MAS Special ReportLEVANT: Middle East and North Africa

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DSM Special Report - Middle East and North Africa- October 2018 (I)

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. Hamas- Israel. Expecting a humanitarian explosion in Gaza Strip
  2. Extending dislocated Turkish military forces’ mandate/ acting in Iraq and Syria
  3. Everyone bombs Syria. It is, again, Iran’s turn. DSM Special Report
  4. Iraq’s political crisis ends once with president and prime-minister’s designation
  5. The disappearance of a dissident journalist raises a new crisis in Turkish-Saudi Arabia relations


Hamas- Israel. Expecting a humanitarian explosion in Gaza Strip

Although during August and September it was prefigured a treaty between Israel and Hamas group, with Egyptian mediation, the last period was marked by violence’s’ escalation, by marches’ continuation organized by Palestinian militants at the border that separates the enclave from Israel’s territory and by inter-palestinian tensions’ escalation. Enclave’s economic situation was bad enough to ask for emergency measures.

Hence, with UN mediation, it got to Qatar’s approval to provide fuel worth $60 million for the only thermoelectric central in Gaza Strip, which will allow doubling the number of hours per day wherein the palestinian inhabitants benefit of electric power, from 4pm to 8 pm. Gaza’s infrastructure crisis, but also the inter-palestinian misunderstandings, worsens Palestinians situation from this part of territory and creates the proper conditions for a social explosion and a new conflict with Israel.

On 4th of October, general-lieutenant Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of Israeli General Staff of the Army decided to supplement the dislocated forces at the border with Gaza Strip to fight against the nocturnal actions of Hamas militants who organized nocturnal marches and protests towards the separation fence of the palestinian territory, to discourage the construction of an anti-tunnel security structure, that the Israeli part is trying to build on its part of border.

Changing Israelis’ forces harassment and protests tactic, by using nocturnal actions, upkeeps the high tension in Israelis communities, near the border. It also upkeeps the perspective of a new conflict between Israel and Hamas, that none of the parts wants, but it takes only a spark to burst. The National Palestinian Assembly seems not to have the politic and diplomatic capabilities to prevent it, being interested only on internal enemy’s debilitation, Hamas.

The Israeli leaders, but also Hamas ones are aware of situation’s gravity, the last ones not wishing to be repeated the heroical, but tragic, episodes and with direct consequences over Gaza’s inhabitants’ lives, from the previous conflicts.

Hence, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s politic leader, but also brigades’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the second one in Gaza’s Strip politic hierarchy, after Ismail Haniyeh, said recently, at the beginning of October, in an interview for the Italian magazine La Republica, took over also by the Israeli media[1], that Hamas is not interested in a conflict with Israel. Hamas’s leader also said that “an explosion is inevitable in the actual context”. Sinwar never was seen as being part of Hamas’s moderate area, his life sentence to four jail terms being the exact result for capturing and killing two Israeli soldiers. After 22 years of prison, after another bloody conflict with Israel, in 2014, the Palestinian leader says that “the war does not benefit anyone”. On the contrary, Hamas’s main objective is raising the Israeli blockade over Gaza Strip. Stating this, Hamas’s leadership did not stop yet from organizing weekly demonstration at border’s fence, hoping that media’s popularization of the protests will eventually succeed and Israel will adopt a more conciliant position against enclave’s situation. Hamas finds itself in an uncomfortable position also thanks to the pressures from National Palestinian Assembly (NPA), of president Mahmoud Abbas, who acts to get Gaza again under the politic control of NPA.  An agreement between Hams and Israel, with dividends regarding Palestinians from the strip life conditions’ improvement, would fortify Hamas, which is not something that Abbas wants.

Sinwar’s message was about offering peace for a treaty with Israel, mediated by Egypt. It was also one for the international community- Hamas leaders communicate extremely rare with the international media, which makes this interview a particular one- that Hamas accomplishes its part of responsibilities to avoid this conflict.

For the military part, Israel took the necessary measures to discourage the nocturnal infiltrations from Gaza Strip, to diminish the effects of using innovative asymmetrical methods by the Palestinian remonstrant (fire balloons, attached explosives balloons, nocturnal incursions) against the Israeli community, which is near the border. But, as Hamas’s leader was insinuating in the interview, the explosion could not be a military one, but more like a humanitarian crisis one, in the light of the international media. It is a situation that Israel will hardly manage, if not with supplementary efforts, comparing it with a classical military conflict.


