Fehim Tastekin June 11, 2019 – AL MONITOR – Article Summary – Turkey is struggling to maintain a balance with Russia as it takes action to block the Syrian army at Idlib.
As the Syrian regime’s offensive against Idlib continues, Turkey has to pull off two contradictory missions in Syria’s last rebel stronghold: Save Tell Rifaat and Idlib at the same time.
Russia and the Syrian regime launched air and ground operations against rebels in Idlib on April 28. While Turkey tries to prevent the operation from becoming an all-out war, it has been baffled by three major developments. First, the Turkish army and its allied militias have turned toward Tell Rifaat, where the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are based. It has raised questions about whether Turkey is bargaining for Tell Rifaat for Idlib and thus selling out its opposition allies.
by Anna Borshchevskaya – PolicyWatch 3134 – June 12, 2019 – Ultimately, no deal is better than a bad deal, and Moscow’s track record in Syria suggests it is unable or unwilling to keep Iran out.
This month, Jerusalem will host a meeting between U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly suggested the idea when he visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this February, later noting, “I proposed to Trump and Putin to form a U.S.-Russia-Israel trilateral committee…to discuss the security situation in the Middle East and both of them agreed. This is unprecedented.” Similarly, the White House stated that the meeting’s purpose is “to discuss regional security issues.”
PolicyWatch 3133June 10, 2019
Although massive state resources have been mobilized against Imamoglu, the opposition candidate has taken up the mantle of the underdog who could challenge the status quo nationally, just as Erdogan himself did two decades ago.
In Istanbul’s mayoral race redo, polls indicate that opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu is pulling ahead of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim. Although Imamoglu won the first race on March 31, the country’s electoral board voided the election, alleging irregularities regarding the formation of ballot commissions in some Istanbul districts, and called for a revote on June 23.
Considering that Istanbul accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and that Erdogan was Istanbul’s mayor before he became prime minister in 2003, this election could serve as a platform for Imamoglu to challenge the president nationally. Yet Erdogan—who controls many of Turkey’s institutions, including much of the media, courts, police, and election boards—has two plans to win Istanbul, one formulated before March 31 and one after.
PLAN A: WIN THE VOTE WITH A POLITICAL COCKTAIL
Erdogan’s preferred plan to win the Istanbul race for Yildirim is through a “cocktail of methods”: that is, blending various tools designed to make incremental gains in favor of his preferred candidate rather than one large “make or break it” moment. For starters, nearly half a dozen opposition journalists have been physically attacked in recent weeks. Despite inflicting some serious wounds, the perpetrators barely received a slap on the wrist; instead, the police and the courts gave them immunity. Meanwhile, false stories and doctored videos in pro-Erdogan media have promoted allegations that Imamoglu is of “Greek origin” and should therefore be disqualified from becoming mayor.
There is also a chance that election day will be marred by minor vote rigging. Turkey has enjoyed free and fair voting since 1950, and large-scale rigging seems out of the question. Yet the election board has largely favored Erdogan in its recent decisions, such as its May 6 verdict to cancel the Istanbul vote. On June 6, the board removed thirteen of the thirty-nine district heads in charge of polls in Istanbul. Compliant electoral officials could help Erdogan swing the outcome in his favor on June 23 if the margin between Imamoglu and Yildirim is narrow again (it was reportedly around 13,000 votes in March).
Furthermore, ongoing and successful Turkish military operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group, could further help Erdogan’s camp. Various “national security crises” could do the same—for instance, wider conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces in the East Mediterranean, where the two countries have been at loggerheads recently over natural gas exploration. Barring such unforeseen incidents, however, Erdogan presumably hopes that his control over Turkey’s institutions—including semiofficial news agency Anadolu, the only body authorized to release election results—could help manipulate the outcome in Yildirim’s favor.
TURKEY’S “NEW ERDOGAN”
Despite the asymmetry between the candidates’ resources, Erdogan’s “Plan A” may have inadvertently helped create a “New Erdogan” out of Imamoglu, whose success should be analyzed within the context of Erdogan’s own rise in Turkey. Erdogan was born in a gritty, working-class Istanbul neighborhood in 1954. His initial political brand relied on casting himself as a poor, pious underdog in a Turkey that, at the time, restricted political power for people who wanted to wear religion on their sleeves. After he embraced political Islam and entered national politics in the 1990s as Istanbul’s mayor, he thrived by defending the interests of the “common pious voter” against the “secularist establishment.” This, among other factors, helped his Justice and Development Party (AKP) win Turkey’s 2002 parliamentary elections, elevating him to prime minister and, later, president.
