Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Simultaneous Middle East newscast, a thrice-weekly look at the region’s biggest stories. Register here.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week launched a series of airstrikes against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, and warned that a ground operation would soon follow.
The air operation, which began on Sunday, and his warnings come three days after an explosion rocked Istanbul a week ago, killing at least six people and wounding more than 80 others. Turkish officials blamed Kurdish separatists for the explosion, which the Kurdish groups denied.
Erdogan said the strikes were “just the beginning” and that the Turkish Armed Forces would “knock out the terrorists by land at the most appropriate time”.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Defense Department claimed 471 targets had been hit and that “254 terrorists have been neutralized” since the start of the offensive, dubbed “Operation Sword Claw”. CNN cannot independently verify the number of casualties.
But Erdogan has been vowing to push into northern Syria since May. He had previously said the invasion was intended to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of fighters allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group declared by Turkey and the United States. It is considered a terrorist organization.
Analysts said Erdogan stopped carrying out his pledge to invade because he did not get a green light from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has a large military presence in Syria.
But senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentiev said on Wednesday that Moscow had tried to persuade Turkey “to refrain from large-scale ground operations”.
The northern Syrian region targeted by Erdogan includes three major towns, Manbij, Tal Rifaat and Kobani, which are under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The SDF, which is backed by Washington, has played an essential role in the fight against ISIS since 2014. But its backbone is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey sees as a wing of the PKK and seeks to eliminate it.
CNN asked Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkey Research Program at The Washington Institute, how likely it is that the Turkish leader will stick to his pledge this time around.
Turkey says it will begin its next incursion months ago. Are today’s claims different or more serious?
I think given previous Turkish incursions into northern Syria, this time around, nothing seems to be progressing quickly. Usually, the Turkish raids come after a day or two of shelling across the border with artillery and drone strikes, and then the army moves in. This time, the cross-border artillery shelling and drone strikes have been going on for almost a week, and [there has been] number [ground] a job. This means that something is missing.
How do you see the Kremlin’s recent comments about a possible incursion? Do you see it as a green light?
Normally, when Turkey goes into northern Syria, it needs to get the green light from two superpowers that are militarily in Syria, namely the United States and Russia.
But Russia is not biased. I think Russia wants more before it gives the green light to a large-scale Turkish incursion. What Russia wants is for the Turkish government in Ankara to engage the Assad regime and commit to ending the war, as a kind of global handshake. Of course, this kind of discussion would take days, if not weeks and months. So I think that until we see this kind of discussion mature and reach a conclusion, Putin will not give the green light to a Turkish incursion.
Given Turkey’s growing importance to the West amid the Ukraine war, are Western countries likely to turn a blind eye to the incursion?
The United States has traditionally opposed Turkish incursions because they target the YPG. But the United States relied on the YPG to fight ISIS. Therefore, you will never be happy when Turkey targets the YPG.
But things are different this time. [Firstly]The big strategic picture is changing. The importance of Turkey [to] The United States has shifted as US policy approaches the desert [Middle East]and focus on [Eurasian] Steppe, or diminutive of Syria and Ukraine.
So, the American point of view is that Turkey’s strategic importance has increased. This is a long-term shift.
In the short term, there is also a tactical point of view [in] Washington, which is that Turkey opposed the expansion of the North Atlantic countries NATO. I think that Ankara made good use of its hand by raising objections to Sweden’s accession. And so for the time being, Washington really doesn’t want to piss Turkey off. And I think this applies to all major NATO allies.
On Thursday, member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution establishing a fact-finding committee to investigate human rights violations in Iran during the protests that have swept the country over the past months.
The motion was advocated by Germany and Iceland, and it passed after 25 countries voted in favour, six voted against and 16 abstained during a special session in Geneva.
China attempted to remove the article making up the fact-finding committee by introducing an unexpected amendment to the resolution, a move that drew harsh criticism and collapsed after 25 countries voted against it.
Iran’s representative said the draft was “completely biased in nature and content and does not reflect facts and facts”.
Here are the latest:
- On Thursday, the Iranian government set up a national commission to investigate deaths linked to the protest movement sweeping the country, according to the deputy foreign minister.
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Thursday that Iran is going through a “full-blown human rights crisis”.
