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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 23-Aug-2016
23-Aug-16 World View -- Turkey begins to fully enter the war in Syria militarily

Web Log - August, 2016

23-Aug-16 World View -- Turkey begins to fully enter the war in Syria militarily

In an embarrassing turnaround, Russia removes its bombers from Iran

This morning's key headlines from

International Criminal Court gets conviction for 'cultural genocide' in Timbuktu Mali

Historic mosque and museum in Timbuktu, Mali
Historic mosque and museum in Timbuktu, Mali

A jihadist, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, pleaded guilty on Monday to the crime of "cultural genocide" in the International Criminal Court for destroying religious monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali.

The desecration of Timbuktu by al-Qaeda was a big story in 2012.

Founded between the 5th and 11th centuries by Tuareg desert nomads, Timbuktu became a meeting point between north, south and west Africa and a melting pot of black Africans, Berber, Arab and Tuareg desert nomads. The trade of gold, salt, ivory and books made it the richest region in west Africa and it attracted scholars, engineers and architects from around Africa, growing into a major center of Islamic culture by the 14th century. Timbuktu is home to nearly 100,000 ancient manuscripts, some dating to the 12th century, preserved in family homes and private libraries under the care of religious scholars.

In 2012, the al-Qaeda linked terror group, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), were using shovels, hoes and chisels to destroy Sufi Muslim shrines and mosques that were built centuries ago. It was feared that Ansar Dine would also destroy the 100,000 ancient manuscripts. As a result, many citizens of Timbuktu carefully hid any manuscripts they had in their possession. Many were also sent to Bamako, Mali's capital city, where they would be safe from Ansar Dine.

According to the charges brought by the ICC against Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi:

"It is alleged that, until September 2012, he was the head of the "Hisbah" (body set up to uphold public morals and prevent vice), set up in April 2012. He was also associated with the work of the Islamic Court of Timbuktu and participated in executing its decisions. It is alleged that he was involved in the destruction of the buildings mentioned in the charge."

On Monday, al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to the crimes he was charged with, and said the following at his trial:

"It is also my hope that the years I will spend in prison will be source to purge the evil spirit that took me and I will keep my hopes high that the people will be able to forgive me.

I would like to give a piece of advice to the Muslims in the world not to get involved in the kind of acts that I did because it will give no good to humanity."

Al-Mahdi could get a sentence of up to 30 years, but it's expected that he'll be sentenced to less because he confessed to the crimes.

The ICC considers this to be a historic trial because it was the first time that a jihadist was charged by the ICC, and it's the first time that the principal charge was destruction of cultural property. CNN and Swiss Info and ICC Case Information Sheet (PDF)

In an embarrassing turnaround, Russia removes its bombers from Iran

Last week we reported that Russia's bombers would be traveling from the Hamadan airbase in Iran, across Iraq airspace for bombing raids into Syria. This was considered an embarrassment to the US because US military had not been notified in advance, and had to approve travel through Iraq's airspace. ( "17-Aug-16 World View -- Russia-Iran airbase agreement further isolates Saudi Arabia")

Russia bragged that they would be permitted to use Iran's airbase "as long as required." Well, "as long as required" apparently ended on Monday, when use of the airbase came to an abrupt halt because it was no longer required, according to Russia's Defense Ministry spokesman:

"Russian military aircraft that took part in the operation of conducting air strikes from Iran's Hamadan air base on terrorist targets in Syria have successfully completed all tasks.

Further use of the Hamadan air base in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Russian Aerospace Forces will be carried out on the basis of mutual agreements to fight terrorism and depending on the prevailing circumstances in Syria."

Iran’s Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan blamed Russia for bragging, saying that it was "a kind of show off and ungentlemanly." He said in an interview:

"Naturally the Russians want to show that they are a superpower and an influential country and are present in all regional and global affairs. ... Of course grandstanding and incivility were behind the announcement."

Allowing Russia to use the airbase was controversial within Iran's government. Hossein Ruyvaran, an Iranian political analyst who teaches at the University of Tehran, was quoted as saying:

"The chief issue being discussed comes down to this: does allowing the Russian Aerospace forces use the capabilities of this airbase violate the Article 14b of the Iranian Constitution or not? Because according to this article, any form of leasing an airfield to a foreign power to be used as an airbase – even for a peacekeeping mission – is forbidden."

This ties into some analysis that I've done in the past regarding whether Iran would use a nuclear weapon on Israel. If you look at Iran's history in the last century, including its two generational crisis wars, the Constitutional Revolution of the 1900s decade and the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, combined with statements that they've made, you see that they take pride in never attacking anyone else, except in self-defense. Thus, I consider it almost impossible for Iran to preemptively use a nuclear weapon on Israel, unless Israel attacked first.

That doesn't make Iran the "good guy." Quite the contrary. Iran is perfectly happy to do things like sponsoring terrorist acts around the world through its puppet terrorist group Hezbollah, or supplying arms to Palestinians for use against Israel, or fighting a proxy war in Yemen, or supplying weapons and fighters to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad for use in his genocidal extermination campaign on Sunnis, making them war criminals. But the Iranian leaders still think that they're wonderful people rather than war criminals because they don't invade anyone.

So I see this Russian use of Iran's Hamadan airbase as crossing a red line that challenges this "good guy" self-image, at least temporarily. There will now be a debate in Iran's government that can go either way. It's possible that Russia may again be permitted to use Iran's airbase, but next time it will be done a lot more quietly. Russia Today (21-Aug) and AEI Iran Tracker and AP

Turkey begins to fully enter the war in Syria militarily

In a move that could once again change the direction of the war in Syria, Turkey is beginning to fully enter the war in Syria. On Monday, Turkey's military fired artillery shells across the border into Syria, striking ISIS targets in one region, and striking Kurdish militia targets in another region.

In addition, Turkey is preparing hundreds of Ankara-backed rebels for an offensive against the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). The Kurdish militias are also conducting an offensive against the same ISIS targets, opening the possibility of a collision.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said:

"Daesh [ISIS] should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that."

As we wrote yesterday, a major terrorist attack Sunday in Turkey has led to an announcement by the government of Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do a complete U-turn on its Syria policy, allowing Syria's president Bashar al-Assad to remain in power for six months after the peace agreement has been signed. This change in policy was dictated by the increasing success by the Syrian Kurds, whom Erdogan has said are terrorists linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

In the past, Turkey has been very cautious about directly entering the war in Syria. In particular, Erdogan wanted international agreement to implement a "no-fly zone" or "buffer zone" in northern Syria along Turkey's border, to provide a space for refugee camps for Syrian cities fleeing from the violence. In retrospect, this kind of no-fly zone might have prevented or lessened the surge of refugees traveling through Turkey into Europe. Erdogan never implemented a buffer zone because it was opposed by the United States.

But now, the policy "to do what it takes" military seems to be yet another aspect of Turkey's complete U-turn in Syria policy. If this is the start of a major Turkish offensive in Syria, the war could change dramatically. Reuters/AFP and AP

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 23-Aug-16 World View -- Turkey begins to fully enter the war in Syria militarily thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (23-Aug-2016) Permanent Link
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