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Contents contributed and discussions participated by Ed Webb

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Tens of the Tunisian fighters continue their rebellion against ISIS on the ea... - 0 views

  • internal fighting is continuing on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River, between the “Islamic State” organization against another group announced that “the organization and its leaders are infidels”
  • a group of about 50 members and commanders, most of them are Tunisians
  • the organization has executed 2 commanders of Tunisian and Egyptian nationalities in the past few days, who mainly contributed in forming the “Islamic State” organization inside Syria
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Palestinian sisters dig into history of last all-Christian village - 0 views

  • Aware of the rich history of Taybeh, known as the last all-Christian village with Caananite roots in Palestine, Farah and her sister Nusra worked to compile a comprehensive database on the history of their village using local and international sources and interviewing villagers. The database grew into an encyclopedia on the history of the village that was published in January.

    The village of 3,000, located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) northeast of Ramallah, is indeed the only village solely inhabited by Christians. It's known for both its history that dates back 4,000 years and its Oktoberfest, which attracts tourists who come to enjoy the local Taybeh beer.

  • The 500-page encyclopedia is written in Arabic and English. The two sisters, who paid for its production out of their own pockets, printed 100 copies that they have distributed to schools, libraries, churches and other institutions in the village. Farah said that more can be printed, adding, “We do not seek financial remuneration or profits out of this. We want each family in the village to have a copy of the encyclopedia and to keep it as a reference.”
  • Christian pilgrims who travel from Jerusalem to Nazareth visit the village because of its historical and religious importance. According to Abu Sahliya, an estimated 15,000 pilgrims visit Taybeh annually, a major source of income for the hotels and the village in general.
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The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off... - 0 views

  • There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base.

    If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
  • The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region
  • the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
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  • The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.
  • The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.
  • Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
  • A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation.

    Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.
  • Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge
  • “I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.
  • if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy
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Canal (Kanal) Istanbul May Displace Thousands, Impact Ocean and Water Quality - 0 views

  • “Whoever cuts a branch from my forest, I will cut his head,” Sultan Mehmed II, who led the Ottomans into Istanbul, is said to have ordered in the 1400s. Today, thousands of trucks carrying soil and construction materials kick up dust along the roads north of Istanbul, depleting those forests that had been protected by sultans for five centuries.
  • Canal Istanbul (also called Istanbul Kanal), a massive shipping canal meant to route traffic from the Bosporus some 18 miles (30 kilometers) to the east. The homes alongside the new seaway will be replaced with upscale residential and commercial areas. With construction set to start there any day now, real estate speculators descend on the area, clamoring for locals to sell them their land
  • When completed, the canal will turn the densest part of the city, including its historic center, into an island. The area also straddles one of the world’s most active fault lines.
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  • The Bosporus is currently one of the most crowded waterways in the world. Thousands of oil tankers make up part of the 53,000 civilian and military vessels that transited through the Bosporus in 2017, compared to around 12,000 ships that transited the Panama Canal, and 17,000 the Suez Canal.
  • At the Black Sea, the canal will link with a new, 10 billion euro airport set to open this year that will feature the largest indoor terminal in the world. It will handle 200 million passengers annually, along with an air cargo hub that Turkey hopes will draw traffic from current European airports. A new highway cutting through forest on the Black Sea coast will feed the airport and canal, bringing cargo from Europe to the west and Asia to the east.
  • many of the region’s environmental experts say the government has not consulted them. Some of these experts have grown critical of the massive projects, saying they could have serious ecological consequences and imperil an already tenuous water supply
  • A square meter of land around Şamlar that went for $6.5 three years ago now sells for up to $184
  • “We are going to have new hospitals, parks, marinas, luxury apartments, and a city on both sides of the beautiful canal that will look like New York or Paris,”
  • Around 2 million people are employed in construction in Turkey, which accounts for about 19 percent of the country’s annual economic growth. Turkish construction firms rank as the second most active in terms of overseas operations, after Chinese firms. To reach its economic goals for 2023, the government has said it will need to invest about $700 billion in new infrastructure, plus $400 billion in urban renewal projects
  • Turkish officials have said the new canal will be able to handle all the traffic currently in the Bosporus, hinting that although they would like all current traffic to use the new route, the internationally protected Bosporus could also remain open, so the 1936 treaty is not technically violated. “The Montreux Convention regulates access to the Bosporus. However, the regulations for the Bosporus and the canal our country plans to build to offer an alternative route are different,” Minister Arslan said in January.
  • Residents in the area challenged the projects in 2013, filing lawsuits claiming the expropriation of their land was too hasty, and the government was paying them a fraction of the true value of the land. Based on the government’s own environmental impact report, nearly 100 other villagers then filed additional cases challenging the projects. Although a court ordered construction to be halted, the government issued a revised report in 2014. At that time they resumed construction.
  • The canal, airport, and highway projects directly contravene the city’s master plan, opponents charge.

