a petition, calling on the British government to reject Hotovely as the next Israeli ambassador. Na’amod, founded in mid-2018, defines itself as: “a movement of British Jews seeking to end our community's support for the occupation, and to mobilize it in the struggle for freedom, equality and justice for all Palestinians and Israelis”. By the end of June, the petition had attracted more than 1,000 names.

            Meanwhile, some leading Jewish voices were raised in an attempt to pre-empt Hotovely’s appointment with conditions they insist she observe if she is to get their endorsement. For example the Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement, Laura Janner-Klausner, called on her to “set aside” her political views when she arrives in London. “Ambassador-designate Hotovely has views as a politician which are in very strong contrast to the views of Reform Judaism,” she said. “I assume she will be putting those views firmly to one side as an ambassador.”

          Sir Mick Davis, one of Anglo-Jewry’s leading philanthropists, said: “I hope the incoming ambassador will recognize that the role requires equal respect and consideration for every part of our community, including the non-Orthodox and the secular, who contribute hugely to the rich tapestry of Jewish life and to keeping the flame of Zionism alive.”

          These statements and appeals betray a lack of knowledge of Hotovely’s record on these matters.

          Politically. Hotovely is certainly a Likudnik. Indeed she has been described as “the ideological voice” of the Likud party. But Israeli politics are full of nuances, and in Hotovely’s case the designation means that she is uncompromising on the issue of Judea and Samaria (she rejects the term “West Bank”), but very liberal on issues such as women’s rights. She regularly campaigns on the issue, and in the 18th Knesset chaired the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. In December 2011 a long-simmering dispute in Israel between ultra-Orthodox and secular opinion suddenly flared up. Hotovely hit the headlines when she insisted on sitting in the front seats of a public bus usually patronized by Haredi travellers, where women are expected to sit in the rear. Her stance was subsequently endorsed by Israel’s Supreme Court.

          Practising Orthodox Judaism herself, she is permissive to a degree on welcoming Jews of any branch of the faith to Israel and, for example, providing right of access to the Kotel (the Western Wall) to all. She is on record as approving “egalitarian prayer” there, where “women can go together with their families, and men can go together with their daughters.”  Her democratic instincts would almost certainly not sit well with all members of her party. 


          A large tranche of American Jewry is vehemently opposed to the right-wing policies of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Hotovely has publicly urged them to come to Israel and help shape its politics from within. In November 2017 she said: “This is the home of all Jews from all streams. Everyone is welcome to come here to influence Israeli politics. Please come. I’m willing not to have a right-wing leadership in order to have all Jews sharing this beautiful, amazing place that is called Israel.”

          Hotovely believes that Judea and Samaria always have been, and still are, part of the Jewish homeland, and that Israel cannot be said to be illegal occupiers. "We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country," she has said. "This land is ours.”

          This view, which certainly runs counter to the near-consensus of world opinion, is justified by Hotovely on biblical and historical grounds. As a lawyer, however, she will also be aware of the legal basis for it, set out recently in the Jerusalem Post by a specialist in international law.

          The essence of the case is that Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem were within the territory designated as the “national homeland of the Jewish people” under international law, by way of an international legal instrument unanimously approved by the 51 members of the League of Nations in 1922. The treaties in question, which have never been abrogated, amended or rescinded, are the San Remo Resolution of 1920, and the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine of 1922, preserved by Article 80 of the Charter of the United Nations of 1945, which grants Jews the irrevocable right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

          Turning to “annexation”, the term as legally defined does not apply where the country considered to be doing the “annexing” already possesses sovereignty. “Annexation” is universally agreed to be “the incorporation of newly acquired territory into the national domain”.  Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem, the argument runs, cannot be construed as “newly acquired territory”- on the basis of this legal view, they have always been part of Israel proper.

          As for the term “occupied territory”, that too, this opinion holds, is inappropriate. The classic and received definition of “occupied territory” in international law is laid out in Article 42 of the Hague Regulations: “Territory is considered occupied when … a belligerent state invades the territory of another state with the intention of holding the territory...” However, Israel did not invade Judea and Samaria in 1948. The invading “belligerent state” was Jordan, and the territory invaded belonged to the nascent State of Israel. The territory that Israel reclaimed in 1967 had never been “the territory of another state,” nor did Israel obtain it by a war of aggression but rather by undisputed self-defence.

          In short, the conclusion of this legal opinion is that what is being proposed by Israel is not “annexation” but rather the lawful exercise of full sovereignty over the State of Israel’s own legitimate territory. It need hardly be said that this interpretation of international law is strongly disputed and is not likely to convince either the British government or a wide tranche of Jewish opinion in the UK.

          When it became apparent, early in June, that Netanyahu might shortly seek to extend Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, some 40 leading members of Britain’s Jewish community wrote to Israeli ambassador Mark Regev expressing “concern and alarm”. “We are yet to see an argument,” they wrote, “that convinces us, committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel, that the proposed annexation is a constructive step.” The policy “not only lacks merit, but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it”.

          The letter makes no mention of “Vision for Peace” − the plan devised by the Trump administration whose target is to achieve a contiguous, viable sovereign Palestine comprising 70 per cent of the West Bank together with a Gaza expanded by three substantial land swaps – in other words, a two-state solution. Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, Israel’s alternate prime minister, have accepted the plan, and it is within its terms that any extension of Israel’s sovereignty is being contemplated.

