Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Yemen's double civil war

        The unhappy war-torn state of Yemen is now split four ways. Not only are rival governments – one backed by a Saudi-UAE (United Arab Emirates) coalition, the other by the Iranian-supported Houthis – fighting for control of the country as a whole, but South Yemen has seceded from the north and declared self-rule.

        To further complicate the situation, the south Yemen separatists are supported by the UAE. Which is odd, because the UAE is also battling the Houthis on behalf of Yemen’s government led by President Abdrabbu Mansur Hadi, which has condemned the separatist move as "catastrophic and dangerous".

        South Yemen’s unilateral declaration of independence does not come out of the blue. For more than 20 years South Yemen (or the People's Republic of Southern Yemen), was an independent Marxist–Leninist one-party state, supported by the Soviet Union. It was the only communist state to be established in the Arab world.

        Relations between the two Yemens deteriorated, and in 1972 they took up arms against each other. A ceasefire, brokered by the Arab League, included the aspiration of unification in due course. It took a further 18 years of military and political in-fighting before that aspiration was realized, but in 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union imminent, South Yemen united with the north to form the Unified Republic of Yemen. Ali Abdallah Saleh, who had been president of North Yemen since 1978, was proclaimed president of the newly united state.

        It was an uneasy marriage. After only four years, the south tried to break away again. A short civil war ended with the south being overrun by northern troops.

        Saleh became a victim of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. He gave up the keys of office to Hadi with a very bad grace, and was quite prepared to ally himself with his erstwhile enemies, the Houthis, in an attempt to manoeuvre his way back to power. The Yemeni military, including its air force, had remained largely loyal to Saleh. As a result, and supported with military hardware from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Houthis overran large tracts of the country, including the capital city, Sana’a.

        The subsequent turn of events seems depressingly familiar in the context of Yemen’s long history. Saudi Arabia, determined to prevent Iran from extending its footprint into the Arabian peninsula, intervened in March 2015 to beat back the Houthis. Saudi’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, assembled a coalition of Arab states, obtained the diplomatic backing of the US, UK, Turkey and Pakistan, and launched a series of air strikes against the rebels.

        The unconventional Saleh-Houthi partnership came to an abrupt end on December 2, 2017, when Saleh went on television to declare that he was splitting from the Houthis and was ready to enter into dialogue with the Saudi-led coalition. This volte-face was to end in tragedy. On December 4, Saleh's house in Sana'a was besieged by Houthi fighters. Attempting to escape, he was killed.

        Once ignited, the yearning for self-determination is not easily extinguished. South Yemen’s aspirations for a return to autonomy remained strong. In 2017-18 south Yemen leaders tried again. Hadi had re-located his internationally recognized government to Aden, the focal point of south Yemen. It chanced that Aden’s governor was a strong supporter of the southern separatists. In due course Hadi sacked him, and he promptly joined the rebels and helped set up the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a body designed to administer Yemen’s southern provinces.

        Clashes in January 2018 resulted in the death of 38 people. Another outbreak of violence in August 2019 caused 40 dead. The UAE could not continue to run with the fox while hunting with the hounds – supposedly supporting Hadi in re-establishing the national government of Yemen, while at the same time supported the STC in seeking to establish South Yemen as a separate state.

        What followed was bizarre. In September 2019, following substantial military gains by the southern separatists with UAE support, Saudi Arabia put its foot down. Saudi demanded that the UAE return captured military and civilian facilities to the Hadi administration, warning that otherwise their UAE allies would be "dealt with firmly". Insisting that there is "no alternative to the legitimate government", Saudi called for dialogue.

        The two sides held indirect negotiations under Saudi mediation. On October 14, in a bid to defuse tensions between separatists and the government, the UAE handed over to Saudi forces key positions in Aden, including an airbase and the international airport,

        On October 25, the two sides announced a power-sharing agreement, which was signed in Riyadh on November 5. The details are unclear, but it was reported that, as part of the arrangement, the STC had been accorded a number of government ministries.

