Friday, November 27, 2015

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Bernie Sanders is right: Saudi Arabia is more focused on the conflict in Yemen than fighting ISIS

By Linda Qiu 

"Instead of fighting ISIS, (the Saudis) have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen." Bernie Sanders on Thursday, November 19th, 2015 in a speech at Georgetown University.

Bernie Sanders delivered his long-awaited speech on democratic socialism last week, also outlining his plan for fighting ISIS.
Sanders called for a broad international coalition but stressed that Muslim nations must shoulder the fight, which he called "a struggle for the soul of Islam." So far, he said, wealthy and powerful countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have done very little.
"Saudi Arabia, turns out, has the third-largest defense budget in the world," Sanders said on Nov. 19. "Yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen."
Sanders is correct that Saudi Arabia’s military budget is the third largest in the world. But is he also right that the Saudis aren’t prioritizing ISIS? In a word, yes.
A striking scaleback
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not return our requests for comment. But the Sanders campaign forwarded us a New York Times article that says, "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen."
In 2014, the Houthis — a longstanding Shiite separatist group in northern Yemen, a country with a Sunni majority — rebelled against the Yemeni government and seized the presidential palace. After months of tense peace brokered by the United Nations, the Houthis took over the government and placed the president under house arrest in early 2015.
Saudi Arabia, which has a Sunni majority and is ruled by a Sunni monarch, led a 10-state Arab coalition and launched airstrikes against the Houthis on March 26. It pledged to use 100 warplanes and 150,000 soldiers. In a month, the Saudisconducted 2,415 sorties (a deployment of an aircraft), releasing at least 1,000 air-to-ground weapons.
Meanwhile, as part of the U.S.-led coalition of 60 countries, Saudi Arabia has also been involved with the international effort against ISIS since September 2014. Since then, it has deployed just four F-15 fighter jets and an unspecified number ofTyphoon combat jets against ISIS. (Saudi state media trumpeted the participation, releasing photos of pilots who flew in the strikes and highlighting that the son of King Salman was among them.)
Experts said Saudi Arabia doesn’t publicize the exact number of airstrikes it has carried out, but the data shows that the amount of non-U.S. airstrikes overall has been scaled back since the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen began in late March. Conversely, the United States has beefed up its strikes.
Here’s a chart from, a project tracking the international air war against ISIS, that demonstrates this point:
Data compiled by shows that from Dec. 1, 2014, to Nov. 16, 2015, Arab allies conducted just 143 of the 2,827 airstrikes in Syria, 90 of which occurred before April 3 (intervention in Yemen began March 26). For comparison, Saudi Arabia sometimes conducted as many as 125 strikes a day against the Houthis, according to the BBC.
"Bottom line, Bernie Sanders is right. All the evidence points to it," said Chris Woods, an investigative journalist who leads the Airwars project. "Clearly, we saw with the Saudis a capability unleashed in Yemen that we never saw in Syria."
"The volume of Saudi military forces deployed to combat the Houthis puts the Saudi deployment against ISIS to shame," said David Weinberg, an expert on the Gulf monarchies at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
Weinberg looked at tallies from the Defense Department which are consistent with data. He also noted a decline in the number of non-U.S. airstrikes in Syria and "a pitiful lack of participation by America’s Arab allies in what was supposedly unveiled as a joint U.S-Arab effort when it was launched last fall."
According to the New York Times article cited by the Sanders campaign, the Saudis flew their last strikes in Syria in September, Jordan in August, and the UAE in March.
Conflicting crises
Riyadh has its reasons for prioritizing the Houthis over ISIS. Among them: Yemen’s proximityIran’s gains in the regionsectarianism and, simply put, practicality.
"Yemen is the soft underbelly of the kingdom, and Iranian presence there through its support of Houthis is viewed as an existential threat to the kingdom," said David Ottaway, the Middle East specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
"In the end, Syria doesn’t border Saudi Arabia like Yemen does," said Lori Plotkin Boghardt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And more fundamentally, the Saudis view Assad as the root of the ISIS problem and have argued from the beginning that Assad has to be defeated first in order to defeat ISIS."
Saudi Arabia is also somewhat relying on the United States to take on ISIS, added Weinberg of the Defense of Democracies. It’s also politically easier for the Sunni kingdom to mobilize public opinion there against radical Shiites like the Houthis rather than radical Sunni terrorists like ISIS, he said.
The United States, for its part, supports the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen (the Houthis’ slogan is "Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews, Victory to Islam"), despite concerns over civilian casualties and possible war crimes. What’s more, Boghardt pointed out, "the irony and the danger" is that the conflict in Yemen has given al-Qaida and ISIS room to operate there.
As for ISIS, there’s no question that the Saudis are aware of the threat it poses. The terrorist group has repeatedly targeted the kingdom, bombing mosques anddetonating car bombs. Beyond military engagement, the Saudis have foiled terrorist plots and arrested hundreds of ISIS supporters. But experts say the kingdom could be doing a lot more.
"Saudi Arabia really should be doing more to militarily combat the twin scourges of ISIS and al-Qaida," Weinberg said. "Bernie Sanders is right that we should expect more from our Saudi allies in the fight against terror in Syria as well as beyond."
Our ruling
Sanders said, "Instead of fighting ISIS, (the Saudis) have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen."
This is an accurate assessment. The Saudis have prioritized the conflict in Yemen over the fight against ISIS, as evidenced by the amount of resources it has committed to both crises.
We rate Sanders’ claim True.