          Na’amod’s petition adopts the stance of “woke” opinion in the West that seeks to stifle all views not in line with its own. It demands that Hotovely’s nomination is rejected, not because of anything she has done, but on account of her “values and politics” which “have no place in the UK.”

          The petition, despite its 1000-plus signatories, is unlikely to have any practical effect. The UK has very rarely rejected a nominated ambassador, and the present government is especially friendly toward Israel.

          There is, unfortunately, a history of harsh words between Hotovely and the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl. The Board’s 2019 Jewish Manifesto included support for the two state solution. Hotovely took issue with this. “The idea of a Palestinian state is one that the State of Israel completely opposes,” she wrote, and it may have been true at the time. 

          Since then, Trump has unveiled his “Deal of the Century” in the White House with Netanyahu present – later endorsed by Gantz − and it may be in light of this that van der Zyl  put aside the past disagreement and said: “We will be delighted to work with the next Israeli ambassador to sustain and advance the relationship between Israel and the UK Jewish community, and between Israel and the UK more broadly… we hope that Tzipi Hotovely will be successful in advancing these relationships, and we will give her whatever support and advice we can to achieve these ends.”

          The way ahead for Hotovely may not be as tough as first appeared.


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Iraq's new leader shows his mettle

        On June 25, 2020, fourteen members of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah (KH) were going about their usual nefarious business. On this occasion they were setting up rocket attacks on Baghdad airport and the US embassy. Much to their astonishment, troops from Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) arrested them. The security forces then proceeded to raid KH headquarters, seize rockets and detain three leaders of the group.

        KH, a law unto itself for years, tried to assert itself. Its operational commander, Abu Fadak, pulled together a force of around 150 fighters in nearly thirty armored pickup trucks, drove to the prime minister’s residence and demanded the suspects be released to his custody. Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi declined to do so. However, rather than handing them over to the US forces, as perhaps Abu Fadak had feared, he placed them under the custody of the Security Directorate of the PMF (the Popular Mobilization Forces). At first glance this might have appeared a somewhat equivocal move, since the directorate is led by a KH commander, Abu Zainab al-Lami. But Kadhimi had already taken steps to ensure a new level of of control over the PMF, and he retained the whip hand.

        The PMF (also known as the Hashed Al Shaabi), is a 100,000 strong force of mainly Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries backed and trained by Iran. It was set up originally to help Iraqi government forces fight ISIS. Later it was nominally integrated into the state security forces, although many groups remained more or less independent and were in no sense under government control.

        On June 3 the head of the PMF, Faleh al-Fayadh, announced that all Iraqi paramilitary groups were to shut down their offices. The many disparate and independent groups were to be merged into the main organization, which would be subject to new directives as to its future role and function. He also announced a "ban of all non-military actions that lie outside the Hashed's objectives, especially as the Hashed is considered to be an official entity of the state's security apparatus".

        Kadhimi’s strong-arm tactics against KH have been described as “the strongest state action against Iran-backed paramilitaries in years.” Kadhimi had already announced that he intended to crack down on militia groups which target US installations. Before becoming prime minister in May, Kadhimi had been Iraq’s intelligence chief for a good few years – and it was Iraqi intelligence that generated the evidence needed to secure a search and arrest warrant for the raid. This is the first time that, based on intelligence, the Iraqi government has succeeded in foiling a terrorist attack within the country. It seems to indicate that Kadhimi intends to follow through on his tough talk.

        The suspects have been charged under Iraq’s counter-terrorism statutes. If Kadhimi manages to hold his course, and the Iraqi government can succeed in prosecuting them, it would be a formal recognition that anti-US violence is a terrorist offense against the Iraqi state. So far, despite numerous rocket attacks that have wounded and killed Americans and Iraqis, not a single KH fighter has been indicted for anti-US terrorist acts.

        These recent events could be interpreted in more than one way. Kadhimi’s foremost objective might be to restore law and order to his chaotic country, and put an end to the unruly and uncontrolled gangs that have run riot ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

        Alternatively, we might be witnessing the first steps in a longer-term plan aimed at loosening the relentless grip that Iran has managed to exert over Iraq, and releasing his country from the danger of becoming an Iranian vassal state.

        Clearly the Iranian-backed groups within Iraq fear the latter. A security spokesman for one such militia issued a statement on June 26, describing Kadhimi as an “American agent.” Abu Ali al-Askari, the security chief of KH, issued a dire warning, dubbing Kadhimi a “mutant”. “We are waiting for you to suffer from God’s torture, or by our hands.”

        Al-Askari also accused Kadhimi of attempting to distance himself from the killing of the “two martyrs,” a reference to the January drone strike which killed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani and deputy commander of the PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.

        There is no doubt that whichever outcome he is planning, and even more so if he is seeking both, Iraq’s new prime minister has a fight on his hands.


 Published in the Eurasia Review, 3 July 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/03072020-iraqs-new-leader-shows-his-mettle-analysis/

Published in the MPC Journal, 3 July 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/2020/07/03/iraqs-new-leader-shows-his-mettle/

Published in The Times of Israel, 5 July 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/iraqs-new-leader-shows-his-mettle/

Friday, 3 July 2020

The passing of Vera Lynn - a British icon

This article of mine appears in the Jerusalem Post weekend magazine of 3 July 2020 
          No event could have been more aptly timed than the passing of Dame Vera Lynn. If any one person, apart from Winston Churchill, could be said to symbolize the Second World War for Britain, it was Vera Lynn. Churchill with his speeches rallied the nation’s fighting spirit; Vera with her songs touched its heart. The effect of both on people’s morale was profound. It persists, refusing to be eradicated.