For nearly a decade after 2002, Erdogan represented change in Turkey. He believed in a forward-looking vision for the country, suggesting that he could navigate the most pressing challenges, from the Kurdish issue to corruption to economic mismanagement. And he did. For this reason, many in the electorate supported him and his party at the ballot box.
That no longer seems to be the case, however. Erdogan has ruled Turkey for sixteen years, becoming the country’s most powerful politician in recent history. Nearly 31 million Turks, around 40 percent of the population, have come of voting age under him. Many of these citizens hold him responsible for the country’s current problems, such as renewed conflict with the PKK, a collapsing economy, and an oppressive environment toward the opposition.
Put another way, Erdogan now represents the status quo, and in this sense he may have inadvertently helped Imamoglu by undoing the March election. Under normal circumstances, mayoral votes should not affect national politics, but Erdogan has personally campaigned for his party’s candidate in this race, essentially turning the polls into a referendum on his popularity and providing Imamoglu with a wider platform as the “New Erdogan”—the underdog that represents a chance for change.
For example, Imamoglu is a pious Muslim, but unlike Erdogan, he wants to separate religion and government, a position that resonates with many citizens upset about the politicization of religion in recent years. Imamoglu has also rallied against corruption, nepotism, and wasteful government spending, striking solidarity with an electorate turned off by government excesses at a time of severe economic downturn. Moreover, he has rallied for an inclusive government, saying he is ready to treat all citizens equally regardless of their religious practice or lack thereof, striking the same chord Erdogan did in 2002.
PLAN B: GRADUALLY UNDERMINE IMAMOGLU IF HE WINS
If Imamoglu wins on June 23, Erdogan will not immediately rush to undermine him. Rather, the timeline of events after the March 31 vote provide a blueprint for his likely strategy. After winning the previous round, Imamoglu had to wait for over two weeks to officially take office. Erdogan allowed him to act as mayor for nearly three weeks before calling on the election board to cancel the vote and eject him from office; the board obliged to this demand in less than forty-eight hours. Had Erdogan called to annul the vote immediately, he likely would have triggered massive protests. Instead, he opted for a gradual approach spread over five weeks, thereby avoiding much of the public backlash that otherwise would have resulted.
Should Imamoglu win again, Erdogan will likely move slowly while taking steps to undermine the mayor’s authority. For instance, he could push his majority faction in parliament to pass legislation curbing Imamoglu’s powers. The most lethal legislative step would be to cut the city’s funding, since local governments in Turkey have limited means of raising revenue and rely on the central government for nearly two-thirds of their budget.
Another option is to sack Imamoglu and appoint a “caretaker” mayor, a measure Erdogan has previously used in other cities to replace elected mayors from the Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) based on allegations that they had connections to the PKK. Given Imamoglu’s popularity, though, replacing him with a caretaker for no credible reason would likely spark protests.
To overcome this hurdle, Erdogan may resort to a combination of legal tools. When the election board canceled the previous Istanbul vote, it did so on the much-disputed grounds that, contrary to the law, a number of polling station officials were not civil servants. On June 5, however, the board decided that these same officials should not be substituted on June 23. Erdogan has already commented on this apparent contradiction, saying “I think there is misunderstanding.” This opens the door for him to eventually ask the board to annul the next Istanbul vote on the same grounds if Imamoglu wins again. Simultaneously, Erdogan could pursue parliamentary steps to limit funding for Imamoglu’s new government, which could result in collapsing city services and turn public sentiment against the mayor in the short- to mid-term, making it easier to remove him.
Imamoglu has already defeated Erdogan’s “Plan A” once before, prevailing in the March vote against long odds. To do so again, and to stave off “Plan B” machinations, he will need to rise above Erdogan’s legal games and convince enough voters that he is the underdog and defender they seek.
Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, and author of the forthcoming book Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East.
MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : IN TIMES OF THE LEFT WING ANTI-RASSISM ISLAM DEVELOPS TO BE A GENUINE HUMAN RACE !