  • With Istanbul’s population growing at a breakneck pace—from 3 million in 1980 to 15 million today—the city plan was meant to ensure resources like water and housing would be able to meet demand
  • “The 2009 plan was trying to at least set an aim for the population of Istanbul, capping it at 16 million,” says Atlar. “The conclusion was that there should be no more settlements in the northern forest, and that water and culturally important land must be protected. Further development would be east and west, not north.”
  • In 2012, Turkey’s federal government passed new legislation that would make it easier to reclassify any reserved land. Areas can be expropriated if they are deemed an earthquake risk, if they are needed to house people in the case of an earthquake, or if their development is considered in the national interest.
  • Of the 7,650-hectare land for the airport, which will include residential and commercial developments, 80 percent is now composed of forests and 9 percent lakes and ponds. Canal Istanbul will result in the leveling of 350 hectares of forest and run through districts that are home to more than one million people.
  • there is an open question of whether or not such a canal would violate the Montreux Convention, a 1936 treaty that ensures the free passage of commercial vessels and naval ships of countries along the Black Sea, including Russia, through the Bosporus, except in times of war
  • many of the city planners and environmental experts Turkey once asked for advice on such mega projects now say they are being ignored. Many of these professionals say they are no longer seen as advisors, but political opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party
  • city’s water supply in danger.
  • In the 17th century, Mimar Sinan, the same Ottoman architect famed for the Blue Mosque, oversaw the construction of hundreds of miles of new aqueducts, several dams, and water basins that fed into hundreds of fountains in the city. Most of that ancient water system relied on streams and rivers in catchment areas in the forests north of the city—the same forests where the new airport is currently being built.
  • around 40 percent of Istanbul’s water comes from the European side of the city, which, even according to the government’s own environmental assessments, will be severely impacted by the canal and airport. The Sazlıdere Dam will be entirely uprooted, and smaller streams and underground water tables that feed at least three other lakes in the area could end up being disrupted. A drought in 2008 depleted the capacity of the city’s water reservoirs to 25 percent, and another in 2014 to 29 percent. Even in more wet years, Istanbul residents deal with water cuts that can last days
  • The Marmara Sea, part of the Mediterranean, is far more salty than the Black Sea, which leads to a powerful flow of water as the two bodies naturally try to reach a state of equilibrium. That flow was put to use by engineers in the 1990s, part of a $600 million World Bank project to provide a sustainable water system for Istanbul.
  • a series of 67 waste treatment plants were built. The city estimates 97 percent of its waste is now treated. The effluent, including any waste that still remains, is dumped into a point where the Bosporus meets the Marmara Sea. There, it is carried by an undercurrent north to the Black Sea.
  • with the Canal Istanbul project, Saydam and other experts warn that system could be turned on its head, upending the delicate balance of life in the water. If the canal is built, Saydam says, it will provide an alternate route connecting the Black and Marmara Seas. Years of modeling and scientific studies suggest that could undo the unique waste water system in Istanbul, he says. The change in the salinity could also spark an anoxic state in the waters, one that would end up leaving the city smelling of hydrogen sulfide
  • once you do this there will be no way to turn back
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UAE and the Horn of Africa: A Tale of Two Ports - 0 views