UK could be prosecuted for war crimes over missiles sold to Saudi Arabia that were used to kill civilians in Yemen

By James Cusick 

Britain is at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes because of growing evidence that missiles sold to Saudi Arabia have been used against civilian targets in Yemen’s brutal civil war, Foreign Office lawyers and diplomats have warned.
Advisers to Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, have stepped up legal warnings that the sale of specialist missiles to the Saudis, deployed throughout nine months of almost daily bombing raids in west Yemen against Houthi rebels, may breach international humanitarian law.
Since March this year, bombing raids and a blockade of ports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Gulf states have crippled much of Yemen. Although the political aim is to dislodge Houthi Shia rebels and restore the exiled President, Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, with schools, hospitals and non-military infrastructure hit. Fuel and food shortages, according to the United Nations, have brought near famine to many parts of the country.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs, claim there is no doubt that weapons supplied by the UK and the United States have hit Yemeni civilian targets. One senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) legal adviser told The Independent: “The Foreign Secretary has acknowledged that some weapons supplied by the UK have been used by the Saudis in Yemen. Are our reassurances correct – that such sales are within international arms treaty rules? The answer is, sadly, not at all clear.”
The aftermath of an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on Sanaa on 13 July; 1.5 million people have been displaced
Although the Department for International Development recently received assurances from the Saudi government that it did not want a famine to develop on its doorstep, there is concern within the FCO that the Saudi military’s attitude to humanitarian law is careless. Officials fear that the combination of British arms sales and technical expertise used to assist bombing raids on Yemen could result in the UK being hauled before the International Criminal Court on charges relating to direct attacks on civilians. 
Another government lawyer warned: “With Britain now expected to join the United States and France in the war on Isis in Syria, there will be renewed interest in the legality of the assault in Yemen. It may not be enough for the Foreign Secretary to simply restate that we have yet to carry out any detailed evaluation [of UK arms used in the bombing of Yemen].”
The legal adviser said: “Yemen could be described as a forgotten conflict. Inside the Foreign Office a course-correction is seen as crucial.  It is a proxy war, with the Saudis believing Iran is behind the Houthi rebellion.”
Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s arms trade director, told The Independent: “There is a blatant rewriting of the rules inside the FCO. We are not supposed to supply weapons if there is a risk they could be used to violate humanitarian laws and the international arms trade treaty – which we championed. It is illogical for Philip Hammond to say there is no evidence of weapons supplied by the UK being misused, so we’ll keep selling them to the point where we learn they are being used.”