        The deal quickly unraveled. The attempt to construct a cabinet with fair southern representation foundered, and efforts to reorganize military forces were abortive. When it was clear that the agreement was dead in the water, on April 26, 2020, the STC declared self-rule for the south. "A self-governing committee,” it announced, “will start its work in line with a list of tasks assigned by the council's presidency,"

        The glue binding the two geographical areas of Yemens has come unstuck. Meanwhile the two administrations – one based in Sana’a, the other in Aden – are nowhere near an understanding. Now the situation in that unhappy country is further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.

        As yet unaware of the impending southern breakaway, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on April 16: “Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time – a war and a pandemic. And the new battle that Yemen faces in confronting the virus will be all-consuming. We can do no less than stop this war and turn all our attention to this new threat.”

        His peacekeeping task now has not one, but two added complications

Published in The Times of Israel, 30 April 2020:

Published in Eurasia Review, 2 May 2020:

Friday, 24 April 2020

What Iran really wants

        On April 14, Iranian troops boarded and briefly held a Hong Kong-flagged tanker and its Chinese crew in the Straits of Hormuz. The next day eleven vessels from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy approached six US military ships while they were conducting integration operations with Army helicopters in international waters. The US ships issued several warnings through bridge-to-bridge radio and blasts from the ships' horns and the Iranian vessels left after about an hour.

        These are only the most recent, and comparatively mild, harassments the Iranian regime has been indulging in ever since its founding in 1979, For the past 41 years the world has grappled with problems emanating from the Iranian regime either directly or initiated through its proxy militias like Hezbollah or the Houthis. Bombings, rocket attacks, assassinations and terrorist actions in the Middle East and across the world has been the pattern. For decades Iran also made determined efforts to develop nuclear power, with the aim – never openly acknowledged – of producing nuclear weapons. The present regime is almost certainly still set on achieving that objective.

        In 2015, in an attempt to cripple its nuclear programme, the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran. No doubt all those involved, including then-US President Barak Obama, had the best of intentions. With that deal – which incorporated a substantial financial boost to Iran – they believed they had put the regime’s nuclear ambitions on hold for at least 15 years, making the world a safer place. Moreover they believed that they had taken an important step toward bringing Iran back within the comity of nations.

        They were mistaken. “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015,” said President Donald Trump, speaking on January 8, 2020, “and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying "thank you" to the United States, they chanted "death to America." In fact, they chanted "death to America" the day the agreement was signed. Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.”

        The problem that Iran poses to the civilized world stems entirely from the Islamic revolutionary regime that the nation wished on itself back in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini, the figurehead for Iran’s new direction, became Supreme Leader in December 1979. His philosophy, which he wrote about nearly 40 years before, required the immediate imposition of strict Sharia law domestically, and a foreign policy aimed at spreading the Shi’ite interpretation of Islam across the globe by whatever means were deemed expedient.
        “We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” he declared. “Until the cry 'There is no god but Allah' resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.” 

        Pursuit of this fundamental objective of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state in undertaking or sponsoring acts of terror, mayhem and murder directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shia Muslims as well. 

        Khomeini was unequivocal about the basic purpose of his regime. “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam and the suppression of the rule of the world conquerors.”

        This partly explains Iran’s unremitting hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia. With Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, the Saudi kingdom sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world – a claim hotly contested by Iran. The regime sees Saudi Arabia as its great rival for political, as well as religious, hegemony in the region. In 1987 the regime’s founder, its first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared that Mecca was in the hands of “a band of heretics”.

        About the basic purpose of the regime, this is what Khomeini declared: “We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world. We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”

        In short, a clear-eyed look at the facts shows that a genuine accommodation with revolutionary Iran is simply not possible. From their point of view it would be a negation of the fundamental purposes underlying the regime – its very raison d’être

Published in The Times of Israel, 23 April 2020:

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Corbyn's successor

This article of mine appears in the edition of The Jerusalem Report dated 4 May 2020

          The long-drawn-out process of electing a new leader for Britain’s Labour party reached its climax on April 4, when the result of the membership ballot was announced. Sir Keir Starmer won on the first count, with well over 50% of the vote, and is now Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

          The contest had been triggered by the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn who, in December 2019, had led his party to its worst general election defeat since 1935. By the time the membership vote for leader was held, the original five contestants had been whittled down to three, and in a curious way they represented – in much of the public’s mind, at least – the three strands that made up the post-Corbyn Labour party.

