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The Region – September 5, 2023 – Labor Day Weekend

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Brief Overview of Key Events

This weekend’s developments in the MENA region signal a period of heightened activity and changing dynamics across multiple fronts. From escalating tensions and clashes in Syria’s Northeast to diplomatic gambits by Turkey in the Black Sea, the geopolitical landscape is rapidly evolving.

Purpose of This Edition

This edition of “The Region” dives deep into these critical events, aiming to provide you with concise yet comprehensive insights to inform your policy considerations.

★ SYRIA : Tensions Escalate: Syrian Northeast Roiled by Clashes, Strategic Struggle, and Uncertainty 

Following the visit of Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and U.S. Central Command Commander General Michael Korella to Syria’s northeast on August 24, a surge of tensions has gripped the region, particularly along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. 

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) wield authority over crucial territories, most notably the Omar oil field and the Conoco gas field, both bearing critical infrastucture for maintaining regional stability. Furthermore, on the eastern side of the Euphrates, the SDF oversees vital supply routes essential for pro-Iranian militias to connect Syria and Iraq.

The roots of this conflict trace back to the arrest of Ahmed Al-Khabil Abu Khawla, leader of the local Der Ezour Military Council, and four other leaders. Accused of cooperating with Iranian militias, these arrests ignited intense clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and local Sunni Arab tribes aligned with the Deir Ezzour Military Council (DMC)

Tragically, these clashes have resulted in the loss of more than 71 lives, including nine civilians. This crisis not only triggers concerns about regional stability but also finds a parallel in subsequent clashes erupting in Kirkuk. 

As this report is compiled, the situation remains unpredictable, even in the face of civilian appeals for a ceasefire. This turbulent landscape underscores the complex interplay of forces in Syria’s northeastern theater, casting shadows over the path to stability and peace.

Timeline of Events:

  • August 27, 2023: SDF arrests DMC commander in Al-Hasakah, sparking heavy Deir ez-Zur fighting.
  • August 28, 2023: 22 deaths, SDF-National Defense Forces tensions; Arab clan issues 12-hour ultimatum.
  • August 29-30, 2023: Clashes escalate, Arab tribal forces retaliate, Kurdish forces respond with airstrikes and curfews.
  • August 31, 2023: Iranian-backed militants target oil well near Koniko gas field in Deir ez-Zur countryside, heightening security tensions; smoke seen rising from the targeted well.
  • September 1, 2023: Residents flee multiple towns to safer areas. Arab tribal forces control territories, trigger Kurdish reinforcements; northwestern Syria Arab tribes support Deir ez-Zur counterparts.
  • September 2, 2023: A Turkish drone targets an “SDF” car in Qamishli’s countryside, resulting in the death of an “SDF” leader and injuries to two others.
  • September 3, 2023: Deputy Assistant Secretary Goldrich and Major General Foyle of the Joint Task Force met “SDF” and tribal leaders in northeastern Syria, highlighting addressing grievances, curbing interference, and ending violence. The Joint Task Force supported “SDF,” called for peace in Deir Ezzor amid clashes, countered clan advancements with “SDF” reinforcements in Raqqa. Northwestern Syrian Arab tribes vowed to confront Kurds in Aleppo and Manbij, forming a mobilization hub northeast of Aleppo with a “war tent” of over 10,000 people, aiming for this objective.
  • September 4, 2023:
    • Arab clans reject “SDF” truce, clashes escalate. 
    • Manbij Military Council counters attacks. 
    • Tribal fighters targeted villages in Manbij to support Deir ez-Zor clans in clashes against SDF for eighth day. 
    • SDF reported 11 members killed in clashes with Deir ez-Zor Military Council and clans’ support.
    • Residents of Deir Ezzor countryside expressed strong support for the Syrian Democratic Forces’ campaign against ISIS cells, criminals, and drug smugglers, rejecting attempts to disrupt security and stability.
    • SDF gained control of Al-Shuhail in Deir ez-Zor as clan fighters withdrew to Al-Hawaij and Dhiban, Sheikh Al-Akidat Ibrahim al-Hafel’s stronghold.
    • Mazloum Al-Abdi, leader of the SDF, revealed armed groups supported by the Syrian regime’s entry into SDF-controlled areas, exposing regime’s northeast Syria plans. He engaged with Deir ez-Zor tribal leaders for peaceful clash resolution, highlighting Arab clans’ resistance to regime’s return. Abdi noted supervised US moves, their call for peace, and air support. He dismissed US Iraq border operation, accused Turkey of instigating Manbij confrontations. 
    • The American Humanitarian Euphrates Civilization Organization (HEUC), a non-profit focused on societal development and combating extremism in crisis areas, issued a statement to the Arab Tribes. The statement calls for an end to ongoing conflicts, specifically praising the people of Deir ez-Zor for their resistance against SDF forces, their commitment to Syrian unity, and their rejection of the Assad regime and Iranian militias.