Most of Saudi’s weapons are supplied by the United States. With help from the UK, the US is also offering logistical support, airborne refuelling, with a specialist Pentagon-approved team providing intelligence on targeting. This month the Obama administration authorised a $1.29bn (£858m) Saudi request to replenish stocks of specialist missiles, a move seen by critics as an effort to assuage Saudi anger over the US-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, the kingdom’s key regional rival.
In July, Britain authorised the transfer of Paveway IV missiles from the RAF to Saudi Arabia. The MoD approved a switch in positions on an order book from the arms manufacturer, Raytheon UK.
The contract, worth close to £200m, secured the supply of hundreds of the air-launched missiles to the Saudi air force over the next two years. The Raytheon precision weapons are used by both the RAF and its Saudi counterparts on Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, supplied by BAE Systems.  The order switch ensured that the Saudi arsenal, depleted through multiple daily bombing raids on Yemen over the past nine months, would not be exhausted.
This week both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch issued new evidence, based on their own field research, which they said showed that a factory in the Sanaa governate that was not involved in any military production, was destroyed by a UK-made cruise missile.
David Mepham, the UK director of HRW, said a GM-500 air-launched missile made by the UK firm Marconi had destroyed the factory and left a civilian worker dead. He said this was only the latest “multiple well-documented case of violations of the laws of war by the Gulf coalition in Yemen. UK ministers have consistently refused to acknowledge this”.
Doubts within the FCO over the legality of the British contribution to the Saudi war in Yemen have echoes of the debate in the run-up to the Iraq war. In 2003 Elizabeth Wilmshurst, an FCO deputy legal adviser, resigned after questioning the legality of joining in the invasion of Iraq without a defined resolution from the UN.
A Government spokeswoman said:
"We do not recognise those comments but HMG takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.
"The MoD monitors alleged International Humanitarian Law (IHL) violations, using available information, which in turn informs our overall assessment of IHL compliance in Yemen. We regularly raise our concerns with the Saudis, and have repeatedly received assurances of compliance with IHL. It is important that transparent investigations are conducted into all incidents where it is alleged that IHL has been breached, and we are offering advice and training to the Saudis to demonstrate best practice and to help ensure continued compliance with International Humanitarian Law."
Asked by The Independent whether the UK government regarded relations with the Saudis as too important to risk by asking awkward questions about the bombing of Yemeni civilian targets, another FCO adviser responded: “There are many Elizabeth Wilmshursts around here at the moment. Not all are being listened to.”
The full extent of suffering inflicted on Yemen’s population by the war has been laid bare by a series of independent assessments. The aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières  describes Yemen as a “country under siege” in a new report. The UN’s next humanitarian assessment of Yemen is expected to state that close to 5,000 civilians have been killed and almost 25,000 wounded since the beginning of the bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels.
The UN estimates that 21 million people now lack basic, life-sustaining services, and more than 1.5 million of them have been displaced from their homes. Unicef estimates that as many as 10 children a day are being killed, with six million people facing food insecurity. The World Food Programme says most Yemeni provinces are now classified as only one level below a full famine crisis.
Frances Guy, a former British ambassador to Yemen, described the famine and the humanitarian situation as “tragic”. She added: “We should also be talking about Yemen in the context of security, asking where is the next place that Isis will go? The answer is Yemen. Because of the instability caused by the bombing, we have helped created the next space for Isis after Syria. This is where they will retire to.”
There are fears that both Isis and al-Qaeda’s Yemeni franchise, Aqap, are taking advantage of the instability caused by the bombing campaign to expand their influence within the country.

Erdogan's manoeuvre backfires

Why is Turkey clashing with countries it calls its ‘friends’