          It was on June 18, 1940 that, with France on its knees and suing Hitler for peace, General Charles de Gaulle broadcast to the French people from London. He delivered a message of defiance. “The flame of French resistance must not, and will not, be extinguished.”

          June 18, 2020 – the 80th anniversary of that historic broadcast − was therefore chosen as a fitting day to mark enduring Anglo-French friendship. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited the UK to participate in a formal commemoration ceremony and to bestow the Légion d’honneur on the city of London. It was in the very midst of this formal remembrance of the Second World War that the news of Vera Lynn’s death at the age of 103 became public. Immensely saddened as the nation was at the announcement, it seemed in a fortuitous way to have occurred on the most appropriate of occasions.

          Born in London as Vera Margaret Welch to a plumber father and a determined dressmaker stage-mother, Lynn was singing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven. At 11 she took her grandmother’s maiden name as her stage name, and at 15, having already become her family’s biggest wage earner, she was signed by one of the UK’s big bands. She released her first solo recording when she was 19, and within three years had amassed combined sales of more than a million discs.

          Jewish musicians and artists were prominent in 1930s England. Bert Ambrose (born Benjamin Baruch Ambrose in Warsaw) was a well-known bandleader and violinist. It was while singing with the Ambrose orchestra that Vera met her Jewish husband, Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist. She married him in 1941, and they stayed married for 57 years. Their daughter, Virginia, was born in 1946.

          As war loomed nearer, valiant efforts were made in the UK to try to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis. In the end more than ten thousand were brought across to England in the so-called Kindertransport operation. Kindertransport was a visa waiver scheme initiated by the UK government, but with financial support largely provided by charities and volunteers.

          In a 2017 interview, magician and mentalist David Berglas speaking of Vera Lynn said: “She was one of the few artists to do a show for Jewish refugee children, to bring them over before war broke out. She was singing with the Ambrose orchestra and took part in a charity show to raise funds to get them out of Germany. I thank her from the bottom of my heart – because I was one of those children.”

          When war was declared in September 1939, Lynn was already a star, well established on the variety circuit with a rising profile on radio. She volunteered for war work, but she was told the best thing she could do was to keep on being an entertainer. Before the end of the year, she had recorded the song that would always thereafter be associated with her: “We’ll Meet Again”.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…So please say hello to the folks that I know, tell them I won’t be long. They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go, I was singing this song…”



          It was a song she was to sing and record innumerable times in the five years of war that followed, but also in the many anniversaries she attended over the succeeding years. At the time she first recorded it, show business in Britain had almost been shut down, the big bands had broken up and the musicians scattered. During the first months of the war, music on BBC radio was reduced to old records and the Wurlitzer, or theatre organ. So Vera is accompanied on the record not by an orchestra, but by a Novachord, an early version of the synthesizer.  The recording is still available on YouTube.
          Its underlying message of hope − that scattered families would eventually be reunited after the conflict - struck a chord with troops abroad and their relatives at home. In a poll run before the end of 1939 by a popular newspaper, Vera Lynn, voted by servicemen their favorite entertainer, gained her nickname of “Forces' Sweetheart”. She never lost it.

          Israel and Britain share an ordeal never experienced by the United States − a genuine threat to their very existence. In Israel’s case, of course, it has proved a recurring nightmare. For the United Kingdom the experience of June 1940 is seared deep into the national psyche. Starting with the declaration of war in September 1939. the Nazis had swept all before them. Their Blitzkrieg tactics saw Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France succumb with astonishing speed. By the end of June 1940 only two things stood between Hitler and the conquest of Britain – the English channel and the Royal Air Force.

          This dark period was when Lynn’s songs caught the public mood so well and boosted morale – songs like “The White Cliffs of Dover”:

“There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover tomorrow, just you wait and see… The shepherd will tend his sheep, the valley will bloom again, and Jimmy will go to sleep in his own little room again.” 


          One of her songs that perfectly caught the mood of the time was said to have been inspired by the diary kept by a little Dutch boy who escaped from Europe as it was being overrun by the Nazis – “My Sister and I”.

“My sister and I remember still a tulip garden by an old Dutch mill, and the home that was all our own until ... But we don't talk about that. We're learning to forget the fear that came from a troubled sky. We're almost happy over here. but sometimes we wake at night and cry. My sister and I recall the day we said goodbye, then we sailed away, and we think of our friends that had to stay. But we don't talk about that…”


          Her place in the public imagination was broadened by her hugely popular radio show in 1941-42, Sincerely Yours, which she described as “a letter to the men of the forces in words and music.” Thanks to the BBC's shortwave transmitters, they were heard across the world.

         Throughout the war she travelled to battle fronts as far afield as Egypt, India and Burma to perform for troops. It was a bond that remained long into peacetime, with Lynn a constant champion of veterans’ rights.

          In 1976 Lynn was made a Dame, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995 she performed in front of thousands of people outside Buckingham Palace. in 2000 she was named as the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

          As the 75th anniversary of the war’s end approached, in May 2020, the UK was facing another crisis – the coronavirus pandemic. In a televised address in April, the Queen evoked Dame Vera's wartime message, assuring families and friends who were separated during the COVID-19 lockdown: "We will meet again."