  1. Extending dislocated Turkish military forces’ mandate/ acting in Iraq and Syria

On 4th of October, the Turkish Parliament approved the extension of military forces’ mandate, which are dislocated in Iraq and Syria, the legislative document specifying that the measure was taken due to “the continuous presence of terrorist organizations at Turkey’s borders. PKK and ISIS existence in Iraq is a direct threat against the regional peace, Turkey’s stability and security”.

The document initially adopted by the Turkish parliament was offering the Turkish military forces a mandate to act over the border, between 31th of October 2017-31th of October 2018. Meanwhile in Iraq the Turkish objectives are PKK groups from Qandil Mountains and YBS (Shingal Protection Unities) from Shingal/Sinjar area, of Yazidi’s communities, in Syria the situation is more complex. Here, Turkey acts on various fronts, with different methods:

  • In Idlib’s enclave tries to implement an agreed treaty with Russia, by which the moderate rebel Syrian forces to regroup in order to isolate the radical groups, like Tahrir al-Sham/HTS, Al-Qaida franchise and to create the necessary conditions for solving the extremely complex situation in the area. It is an almost impossible situation;
  • In Mandij area, where they try, with US’s forces coordination, kurdish forces’ elimination. For now, US have responded to Turkish demands to organize common patrols, with the local bilateral treaty from June 2018, but it did not pass also at the next phase, to support the evacuation of the Kurdish forces. Hence, according to the foreign affairs Turkish minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, there is a certain delay, but the important thing is, according to him, that Turkey and US are cooperating. The objective is area’s liberation of the kurdish forces and its passing under inhabitants’ administrative control. The inhabitants will be, for sure, groups supported by Ankara, more or less local.
  • East Euphrates, where Turkey has for now only objectives, but not dislocated forces. Ankara would like here for US to give up supporting the Democratic Syrian Forces/majoritarian kurdish/majoritarian YPG (a group which is avowed as terrorist by the Turkish).

Antiterrorist operations, in the country, but also outside the Turkish borders, are upmost for the Turkish government, Turkish defence minister, Hulusi Akar, stating on 5th of October, during the visit to one of the Turkish soldiers’ families killed in a PKK’s attack: “Turkey will continue the fight against terror until the last terrorist will be neutralized. We cannot stop or wait”.  

In an obvious coordination with minister’s statement, the General Turkish Staff of the Army made the appraisal of a fight week, 28.09-04.10, against the terrorist groups, specifying, as expected, the positive aspects: 12 “neutralized” terrorists on the Turkish territory, 56 neutralized terrorists on the Iraqi territory. The “neutralized” term is used by the Turkish officials to describe the capture, surrender or the execution of accused people for terrorist actions.

  1. Everyone bombs Syria. It is, again, Iran’s turn. DSM Special Report

In a punishing operation of the supposed authors of the military parade attack from 22th of September, from Ahvaz city, as well as of their eternal inspirers, Iran attacked with ballistic missiles locations from east of Syria. The press release of Iranian Revolutionary Guards from 1st of October says declamatory: “Our iron fist is ready to provide a crushing answer to enemy’s any knavery”.

The attack took place during the night, at 2am, over the “takfir” bases/ ISIS militants in the official Iranian terminology, supported by “America and other regional powers”. And the Iranian press release details: “at least six missiles were launched to Syria. Other six drones were used for bombing rebels’ targets to destroy the provisions deposits and the infrastructure used by the group” (ISIS. n.n.).

In a media setting-up, the attack was presented at the Iranian television, starting with the launch moment, from a missiles base placed in west of the country, in Kermanshah province, continuing with following missile’s trajectory over Iraq’s central area, Tikrit village, until its impact with the supposed targets, near the Syrian city Al Bukamal, south-east Syria.

It is not the first Iranian attack of such type over Syria’s territory, but it was the most elaborated and publicized. The message was: Iran has “the ability and military power to hit any target that is a threat against it”.

The Syrian media reacted belatedly at the missiles attack made by an allied of Damask. If it bombs Syria’s enemies and Assad’s president ones, Israel, one of the antiterrorist coalition’s states, why would not do it also the allies- Russia anyway thoroughly executed bombing operations-, especially when it wants to send a message which is not addressed to Damask. So, from Teheran, came the confirmation that the Iranian ballistic missiles can hit also targets outside the national territory. For now, somewhere in the desert.