          Rebecca Long-Bailey was widely seen as the hard-left “Corbyn continuity” candidate. She made no secret of the fact that she was the main author of the Labour manifesto that had led to the party’s disastrous general election result, but stoutly maintained throughout her campaign that she stood by its policies which, she declared, were popular with a large sector of the public, maintaining that the Labour rout had been due to a variety of other factors. If elected leader, she vowed to continue to promote them.

          Defending what might be called the centre ground during the leadership campaign was Lisa Nandy. She could best be described as a principled left-leaning social democrat, who became so disenchanted with Corbyn’s leadership that she resigned from his shadow Cabinet in 2016, and supported a rival in the subsequent leadership contest. Later she became Chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, a parliamentary organization supporting Palestinian rights and lobbying for the UK to recognize a State of Palestine. In her bid for the votes of the party membership, which is strongly pro-Corbyn, Nandy – like her two rivals – had to stand by most of the policies contained in the Labour manifesto. Nandy gave the impression that she would actually seek to implement many of them.

          Sir Keir Starmer, who has emerged as the winner of the contest, while never disowning the batch of policies which had so failed to impress the British electorate, never denied that he would seek to lead Labour in a new direction. He insisted throughout that if elected he would seek to leave his own stamp on the party. While Starmer never uttered a word against the hard-left clique known as Momentum – the group that had projected Corbyn into the leadership and then seized the reins of power within the party – there was a widespread belief that he would seek to loosen their grip, and eventually replace them.

          The one matter on which all three candidates agreed was the urgent need to tighten the party’s handling of antisemitism within its ranks. Nandy waxed truly eloquent during the campaign on her solidarity with Britain’s Jewish community, and the need to cleanse Labour’s Augean stable of its antisemitism. Her most powerful speech, perhaps, was made to the Jewish Labour Movement, which went on to endorse her candidacy. She had already unveiled her own strategy for dealing with the problem – a document titled 'Tackling Antisemitism: An action plan for our party'. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently conducting a prolonged investigation into antisemitism within the Labour party, and Nandy said that as leader she would accept any recommendations it made. She would also set up a new, independent process for handling antisemitism complaints. In a direct swipe at Corbyn and those around him, Nandy said there had been a "failure or refusal to grapple with this at the highest levels in the party over the last four years.”

          Sir Keir Starmer’s affiliations with Britain’s Jewish community are close. He married into a Jewish family and has a son and a daughter who may therefore be halachically Jewish. Whenever possible he participates in Friday-night dinners at which his Jewish father-in-law recites the blessings. Family relationships are close. He participates in barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals, and attends synagogue for family occasions.

          When asked point-blank at one hustings if he was a Zionist, Starmer demurred, but said: “I believe in the state of Israel, and as a secure homeland for its people. If the definition of Zionist is someone who believes in the state of Israel, in that sense I’m a Zionist.” He has a number of extended family members living in Tel Aviv.

          Starmer has vowed to restore what he describes as Labour’s “important relationship” with the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. Just ahead of the general election ballot last December, Mirvis issued an unprecedented statement on behalf of Britain’s Jews, asserting that “a new poison” had taken hold in Labour, “sanctioned from the very top”, and that Jeremy Corbyn was “unfit for public office”. He virtually urged the Jewish community not to vote Labour.

          “I certainly would not want that to happen ever again,” said Starmer.

          Starmer believes there is still a massive problem with antisemites within Labour. “They have to be dealt with robustly and swiftly,” he has said, “and there’s no reason they can’t be.” He advocates removing anyone swiftly from the Labour Party ”for being clearly antisemitic.” 