By Dr. Savaş Genç

First there was “my friend Assad” and then “my second home Iran,” followed by “my friend Ahmedinejad” and of course “my ally Putin.”
One by one, clashes have been witnessed between Ankara and all these “friends,” the latest case involving the Russian leader. Through the entire course of the history of the Turkish Republic, it is possible that relations between Turkey and Russia were never as good as they had been with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin in power. The two leaders have had -- until now -- a relationship based on mutual trust, with clear red lines and “gentlemen's agreements” shaping things. Even the fact that Turkey and Russia were supporting different sides in Syria didn't seem to affect the Putin-Erdoğan relations. The common denomiNATOr that has bound Erdoğan and his “friend” Putin until today has been their mutual tendency to resist political values such as Western style democracy, pluralism, transparency and accountability. They have also both been interested in cooperating when it comes to arenas of easy profit, notably energy. Under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, Turkey has maintained a lower profile and less of an assertive foreign policy presence in Central Asia than during any other republic government. Ankara has been careful not to make an entrance into Putin's energy basin in any way that would openly compete with Russia. In fact, under the AKP, Ankara went as far as declaring some of the Turkistan opposition in China “terrorists” so as to maintain good relations with Beijing; while making it clear it stood on the side of land unity for China, Ankara also appealed to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to take it on as a member, saying “save us from the gates of the EU.”
So the question needs to be asked: how is it that the same Turkey, who was enjoying such strong and good relations with Russia, decided to solve a minor air space violation not with diplomacy but rather by bringing down a jet, thereby causing a military clash and many firsts on the NATO front? Although Turkey has had a few incidents in the past where it has brought down aircraft belonging to other countries -- though always within the framework of engagement rules -- announcements about these incidents have always been made to the public by the military's General Staff headquarters. This time, why did the Turkish public hear about it from President Erdoğan directly? Also, which of the two leaders was the first to break the gentlemen's agreement that helped shaped the relations between them?

Did Turkey try to reclaim its esteem?

Is what we are seeing an attempt by Ankara to regain some lost esteem, by firing on a Russian jet and then looking Moscow straight in the eye? After all, this is the same Turkey whose own planes have been brought down in the past, whose ship was hit on international waters by both Israel and Libya, and whose consuls have been kidnapped. But if, perchance, this is the case, then why only a few minutes after the plane came down did NATO call an emergency meeting?
It seems quite odd that the same politicians who have relied until now on tired Middle Eastern style clichés about “foreign powers allied on a crusade,” or “this and that lobby” and a whole host of other conspiracy theories go knocking on NATO's doors the moment that there was gunfire exchanged. If in fact Turkey fired on that Russian jet believing that NATO would come to its rescue, then we need to hang a big padlock on the front gates of our Foreign Ministry and tell someone -- a son in law, a cousin, anyone -- to come and watch the business while we hide in the corner.
From the very first days of the Syrian crisis, the attitude of the West has been something akin to “I'm staying out of this one; if Turkey really wants to get in, though, it should get on its rain boots and head over.” Just as NATO has never squared off against Russia in the wake of the latter's presence in both Ossetia and the Ukraine, it is going to react accordingly in this situation as well. And in this vein, the first reactions after the jet came down to come in from our strategic partner, the US, were also notable. Pentagon spokesperson Steve Warren said: “It is an incident between the governments of Russia and Turkey. It is not something which concerns the US.” This statement alone appears to be a clear and concise summation of some of the problems we're about to face in the near future.
What sort of retaliation can we expect?
The Russian public is not accustomed to these sorts of situations. Nor is the Turkish public accustomed to their country firing on a superpower's military jets. The most recent situation we have to look to is when Turkey bombed the Russian ports in Sivastopol and Odessa -- a participatory act that was part of World War I -- and I think we can all recall how that film ended. There is now very serious pressure being placed on Putin to retaliate somehow against Turkey. Moscow now perceives Ankara as a backstabbing enemy whose real aim herein is to protect the terrorists. Putin, who believes strongly that Erdoğan has trampled the red lines between them, has declared “They betrayed me.” There is little doubt that Moscow is already preparing to release documents that will damage Turkey's reputation and standing on the global level. It is also likely that Moscow will now fiddle with both energy and foreign trade faucets, trying to trigger economic imbalance in Turkey. What's more, in its aim to overcome its dependence on Moscow's natural gas, Ankara had awarded a bidding tender for new nuclear energy facilities to a Russian firm.
The fact that we have arrived so quickly at a flashpoint with Moscow, despite what appeared to be such strong relations, is cause for us to question our foreign policy choices.
It appears likely that Turkey, in favoring short-term interest choices over long-term planning, is going to be seen by the rest of the world as a typical Middle East-style country in its choices.

Why is Turkey always wrong?

