Administration’s stance on Assad’s removal from power weakens


On Tuesday in Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to accept the Russian and Iranian position that Bashar al-Assad remain in power. In a shift from previous US demands that Assad step aside, Kerry stated that the “United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change” and dismissed the Syrian opposition groups’ recent declaration that Assad leave as soon as a transitional period begins as “a nonstarting position, obviously." In 2011, President Barack Obama stated, “[T]he time has come for President Assad to step aside.” But administration officials have recently softened their stance, asserting that he wouldn’t have to go on “day one” of a transition. Last month, President Obama said that after a political process is decided upon, “we can look at Assad choosing not to run [in a presidential election].” In contrast, according to the Associated Press, Russia has “remained consistent in its view that no foreign government could demand Assad's departure” while the Iranian regime has insisted that he must be allowed to run in any future presidential election and that Tehran would never stop supporting him.

The administration is setting the fate of Assad aside in the hopes of uniting with Russia to fight ISIL, yet Kerry has argued that “neither peace nor the defeat of Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] is possible with Assad in power.” Kerry has often emphasized that “Assad is one of the principal reasons – the principal reason – that ISIS exists” because he “is a magnet for jihadists and foreign fighters from around the world.” In an op-ed, Andrew Tabler, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, warned that “unless we quickly decide on a mechanism and timetable for Assad’s departure and maintain what is salvageable of the Syrian state, the Islamic State and groups like it will remain.”

Assad’s regime, with the support of Iran and Hezbollah fighters, has indiscriminately murdered tens of thousands and displaced millions through the use of barrel bombs, air raids, massacres, intentional starvation, and chemical weapons attacks. Also on Wednesday, in an attempt to combat Hezbollah’s support for terrorism, the House unanimously approved imposing sanctions on banks that do business with the terrorist group. Additionally, Representative Pete Roskam (R-IL) introduced a new bill that targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), imposing sanctions against entities in which the IRGC owns at least 20% interest.


Israel and Turkey have reached an agreement to restore diplomatic relations, ending five years of strained relations, Ha’aretz reported Thursday.

The understanding was reached in Zurich, Switerzland by Joseph Ciechanover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy to Turkey; Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen; and Turkish Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu.

The crisis in relations between the two countries was exacerbated by the IDF’s 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara. The ship, which was under the control of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation—a group designated as a terror organization by the Netherlands and Germany—was part of a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. After the IDF boarded the Mavi Marmara, they were attacked by members of the crew. Ten crew members were killed in the ensuing fight, and several Israeli soldiers were injured. The other ships in the flotilla were diverted without incident. Israel has agreed to pay $20 million in compensation for those killed or injured in the raid, and Turkey will pass a law annulling any further legal claims against any IDF personnel stemming from the incident.

As a result of the deal, Turkey and Israel will restore full diplomatic relations and return ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, respectively. Turkey will also expel Salah al-Arouri, a senior Hamas official based in Turkey who directed the terror group’s operations in the West Bank. In recent years, many top Hamas officials have taken refuge in Turkey where they have been able to operate in the open, but Turkey has agreed to crack down on Hamas’ operations in its territory.

After the agreement is finalized, Israel will begin selling natural gas to Turkey and will lay a pipeline through which Israel will be able to export natural gas to Europe.

The announcement of the understanding comes nearly three years after President Barack Obama facilitated a phone call between Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an effort to reconcile the two countries. Since then, diplomatic progress had been slow. Over the summer and fall, Israeli officials started signaling a growing rapprochement with Turkey.

In September, Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold praised Sinirlioğlu, stating that “I think the general direction we are moving is positive.” The tone of Gold’s remarks was echoed earlier this week by Erdoğan, who said that reconciliation with Israel would benefit the whole region.

Gold’s comments in September also touched on the shared challenges faced by Israel and Turkey, where cooperation between the two could be helpful for stabilizing an increasingly dangerous region:

ISIL now has a presence in Sinai peninsula. Very close to our border. One of the current features of presence of ISIL in northern Sinai is the cooperative relationship between ISIL and Hamas. Iran has to figure largely in the national security considerations of both of our countries. Iran is largely responsible for a good deal of the chaos in the Middle East today. Iran modus operandi includes use of religious methods for spreading its power and influence. There are perceptions on Iran becoming more moderate from being a radical threat. To the contrary, we believe that Iranian agreement with P5+1 could give Iranians a sense of empowerment. As Israel and Turkey, at different times, we have been targets for Iran. Discussion is needed for protecting our national interests. (via


Natural beauty knows no borders, and now tourists to Israel and Jordan don’t have to be wary of trekking across boundaries to enjoy the scenery. EcoPeace Middle East (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East) – an organization of Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists – brought together tour operators and guides from the three populations to create guided treks that each traverse Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Jordanian territory. The unprecedented tourism collaboration, seed funded by the United States Agency for Development (USAID), aims to promote cooperative efforts “to protect our shared environmental heritage” while giving business opportunities to tourism professionals in all three areas, according to the organization. Mira Edelstein, Jordan River Projects Coordinator for EcoPeace Middle East, tells ISRAEL21c that the cross-border tourism project is a unique example of regional cooperation. “We involved 150 individual tour operators and guides on 15 tours throughout this year, and then we asked them to sit together and build itineraries for sellable tours, incorporating ‘green’ vendors wherever possible,” she says.  (via Israel21c)

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