  • On February 22, Djibouti seized control of the Doraleh Container Terminal from its joint owner and operator, the Dubai-based DP World. The seizure was not wholly unexpected and was the culmination of Djibouti's deteriorating bilateral ties with the United Arab Emirates and a lost legal battle with DP World to renegotiate the terms of the port concession that gave it a 33 percent equity stake in 2006. The London Court of International Arbitration Tribunal ruled against Djibouti's claims, lodged in 2014, that DP World paid bribes in order to secure the 30-year concession
  • Doraleh opened in 2009 and is the only container terminal in the Horn of Africa able to handle 15,000-ton container ships. It quickly became the most important entrepot for the region's largest country and economy, Ethiopia, which was rendered landlocked by Eritrea's independence in 1993. Ethiopia receives around 97 percent of its imports through Doraleh — around 70 percent of the port's activity — in what has become an unacceptable strategic reliance on a neighbor
  • the increasingly complex dynamics animating the geopolitics, and the more localized politics, being shaped by the competition among aspiring regional powers of the Middle East — particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey — and China for influence in the Horn of Africa
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  • A year after DP World finalized an agreement with the semiautonomous region of Somaliland to develop a $442 million commercial port in Berbera, Ethiopia inked a deal with the port operator and Somaliland's government to acquire a 19 percent stake in the port. There are reportedly plans for DP World to upgrade the connectivity infrastructure linking Berbera to the Ethiopian border that would allow Addis Ababa and potentially greater East Africa to reduce their sole dependence on Djibout
  • Bashir also agreed to lease Turkey the Red Sea island of Suakin for development. Though Turkey has denied it, concerns quickly arose that Ankara planned to build a new military base on the island, which would be its second in the Horn of Africa with the first in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
  • Along with the competition by outside players has come greater leverage for Horn of Africa countries, whose elites have long been adept at playing external patrons off one another. Ethiopia has to some degree succeeded in diluting Abu Dhabi's reliance on its enemy, Eritrea, by supporting its plans for the Berbera port. In 2015, after losing access to Djibouti for military operations, the UAE constructed a base in the coastal Eritrean city of Assab, which has been vital to its operations in southern Yemen. By supporting the UAE's military and commercial infrastructure plans in Somaliland, Ethiopia — the Horn of Africa's largest and most powerful country — also contributed to the fracturing of Somalia by encouraging the de facto consolidation of Somaliland's independence
  • In Sudan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led efforts to rehabilitate President Omar Bashir in the international community by lobbying for U.S. sanctions on Sudan to be lifted. Bashir agreed to cut ties with Iran and send troops to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
  • The intra-Gulf Cooperation Council crisis has added another destabilizing variable, as countries, parties, and elites in East Africa have been forced to choose sides
  • The confidence with which Horn of Africa elites are pursuing their own interests at the risk of angering new patrons underscores the high stakes for the participants in this so-called "new scramble for Africa," and also their long-term intent. Djibouti in particular emerged over the past decade as a strategic focal point next to the Bab el-Mandeb shipping lane, existential for the flow of Gulf energy to Europe and goods between Asia and Europe. It has leveraged its location for lucrative basing deals for current and emerging world powers alike. The United States, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and former colonial ruler France all have bases in Djibouti.
  • the UAE's longer-term interests — as well as those of its competitors — are economic and strategic. The country is working to make itself an essential component of China's Belt and Road Initiative and secure Dubai's Jebel Ali as the key logistics and trade hub linking Asia to Africa via DP World infrastructure, in the face of competition by a glut of new ports built by rivals with similar ambitions in IranPakistanOman, and elsewhere along the Horn of Africa
  • ports projects in Rwanda, Mozambique, Algeria, and Mali
  • State-backed and private investors from the UAE have invested in a wide range of non-energy sectors, from finance and banking to construction, tourism, food, entertainment, and agri-business
  • The UAE is also trying to make the nature of its engagement more attractive for African governments and private sector partners: Rather than following the path of China, which has been perceived negatively as following a pseudo-colonial model in Africa, it is looking more toward the Turkish model. Investments such as DP World's in Somalia or military bases come with packages of infrastructure investment, training, and education for workers and security forces, as well as inducements such as greater numbers of visas to the UAE
  • Food and water security continues to be an important interest for the UAE and other Gulf countries in East Africa. Emirati companies are seeking to avoid the political pitfalls that have caused past investments in land for food production to fail. Privately owned Al Dahra Holding, which owns farmland in Africa, claims to use a 50-50 sharing formula for produce with local companies and hires local workers
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Russia Is in the Middle East to Stay - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • two radically different conceptions of Russian power have emerged. Within the Beltway, many analysts have come to understand the Russian demonstration of power and influence in the Middle East as an indicator that the global rivalry between Washington and Moscow of the past is also the present and future. Yet there also remains a small group of dissenters — Russia specialists, former U.S. officials, and journalists — to this view. They believe the Russians are actually quite weak, financially strapped, and caught in Syria. The best they can say is that Putin is playing a bad hand well
  • it’s payback time for almost three decades of Moscow’s humiliation. And what better place to start than the Middle East, where the United States is already widely resented even among its allies
  • Since Moscow’s demonstration of strength (with Iran’s help) in Syria, the Russians have asserted themselves as a credible alternative to the Americans with traditional U.S. allies. With arms sales, economic deals, and diplomatic maneuvering, Russia has been effective in pulling Turkey and Egypt away from the United States, though not completely, and closer to Russia’s orbit
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  • now that the United States is the world’s leading producer of petroleum, there is likely to be more cooperation between the Russians and the Arab Gulf states in an effort to ensure that global oil prices are favorable to their interests
  • In the span of less than a decade, the Middle East has gone from a region in which the United States was overwhelmingly predominant to one that Washington and Moscow contest
  • The Russians are not going away, they have a strategy to weaken the West, and it starts in the Middle East. Moreover, Moscow no longer has the ideological baggage of communism, making it easier for it to make inroads in the region
  • The Turks, Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis, and Emiratis are sophisticated observers of American politics. They recognize that the political dysfunction of Washington can affect bilateral relations. Over the last decade, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have become divisive topics in the United States. There is also the spectacle of the American legislative and executive branches being unable to manage the most routine tasks of governance without getting bogged down in ideological warfare. This makes leaders in the Middle East who have long relied on American security nervous that the United States is in decline, and they have thus begun to pursue, however tentatively, another option — Russia.
  • Leaving the Saudis to bleed in Yemen is not just a strategic gain for Tehran, but also for Moscow, which would be only too happy to see Washington’s primary Arab ally stuck there and in need of a lifeline that U.S. policymakers are too ambivalent to provide
  • Moscow’s demonstration of military force in Syria is primarily against poorly trained militias, bands of extremists, and innocent children. The gunfight between Russian “mercenaries” and American soldiers in February that reportedly killed most of the Russian forces and no Americans indicates that whatever brute force Russia can bring to bear, they are simply no match for the United States. This is a fact that the U.S. ambassadors, envoys, and sons-in-law need to convey to decision-makers in Cairo, Ankara, and other capitals where Moscow is selling its military hardware.
  • the United States has to make it clear that there are consequences for this military trolling. There are, of course, risks of escalation in this approach, but there are also significant disadvantages to demonstrating weakness in the face of Russian provocations
  • If the United States is, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis averred in January, in a new era of great power competition, it is time the United States treated the situation as seriously as it is. Putin must be disabused of the notion that the Middle East is the most propitious place to begin weakening the West and the United States. Americans once before contained and rolled back Moscow’s influence in the region; there is no reason to believe that they cannot do it again — but only if they have the wisdom to recognize what is important in the world right now and the collective stomach to meet the challenge. It is no longer clear to those in the Middle East that they do.
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    I know and like Steve. I don't agree with all of this, but it is a productive intervention.
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Mohammed bin Salman Isn't Wonky Enough - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Like Western investors, the kingdom’s elites are uncertain about what the new order means for the country’s economy. The new Saudi leadership has indeed created new opportunities, but many of the deep structural barriers to diversification remain unchanged. The bulk of the public sector remains bloated by patronage employment, the private sector is still dominated by cheap foreign labor, and private economic activity remains deeply dependent on state spending. Addressing these challenges could take a generation — and it will require patience, creativity, and a clearer sense of priorities.
  • While a band of Al Saud brothers used to rule collectively with the king as a figurehead, decision-making has now become centralized under one man
  • ruthlessness and willingness to take risks radically at odds with the cautious and consensual political culture of the Al Saud clan
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  • Saudi Arabia has tackled fiscal reforms more vigorously than most local and international observers expected, introducing unprecedented tax and energy price measures, including the introduction of a 5 percent value added tax, new levies on foreign workers, and increases in electricity and transport fuel prices. The government is now experimenting with new non-oil sectors with an increased sense of urgency, including information technology and defense manufacturing.
  • While space for political opposition arguably has narrowed, women will soon be allowed to drive and the religious police force that once harassed them has been almost entirely neutered. By relaxing religious controls over the public sphere, the crown prince is seeking to attract more foreign investment and facilitate diversification into tourism and entertainment
  • New policies and programs are announced constantly, while the delivery capacity of the sluggish Saudi bureaucracy continues to lag. Below the upper echelons, the Saudi state remains the deeply fragmented, bloated, and slow-moving machine that I described in my 2010 book. The government seems to have no clear strategy for reforming this bureaucracy
  • Local economic advisors fear that the majority of private petrochemicals firms — the most developed part of Saudi industry — would lose money if prices of natural gas, their main input, increase to American levels.
  • public sector employment remains the key means of providing income to Saudi nationals. Cheap foreign labor dominates private sector employment, thereby keeping consumer inflation at bay and business owners happy. Citizens, however, are parked in the overstaffed public sector. Out of every three jobs held by Saudis, roughly two are in government. The average ratio around the world is one in five. Public sector wages account for almost half of total government spending, among the highest shares in the world
  • As limits on government employment kick in, young Saudis will increasingly have no choice but to seek private jobs. But they will face tough competition on the private labor market where employers have become accustomed to recruiting low-wage workers from poorer Arab and Asian countries
  • Saudi wage demands will have to drop further if private job creation is to substitute for the erstwhile government employment guarantee. For the time being, private job creation has stalled as the government has pursued moderate austerity since 2015 in response to deficits and falling oil prices
  • The government has also underestimated how dependent private businesses are on state spending. The share of state spending in the non-oil economy is extremely high compared to other economies. Historically, almost all private sector growth has resulted from increases in public spending
  • As long as oil prices remain below $70 per barrel, the goal of a balanced budget will cause pain for businesses and limit private job creation. This will pose a major political challenge at a time when an estimated 200,000 Saudis are entering the labor market every year. More than 60 percent of the population is under 30, which means that the citizen labor force will grow rapidly for at least the next two decades.
  • It would be far more prudent to gently prepare citizens and businesses for a difficult and protracted adjustment period and to focus on a smaller number of priorities
  • The key structural challenge to non-oil growth is the way the Saudi government currently shares its wealth, most notably through mass public employment — an extremely expensive policy that bloats the bureaucracy, distorts labor markets, and is increasingly inequitable in an era when government jobs can no longer be guaranteed to all citizens. A stagnating economic pie that might even shrink in the coming years must be shared more equitably.
  • A basic income would not only guarantee a basic livelihood for all citizens, but also serve as a grand political gesture that could justify difficult public sector reforms. A universal wealth-sharing scheme would make it easier to freeze government hiring and send a clear signal that, from now on, Saudis need to seek and acquire the skills for private employment and entrepreneurship. The government could supplement this scheme by charging fees to firms that employ foreigners while subsidizing wages for citizens to fully close the wage gap between the two.
  • Focusing on such fundamentals might be less exciting than building new cities in the desert or launching the world’s largest-ever IPO — but they are more important for the kingdom’s economic future. No country as dependent on petroleum as Saudi Arabia has ever effectively diversified away from oil
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What's Turkey Trying to Achieve in Syria? | The National Interest - 1 views