Published by the Jerusalem Post, 3 July 2020:

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Why do the Palestinians say no?

          Why did the Palestinian Authority (PA) instantly and vehemently reject the Trump Vision for Peace as it was announced on January 28, 2020? Why indeed had PA President Mahmoud Abbas already rejected it, sight unseen?  Why had he and the Palestinian leadership refused even to contemplate the economic leg of its Middle East peace plan: Peace to Prosperity ?  Subtitled A New Vision for the Palestinian People, the 40-page document set out in considerable detail a scenario under which, with a huge input of funding and economic aid, prospects for the Palestinian people would be immeasurably transformed for the better. 

          In the document’s own words: “with the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over 10 years, Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive effort for the Palestinian people to date. It has the ability to fundamentally transform the West Bank and Gaza, and to open a new chapter in Palestinian history – one defined not by adversity and loss, but by freedom and dignity.”

          The economic plan, covering all aspects of Palestinian life from education and health care to taxes, roads and railways, was based on three pillars – the economy, the people and the government.

         A main goal of the economy pillar – to connect Palestinian-occupied areas to regional and global markets – included integrating Gaza and the West Bank “through an efficient, modern transportation network, including a transportation corridor directly connecting” the two areas. “Billions of dollars of new investment will flow into various sectors of the Palestinian economy,” said the document, which also detailed how “hospitals, schools, homes and businesses will secure access to affordable electricity, clean water and digital services.”

          The second pillar aimed to “improve the well-being of the Palestinian people” through educational programs, vocational and technical training, expanding the female labour force, reducing Infant mortality and increasing average life expectancy.

          The third pillar proposed a range of reforms in the Palestinian government including reforming the tax structure and increasing exports and direct foreign investment.

          Root and branch rejection from Palestinian leaders and spokesmen was immediate. Abbas said “there can be no economic solution before there’s a political solution.”

          There are several causes for this downright refusal to engage.

          One is how deep “anti-normalization” has penetrated the Palestinian psyche. For hard-line supporters of the Palestinian cause, “normalization” (or tatbia in Arabic) is the worst political sin. It has been adopted as a term of abuse by the Palestinian leadership and by organizations which support them, including the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. In the view of the anti-normalizers, no form of joint activity, cooperation or dialogue with Israelis is acceptable - even engaging with Israeli peace activists who have the best of intentions towards them. All such must be viewed as collaboration with the enemy, the “colonial oppressors” of the Palestinian people.

          The elephant in this room is the fact that every day some 130,000 Palestinians cross into Israel from the West Bank to work for some 8,100 employers. They bring home about 5 billion shekels ($1.4 billion) each year. Their average salary is two-and-a-half times the average salary in the Palestinian autonomous areas.

          In addition to the Palestinians who work in Israel, around 36,000 are employed in Israeli firms in the West Bank, many earning up to three times the average Palestinian wage. Israel has established several industrial zones there, comprising around 1,000 businesses in all.

          This on-going demonstration of Palestinian-Israeli joint activity on a massive scale is rarely referred to by the anti-normalization activists, perhaps because of the sheer number of Palestinians, multiplied by their families, involved.

          So turning a blind eye to this inconvenient aspect of the issue, the anti-normalization campaign has devised a long and detailed rationale for its programme. One of the document’s core assumptions is that Israel is a “colonial oppressor”, a charge made repeatedly in the paper. It is shorthand for the argument that Israel was created as the result of invasion and occupation of the Holy Land by Western colonialists, and that the Jewish people have no historic connection to it. As a logical consequence, the anti-normalization document calls for resistance to Israel’s existence.

          The paper asserts that joint cooperative initiatives aimed at fostering peace “serve to normalize oppression and injustice.” The two-state solution is rejected out of hand. In its view acknowledging Israel’s right to exist at all “advocates an apartheid state in Israel that disenfranchises the indigenous Palestinian citizens”.

          It seems clear from what BDS and its supporters write and say that, in their minds, the Arab-Israeli conflict is not over and Israel is a temporary phenomenon that, given sufficient time and effort, will be eliminated,. Any attempt at reconciliation, at normalization, undermines this objective. It is a sad fact that by refusing to accept that Israel is a permanent presence in the Middle East, by advocating continuing resistance and turning their backs on any attempt at reconciliation, they are essentially condemning generations of Palestinians, as well as Israelis, to a perpetual state of conflict. The PA leadership seems to view this prospect with equanimity.

          Then, of course, there is the undoubted fact that the PA leadership has painted itself into a corner. Vying with Hamas on the one hand, and extremists within its own Fatah party on the other, it has glorified the so-called “armed struggle”, making heroes of those who undertake terrorist attacks inside Israel, and reiterating the message in the media and the schools that all of Mandate Palestine is Palestinian and the creation of Israel was a national disaster.

          The end-result of its own narrative is that no Palestinian leader dare sign a peace agreement unilaterally with Israel based on a two-state solution. They dare not even give a tacit nod towards peace negotiations. The consequent backlash from within the Palestinian world, to say nothing of the personal fear of assassination, have made it impossible. The only hope of progress towards an eventual accord lies in the creation of some sort of Arab umbrella – a group of Arab states prepared to back a return to the negotiating table. 