- An Iranian fan carrying a football shirt bearing the name Mohsa Amini confronted security officers on Friday at Iran’s match against Wales in Qatar.
- Soccer player Fawria Ghafouri was arrested on charges of “shameful and insulting behavior towards the Iranian national soccer team as well as incitement against the regime,” according to the pro-state Tasnim news agency.
Netanyahu’s party signs a deal with the far-right Jewish Power party
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel said on Friday it had signed a coalition agreement with Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party – the first agreement between Likud and another party as Netanyahu works to form a government. Ben Gvir will take over the position of the new Minister of National Security, and his party will receive a number of other positions.
- backgroundBen Gvir’s party, on a joint ticket with religious Zionism, made big gains in the November elections, helping secure Netanyahu’s path to victory (the two parties have since split). Ben Gvir had been claiming the post of public security minister for some time – claiming that Israel had lost control in the face of a wave of Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis. He appeared at the site of the Jerusalem bombings on Wednesday, saying, “We need to support our soldiers and policemen, return to targeted killings (of Palestinian militants), rule the State of Israel, deter terrorism and impose a price on it.”
- why does it matter: With this briefcase, Ben Gvir would be in charge of the police even though he himself was in trouble with the law – convicted of anti-Arab racism and support for terrorism. He also called for a more lenient shooting policy for police and soldiers to use against rioters throwing rocks and incendiary devices. He also wants new legislation that would give police and soldiers immunity for crimes committed while on duty.
IIndia and the Gulf states resume free trade talks covering food and energy security
Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal said today, Thursday, that India and the Gulf Cooperation Council have agreed to resume talks on a free trade agreement, at a time when his country is seeking closer relations with one of its largest trading partners.
- background: These talks mark the third attempt by India and the GCC countries to sign a trade agreement, with negotiations previously conducted in 2006 and 2008. The GCC is a federation of six countries in the Gulf region including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). United States), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
- why does it matter: Goyal said that the GCC countries are India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral merchandise trade from 2021 to 2222 amounting to $154 billion and services trade amounting to $14 billion. He pointed out that the GCC countries contribute about 35% of India’s oil imports and 70% of gas imports, adding that bilateral talks will be held on a trade mechanism that includes the Indian rupee and local Gulf currencies.
Cuban President meets Erdogan during a rare visit to Turkey
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday during a rare official visit to Turkey, Reuters reported. The two men held bilateral talks and signed cooperation agreements in several sectors, and the Cuban leader affirmed his country’s readiness to continue improving relations with Ankara in the fields of energy, tourism and education.
- background: This is the first visit by a Cuban leader to Turkey in 27 years, according to Turkish media. Diaz-Canel recently started an international tour that included Russia, Turkey, Algeria and China for economic support and cooperation in the energy sector.
- why does it matter: The communist-run country faces severe power shortages and hours of blackouts, and seeks to bolster its network with international aid. Cuba has been under a US economic embargo since 1962 after the communist revolution led by Castro.
The Football Association of Wales (FAW) said that the International Federation of Sports informed the federation on Thursday that it will allow the use of rainbow colored flags and hats in the World Cup stadiums in Qatar.
a Mail The FAW’s official Twitter account responded: “In response to the FAW, FIFA has confirmed that fans wearing rainbow bucket hats and rainbow flags will be allowed into the stadium for @Cymru’s match against Iran on Friday. All World Cup venues have been contacted and instructed to follow the rules.” and agreed regulations.
The FAW urges FIFA to live up to their message that everyone will be welcome in Qatar during the World Cup and to continue to highlight any other human rights issues. We remain on our belief that football is for everyone.”
- Lionel Messi prepares for defeat as Saudi fans take over Doha after a World Cup upset
- Germany players cover their mouths to protest FIFA’s crackdown on freedom of expression at the ‘OneLove’ armband row
- Iran beat 10-man Wales to keep their World Cup qualification hopes alive
Journalist Zaid Benjamin tweeted, on Thursday, a video showing the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, jokingly asking the Saudi Minister of Sports, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, how he slept the night before. The minister had earlier told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview that he was “waiting for someone to wake me up” after his country’s stunning World Cup victory over Argentina on Tuesday.
Watch Sheikh Tamim’s interaction with the Saudi minister here:
Watch Becky Anderson’s interview here.