With Ankara choosing a set of foreign policies based not on principles and values, but rather on its interests alone, it is now destined to experience in relations with Moscow something similar to what it had not long ago with both Damascus and Tehran: intense and close ties, followed by clashes.
Our archives are open and clear; many times in the past, we have asserted that when forming foreign policy relations with countries whose values we do not share, there are going to be limitations as to how close we get and that we need to operate on this reality. When Turkey was busy holding joint cabinet meetings with the Assad government, those who gave warnings were scorned as not being able to understand the “new Turkey.” It appears that those at the helm of Turkey were blind to the concrete borders that define relations with neighbors, no matter how wonderful it may be to foster closer relations.
After all, if your security fears are legitimate and you act within the framework of engagement rules, you can bring down any plane you wish, whether it be Russian or American. But where was this bravado when just yesterday Ankara was appealing to the SCO to take it, or handing over its presence in the lands of Central Asia to Moscow on a silver platter? When you do not share decision-making process styles or values with the same countries you champion as being your “friends,” it is inevitable that you will experience clashes with them sooner or later. Last week, for the first time ever, a NATO member brought down a Russian plane. Though this might make Ankara a “hero” for some on the domestic front in the short term, it will be seen in the outside world as proving that Turkey is an unpredictable actor. Don't misread me though; the Syrian problem is just one of the AKP's historic mistakes. And Ankara's failure to read the situation correctly on both domestic and foreign fronts is something for which we may well pay even more heavily in the near future.

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Putin Right to Accuse Erdogan of Duplicity – British Historian

Turkey only pretends to be fighting against ISIL, British historian Michael Burleigh wrote, stressing that the country’s president Erdogan acts like if wanted to weaken the forces that actually combat Islamists.

It may seem only at first sight that the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is involved in the fight against ISIL militants, Michael Burleigh claimed in his article written for Daily Mail.

In reality, Turkish forces are conducting airstrikes mainly on positions of only “one army which poses a real threat to ISIS, and has won countless battlefield victories against them,” and it is the Kurdish PKK forces in Syria. In fact, ISIL could be destroyed in a relatively short period of time, if Kurds acted freely without being attacked by the Turkish Air Force.

“[W]hile Turkey may be a member of NATO — and of the alliance taking on the jihadists — Erdogan seems to be doing almost everything he can to cripple the forces actually fighting ISIS[ISIL],” Burleigh argued.

Burleigh went on by explaining that Erdogan treats Kurds as a threat of greater proportions than ISIL due to their objective of founding their own state. Kurds account for roughly one fifth of the population in Turkey and there are also big communities in Iraq and Syria.

Moreover, the Turkish leader “loathes” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose positions would strengthen should ISIL military might decrease.  So Erdogan turned a blind eye on ISIL militants infiltrating into small Turkish towns with a further goal of transfering foreign militants through those settlements to Syria. He also “ignored” that Turkish smugglers were purchasing oil from ISIL, Burleigh pointed out.

The historian also mentioned what he called the “worrying aspect of Erdogan’s consolidation of power,” meaning the continuing transformation of Turkey from a secular to Islamist state. Sitting in the Istanbul mayor’s chair, Erdogan was imprisoned in 1997 for his links to radical circles. And as Burleigh pointed out, he never forgot that experience. While serving as the country’s Prime Minister, Erdogan got his “revenge” in 2012, putting in jail 324 officers. He has also cut funding to the only force that could get in the way of spreading Islamization across Turkey – the army – by 30 percent.

The alarming fact, according to Burleigh, is that a younger generation of Turks, including members of Erdogan’s party, tends to be more sympathetic with ISIL. And there are some fresh instances of this turnaround: in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Turkish football fans during the match between Turkey and Greece disturbed the minute of silence devoted to the extremists’ victims, chanting “Allahu Akbar.” Statistical data shows that seven percent of Turks don’t think that ISIL militants are terrorists and some 15 percent claim that the radical group doesn’t pose a threat to Turkey.

“That’s why, too, Vladimir Putin is at least partly right to accuse him [president Erdogan] of duplicity in his fight against ISIS [ISIL]. Erdogan may want to join the EU, but he’s only a fair-weather friend of the West,” Burleigh concluded.