  • With the Islamic State’s surviving fighters relegated to small pockets of the most austere bastions of the Syrian desert, the Turkish army likely sees an opportunity to capture Syria’s northern border, in order to project power, consolidate territory and expand its own sphere of influence throughout the near abroad.
  • While the Turkish military and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army have advanced considerably to surround Afrin, and entered the city center on March 18,  the fifty-eighth day of the operation, many lives have been lost, including several dozen Turkish soldiers, over a hundred Free Syrian Army members and some three thousand YPG fighters, according to official Turkish statements.

  • Erdoğan, aims to mobilize his base at home with a “glorious little war” and to boost his cachet among surviving jihadist groups
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  • Turkey seeks to dominate northern Syria by using its local Syrian Sunni populations, even radical ones, as proxies
  • Although the YPG administration insists it has evolved beyond the Marxist ideology of its founder, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, many in the region note the markers of Marxist-Leninist teachings in the YPG’s current ideology. Neither can the Syrian Arab asylees return to homes and land controlled today by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), currently the chief ally of the U.S. military. Further complicating the relationship is the longtime problem of forced military conscription of Arab teens into the ranks of the SDF, and lingering mistrust between the YPG Kurds and the Arabs.
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    Note there are more pages to this report
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Qatar, UAE spend heavily on lobbyists amid a war of words | News & Observer - 1 views

  • a multimillion-dollar battle for influence in Washington between bitter rivals Qatar and the United Arab Emirates
  • On Qatar's roster: Republican former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose law firm received a $2.5 million retainer, and ex-advisers to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

    The UAE has an arrangement with The Harbour Group, a public relations and public affairs firm, for up to $5 million annually. The UAE's ambassador to the United States also relies heavily on his former director of legislative affairs, Hagir Elawad. She's now a registered lobbyist who earns $25,000 a month as the embassy's chief liaison to Capitol Hill.