          He has said that one giant test of his ability to lead Labour will be how he goes about rebuilding trust with Britain’s Jewish community. He promised to be “on the front foot” over the issue from the very start.

          “I will be wanting those reports on my desk regularly,” he said. “And by that I don’t mean every six months, I mean every week. My experience leading the Crown Prosecution Service and as Director of Public Prosecutions is if you want to demonstrate your values and cultural change within the organization, you have to model it. And I think the leader of the Labour party has a personal duty to rebuild that faith, that trust with the Jewish community.”

          As an earnest of the importance he places on the issue, he made a point of mentioning it in the first speech he gave after his election as leader.

          “Antisemitism has been a stain on our party,” he said. “I have seen the grief that it's brought to so many Jewish communities. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry. And I will tear out this poison by its roots, and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”

          Keir Starmer, who is 58, was born in London and was named after the first Labour member of parliament, Keir Hardie. At university he graduated with a first class law degree, and then undertook postgraduate studies at Oxford, graduating in 1986.

          The following year he became a barrister (the US equivalent is attorney or counsel), and worked mainly on human rights issues. In 2002 he was appointed Queen's Counsel (QC), and in 2007 was named "QC of the Year". In July 2008 he was appointed Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions, and was awarded a knighthood in 2014 for "services to law and criminal justice".

          Elected to the House of Commons in 2015, Starmer was immediately brought into the shadow Cabinet by Corbyn as shadow Immigration Minister. Like Lisa Nandy, he resigned the following year in protest at Corbyn's leadership, but unlike Nandy, once Corbyn had won his second leadership contest, Starmer agreed to serve under him, and accepted appointment as shadow Brexit Secretary.

          During the course of the campaign Long-Bailey and Nandy indicated that, if asked, they would be happy to serve under the leadership of any of the other candidates. Starmer was more equivocal, though in the event both Long-Bailey and Nandy were offered places in his Shadow Cabinet. One startling possibility did, however, emerge. On 20 February Jeremy Corbyn was reported as saying that he would be happy to serve in any future shadow Cabinet if the new Labour leader asked him to do so.

          The one contender to take up the offer was, unsurprisingly, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who suggested that she would offer Corbyn a post if she became leader. One “Corbynista” contender for deputy leader had already said he would like Corbyn to be shadow foreign secretary. The very idea of Jeremy Corbyn remaining in the shadow cabinet would have been hugely controversial, especially within the Jewish community. It would have incensed those who believed Corbyn was one of the main reasons for the party's shattering defeat. The likelihood of Starmer taking up Corbyn’s offer at any time seems remote in the extreme.

          Now Keir Starmer sets out on the difficult uphill path of reshaping Labour into a political party capable of winning back the trust of the British electorate. Given Boris Johnson’s overwhelming victory at the last general election, and the public confidence he has gained for the way he and his government have been handling the coronavirus emergency, it seems unlikely that Labour will succeed before the next general election, which is less than five years away. Keir Starmer is probably in for a long haul.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 23 April 2020:

Published in The Times of Israel, 28 April 2020:

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

A glimmer of hope for Iraq

             It was back in September 2019 that anti-government protests began sweeping across Iraq. Eventually many of the nation’s cities were almost in lockdown. The demonstrations were an expression of genuine popular dissatisfaction with the corruption, inefficiency and failure of Iraq’s politicians and ruling class. Popular sentiment was well aware of the stranglehold that Iran had gained over Iraq’s political class. For months, in unprecedented displays of anti-Iran sentiment, demonstrators in the capital had been chanting “Out, out, Iran! Baghdad will stay free!” 

          The vast majority of demonstrators were young, and their lot was bleak. Despite Iraq’s petroleum wealth, young Iraqis have a one-in-five chance of living below the poverty line. One in four young people is unemployed.

          The rallies quickly turned violent as the government – largely by way of Iran-backed groups under the overall command of Qasem Soleimani – responded with attempted assassinations, kidnappings of prominent activists and a ruthless crackdown on protesters. The security forces, or Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), killed over 500 protesters, most of them unarmed civilians. Well over 27,000 were wounded.

