US Air Force C-17 cargo planes air-dropped arms and other supplies to Syrian rebels on Oct. 13—as Russia continued to carry out air-strikes on Syrian rebels. Media reports are vague on whether the US is dropping aid to the same factions that Russia is bombing. But the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) have announced a new alliance with militias affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight ISIS in the country's northeast. The Pentagon has now officially dropped its failed $500 million plan to train a Syrian rebel proxy force, and will instead use those funds for air-drops to already existing rebel forces.
Moscow's military intervention in Syria took a sobering turn this weekend as Turkey scrambled fighter jets, accusing Russian warplanes of violating its air space. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter, and NATO condemned the incursions as an "extreme danger." (Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Sabah) Apart from the obvious dangers to world peace (such as it is), this development holds grim implications for the Syrian Kurds—the most effective military force on the ground against ISIS. Turkey, afraid that a Kurdish autonomous zone on its southern border will inspire its own Kurdish population to rise up, has been cynically labelling the anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds as "terrorists," and seeking to establish a military "buffer zone" in Kurdish territory in norther Syria. Since Turkey and Russia are bitter regional rivals, Moscow's intervention risks drawing the Kurds into the geopolitical game.
An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)
Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8)
Bibi Netanyahu's polarizing speech before Congress today was basically a repeat of his 2012 performance at the UN, but with the level of doublethink considerably jacked up. It is pretty damn terrifying that his relentless barrage of lies and distortions won virtually incessant applause throughout—although it is a glimmer of hope that some dozen Democrats declined to attend. But most of the outrage has been over Bibi's perceived meddling in the US political process (thanks for playing right into the anti-Semitic stereotype, Bibi, very helpful)—not the outrageous dishonesty of his speech. Here's a few choice chuckles from the transcript...
Organizers are claiming that up to half a million marched in the pouring rain in Buenos Aires Feb. 18 to demand justice in the case of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who was found dead in his apartment exactly one month earlier, just after he had filed a criminal complaint charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (among others) had conspired to cover up Iran's role in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. Although slogans against the government were not heard, the "silent march"—called by a group of prosecutors—was seen as a direct challenge to Fernández de Kirchner's administration. Members of Nisman's family, including his eldest daughter, also attended the march. Opposition parties such as the left-wing Broad Front UNEN and centrist Radical Civil Union (UCR) had a visible presence, but prosecutors who had taken on figures close to the Fernández de Kirchner government won the loudest applause, despite the official "silent" nature of the march. Significantly, the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police—under Mayor Mauricio Macri, who was also at the march—put the figure of attendees at 400,000, while the Federal Police—under Security Secretary Sergio Berni, a member of Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet—estimated only 50,000. (Buenos Aires Herald, BBC News, Feb. 19; InfoBAE, Feb. 18)
Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy in the Shaba'a Farms border area Jan. 28, killing four soldiers. After Israeli forces were hit by missile fire, they responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon. A Spanish UN peacekeeper was accidentally killed by the Israeli return fire. Hezbollah issued a communiqué saying the attack was retaliation for an Israeli air-strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights 10 days ago. Hezbollah said the attack had been carried out by a cell calling itself the "Heroic Martyrs of Quneitra," a reference to the area where the Israeli strike took place on Jan. 18. (BBC News, YNet, Israel, Daily Star, Lebanon, Jan. 28)
Argentine federal prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment late on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head. Nisman had filed a 289-page criminal complaint on Jan. 14 charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and eight others, including two Iranians, had acted to cover up the alleged role of the Iranian government in the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War II. Nisman's death came the day before he was to testify to the National Congress about the charges.