  • a business associate of Broidy's, George Nader, had wired $2.5 million for an influence campaign Broidy was coordinating in Washington that accused Qatar of being a state sponsor of terrorism. Nader is a political adviser to the UAE and now a witness in the U.S. special counsel investigation into foreign meddling in American politics
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  • a top fundraiser for Trump filed a lawsuit against the government of Qatar and several lobbyists working for Qatar, claiming they hacked his and his wife's emails. Elliott Broidy alleged that hackers from Qatar broke into their email accounts and Qatar's lobbying team then distributed the emails to journalists in an effort to discredit him.
  • Agents of foreign governments are required to register with the Justice Department before lobbying so that there is a public record of their activities. But neither Broidy nor Nader is registered
  • Qatar has been under siege since early June, when the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and its other neighbors severed ties over claims the small, gas-rich monarchy was funding terrorism, disrupting Gulf unity and fomenting opposition across the region. They cut Qatar's air, sea and land routes, creating a de facto blockade. The countries vowed to isolate Qatar economically until it heeds their demands.

    But Qatar, which has denied supporting or funding terror groups, has insisted it can survive indefinitely on its own. The crisis, according to Qatari officials, was triggered nearly a year ago when hackers took over their state-run news agency and posted fabricated comments attributed to Qatar's ruler that called Iran an "Islamic power" and said Qatar's relations with Israel were "good."

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Leaving - 0 views

  • It will seem counterintuitive to many that someone would trade “senior official” status for a job in a “think tank” to exert more influence. But I had concluded in the late summer of 2012 that President Barack Obama’s words of a year earlier about Assad stepping aside were empty, and that my efforts in government to bring dead words to life were futile. 

    Instead of implementing what had sounded like the commander-in-chief’s directive, the State Department was saddled in August 2012 by the White House with a make-work, labor-intensive project cataloguing the countless things that would have to be in place for a post-Assad Syria to function. But how to get to post-Assad? The White House had shut down the sole interagency group examining options for achieving that end.
  • My job since April 2009, as a deputy to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, was to build a foundation for Syrian-Israeli and eventually Israeli-Lebanese peace. Progress on the former seemed to be happening. Yet by using deadly force on his own citizens, Assad ended, perhaps forever, a process that might have recovered for Syria the territory lost by his Minister of Defense father in 1967. 

    When the full story of Syria’s betrayal by a family and its entourage is written, the decision of Assad to sink a potentially promising peace mediation will merit a chapter.
  • President Obama would caricature external alternatives by creating and debating straw men: invented idiots calling for the invasion and occupation of Syria. 

    He would deal with internal dissent by taking officials through multi-step, worst-case, hypothetical scenarios of what might happen in the wake of any American attempt, no matter how modest, to complicate regime mass murder. The ‘logical’ result would inevitably involve something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment. 

    The result of these exercises in self-disarmament would be Vladimir Putin and his ilk concluding that American power was, as a practical matter, equal to Palau’s; Ukraine could be dismembered, NATO allies threatened, and the United States itself harassed with impunity. He did not mean to do it, but Barack Obama’s performance in Syria produced global destabilization.
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  • It was not until the fall of 2014 when it became clear what was motivating him. The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reported on a “secret” letter from the president to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in which (among other things) Mr. Obama reportedly assured Khamenei that American military power aimed at ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) in Syria would not target the Assad regime. But why give Khamenei such a reckless assurance, one that would surely be relayed to Assad, enhancing his already massive sense of impunity, with deadly consequences for Syrian civilians?
  • if necessary, apply modest military measures to complicate civilian mass murder, and not only when the murder weapon is sarin nerve agent. 
  • The Trump administration is infinitely more open to considering policy alternatives than was its predecessor. Yet in Washington’s hyper-partisan state, some who fully understood and opposed the catastrophic shortcomings of the Obama approach to Syria reflexively criticize anything the new administration does or considers doing to end the Assad regime’s free ride for civilian slaughter. Letting Syrian civilians pay the price for self-serving political motives may never go out of style in some Western political circles.
  • I remain hopeful that American leaders will, at last, arrive at a Syria policy worthy of the United States. 

    Such a policy would stabilize a post-ISIS Syria east of the Euphrates River in a way that would encourage the emergence of a Syrian governmental alternative to a crime family and its murderous entourage. 
  • Tehran was indeed dependent on Bashar al-Assad to provide strategic depth for and support to its own jewel in the crown: Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Barack Obama feared that protecting Syrian civilians could anger Iran and cause it to walk away from nuclear talks. From his point of view, the prices paid by Syrians, Syria’s neighbors, and American allies in the region and beyond were worth the grand prize. It seems never to have occurred to him that Iran wanted the nuclear deal for its own reasons, and did not require being appeased in Syria. I was told by senior Iranian ex-officials in track II discussions that they were stunned and gratified by American passivity in Syria.
  • such a policy, while being open to any genuine offer of Russian cooperation in Syria, would recognize that (in the words of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats) “Frankly, the United States is under attack.” He was referring to Russia.
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The Trump administration's mixed messages on Syria - Axios - 0 views

  • President Trump, the Pentagon, and the State Department made conflicting statements about U.S. involvement in Syria on Thursday
    • President Trump: "We'll be coming out of Syria like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon we're coming out."
    • Pentagon: "Important work remains to ensure the lasting defeat these violent extremists....We cannot allow our focus to deviate from the most important task of eliminating ISIS from the region...We will continue to support the SDF."
    • State Department: Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she is unaware of any plans to pull the U.S. out of Syria. Former Secretary Rex Tillerson said at the beginning of the year that the U.S. should have a long-term military presence in the region.
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Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen: A view from the ground | TheHill - 0 views

  • the air campaign in Yemen is now being fought at least as cleanly as contemporary U.S. air campaigns, with stringent target vetting and, to my trained eye, extremely restrictive rules of engagement
    • Ed Webb
       