  1. Iraq’s political crisis ends once with president and prime-minister’s designation

Bagdad’s Parliament appointed Barham Saleh, on Tuesday (2th of October) to be state’s president. After less than two hours, although he had a 15 days term, the new chief of state gave the prime-minister mandate to Abdul Mahdi, Shiite independent politician, this way ending the political crisis from Iraq after the inconclusive election results from May.

According to the Iraqi political system adopted after ending Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003, country’s president, with more like a symbolic role, must be member of the Kurdish minority, parliament’s president- a Sunni, and the prim-minister, who has the executive power, a Shiite.

Barham Saleh[2], representative of Kurdistan’s Patriotic Union (KPU), was vice-prime-minister of Iraq and prime-minister of Kurdistan, he got 219 votes, and his contestant, Fuad Hussein, from Kurdistan’s Democratic Party (KDP), only 22. Hussein’s defeat is a hard blow for Massoud Barzani, the ex-president of autonomous Kurdistan, whose independency referendum from 2017 was a total fiasco.

Saleh is seen as a moderate person, unlike Hussein, who was for a decade the chief of Cabinet for the radical kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani.

Abdul Mahdi[3], was also finance minister between 2004-2005, vice-president of Iraq in 2006-2011 and oil minister in 2014-2016.

Mahdi has 30 days for the difficult tasks to establish a government to be approved by the legislative, considering some fragmented parliamentary coalitions.

Mahdi was nominated by the main rival Shiite political blocks, one led by the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the prime-minister Haider al-Abadi, and the other one, by militias’ leader supported by Iran, Hadi al-Ameri, and the ex-prime-minister, Nuri al-Maliki. Al-Ameri and al-Maliki are the most important supporters of Iran from Iraq, al-Abadi was seen as Washington’s favorite candidate, and al-Sadr considers himself a nationalist, opposing US and Iran’s influence.

Both blocks political demands regarding the parliamentary majority and the incertitude about new government’s elements determined tensions’ increase among the population, in a period when the Iraqi have more and more complaints about the lack of basic services’ strictness, the increased dole rate and country’s slow reconstruction progress.

Getting to an agreement regarding the support of the same candidate for the prime-minister position, seen as a compromise solution, calmed the dispute between the two blocks; according to the political Iraqi analyst Ahmed Younis, “assigning Abdul Mahdi is the best solution to please the Shiite groups, who were almost about to develop an unsolvable intra-Shiite conflict. By nominating the independent candidate, Abdul Mahdi, there are no winners or losers, so everyone will be content with this solution”.

If prime-minister’ assignation managed to calm the Shiite tensions, electing Barham Saleh as president increases the inter-Kurdish tensions. The presidency was strongly debated by the two main Kurdish parties, PDK and UPK, without getting to an agreement over a common representative, as it would traditionally happen. Thus, electing Saleh, raises concerns regarding Kurdistan’s destabilization because of the increased tensions between PDK and UPK.

The main challenges the new prime-minister will face, apart from government’s creation, are country’s reconstruction after four years of war with Islamic State’s militants, calming the internal ethical and religious tensions and balancing the external relations between the two major allies of Iraq, Iran and the US, caught in a conflictual relation, which is more and more complicated.

What would be new prime-minister’s best cards? Considering his previous activity and experience in leading some ministries, Mahdi could be seen as a quasi-technocrat. It seems to cope with both Shiite political blocks, but without being member of one of it, it could not be accused for favoring in portfolios’ allocation from the new Cabinet. Theoretically, this position makes him rather opened to saadrists pressure to allocate the best positions to some technocrats with practical expertise, which should be more capable of managing Iraq’s social and economic issues, than the experienced politicians and to regain population’s trust in leading the country. Mahdi showed, in early times, sympathy for the Sunni and has tied connections with important Sunni politicians, admitting their complain reasons and, probably, he is more appropriate than his predecessors in building bridges over the sectarian divisions and to create a really reconciliation between the Shiite and the Sunni.

Also, the new prime-minister is not adversarial to Kurdish region, supporting, in the past, Erbil’s demands to organize a referendum to passing Kirk under his jurisdiction.

On the other hand, Abdul Mahdi is close to Washington, but also to Teheran.

Still, it is important not to pass over the fact that a technocrat Cabinet is not the cure-all for Iraq’s issues. It needs more than a government to destroy the infiltrated influence networks in all central administration’s echelons. What would Mahdi manage to do in those 30 days to create the new Cabinet will actually offer Iraq’s short-term future prognosis and its chances to get over the current political and socio-economic crisis. Creating a new government will show if the new prime-minister will succeed in negotiating country’s leadership strategy beyond the conflictual interests and the ethnic-sectarian policies.


