August 4, 2019

Erdoğan threatens to invade Syria - this time he just might


"Ankara will not continue to tolerate the US-backed YPG terror group’s harassment in the region" – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

It appears that Turkey's (or more correctly, Erdoğan's) long-threatened invasion of northern Syria may actually happen - there are reports this afternoon of Turkish shelling along the border. This self-styled new Ottoman sultan - true to form - couches attacking the Syrian Kurds as a counterterrorist operation.

The Syrian Kurds the Turkish president is threatening to attack are the People's Protection Units (known more commonly by the Kurdish initials YPG), the major fighting force on the ground against fighters of the Islamic State in Iraqi and Syria (ISIS) in Syria. While the Turks did in fact engage some ISIS forces, most of their efforts were misguided, aimed at the YPG and not the actual enemy.

The Turkish government of President Erdoğan regards the Syrian YPG as nothing more than a branch of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. The PKK has been designated by the United States and NATO as a terrorist organization, many believe in a gesture to NATO "ally" Turkey.

The United States and its other allies do believe the YPG to be part of the YPG. No matter how many of Erdoğan’s sycophants claim otherwise - and as soon as I write this, they will come out of the proverbial woodwork - the YPG is not the PKK.

As far as I know, the YPG has never attacked targets inside Turkey. The PKK certainly has, and has used northern Syria as a base of operations, but this predates the civil war that began in 2011. Support for the PKK has long been an periodic foreign policy tool of the Syrian regime of both the late President Hafiz al-Asad and the current president, his son Bashar.

Following the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria, mostly at the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the majority of which is made up of YPG fighters, Erdoğan made the decision to take advantage of the situation and demand that there be a security zone along the Turkish border extending into Syria by as much as 30 kilometers (18 miles).

Erdoğan even launched several barely successful military incursions into Syria as the first step. Since it didn't go so well for the Turks, they want the U.S. to agree to the establishment of the zone and force the YPG to comply.

Negotiations have gone nowhere, and the Turks continue making threats to invade. While his army has the capability with armor, artillery and air support to push the YPG militias – basically a light infantry force – back away from the border, the YPG is likely to fight.

We don't need this confrontation - there are still issues with the remnants of ISIS in northern Syria that need to be addressed, not the least of which is the thousands of ISIS prisoners. The ISIS prisoners not only include the fighters, but their wives and children. Many of these are from foreign countries, including the United States and Europe.

So now we have a NATO ally, albeit a problematic one (need I say F-35 and S-400?) threatening to attack another U.S. ally. As has been since almost the beginning of the civil war, and with very few exceptions, the Turks have been decidedly unhelpful – and ineffective - in the fight against ISIS.

One has to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of ISIS fighters that come from outside Iraq and Syria arrived in Syria via Turkey. Having spent a lot of time on both sides of that border, I can say that crossing into Syria from Turkey is not done alone or without help.

This potential invasion is not only unhelpful, but totally unnecessary. The YPG is not a threat to Turkey. I suspect Erdoğan has read the polls in Turkey – his AKP party is in disarray and was rebuked in the latest local elections.

What’s the solution? Start a military operation against what Erdoğan claims to be a terrorist threat to Turkey. It might sell in Anatolia, maybe even in Trakya, but certainly not here.

Unhelpful and unnecessary.




August 3, 2019

Movie Review: "The Red Sea Diving Resort" (Netflix - 2019)


There has been a flood of publicity over the release of The Red Sea Diving Resort, a film about Operation Brothers, a Mossad operation conducted from 1979 to 1983 in which thousands of Ethiopian Jews were clandestinely transported from refugee camps in Sudan to Israel.

It is a great story, one that needs to be told. Unfortunately, this attempt to tell that story falls short.

In the late 1970's, the Israeli intelligence service was secretly moving Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel via a circuitous route, usually by air through European cities. Because of the visibility of the flights and increased Sudanese security, Mossad leadership halted the operation, believing that it posed too great of a risk to both the refugees and its officers.

A group of Mossad officers came up with a plan to resurrect the effort to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Having planned and executed intelligence operations during my career, I regard the Israeli plan as truly outside-the-box thinking.

The officers, through off-shore shell accounts, purchased a defunct diving resort on Sudan's Red Sea coast. The plan was to move the Ethiopian refugees from the camps in Sudan to the resort, where Israeli Navy commandos would use inflatable boats to move them to an Israeli-owned, ostensibly commercial, trawler for transport back to the port of Eilat via the Gulf of Aqabah.

Excellent tradecraft and the courage of the Mossad operatives resulted in over 3000 Ethiopians being taken to safety by the time the operation ended in 1983.

A word to my fellow Arabic linguists. The Sudanese dialect of Arabic is unique and difficult, but the quality of the language in the movie, with a few exceptions, was mediocre at best.

Again, a great story. The movie version seems contrived, uneven, and focused more on the personal issues of the Israeli officers rather than the plight of the Ethiopians they were there to rescue.

Watch it because it is a compelling story, and forgive the shoddy production.





ADDENDUM - Did the Iraqi Air Force revert to the Saddam-era roundel?


As you can see, the Iraqi Air Force responded to my inquiry - they have been using the legacy roundel again since March 2019.

