We've long noted that the Israeli security establishment and its neocon allies in Washington are divided between those who would give Bashar Assad a healthy shove and those who would prop him with up as the Devil they know. One faction views him as a bulwark against the jihadists; the other as an ally of Hezbollah even more dangerous to Israel's interests. This is reflected in Washington's "strategy of equivocation," which has over the past five years seen the White House tilt now the rebels, now to the dictatorship. This provides convenient quotes from Israeli officials whenever some conspiranoid wants to prove the "fairy tale" that Israel is backing ISIS and other jihadist factions. One such specimen appeared in the Washington Post Jan. 19, when Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told the audience that if he had to choose between ISIS and Iran as the new power in Syria, he'd "choose ISIS."
What is happening at the northern Syrian town of Azaz, in Aleppo governorate, could prove critical in determining what the role of the Rojava Kurds will be in the Syrian war and revolution. The Kurdish YPG militia took the nearby Menegh air base on Feb. 10. Since then, Turkey has been shelling YPG forces in the area from across the border, and has issued grim warnings. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu threatened to make the Menagh base "unusable" if the YPG does not withdraw, and promised the "harshest reaction" if Kurdish forces try to take Azaz. (BBC News, Feb. 15) Reuters reported Feb. 15 that 14 people were killed in Azaz when missiles hit a school sheltering displaced families. The account implied the missiles were fired by Russia, which makes sense if Azaz is being held by Turkish-backed rebel forces. But all accounts are maddeningly vague on who is in fact holding Azaz...
The Syria "peace" talks have opened in Geneva—without the participation of the Syrian Kurds. Those rebel leaders in attendance will not actually meet face-to-face with Damascus representatives, and are pressing their own demands. Salem al-Meslet, spokesman for the opposition's High Negotiations Committee, uniting most of the rebel factions, told Al Jazeera: "We came here to discuss with the special envoy UN Resolution 2254; lifting the sieges and stopping the crimes done by Russian air strikes in Syria." Syrian opposition activists have taken to social media with a campaign to boycott the talks, which they see as legitimizing a genocidal regime, using the hashtag #DontGoToGeneva. (Middle East Eye, Jan. 26)
Turkey is threatening to boycott UN-backed peace talks on Syria scheduled for later this week if the main Syrian Kurdish party is invited. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said "of course we will boycott" the Geneva talks if the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) are at the table, Cavusoglu said in a TV interview, saying it was a "terror group" like ISIS. "There cannot be PYD elements in the negotiating team. There cannot be terrorist organizations. Turkey has a clear stance." He added: "A table without Kurds will be lacking. However, we are against the YPG and the PYD, who repress Kurds, being at the table..." (Hurriyet Daily News, AFP, Jan. 26) Of course, he didn't say which Kurds should be at the table, and in fact there is no other significant Kurdish force in Syria. We've noted before the Turkish state's sinister game of equating the militantly secular and democratic PYD-YPG—the most effective anti-ISIS force in Syria—with their bitter enemy ISIS. But complicating the situation is that Russia, once again, has come to the defense of the Kurds. Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted Cavusoglu's boycott threat as "blackmail," warning that it would be a "grave mistake" not to invite the PYD. "How can you talk about political reforms in Syria if you ignore a leading Kurdish party?" (ABC, Jan. 26)
Jihadists attacked the Splendid Hotel in the central Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, setting cars ablaze and firing randomly, leaving 28 dead on Jan. 15. All but five of those killed were foreigners. The siege ended with a joint operation by Burkinabe and French commandos, in which at least four assailants were killed—including both Arabs and Black Africans. French special forces are stationed outside Ouagadougou as part of ongoing counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel. In an online statement entitled "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the attack was carried out by "mujahideen brothers" of its West African franchise, al-Mourabitoun. The statement boasted of "many dead Crusaders," although the victims appear to have been entirely civilians. (BBC News, DW, RFI, AP, NYT)
ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated bomb blasts and armed attacks that left at least seven dead—including five assailants—in the Indonesian capital Jakarta Jan. 14. Security forces battled militants for hours in the city's central business and shopping district. The online statement said the attack was carried out by "soldiers of the Caliphate," targeting "citizens of the Crusader coalition" against ISIS. Indonesia is not actually part of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It has been invited to join the new Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, but last month announced that it had not reached a decision to do so. (BBC News, SCD, Australia, Jan. 14; DNK, Pakistan, Dec. 18)
The last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, Faiz Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari, has been repatriated to his home country, the US Department of Defense announced Jan. 8. The Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined in September that "continued law of war detention of Al-Kandari does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Al-Kandari was captured by unnamed Afghans and arrived at Guantánamo in May 2002 after being accused of serving as Osama bin Laden's "advisor and confidant." Kuwaiti authorities said the release showed progress in bilateral relations with the US. The release of all 12 Kuwaiti detainees followed strong efforts by Kuwait and high-profile Washington lawyers to secure their freedom. Al-Kandari is the third detainee to be resettled this week; 104 detainees remain at the detention center.
Two Yemeni men captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantánamo Bay for 14 years have been released to Ghana, officials said Jan. 6. These two are among the 17 detainees scheduled for release this month. The men were suspected of training with al-Qaeda and fighting with the Taliban but were never charged. They had been cleared for release in 2009, but required a host country to accept them before actual release could be ordered.