          The PA position seems to be that Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is carved in stone and is non-negotiable, that it is a case of take it or leave it. That is not the situation.  In the words of the document itself:   "We hope that the parties will seize the opportunity, embrace this vision, and begin negotiations."  A Palestinian leadership genuinely committed to reaching an accommodation with Israel could take the proposals in Vision for Peace as a starting point for negotiations, especially as there is so much on offer to the benefit of the Palestinian people.

          The plan proposes four years in which to come to an accord. It is time that should not be wasted in unproductive rejection for rejection’s sake.


Published in the Eurasia Review, 27 June 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/27062020-why-the-palestinians-say-no-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 27 June 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/why-the-palestinians-say-no/


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The West Bank – some clear thinking required

          Storm clouds have gathered on the political horizon. They are already moving swiftly toward Israel. If the new government does not soon take a firm grip, it will be overwhelmed by a veritable hurricane of universal condemnation. Israel’s enemies, like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, will have achieved their aim. Israel will be delegitimised in the eyes of the world.

          Perhaps because the new government was so long in the making, Israel’s publicity and media relations machine has still not swung into action. As a result there is confusion in Israel and abroad about what action the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is actually proposing in the West Bank. Action of some sort he certainly indicated during his election campaign. Because there has been no subsequent clarification, global opinion has decided that he intends unilaterally to annex Israeli-occupied areas within Area C. That perception has given rise to pre-emptive condemnation from around the world, not least from much Jewish opinion in the diaspora. 

          There are at least three ways to view the issue. 

          First, the matter of land-swaps is central to the Trump peace plan – rejected totally by the Palestinian Authority, but given a cautious welcome by a clutch of Arab states including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. 

          In essence the plan breaks through the argument over the status of the “occupied territories” – namely the areas conquered from the Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian armies in the Six-Day War in 1967. In line with previous US determinations, the plan does not recognize the West Bank as Palestinian land since it belonged to no sovereign state when it was fought over and won by Israel. Accordingly, the plan allows Israel to incorporate the settlements in that area – historically known as Judea and Samaria – into Israel proper. 

          Nevertheless the plan envisages the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on the areas outside the settlements, plus a Gaza greatly expanded by the yielding of Israeli territory south of the Strip. All Palestinian occupied territories would be made contiguous by way of a network of highways and a road tunnel linking the West Bank to Gaza. That prospect is dependent on the Palestinian leadership fulfilling certain preconditions – such as renouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel as the Jewish state. The plan allows four years for these conditions to be met. 

          At the White House on January 28 both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz accepted the plan, and undertook to abide by it. If the government were to indicate that any change in status of the West Bank was part of a firm intention to facilitate a sovereign Palestinian state, the anti-Israel situation could be largely de-toxified. The onus would then be on the Palestinian leadership to justify their objection to talking peace. 

          A second cause of confusion is to equate extending Israeli law and sovereignty to West Bank Jewish communities with “annexation”. They are not the same, but the government has so far issued no indication as to which path it is taking. Taking Israeli communities under normal Israeli jurisdiction rather than leaving them under military occupation could seem a reasonable step to much unprejudiced opinion. 

          Thirdly, as two experts in international security from the University of South Wales pointed out in the Jerusalem Post on June 7, Israeli action in the West Bank can be viewed from either end of the telescope. Extending Israeli jurisdiction to Jews living in the West Bank could indeed be seen as extending the scope of Israeli sovereignty. Alternatively, it could be viewed as Israel disengaging from its military occupation of Palestinians and taking its own citizens under its wing. 

          The current problem is that there is no firm hand at the tiller of Israeli public and media relations. A clear decision needs to be taken at top leadership levels as to what exactly is proposed in regard to the West Bank, and then the government publicity machine must carve out a firm line to disseminate to the world’s media, and get on and disseminate it.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 24 June 2020 as: "The many viewpoints on West Bank annexation"

Monday, 22 June 2020

Is there any justification for “annexation” in the West Bank?


There is very nearly universal agreement that it would be not only illegal under international law, but disastrous for both Israel and the Palestinians if Israel were to go ahead with extending its sovereignty to encompass Israelis living in the West Bank.  In the interests of balance and a fuller understanding of the issue, this is an attempt to set out the opposite case.

          “Peace to Prosperity” is the plan devised by the Trump administration as the basis for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. One of its aims is to achieve a contiguous, viable sovereign Palestine comprising 70 per cent of the West Bank together with a Gaza expanded by three substantial land swaps – in other words, a two-state solution. With the deal comes a huge financial boost to the Palestinian Authority, and an economic aid package akin to the Marshall Plan. Both Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz, Israel’s alternate prime minister, have accepted it. It is only within the terms of this plan that any extension of Israel’s sovereignty is being contemplated.

          The essence of the legal case for Israel extending its sovereignty to Israeli citizens living in Area C of the West Bank is that under international law, by way of an international legal instrument unanimously approved by the 51 members of the League of Nations in 1922, Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem are within the territory designated as the “national homeland of the Jewish people”. The treaties in question, which have never been abrogated, amended or rescinded, are the San Remo Resolution of 1920, and the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine of 1922, preserved by Article 80 of the Charter of the United Nations of 1945, which grant Jews the irrevocable right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

          Turning to “annexation”, the term is universally agreed to be “the incorporation of newly acquired territory into the national domain”. Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem, the argument runs, cannot be construed as “newly acquired territory”, since under international law they have always been part of Israel proper. “Annexation” as legally defined does not apply where the country considered to be doing the “annexing” already possesses sovereignty.