      Given what we are learning about civilian casualty rates from US (and allied) air operations in Syria and Iraq, this bar is not particularly high, and certainly is insufficient to be certain that war crimes are not being committed.
  • It is the Houthis, not the Yemeni government or the coalition that is seeding Yemen’s farmlands with tens of thousands of landmines, who are creating a whole generation of civilian amputees. It is the Houthis who are taxing and impounding humanitarian food and fuel imports, making these commodities unaffordable to Yemenis
  • As long as the Houthi rebels control the Yemeni capital and the country’s largest port, they have no incentive to negotiate: they must fear losing these prizes to return to the peace table.
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  • it is notable that the U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen has gradually shifted towards stronger criticism of the Houthis than the coalition in its most recent annual report
    • Ed Webb
       
      A right-leaning, pro-Israel think tank. Noteworthy that Israeli and Saudi interests overlap a lot these days. That doesn't invalidate the perspective and observations. But it is important to understand the position of sources.
  • the war is poorly understood in Washington and other capitals. In fact, U.S. military support is helping to set the military and humanitarian conditions for an end to hostilities and a reduction of famine and cholera
  • Mistakes were made, but they were corrected much faster than was the case in many U.S.-led interventions over the years.
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Patriot Missiles Are Made in America and Fail Everywhere - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • we found that it is very unlikely the missiles were shot down, despite officials’ statements to the contrary. Our approach was simple: We mapped where the debris, including the missile airframe and warhead, fell and where the interceptors were located. In both cases, a clear pattern emerged. The missile itself falls in Riyadh, while the warhead separates and flies over the defense and lands near its target. One warhead fell within a few hundred meters of Terminal 5 at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. The second warhead, fired a few weeks later, nearly demolished a Honda dealership. In both cases, it was clear to us that, despite official Saudi claims, neither missile was shot down
  • there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has intercepted any Houthi missiles during the Yemen conflict
  • I am deeply skeptical that Patriot has ever intercepted a long-range ballistic missile in combat — at the least, I have yet to see convincing unclassified evidence of a successful Patriot intercept. During the 1991 Gulf War, the public was led to believe the that the Patriot had near-perfect performance, intercepting 45 of 47 Scud missiles. The U.S. Army later revised that estimate down to about 50 percent — and even then, it expressed “higher” confidence in only about one-quarter of the cases. A pesky Congressional Research Service employee noted that if the Army had correctly applied its own assessment methodology consistently, the number would be far lower. (Reportedly that number was one — as in one lousy Scud missile downed.)
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  • there was not enough evidence to conclude that there had been any intercepts. “There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War,” a summary of the investigations concluded dryly, “and there are some doubts about even these engagements.”

    This report — which called on the Pentagon to declassify more information about the performance of the Patriot and request an independent evaluation of the program — never saw the light of day. A fierce lobbying campaign by the Army and Raytheon spiked it, save for a summary.

  • There is enormous pressure on the Saudi government to show that it is taking steps to defend its citizens. By asserting successful intercepts — assertions that are uncritically spread in headlines — the Saudi government is able to present itself as fulfilling its obligations to protect its population. And, like in 1991, the perception that a defense is working helps keep a lid on regional tensions
  • The danger here is that leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United States will come to believe their own nonsense. Consider this: Despite that the fact that anonymous U.S. officials have confirmed that there was no successful intercept in November 2017, President Donald Trump had a very different impression: “Our system knocked the missile out of the air,” Trump told reporters the following day. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” This is a theme Trump has returned to again and again. When asked about the threat from North Korea’s nuclear-armed missiles, Trump said, “We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked down.” Trump has repeatedly given every indication that he believes missile defenses will protect the United States.
  • Missile defense systems do not represent a solution to the challenge posed by growing missile capabilities or an escape from vulnerability in the nuclear age. There is no magic wand that can “knock down” all the missiles aimed at the United States or its allies. The only solution is to persuade countries not to build these weapons in the first place. If we fail, defenses won’t save us.
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War crimes evidence in Syria 'overwhelming', not all can be pursued: U.N. - 0 views

  • War crimes investigators and activists have amassed an “overwhelming volume” of testimony, images and videos documenting atrocities committed by all sides during Syria’s war, a U.N. quasi-prosecutorial body said in its first report.
  • The team, led by former French judge Catherine Marchi-Uhel, said it is preparing case files and has engaged with war crimes investigative units of various states including in Europe, whose courts can exercise universal jurisdiction to prosecute.
  • there is a need to sure “fair representation” by prosecuting crimes committed on all sides, and sexual and gender-based crimes, as well as violations against children, will be a priority
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  • Investigators were also seeking to obtain information on the use of chemical weapons in Syria from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
  • Marchi-Uhel’s team said its work would proceed independently of any Syrian peace process and be based on the principle that no amnesty can be granted for “core international crimes”.
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Here's Why You Probably Won't Read This Article About Syria - 0 views

  • analysis by BuzzFeed News shows the number of shares on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites of the most-read stories about Syria in the past two months were a 10th of what they were just over a year ago
  • “I work so hard to try and post videos, but no one cares. I don’t know what to say. They just see the article or report, and just say: ‘Oh, that’s really sad.’ And after that they turn the internet off and go and live their lives.”
  • “People are feeling helpless, they are feeling [that] it is not that we don’t care — it’s that we just can’t do anything.”
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  • Once the footage is online people like Ethar El-Katatney, executive producer of AJ+, pick it up, and try to work out how they can tell the next story from Syria.