_______________________________

Top: C-130J-30 transport aircraft / Bottom: King Air 350ER reconnaissance platform

In the above photographs, taken from the Iraqi Air Force Twitter page, it appears that the Iraqis have decided to re-apply the old traditional roundel* on at least some of it military aircraft.

The Iraqi roundel used from 1931 to the end of 2003 is a green triangle with a stylized Arabic letter jim in red, with the required dot that is part of the letter in white, representing the Arabic word jaysh, or army.

The Iraqis discontinued use of this particular insignia in 2003 when the Iraqi Air Force ceased to exist following the American invasion. It was felt that the roundel had become identified with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn.



The "new" Iraqi Air Force recommenced operations in 2004. It adopted this new roundel at that time - it is still in use today.

I was surprised to see the former green triangle insignia on these two aircraft. The C-130J-30 photo was posted on the Iraqi Air Force Twitter page today; the King Air 350ER photo was posted on July 31.

The green triangle "roundel" is not actually associated with Saddam Husayn, but I needed a catchy title, and most people do make the connection. The insignia has been in use from 1931, when the air force was established as the Royal Iraqi Air Force.

At that time, the Kingdom of Iraq was still a League of Nations mandate (which it became in 1920), administered by the United Kingdom until Iraqi independence in 1932.

The first batch of five Iraqi pilots received their aviation training at RAF Cranwell, returning to Iraq on April 22, 1931. This is recognized as the official date of the founding of the Iraqi Air Force.

Here is a photo of an Iraqi Air Force Hawker Audax reconnaissance aircraft, circa 1932. Note the green triangle insignia on the wings and fuselage.


Iraqi Hawker Audax ("Nisr")

The green triangle "roundel" has been a part of the Iraqi Air Force's 88-year history. Slightly different versions have been used on other pieces of military equipment.

When I was assigned as a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces Directorate General of Military Intelligence in 1988, they provided me with a duffel bag with this logo. Arabic speakers will easily recognize the Arabic letter jim (for jaysh, or army).

Since the roundel/insignia is clearly not associated with Saddam Husayn or the Ba'ath Party, and was used on Iraqi military aircraft since before the country's independence from the United Kingdom, no one should be offended or alarmed by its use.

That said, I would expect the Iraqis to announce the re-adoption of the roundel, the national insignia. There is nothing to be ashamed of here - it is a legacy going back over 80 years.


_________________

* A roundel is national insignia used on military aircraft, generally circular in shape and usually comprising concentric rings of different colors. Here is the roundel used on U.S. military aircraft. There are also subdued monochromatic variations for low-visibility.




August 2, 2019

Did the Iraqi Air Force revert to the Saddam-era roundel?

Top: C-130J-30 transport aircraft / Bottom: King Air 350ER reconnaissance platform

In the above photographs, taken from the Iraqi Air Force Twitter page, it appears that the Iraqis have decided to re-apply the old traditional roundel* on at least some of it military aircraft.

The Iraqi roundel used from 1931 to the end of 2003 is a green triangle with a stylized Arabic letter jim in red, with the required dot that is part of the letter in white, representing the Arabic word jaysh, or army.

The Iraqis discontinued use of this particular insignia in 2003 when the Iraqi Air Force ceased to exist following the American invasion. It was felt that the roundel had become identified with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn.



The "new" Iraqi Air Force recommenced operations in 2004. It adopted this new roundel at that time - it is still in use today.

I was surprised to see the former green triangle insignia on these two aircraft. The C-130J-30 photo was posted on the Iraqi Air Force Twitter page today; the King Air 350ER photo was posted on July 31.

The green triangle "roundel" is not actually associated with Saddam Husayn, but I needed a catchy title, and most people do make the connection. The insignia has been in use from 1931, when the air force was established as the Royal Iraqi Air Force.

At that time, the Kingdom of Iraq was still a League of Nations mandate (which it became in 1920), administered by the United Kingdom until Iraqi independence in 1932.

The first batch of five Iraqi pilots received their aviation training at RAF Cranwell, returning to Iraq on April 22, 1931. This is recognized as the official date of the founding of the Iraqi Air Force.

Here is a photo of an Iraqi Air Force Hawker Audax reconnaissance aircraft, circa 1932. Note the green triangle insignia on the wings and fuselage.


Iraqi Hawker Audax ("Nisr")

The green triangle "roundel" has been a part of the Iraqi Air Force's 88-year history. Slightly different versions have been used on other pieces of military equipment.

When I was assigned as a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces Directorate General of Military Intelligence in 1988, they provided me with a duffel bag with this logo. Arabic speakers will easily recognize the Arabic letter jim (for jaysh, or army).

Since the roundel/insignia is clearly not associated with Saddam Husayn or the Ba'ath Party, and was used on Iraqi military aircraft since before the country's independence from the United Kingdom, no one should be offended or alarmed by its use.

That said, I would expect the Iraqis to announce the re-adoption of the roundel, the national insignia. There is nothing to be ashamed of here - it is a legacy going back over 80 years.


_________________

* A roundel is national insignia used on military aircraft, generally circular in shape and usually comprising concentric rings of different colors. Here is the roundel used on U.S. military aircraft. There are also subdued monochromatic variations for low-visibility.