          As for the term “occupied territory”, the classic and received definition of “occupied territory” in international law is laid out in Article 42 of the Hague Regulations: “Territory is considered occupied when … a belligerent state invades the territory of another state with the intention of holding the territory...” However, Israel did not invade Judea and Samaria in 1948. The invading “belligerent state” was Jordan, and the territory invaded belonged to the nascent State of Israel. So the territory that Israel reclaimed in 1967 had never been “the territory of another state,” nor did Israel obtain it by a war of aggression but rather by undisputed self-defense.

          In short, the conclusion of this legal opinion is that what is being proposed by Israel is not “annexation” but rather the lawful exercise of full sovereignty over the State of Israel’s own legitimate territory.

         It need hardly be said that this interpretation of international law is strongly, and almost universally, disputed. Unfortunately there appears to be no wholly independent international judicial forum in which it could be tested.

Lord Jonathan Sacks: Why "We" is more important than "I"


My review of  "Morality:  Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times”  by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks appears in the new edition of the Jerusalem Report, dated July 6, 2020.
          Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s new book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times is an impressive tour d’horizon of the state of the western world – the US and the UK in particular – at the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the UK’s Chief Rabbi for 22 years, subjects western civilization to a detailed and acute analysis, and concludes that in the course of their evolution, modern societies have veered far from the principles that for millennia bound nations together.

          In particular he finds that whereas historically a nation’s moral sense was lodged in its individuals and communities, successive generations have progressively handed it over to the state and the market-place. While both have achieved some positive benefits for their societies, neither can provide the moral compass that helps individuals and communities to live meaningful lives.

          Sacks brings this thought down to the simple disparity between “We” and “I”. He sees an inexorable rise of the “I” concept over the past 40 or 50 years, highlighting so-called “identity politics” as one obvious manifestation. Increasingly political campaigning has degenerated from considering the needs of the nation as a whole, to concentrating on the interests of a series of self-identifying minorities. This phenomenon has resulted in what Sacks calls an "assault on free speech” in the social media and even in universities, originally conceived as bastions of freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth. Opinions at variance with what minorities hold to be inviolable are being silenced. Increasingly only those parroting “acceptable” opinions are being allowed a voice.

          In attempting to define what he means by “morality”, Sacks concentrates on his “We-I” contrasting views of how to live the good life. “The “We” basis has fallen into decline,” he maintains, with many an example to prove his point, and the “I” is at the heart of the new morality. “Our children and grandchildren are paying the price of abandoning a shared moral code”.

          In a recent interview, he explained that what made him put pen to paper was his sense that the West is in dark times, and that we have lost sight of the common good and been seduced by individualism.

          The loss of a sense of “we” – what Sacks calls cultural climate change – was caused, he says, by the social revolution of the 1960s, the economic upheaval of the 1980s, and the recent social media revolution with its focus on the presentation of self.

          But Sacks was writing in what might be designated the “BC” era – Before Coronavirus. Many of the deficiencies that he correctly identified as dominating our world up to January 1, 2020 were swept away in the unprecedented pandemic era. The media of the time is filled to overflowing with examples of the “We” approach sweeping all before it. Selfless devotion to community interests manifested itself wherever the coronavirus gained hold and multiplied. In the UK the bitter divisions that had dominated the Brexit debate only a few short weeks before simply faded away.

          Many people believe that once the pandemic has retreated the world will never be the same again. If this proves to be the case, Sacks will surely rejoice that out of evil, the good that he is advocating emerged – that it was lying dormant, only awaiting an opportunity to manifest itself. He says: “We need to recover the sense of ‘all-of-us-together’”. That much-to-be-wished consummation was surely achieved in the periods of lockdown, self-isolation, and soaring hospital admissions, when literally thousands of people, both professionals and next-door neighbours, came forward to bring relief and comfort to people in difficult circumstances. As Sacks says: “Morality is the capacity to care for others. It is a journey beyond the self.” If he saw this quality diminishing in the BC world he was describing, he would surely recognize that it was in full evidence during the pandemic.

          How much of this traditional morality – previously atrophied – will survive is a matter for speculation. Perhaps history will record that it blossomed but briefly, and western society returned unchanged to the BC world that Sacks describes. But perhaps the changes were too profound to be kicked into the side grass, for they were previously unimaginable.
          One area Sacks singles out for scrutiny is economics. He insists that a nation’s economics needs an ethical dimension, that markets were made to serve people, not the other way around. Could anyone have envisaged governments borrowing billions in order to pay wages for workers who were unable to earn a living, and loans and mortgages for companies forced out of business by the virus?

          It is not impossible that the old BC concept of what is owed by government to its citizens has undergone a sea-change, and can never return to what it was.

          Sacks maintains that the future of western civilization depends on the whole population becoming involved in rebuilding our common moral foundation. That, he asserts, is how the general public will come to understand that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, and rich when it cares for the poor. It could be that the coronavirus pandemic that has shaken us to the core has also set us on the path towards achieving Jonathan Sacks’s worthy objective.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Erdogan’s dangerous game

        Russia’s foreign and defense ministers were due to visit Turkey on June 14. At the last minute the visit was called off. No reason was given.