    “All of the footage I am looking at today looks the same as the footage I saw a year ago and it’s the same dust, and blood, and screaming, and hospital rooms and hospital floors,” El-Katatney told BuzzFeed News. “It has become normalized.”

  • “We have hit a ceiling in shocking people,” El-Katatney said. “From [a] pool of blood, or a dying child, and now people have come across severed limbs, decapitation. I don’t think there is anything that I can show that will shock anyone, no matter what it is.
  • In the final two months of 2016, as the four-year siege of the rebel-held city of Aleppo ended in brutal fashion, the four more-shared stories were all shared more than 300,000 times. The best performing story (about how people could help civilians trapped in Aleppo) was shared more than half a million times, almost entirely on Facebook.

    However, in January and February this year, as the Syrian regime and Russian forces bombarded the enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the most viral piece across all publishers (a BBC News article about children struggling to survive) was shared just 42,000 times.

  • human brains are incapable of coping with prolonged catastrophes, a phenomenon called “psychic numbing.”
  • the more death and destruction you see, on social media for example, the more your feelings of empathy actually decreases. “One plus one is less than two,” in this situation, he said.

    “We do numb to repeated photographs, just like we numb to increasing numbers of individuals,”

  • almost half a million people have been killed, 5 million more have fled the country, and 6 million have been displaced internally
  • Decisions made by US President Donald Trump’s administration have contributed to keeping the conflict from the international community’s attention. Despite bombing Syria, Trump’s only focus in the country has been ISIS, leaving a vacuum that has been occupied fully by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces, who have worked together with the regime of Bashar al-Assad to bombard the remaining rebels, like those in besieged Eastern Ghouta.
  • "I think the world is frustrated by the actions of the major powers," said Salwa Aksoy, vice president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. "The struggle has lasted so long, and the scale of the war crimes has reached a level where there is just too much pain for the international community to look at it,”
  • “All of our calls to protect children inside Syria have gone unheeded,” she said.

    “People are genuinely upset, if not angry or outraged, about what is happening now in Syria. For that I have no doubt about,’ she said. “There is, however, a certain element of fatigue among people about the suffering and the continuous horror stories. I think a lot of people feel helpless over what is happening and not being able to stop the bloodshed in Syria.”

  • “What kind of ways can we cover Syria that we haven’t done a thousand times before, whether it is with footage or with the scripting? And sometimes we fail. Sometimes there just really is nothing.”

    For Adam, messaging from a rooftop elsewhere in Ghouta, he could see the people not retweeting his stories, but he could also hear the shelling continue. “Today, like always bombing, airstrikes, and people killed. Like every day,” he said.

    “But no one cares.”

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Saudi megaproject harnesses Egypt's Sinai, but Sisi will pay the - 0 views

  • The almost 11,000 square mile total project is to be designed and supervised by US, German, Japanese and possibly other western experts. It represents the largest single component of the Saudi Crown Prince's "Vision 2030", by which he intends his country to diversify its economy away from dependence upon oil.

    Egypt, in other words, is being harnessed to Prince Mohammad bin Salman's project to consolidate his personal political power, transform the Kingdom into a centre of high tech development in what heretofore has been a relatively peripheral region within the Middle East, and exert yet greater Saudi influence over both Jordan and Egypt.

  • The most immediate, tangible potential benefits are to lend support to the effort to convert the Suez Canal Zone into a globally important logistics hub, combined with opening up the Red Sea and Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba to a new surge of tourist development.
  • Suez Canal revenues and numbers of ships transiting have been essentially flat since the parallel channel was opened amidst great fanfare in February 2016 following a two-year, $8.4 billion upgrade
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  • even if Suez Canal traffic were miraculously to increase, the benefits of a major logistical hub on its flanks are less than certain.

    Neither Egypt nor any other Middle Eastern or North African country is a major manufacturing centre. Intra-industry trade, which is that essentially conducted within multinational corporations as they integrate production of goods in many countries, is abysmally low in the Middle East and North Africa, whereas it is booming in East Asia.

    So the question of what purpose a logistical hub would serve is highly pertinent.
  • the Red Sea is not exactly a hospitable political environment. The ongoing war in Yemen, increasing instability in Eritrea and Ethiopia, persisting violence in Somalia and Egypt, protracted conflict in Sudan and South Sudan, piracy, and growing competition for port access between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, China, the US and others contain the seeds for turmoil that could negatively impact tourism in the region
  • What benefits then might Egypt anticipate from the reported $10 billion investment?

    The principal one seems to be contracts for military owned or associated construction companies, just as was the case with the digging of the parallel channel to the Suez Canal.
  • As military men they are interested in generating business for that sector of the economy they have come to control. From their perspective the $10 billion is not an investment in Egypt's future so much as it is a payment to the Egyptian military for being supportive of Mohammad bin Salman and his ambitions
  • costs of what appears to be a large scale, military dominated construction project are economic, environmental and political
  • Turning military owned and associated construction companies loose in the southern Sinai and along the foreshores of the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez is a recipe for environmental disaster, as the current situations on the Mediterranean North Coast and western shore of the Gulf of Suez attest. The fragile marine environment has already sustained enormous damage to reef and other aquatic life.
  • buying Egyptian political insurance for his $10 billion, a price that Egypt may ultimately find to be very high
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Freelancing abroad in a world obsessed with Trump - Columbia Journalism Review - 0 views

  • “I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” said Sulome in mid-December. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.” The day we spoke, she heard that Foreign Policy, one of the most reliable destinations for freelancers writing on-the-ground, deeply reported international pieces, would be closing its foreign bureaus. (CJR independently confirmed this, though it has not been publicly announced.) “They are one of the only publications that publish these kinds of stories,” she said, letting out a defeated sigh.
  • Sulome blames a news cycle dominated by Donald Trump. Newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs simply have less space for freelance international stories than before—unless, of course, they directly involve Trump.
  • Trump was the focus of 41 percent of American news coverage in his first 100 days in office. That’s three times the amount of coverage showered on previous presidents
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  • Foreign news coverage has been taking a hit for decades. According to a 2014 Pew report, American newspapers even then had cut their international reporting staff by 24 percent in less than a decade. Network news coverage of stories with a foreign dateline averaged 500 minutes per year in 2016, compared to an average 1,500 minutes in 1988, according to a study by Tyndall.