  1. The disappearance of a dissident journalist raises a new crisis in Turkish-Saudi Arabia relations

A Saudi journalist, known as one of the most vocal critics of Riyadh’s regime, disappeared after a visit at his country’s consulate from Istanbul, raising serious concerns about its safety and also raising diplomatic’ dialogue temperature between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Jamal Khashoggi [4], a prominent commentator who was regularly writing articles for Washington Post, entered in the diplomatic Saudi mission from Istanbul, Tuesday (2th of October) after launch, for a visit regarding his divorce certification, then being planned to get married to his turkish fiancé. She waited him outside the mission, and after 12 hours she asked the police for help.

Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia more than a year ago for an auto-imposed exile in the US, where he started to criticize Riyadh’s regime policy and its promoter, prince Mohammed bin Salman. In one of his articles published last year, he was saying that “he left his country to raise his voice. To do otherwise would mean to betray the ones who are in prison. I can speak what others cannot”. Previously, the journalist expressed his concerns regarding its safety in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, Saudi authorities issued a press release wherein they announced that the journalist disappeared after leaving the consulate in the previous day and that they are collaborating with the turkish authorities to find him. In reply, turkish police’s officials announced that they think that the journalist is still inside the building, where the police cannot investigate without an invitation from the Saudis.

Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister invited the Saudi ambassador to debate the problem, and Friday the Saudi prince, Mohammed bin Salman, announced in an interview for Bloomberg that the Turkish authorities can make investigations inside the saudi consulate building from Istanbul. Bin Salman also stated for Bloomberg: “he is a saudi citizen and we really want to know what happened to him. We will continue the dialogue with the turkish government to find out what happened to Jamal there. As far as I know, he entered and got out from there after some minutes or an hour. I am not sure. We are investigating it with the foreign affairs minister”.

Saturday (6th of October), Reuters reporters toured the consulate to make sure the saudi journalist is not inside, and the turkish attorneys opened an investigation. Sources quoted by The Guardian said that the journalist might have been killed, after he was tortured (without any evidence), and its body was transferred from the mission.

Sunday, the police announced that they have proofs which indicate that Jamal Khashoggi may have been killed. According to them, a team of 15 Saudis entered in the country on 29th of September to be present in consulate’s building when Khashoggi disappeared.  It is for the first time when the turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, publicly intervened and expressed his anguish about the case, but he also stated that he will wait for police’s investigations results.

Monday (8th of October), the saudi ambassador was invited again at the turkish Foreign Affairs Minister to ask for saudi’s part cooperation to solve the case, including his permission to investigate inside the consulate.

Killing a saudi dissident on Turkey’s territory will only worsen the relations between the two states. Turkey was on Qatar’s site in the problems that hey have with Saudi Arabia and the other neighbors, and Turkey’s closeness to Iran frustrated the Riyadh government. The turkish authorities transmitted that the investigation will ample and that this is a very important case for the government. Guran Kislakci, Turkish-Arab Media Association’s president, stated for New York Times that the turkish policemen who are guarding the consulate checked the recordings captured by the video cameras, and the journalist was not seen leaving the building. He added that in the recordings can be seen many cars entering and getting out of diplomatic mission’s compound.

Involving the turkish president in this scandal shows the importance that Ankara has for this case and the potential deterioration of the relations between both countries.

Erdogan stated that Saudi Arabia must prove that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi left consulate’s building, as the Saudis say. Also, Erdogan said that the police, the information services and the attorneys are investigating this case and he guaranteed that he will personally keep an eye on the investigation. “They cannot just get rid of it, saying that he left”, said the turkish president, who was in a visit in Hungary.


[2] Informatics engineer, graduated in Great Britain, 58 years old.

[3] Economist, 76 years old, he auto-exiled in France in 1968, where he worked for many think-tanks and edited newspapers in French and arabian. He is the son of a reputable shiite cleric, who was a minister during the iraqi monarchy which was overthrown in 1958.

[4] With over 1, 6 million readers on Twitter, Khashoggi is a prolific commentator in written press and television. He became famous for some interviews with Osama bin Laden. Also, he was media consultant for Turki al-Faisal prince, during its general director position for the Saudi Information Service.