        Relationships between states are notoriously unstable. Old enmities dissolve into new alliances and back again with cynical speed, depending on perceived self-interest. The process is rendered relatively easy when the states in question are ruled by autocratic near-dictators.

        Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is one such. Erdogan is a volatile and unstable element in the Middle East. What Erdogan has sought in his political career first and foremost, is absolute power. He has managed to win something very close to it by outwitting his formidable political opponents, both at home and abroad. Skilfully he managed a constitutional coup which first placed him in the presidency, and then redefined the role, function and powers of the office. Since then he has not hesitated to use his dominant authority to imprison a wide range of political opponents and to cripple or silence as much of the critical media as possible.

        Although Erdogan is the sort of strong man that US President Donald Trump admires, their relationship deteriorated sharply during 2019. What irked Erdogan was US support for the Kurdish fighters who had played such a major role in defeating ISIS in Syria. Because the Kurds aspired for some form of autonomy both in Syria and in Turkey itself, where their demands had sometimes turned violent, Erdogan regarded them as his enemies. At one point the Kurdish issue had US and Turkish troops firing on each other across the Syrian-Turkish border.

        Then, perhaps to demonstrate his determination to pursue an independent line, Erdogan announced that he intended to purchase a Russian S-400 air defense missile system. Turkey is a member of NATO, and at the same time he was trying to buy the latest generation of US stealth jet fighters, the F-35.

        He was attempting the impossible. The S-400 system is specifically designed to detect and shoot down stealth fighters like the F-35. If Turkey acquired both, Russia would be able to learn all about the American-made fighter jets. So when it became clear that Erdogan had no intention of taking US objections into account and was insistent on receiving the Russian ground-to-air missile system, Washington cancelled the F-35 deal.
        And then, suddenly, in October 2019 the wind veered. Had Trump blinked? in a surprise move he succumbed to Erdogan’s urging and pulled American troops away from Syria’s northern border, Many saw the move as a betrayal of the West’s longstanding Kurdish allies.

        The sudden withdrawal cleared the way for Turkey to seize control of a band of Kurdish occupied territory along the border inside Syria – a move, incidentally, agreed with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Also in October the FBI acceded, after years of hedging, to Erdogan’s request for an investigation into the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of masterminding a failed coup in 2016. Moreover Trump has held off imposing sanctions against Turkey for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system. while in Libya he stood aside as Erdogan intervened to support the UN-recognized head of state and prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, against warlord Khalifa Haftar.

        Behind Trump’s change of stance is, perhaps, an attempt to prevent a Turkey-Russia axis developing – a possibility that would not be welcome in Washington. Has he succeeded?

        The Russo-Turkey S-400 deal pulled the two nations into close affinity, but the political situation in Libya perfectly illustrates the convoluted nature of such Middle East relationships. Nominally, Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the conflict. Turkey supports the Government of National Accord (GNA); Russia is backing Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in his bid to conquer Libya and become its leader. When Turkey supplied its state-of-the-art military technology to the GNA, Russia responded by sending fighter jets in support of Haftar’s LNA. 


        Yet the two nations are collaborating closely on attempting to secure an end of the conflict and a negotiated settlement. 

        Talks between Erdogan and Putin back in December 2019, nominally to inaugurate the TurkStream gas pipeline, resulted in a joint statement calling for a cease-fire in Libya. In January Haftar was induced to travel to Moscow to discuss an accommodation, but he backed out. 

        Far from discouraged, Russia pressed ahead. In May the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers agreed on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Libya, and called for a resumption of the UN peace-making effort which had virtually ground to a halt. The same scenario was played out in June. On the 9th, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers agreed to work together to create a peace process in Libya.

        Some observers see disturbing similarities between Libya’s civil war and Syria's. The same foreign powers – Russia, Turkey, Iran – have intervened in pursuit of their own interests. Iran is believed to have supplied Haftar’s LNA with weaponry including anti-tank missiles. Erdogan and Putin may have extended to Libya the deals they made in Syria – for example, the use of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group.

        The BBC finds it significant that Haftar’s pullback from Tripoli, his LNA enhanced by Russian Wagner troops, was not harassed by Turkey's military drones. One commentator believes that Russia and Turkey are trying to carve up long-lasting spheres of influence in Libya, their eyes on the country’s vast oil and gas potential. What is certain is that the two nations have been discussing joint development of aviation and air defense systems This was confirmed on June 2 by the director of Russia’s military-technical co-operation service, Dmitry Shugayev, who went on to say that there was a great deal more potential for collaboration. 

       Turkey, NATO member though it is, has consistently plowed its own furrow, often to the exasperation of fellow members. For example, even when Western countries combined to fight Islamist terror groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, Erdogan continued supporting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. Erdogan’s independent line has already rendered Turkey’s possible inclusion in the European Union a non-starter. How stable is his new-found friendship with Russia? In pursuing his nation’s self-interest as he now sees it, Erdogan is playing a dangerous game.

Published in the MPC Jounal, 19 June 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/erdogans-dangerous-game/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 20 June 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/20062020-erdogans-dangerous-game-analysis/

Published in The Times of Israel, 21 June 2020:
https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/erdogans-dangerous-game/

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

"Annexation" in context

This letter appears in the Daily Telegraph today, 16 June 2020
Sir

The letter from Crispin Blunt and others (June 13)** does not mention “Peace to Prosperity: a vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people” – the plan devised by the Trump administration.  It is within the terms of that plan that any extension of Israel’s sovereignty to parts of the West Bank is contemplated.