          A late-comer to Iraq’s chaotic scene was the influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of Sairoon, the largest coalition bloc in parliament. He seized the opportunity provided by the public reaction to the US assassination of Soleimani on Iraqi soil on 3 January 2020.

          On 5 January, the Iraqi parliament backed a resolution that all foreign troops – including 5,200 US soldiers – leave the country. Al-Sadr called on the nation to participate in a million-man march. People responded, but certainly not to the extent that he had urged.

          Al-Sadr’s efforts to rouse the nation received something of a setback on January 22 when Iraqi President Barham Saleh met US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Much to the dismay of the pro-Sadr protesters, the two leaders agreed on the need to keep US forces in Iraq.

          The chaos and the demonstrations continued, and finally prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned.

          Months of stalemate ensued. Two nominated prime ministers failed, one after another, to form a government. The leadership vacuum was only exacerbating the country’s severe economic problems and the crisis of the coronavirus epidemic as it hit Iraq.

          Finally on 9 April President Saleh tasked Iraq’s head of Intelligence, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, with becoming head of the government and leading the country forward.

          Unusually, and surprisingly, Kadhimi's appointment was welcomed across the political spectrum, from the UN to Iran and even by the Kurdish political parties. His name had been floated as possible prime minister back in December, but at that time pro-Iranian groups opposed him. Now influential Shia cleric al-Sadr was welcoming, portraying him as a positive and potentially unifying choice. Generally hailed as he has been, a certain amount of speculation persists as to whether Kadhimi is close to Iran, more of an Iraqi nationalist, or something else, not quite specified. Perhaps he is content to leave his exact stance somewhat equivocal. In any event, he now has 30 days to submit his cabinet line-up to the 329-member parliament for a vote of confidence. 

          Mustafa al-Kadhimi was born in 1967 in Kadhimiya in northern Baghdad. He began studying law in Baghdad, but in 1985 fled the country and settled in Britain. Over the next twenty years or so he built a career as a journalist. He moved over to the US for a spell, working at the Iraq Memory Foundation in Washington DC , and then came back to the UK.

          Finally Kadhimi returned to Iraq, where he completed a law degree in 2012. He then worked as a journalist and editor for the website Al Monitor, before being appointed in 2016 by then prime minister Haider al-Abadi as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). His tenure was marked by his success in turning around an institution mired in corruption when he took it over.

          Kadhimi’s greatest strength is, perhaps, that he is not, and never has been, a politician – the class reviled in the public mind for graft, venality and inefficiency, and for being largely puppets of Iran. As a result he has garnered more support from protesters than his predecessors, actual and designated, ever could.

          Of course his non-partisan situation has both pluses and minuses. He comes with fewer strings attached and threatens no group, but were he to become prime minister he would lack a loyal power base. That all Shi’ite political parties have agreed on a prime minister-designate is hopeful. It is the first time they have come to a consensus on a candidate who is non-Islamist and believes in freedom and in rooting out corruption.

          Kadhimi certainly faces formidable challenges. The internal civil and political problems that had led to the mass protests of the past six months or more remain unresolved. The collapse of world oil prices is exacerbating the already massive economic problems faced by the country, and there is the coronavirus crisis to manage. Iraq is on the upward curve of new cases and deaths, and there is a popular demand for both to be tackled effectively. The question of the hour is whether prime minister-designate Kadhimi will be able to get a government approved in the next 30 days.

Published by The Times of Israel, 17 April 2020:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 21 April 2020:

Sunday, 5 April 2020

A future for the Kurds in post-war Syria?

        The Kurdish people – some 35 million strong – are the largest stateless nation in the world. Historically they inhabited a distinct geographical area flanked by mountain ranges, once referred to as Kurdistan. Now it falls within the sovereign space of four separate states: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is there that most Kurds live, the four communities separated from one another, but there is also a Kurdish diaspora spread across Europe, the Trans-Caucasus and central Asia. 