English-Subtitled Video from Al Hadath

End of Syria’s Exclusive Report

★ LEBANON: Spying Accusations, Global Tensions, and Internal Dynamics

Russian Individuals Detained for Suspected Israeli Espionage

Six days ago, two Russian individuals suspected of spying for Israel were detained in Beirut. They received arrest warrants accused of sharing security-related information that endangers Lebanon’s security. Israel allegedly recruited them to gather intelligence on Hezbollah.

French and Iranian Interference in Lebanon’s Crisis

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized the need to address Iran’s interference in Lebanon. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian dismissed the allegations and advised Macron to focus on France’s domestic matters. Ahead of Jean-Yves Le Drian’s next visit, a Qatari delegation will arrive in Lebanon, indicating possible division within the five-nation committee.

U.S. Diplomacy and Lebanese Resistance

Amos Hochestein, American Special Envoy for Energy concluded his Lebanon tour, calling for a land border agreement with Israel and aid for reforms. Sayed Safi, president of Hizballah’s executive council, stated that Lebanon does not need American advice and accused the U.S. of depriving Lebanon of electricity and aid.

Hezbollah’s Political Negotiations

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, is open to discussing Lebanon’s presidential file. Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) are in talks but have hit obstacles concerning financial decentralization and the trust fund. The latter issue is contentious because it would shift significant powers away from the Finance Ministry, a move opposed by the Shiite Duo, according to ad-Diyar newspaper.

Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad United Against Israel

On September 2, Nasrallah met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders to discuss increasing resistance in the West Bank and reiterate their commitment to fighting Israel. The meeting emphasized coordination between resistance movements.

★ Iraq: Evacuation Directive Triggers Violent Skirmishes and Fatalities in Kirkuk

Clashes Over PM Sudani’s Evacuation Order Result in Four Deaths

Violent confrontations between protestors and security forces in Kirkuk have led to four fatalities and a curfew imposition. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and their backers demanded the revocation of Prime Minister Sudani’s order to evacuate Kirkuk’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) facilities. The evacuation was planned to make way for the return of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to offices they had occupied before October 2017. Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court has suspended Sudani’s directive, pending the resolution of lawsuits filed to maintain security in Kirkuk province. The Kurdish Prime Minister criticized the court’s decision as a “farce,” with KRG officials questioning its constitutionality following anti-Kurdistan Region rulings.

★ TURKIYE: Ankara’s Diplomatic Gambits: Black Sea Grain Talks, Constitutional Overhaul, and Regional Partnerships

Stalemate at Black Sea Grain Talks: Putin and Erdogan Fail to Revive Initiative Amid Rising Regional Tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met to discuss the Black Sea Grain Initiative just hours after Russian forces targeted Ukrainian grain hubs. Putin insisted Russia will only rejoin if its conditions are met, revealing plans to supply free grain to six African countries. Erdogan aimed to mediate, emphasizing the necessity of the original deal. Meanwhile, Ukraine maintains its firm stance, seeking tougher sanctions against Russia. The meeting ended without resolution, leaving the Initiative at an impasse.

Constitutional Reform and Defense Manufacturing

Türkiye’s President is leading a comprehensive modernization of the constitution. Key focus areas include fundamental freedoms, fair trials, freedom of speech, women’s rights, and protections for the disabled. Concurrently, Türkiye aims to ramp up domestic defense manufacturing from 20% to 80%, emphasizing self-reliance and global commitments.

Upcoming Tripartite Meeting and Energy Collaborations

In his inaugural visit to Iran, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan held talks with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir Abdollahian. The discussions ranged from a potential Iran-U.S. prisoner exchange facilitated through Türkiye to tackling water scarcity from a dam crisis. 

Amir Abdollahian expressed Iran’s firm opposition to altering Caucasus borders, implying Iran’s support for Armenia in its dispute with Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan.

. Both nations target a 30 billion euro trade volume and focus on developing transport corridors. Plans for a tripartite meeting involving Ankara, Riyadh, and Tehran were also revealed. Separately, Türkiye’s Energy Minister initiated dialogues with Israel‘s Katz, centering on energy cooperation, particularly in natural gas.

★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Shifting Realities & Diplomatic Maneuvers

Netanyahu Urges Deportation Following Tel Aviv Eritrean Riots; 160+ Injured

Violent protests erupted in Tel Aviv involving Eritrean pro-government and anti-government groups, leading to over 170 injuries. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a task force and advocated for immediate deportation of involved Eritreans, terming them “a threat to Israel’s character.” A ministerial committee approved administrative detentions for easier arrests. Opposition leader Yair Lapid criticized the government’s approach. NGOs and international observers denounced the excessive use of force by the police. The incident has intensified the national debate on asylum seekers, judicial reforms, and Israel’s migration policies. Similar protests have occurred worldwide.

Domestic Dynamics & Detentions

Israel witnessed a spike in administrative detentions of Palestinians, totaling 1,264 in one week. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir aims to toughen measures on Palestinian prisoners. Amid this, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh ascribed violence in Arab communities to the “Zionist occupation,” causing tensions. The IDF raises concerns about armored vehicles being unprepared for Iran-funded IED attacks in the West Bank.

Military Enhancement

Israel’s Defense Minister requested 25 additional F-35 aircraft, valued at $ 3 billion, to bolster security against Iranian proxies. 

Diplomacy & Expanding Horizons

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen officially opened an embassy in Manama, marking three years since Israel normalized relations with the Gulf kingdom. Concurrently, the head of the Moroccan Council of Advisors is visiting Israel this week.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife visited Cyprus for two days, meeting the Cypriot President and Greek PM. Discussions addressed disputes over the ownership and profits of the “Aphrodite” gas field.

★ EGYPT: Dual Geopolitical Moves

ROSATOM Partnership & Military Unity

Energy ties deepen as Russia’s ROSATOM ventures into nuclear plant development in Egypt. In parallel, the “Bright Star 2023” joint military exercise emphasizes Egypt-US commitment to regional stability. Over 8,000 personnel from 19 nations unite for military cooperation.

Economic Shifts & Investment Strategy

Egypt’s Net Foreign Asset Deficit Shrinks by $808 Million. July sees a 24.9 billion pounds decline, minus 812.4 billion pounds – the first drop since March. Amidst financial strains driven by currency scarcity and rising money supply, Italy’s Eni committed a $7.7 billion investment in Egypt over four years. A drive to amplify gas production and attract investments unfolds.

Weekend Highlights

THE EARLY PHOENIX

September 5, 2023

TURKIYE

  1. Greece Aims to Enhance Turkish Relations for Mutual Benefit Ahead of Key Meetings (Daily Sabah). 
  2. EU Commissioner’s Visit to Turkey Signals Improved Relations Amid Membership Talks (Daily Sabah). 
  3. Record-High Turkish Exports Surge to $21.6 Billion in August, Trade Deficit Shrinks (TRT World). 

ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Netanyahu in Talks with Cyprus and Greece on Israeli Gas Route to Europe (Times Of Israel). 
  2. US Delegation Heads to Saudi Arabia for Talks on Normalization Amid Biden Administration’s Efforts (Times Of Israel). 
  3. Israel Arrests Hamas Members in Jenin Raid, Second Operation in Occupied West Bank (The National News). 

EGYPT & NORTH AFRICA

  1. UN Anticipates 1.8 Million Sudanese Refugees Fleeing to Neighboring Nations by Year’s End, Calls for $1 Billion in Aid (Al Naharar).
  2. Haftar and UN Envoy Batelli Agree on Formation of ‘6 + 6’ Committee for Electoral Laws in Libya (Akhbar Libya 24). 

IRAN

  1. Iran Expands Near-Weapons Grade Uranium Stock, Stalls Progress in Talks, IAEA Reports (The Jerusalem Post). 
  2. Iran’s Government Debt Climbs 61% to 30% of GDP Amid Economic Crisis (Iran International).

SYRIA

  1. Putin and Erdogan Discuss Extensive Syria Cooperation in Sochi Talks (North Press). 
  2. Jordan Thwarts Drug-Laden Drone Crossing from Syria (Sky News Arabia).  
  3. Russian-Iranian Efforts Aim to Facilitate Turkey-Syria Normalization Talks  (Al Sharq Al Awsat).
  4. Arab Clans Reject Truce with Syrian Democratic Forces as Clashes Escalate (Al Jazeera). 
  5. Iran Supplies Drones to Russian Forces in Syria, Training Commences at Palmyra Military Airport (Anahar).
  6. Turkish Foreign Minister Calls for Guaranteed Steps by Syrian Regime for Voluntary Refugee Return (Syria. TV).

LEBANON

  1. Lebanon Plans New Trading Platform via Bloomberg to Meet State’s Budget Needs, Says Acting Central Bank Governor (Al-Akhbar). 
  2. Lebanese Army Foils Attempted Infiltration of 1,100 Syrians Across Land Border in a Week (Al Bawabh News).  
  3. A Saudi Call for The Completion of The Lebanese Presidential Elections As Soon As Possible (Al Sharq Al Awsat).

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