    “Clearly it’s harder for international stories to end up on front pages now,” says Ben Pauker, who served as the executive editor of Foreign Policy for seven years until the end of 2017. He is now a managing editor at Vox. From his own experience, Pauker says, it’s simply an issue of editorial bandwidth. “There’s only so much content an editorial team can process.”

  • In October 2017, Sulome thought she had landed the story of her career. The US had just announced a $7 million reward for a Hezbollah operative believed to be scouting locations for terror attacks on American soil—something it had never done before. Having interviewed Hezbollah fighters for the last six years, Sulome had unique access to the upper echelons of its militants, including that specific operative’s family members. Over the course of her reporting, Hezbollah members told her they had contingency plans to strike government and military targets on US soil and that they had surface-to-air missiles, which had not been reported before. Convinced she had struck gold, she was elated when the piece was commissioned by a dream publication she’d never written for before. But days later, that publication rescinded its decision, saying that Sulome had done too much of the reporting before she was commissioned. Sulome was in shock. She went on to pitch the story to eight other publications, and no one was interested.
  • I’ll go back to the Middle East on trips if I find someone who wants a story, but I’m not going to live there and do this full-time, because it’s really taking a toll on me
  • According to Nathalie Applewhite, managing director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the lack of international coverage has become a real problem for Pulitzer grant recipients. Those grants, she says, were established to address the earlier crisis in which news organizations were closing foreign bureaus and could no longer fund big foreign reporting projects. “Now we’re seeing an even bigger challenge,” she says. “We’re providing the monetary support, but the problem is finding the space for it.”

    Grant applicants, Applewhite adds, are finding it harder to get commitments from editors to publish their work upon completion of their reporting. And stories that already have commitments are sitting on the shelf much longer, as they are continuously postponed for breaking Trump news.

  • As the daughter of two former Middle East-based journalists, Sulome knows what it used to be like for people like her. “I grew up surrounded by foreign correspondents, and it was a very different time. There was a healthy foreign press, and most of them were staff. The Chicago Tribune had a Beirut bureau for example. So when people say we’re in a golden age of journalism today, I’m like, Really?
  • The divestment from foreign news coverage, she believes, has forced journalists to risk their lives to tell stories they feel are important. Now, some publications are refusing to commission stories in which the reporter already took the risk of doing the reporting on spec. Believing that this will discourage freelancers from putting their lives in danger, this policy adds to the problem more than it solves it.
  • “When people lose sight of what’s going on around the world, we allow our government to make foreign policy decisions that don’t benefit us. It makes it so much easier for them to do that when we don’t have the facts. Like if we don’t know that the crisis in Yemen is killing and starving so many people and making Yemenis more extremist, how will people know not to support a policy in which we are attacking Yemenis?”

  • “Whether it’s environmental, ethnic or religious conflict, these are issues that may seem far away, but if we ignore them they can have a very real impact on us at home. International security issues, global health scares, and environmental crises know no borders, and I think we ignore them at our own peril.”
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POMED Report - Foe Not Friend: Yemeni Tribes and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula | Pr... - 0 views

  • Yemeni tribes as collective entities—as opposed to individual tribesmen—have not allied with AQAP or agreed to give its fighters sanctuary. Tribes reject the group’s radical and violent ideology and tend to see AQAP as a serious challenge to their authority.
  • AQAP has only been able to seize territory and make other gains in parts of Yemen where the tribal structure is relatively weak
  • tribes first use peaceful conflict resolution to deal with AQAP threats, and resort to force only in what they assess as particularly dire circumstances and when they have exhausted all other options. Through peaceful conflict resolution, and sometimes through force, tribes have helped to limit the spread of AQAP
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  • The report describes the evolution of al-Qaeda in Yemen since the late 1980s; what tribes are, the government’s relations with tribes, and tribes’ governance and value systems; and AQAP-tribal interactions before and during the civil war, when some tribes have coordinated with AQAP against the Houthis, a common enemy
  • Limit the use of airstrikes and raids against AQAP, especially in areas where clashes between Houthis and tribes are ongoing. Such attacks generate popular anger among tribes and other Yemenis that AQAP exploits.
  • Contrary to a common stereotype, tribal areas are not lawless
  • Tribes oppose AQAP because its presence can instigate conflict within tribes, threaten the fragile social order, and invite air strikes
  • AQAP has been able to recruit some tribal youth who, frustrated, without economic prospects, and isolated in their communities, are vulnerable to its propaganda that speaks to their social and political grievances and offers them status and material gain.
  • The preferred U.S. strategy against AQAP has been to prosecute a controversial and far-reaching air (mainly drone) strike campaign. These strikes have killed AQAP leaders, but also killed and injured many civilians in tribal areas, and caused destruction and disruption that breed deep anger among tribes toward the Yemeni and the United States governments. AQAP exploits this to build support.
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