        Around 12 million Kurds live within Turkey’s borders. Another 6 million are trapped inside Iran’s extremist Shi’ite regime. Iraq’s 6 million Kurds, up in the north of the country, have developed the near autonomous state of Kurdistan. The 2 million Kurds in Syria, forming the country’s largest minority, have also established a self-governing area, but a precarious one. Syria’s Kurdish region, known as Rojava, occupies some 20 percent of pre-civil war Syria. It is constantly threatened, or under actual attack, by the Turks; its leaders can no longer rely on the support of their erstwhile US allies; and its overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim people face a hostile Shia Iran seeking to incorporate Syria into its sphere of influence.

        In Syria the civil war, starting in 2011, provided the Kurds – long the victims of discrimination – with an unforeseen opportunity. The internal situation quickly deteriorated, government forces were overwhelmed, and the Kurdish element of the opposition began seizing control of territory in the north of the country. In mid-2012 Syrian government troops withdrew from three mainly Kurdish areas.

        As Syria descended into total chaos, the militant Islamic State (ISIS) overran and captured large areas of the country. Iran backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in opposing them. The highly effective Kurdish Peshmerga forces, with the logistical support of a Western coalition led by the US, opposed both ISIS and Assad. As the Kurds slowly pushed ISIS back, Rojava expanded. The Kurdish region reached its apogee in October 2016, by which time the Kurds had conquered a huge area running almost the complete length of the Syrian-Turkish border. What they had failed to do was to link their consolidated area in the north-east with the whole of Afrin province in the north-west, of which they held only part.

        The strengthening Kurdish presence alarmed Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He consistently maintained that the Kurdish military forces were dominated by the PKK, his political opponents at home who supported Kurdish autonomy, and had occasionally resorted to violence. Erdogan determined to weaken the Kurdish presence along his southern border.

        Accordingly he has launched three military incursions into northern Syria since 2016, and has succeeded in progressively reducing Kurdish control of the region. In 2019 he persuaded President Trump to stand aside as he created what he termed a buffer zone out of part of Rojava, and he has threatened to flood the area with some of the 4 million Syrians who have fled the civil war and sought refuge in Turkey.

        Nevertheless Erdogan’s position is difficult. He has no legal right to be occupying Syrian soil, and the Kurds are determined to defend their hard-won autonomy. Until recently they have depended on their alliance with the US, but Trump’s deal with Erdogan left them feeling betrayed.

        “In light of the invasion by Turkey,” said Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Kurds’ Syrian Democratic Forces recently, “and the existential threat its attack poses for our people, we may have to reconsider our alliances.”

        The Kurdish leaders understand that Trump is anxious to withdraw US troops from Syria as soon as possible, but certainly do not want him to do so at the expense of their own people. Knowing that Turkey has subjected its Kurdish minority in the past to treatment amounting to ethnic cleansing, they are determined to resist any further incursion by Erdogan into Kurdish-occupied Syria.

        “We do not trust the Russians and the Syrian regime,” says Abdi, but the Kurds have responded to olive branches held out to their negotiators about a possible post-war accommodation.

       On July 27, 2018, in response to an invitation from the Syrian government, a Kurdish delegation arrived in Damascus to hold direct talks – their first official visit to the Syrian government. The day before the delegation travelled to the Syrian capital, it announced that Kurdish forces were ready to join any military operation by government forces aimed at retaking the Kurdish area of Afrin.

        The Kurdish administration in Rojava – known since 2012 as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) – are not seeking independence, but a degree of autonomy. Both they and Assad understand that, if it is granted, a huge chunk of what was originally sovereign Syria would be brought within some form of government control. The Kurds hope it would be akin to the arrangement in Iraq where an autonomous Kurdistan operates in alliance with the government. From Assad’s point of view, such a deal would mean that his regime, and he himself as its President, would acquire substantial additional political support − vital if ever events force a presidential election on him as part of a peace deal. In short, both parties stand to gain from an accord.

        This is why the Kurdish military leader, Abdi, has said: “The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection.,,We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them. But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.”

Published in The Times of Israel, 10 April 2020:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 11 April 2020:

Published in the MPC Journal, 14 April 2020: