By Afro-Middle East Centre
The battle for the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane, resulting from a siege of the city by the Islamic State group (IS) since 2 July, has become the iconic battle in the USA-led international coalition’s war against IS. Despite IS having fought its way to within a few kilometres of Baghdad, a city of far more strategic importance than Kobane, the latter has become the focus of international media attention. There are various reasons for this. First, the initial inaction and the subsequent hyperaction by the USA have generated much discussion and criticism. Second, the Kurdish population in Turkey, Iraq and Europe have successfully kept Kobane in the headlines for weeks through methods such as large, widespread protests. Third, the use of women fighters, even as suicide bombers, by Kurdish militias has also sparked more than a few conversations. However, the most significant aspects of the battle for Kobane relates to the geopolitical dimension of the conflict, especially in the way it intersects with the interests of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, Turkey and the USA.
By Fawaz A. Gerges
In an important and alarming report to the United Nations Security Council early July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that an increase in tensions between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new war with potentially devastating consequences for the entire region.
The UN chief cited dozens of instances when the two antagonists - Israel and Hizbullah - almost broke out into war, and accused them of violating the 2006 ceasefire resolution that ended the 34-day July war in 2006. While Hizbullah continued to maintain "a substantial military capacity", Ban said, Israel continued to violate the ceasefire by conducting daily flights over Lebanon, and refused to withdraw from the disputed border village of Ghajar.
By Muneer Shafiq
Russian-Arab relations, although having strategic significance for both parties, do not hold the same level of strategic value for either. Furthermore, such relations are only the third or fourth priority for each of them. Clearly, Russia gives priority to its relations with America and Europe. At the Arab level, most regimes, except for Syria, prioritise their relations with the US, with some interested in relations with Europe. Russia is thus located at a tertiary level, together with China. With the strengthening of its relations with Iran, Turkey and a number of Third World countries, Syria's recent foreign policy priority is the Middle East region. At the international level, it is most anxious to develop relations with Russia. The extent of success regarding this endeavour, however, depends on Russia's position, and Syria's relations with Russia have not succeeded in reaching a strategic level. Oscillating according to circumstances, Syria-Russia relations are limited to the tactical level, to balance Russia-US and Russia-Israel relations.
By Omar Shaukat
With the release of another video showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, held hostage by the Islamic State (IS, also variously known as Isil, or Isis), IS’s confrontation with the US has become a hot topic of discussion throughout the world.
However, what such discussions typically miss is the manner in which IS has not only found enemies in the US but also within the Muslim world and the jihadist circles that at some point supported it. In fact, these internal divisions are so deep that a former ally of IS, and the US’s previous public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, too finds itself engaged in mortal combat with IS.
By Lamis Andoni
The resounding defeat of the Democratic Party in the United States midterm congressional elections has clearly weakened President Barack Obama's hand on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. With a new Congress, US foreign policy – at least as regards the Middle East – will remain pro-Israeli, and will maintain the goal of boosting Israel and weakening Iran. But the tone and manifestation of this policy will undergo changes that will result in hard-line tactics that will serve to increase the pressure on the the Palestinians, Syria and Iran.
With the changes in the two houses of Congress, right-wing Republicans will gain more power, thus limiting Obama's room for manoeuvre on foreign policy issues – ranging from China and North Korea to Russia, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Democratic Party's loss of more than sixty seats in the House of Representatives, and the weakening of the party's grip on the Senate, indicate a serious shift to the right as the two houses have become more pro-Israeli, more supportive of the Netanyahu government, and in favour of a confrontation with Iran.