Britain’s Back-Door Blasphemy Law
by Soeren Kern – June 8, 2019 – GATESTONE
- The long-running dispute revolves — most recently — around an effort by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, a cross-party formation of around two-dozen MPs in the British Parliament, to institutionalize the definition of Islamophobia in racial rather than religious terms.
- The proposed definition has been opposed by many Britons, including British Muslims, who warn that it would effectively shield Islam from scrutiny and valid criticism.
MESOPOTAMIA NEWS DEBATE : ANNEXATION IN ISRAEL – WHY DOES IT MATTER AND WHY NOW ? – ANALYSIS BY CRISIS GROUP
Report – 202 / Middle East & North Africa 12 June 2019
Reversing Israel’s Deepening Annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem
Israel is pursuing new ways of cementing its grip on occupied East Jerusalem, further enmeshing the city’s Palestinians while maintaining a Jewish majority within the municipal boundaries. These schemes could spark conflict. The new Israeli government elected in September should set them aside. – Also available in العربية
What’s new? Israel is advancing new policies to entrench its de facto annexation of most of occupied East Jerusalem. Moreover, depending on what coalition government emerges from forthcoming parliamentary elections, it could shunt the city’s Palestinian areas lying east of the separation barrier into disconnected Israeli administrative units outside the municipality’s jurisdiction.
By Paul Iddon RUDAW – 11 June 2019 – Turkish commandos launch an operation in Hakurk, northern Kurdistan Region, May 28, 2019. Photo: Mustafa Aktas / Turkish Prime Ministry / handout
Turkey’s latest military offensive against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region has been underway for two weeks now. Launched on May 27, Operation Claw is so far proving to be the most significant offensive Turkey has mounted against the PKK since at least last summer, but how strategically or tactically significant will it ultimately prove to be?
MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : Pentagon official says ‘campaign’ of Iranian threats caused US Middle East surge
Jack Detsch June 11, 2019 – AL MONITOR – Article Summary – A “campaign” of Iranian threats against US and allied forces pushed the Pentagon to send fresh troops and weapons to the Middle East last month, a top Defense Department international policy official said at an Al-Monitor breakfast today.
The Donald Trump administration OK’d sending a bevy of fresh troops and weapons to the Middle East after receiving intelligence that signaled Iranian plans for a “campaign” against American forces, a top international policy official said today.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger said at an Al-Monitor Middle East Mornings breakfast event that sophisticated attacks against tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month pushed the US administration to respond by sending a carrier strike group, a suite of bombers, engineering assets and 1,500 American troops to the region.
Arab Spring: The Second Coming?
by Jonathan Spyer – The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security – May 1, 2019 – MIDDLE EAST FORUM
The current instability in Algeria, Sudan and Libya has led to some excited western media coverage heralding a second chapter of the Arab Spring. Those celebrating should be careful what they wish for. The Arab uprisings of 2010-11 and the subsequent years began with great hope but with the partial exception of Tunisia, left only strife, war and state fragmentation in their wake. One can only wish the protestors much luck, while noting that the record suggests that societies lacking civil society traditions and institutions are unlikely to achieve better governance through mass action.
Semih Idiz June 7, 2019 – AL MONITOR – Article Summary – Turkey is seeking to improve relations with the West to stave off further damage to its ailing economy, but wants to do so without appearing to concede any ground or make concessions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying not to show it, but the growing political and economic cost of Turkey’s frayed relations with the West concerns him to the extent of his signaling a desire to mend fences with the United States and Europe. The measures he proposes to achieve this, however, have not convinced his Western partners. They remain focused on results, not on offers and vague promises designed to buy time as they see it.
MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS COMMENTARY
Opinion: The fight over control of strategic assets in Syria has gone up a notch after Russia expels pro-Iranian militias from Tartus port, ahead of Russian-American-Israeli summit over future of Syria and recognition of the regime by US, Israel in exchange for restricting Iranian activity in the country
Alex Fishman|Published: 06.04.19 , 23:15 – Y-NET ISRAEL – Russian forces in Syria, aided by Syrian regime forces under their command, have in recent weeks expelled pro-Iranian militias that had taken over a civilian dock at the Tartus naval facility.
A year ago, during a visit by Iranian minister Amir Hatami to Syria, the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement. As part of the agreement, Syria authorized Iran to acquire a multi-year contract to manage one of the docks at the Tartus facility. Russia, however, vetoed the deal.