Category Archives: Syria

The Idlib Offensive: Delayed, Not Cancelled

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 September 2018

For about two months, it has seemed that an offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Iran, and Russia into Idlib was imminent, with disastrous humanitarian and strategic consequences. On Monday, an agreement was reached between Turkey and Russia that put a halt to this prospect, at least for now. There is good reason to think the pro-Assad forces are delaying, rather than cancelling, their plans to reconquer Idlib, but the extra time gives space to Turkey to alter the terms politically. Continue reading

The Man Who Made Crime Pay For the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 September 2018

The United States has launched at least five raids into Syria to date, all of them against the Islamic State (IS).[1] The second such raid, on 15 May 2015, killed Fathi al-Tunisi (Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi), who oversaw critical revenue-generating criminal schemes for the group. Al-Tunisi was primarily responsible for the oil industry in eastern Syria, in which capacity he collaborated with Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and he worked as head of the Antiquities Division of IS Diwan al-Rikaz, which translates literally as the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground”, usually given as the “Department of Natural Resources”. Al-Tunisi was what is sometimes termed a “middle manager”: the connective tissue between the most senior levels of the leadership and local administrators, ensuring smooth coordination between the two by inter alia keeping the books. In short, the kind of terrorist operative that keeps an organisation going. Continue reading

The State of Play in Syria and Iraq on the Eve of the Idlib Offensive

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 August 2018

Two ideas that have become quite prevalent are that the Islamic State is defeated or on its way to defeat and that the Syrian war is winding down. Both are gravely mistaken. Continue reading

Turkey’s War Against the PKK on the Near Abroad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 August 2018

Ismail Özden (image source)

Turkey killed a senior operative of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the internationally-recognised terrorist organisation and narcotics trafficking entity that has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984, in Iraq last week. Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes against PKK targets in Syria and Iraq in April 2017 and for the last several months Ankara has been widening its campaign against the PKK outside Turkey’s borders, particularly in Iraq, where the PKK is not protected by the United States, as it is in eastern Syria. Having feinted in June toward an attack on the historic PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains—a somewhat symbolic target at this stage, with the bulk of the PKK’s leadership and resources in Syria—it appears the Turks have opted for a more targeted approach.

This operation underscores the continuance of U.S.-Turkey relations, and the mutual benefits of the relationship, even in its current damaged state, where both sides have a laundry list of legitimate grievances with the other. If a formula for normalisation can be found, the potential to contain and weaken some of the worst, most destabilising elements in the region, saliently the PKK and the Iranian regime, is within reach. Continue reading

The Fall of Southern Syria and Israel’s Reliance on Russia

A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 August 2018

An Israeli Merkava tank patrols on the border between Israel and Syria, on 20 July 2018. (AFP)

Israel has been conflicted on the Syrian rebellion: some saw Bashar al-Assad’s reliance on Iran and thus favoured his departure; some, especially once the uprising militarized and jihadi-Salafists made their appearance among the insurgents, favoured a let-them-both-lose policy; and some saw the risk of chaos and jihadists and preferred to stick with what they knew.

The official Israeli policy, stated in the early months of the protests, was to side with the people “demonstrating for freedoms” since “the devil we know in Syria [i.e. Assad] is worse than the devil we don’t”. Continue reading

Where Will the Syrian Regime Move Next?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 August 2018

An Israeli solider hands out water on a bus, during the Syria Civil Defence extraction from the Golan Heights // 22 July 2018, provided by Israeli Army to Reuters

The collapse of the opposition in southern Syria is the final destruction of the originally constituted rebellion against President Bashar Assad. It is also a demonstration that the United States under President Donald Trump is no more invested in shaping the outcome in Syria than his predecessor, and marks the potential end of the diplomatic pact that had allowed Turkey to retain some sphere of influence unmolested by the pro-Syrian government coalition. Continue reading

Turkey’s Upcoming Foreign Policy Challenges

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 July 2018

American troops look out toward the border with Turkey from a small outpost near the town of Minbij, 7 Feb. 2018 (AP Photo/Susannah George)

As Turkey moves past last month’s election, the foreign policy challenges remain acute, particularly in Syria, and there is a looming confrontation with the United States over sanctions on Iran that might undo the recent progress toward the normalisation of U.S.-Turkish relations. Continue reading