The British Government welcomed the American  plan as “a positive step forward”.    Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, described it as “a serious proposal”.  Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz (Israel’s alternating prime ministers) were present when the plan was unveiled at the White House, and both accepted it.

The target of the plan is to achieve a contiguous, viable sovereign Palestine comprising  70 per cent of the West Bank together with a Gaza expanded by three substantial land swaps.

With the deal comes a huge financial boost to the Palestinian Authority, and an economic aid package akin to the Marshall Plan. 

The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE all gave it a reasonable reception, some urging the Palestinians to start negotiating on its basis.

Neville Teller

**It appears under the headline: "Opposing the Israeli government's land grab"

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Assad faces the Syrian people’s fury


Early June saw Syria erupt into nationwide demonstrations against the president, Bashar al-Assad. A beleaguered population, exhausted by years of civil conflict, were at the end of their tether. Spiralling oil and food prices, deteriorating economic conditions and the collapse of the Syrian pound were hitting them hard. Until the civil war began in 2011, about 50 Syrian pounds bought one US dollar. In early June 2020, it took 2500, and the situation was deteriorating fast. 

        Popular demonstrations took place even in As-Suwayda, the Druze-majority province that had remained loyal to Assad throughout the war – and the call from all sides was for Assad to resign. Videos broadcast on social media showed people marching through a market in Suwayda chanting anti-government slogans like "Leave now Bashar", and "The people want the fall of the regime". Other videos showed protesters chanting "Out with Russia. Out with Iran", indicating popular frustration with the foreign powers that were sustaining Assad and his regime.


       Against every expectation back in the early days of the Arab Spring, Assad has not only clung to power but, with the help of Russia and Iran, has managed to claw back about 70 percent of Syria from the ISIS military and the Syrian rebels who rose up against his dictatorial regime in the first instance.

        The US alliance assembled to assist the democracy-demanding rebels was never fully committed. “No boots on the ground” was the understanding, and the assistance was restricted to logistical support and training. The highly successful on-the-ground fighting was left to the Kurdish Peshmerga troops in the Free Syrian army, and they were rewarded late in the day by President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops, and a US-Turkey deal aimed at fragmenting the Kurdish occupied region in north-eastern Syria known as Rojava.

        The purchasing power of incomes within the areas being administered by the Assad regime have plummeted, and the UN says that the number of food-insecure people in the country has risen to more than nine million. Over 80 percent of Syrians are said to be living in poverty. Food, petrol, gas, and other basic goods are in short supply; electricity blackouts are widespread.

        The Damascus regime, under sanctions from both the European Union and the US, has lost 75 percent of its GDP since the war began. In dire financial straits, it might have hoped for relief from one or other of its major allies, Russia or Iran. But both of them, too, are subject to economic sanctions and in no position to extend effective financial support.

        The EU imposed restrictive economic measures against the Syrian regime and its supporters to express its displeasure at “the repression of the civilian population”. Sanctions currently in place include an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, and export restrictions on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression. In addition a travel ban and an asset freeze are in operation against 269 persons and 69 entities in Syria considered to be responsible for the violent repression of the civilian population, benefiting from or supporting the regime, and/or being associated with such persons or entities.

        As for US sanctions, mid-June is when a new batch – imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Law − are due to take effect. Their purpose is to penalise foreign companies that deal with Syrian firms linked with the government. All of which is likely to exacerbate the regime’s economic problems, possibly to breaking point. (“Caesar” is a nod to the pseudonym used by the Syrian military police photographer who smuggled out nearly 55,000 photographs evidencing systematic torture perpetrated by the Assad government in prisons and detention facilities across the country).

        The last time Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, addressed the Security Council was in mid-May 2020. He had few words of comfort to offer. On the contrary, he told them, he had the new crisis of COVID-19 to contend with.

        “The coronavirus,” he said, “has added a new layer to the grave economic predicament.” Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, has appealed to all sanctions-imposing bodies to waive sanctions restricting the ability of countries to fight the pandemic. Pedersen, acknowledging that “relevant States” had given such assurances, said he was closely following their commitments to apply humanitarian exemptions.

       As for his remit under UN Resolution 2254 to facilitate peace talks, Pedersen virtually shrugged his shoulders.

        Which perhaps explains the action taken by Russia on 8 June 2020. Unable to assist with the economic disaster, Syria’s major ally launched a series of air raids on villages in Syria's northwest Idlib province, and on towns bordering neighboring Hama province. At least 12 towns were hit, and two civilians were killed.

        The attacks were the first since the ceasefire, brokered by Turkey and Russia in March 2020, halted a three-month air and ground campaign that killed hundreds of people and created the worst displacement crisis of the 10-year war. Nearly a million people were forced to flee, many seeking shelter in the already overcrowded camps near the sealed border with Turkey.

        This may be a push to try to secure Idlib finally for Assad, mopping up the rebel opposition forces and securing another chunk of pre-civil war Syrian territory for the regime. Even if successful, however, it is not likely to do anything to placate the nation’s fury at Assad and his government for the dire straits into which it has plunged the country. 


Published in the Eurasia Review, 13 June 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/13062020-assad-faces-the-syrian-peoples-fury-analysis/

Published in the MPC Journal, 15 June 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/assad-faces-the-syrian-peoples-fury/