The U.S., Turkey and the Kurds. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey’s military will soon start operations east of the Euphrates River, a move that will directly target Syrian Kurdish forces allied with the United States. Rumors have begun to surface that he made the announcement in response to Washington’s construction of observation posts along the Syrian border despite Turkey’s objections. Turkish news agencies, which have begun to set up shop near the border to be closer to the action, have reported that heavy military equipment is already being shipped to Sanliurfa province in southeastern Turkey. Washington’s response has been a little inconsistent: A Pentagon spokesman said unilateral action by Turkey against the Kurds in the area is unacceptable before noting that Washington still wants to coordinate and cooperate with Ankara.
The Kurdish issue is a major sticking point in U.S.-Turkey relations. The U.S. needs Kurdish fighters to help fight its battles in Syria, but Turkey considers the Kurds terrorists. The interests of other countries further complicate the issue. Russia has been stirring the pot, trying to capitalize on the tensions by temporarily allying itself with Turkey in Syria. Its foreign ministry has said the “excessive” U.S. military presence in Syria threatens the Idlib peace deal, which Moscow would continue to enforce with Turkey. The U.S. and Turkey keep kicking the can down the road, but the Kurdish issue is not something they can put off indefinitely.
Bellicose words from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not rule out any type of military action against Iran to ensure his state’s survival – including potential action against Iranian proxies. Netanyahu underscored that Iran has missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel and that Israeli forces are already engaged in airstrikes against Iran-backed groups in Syria. At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed Netanyahu’s stance, saying that Iran’s ballistic missile activity is “out of control” and calling for increased efforts to halt Iranian weapons exports.
Netanyahu has also appealed to Saudi Arabia, a potential ally, as the two work to improve relations. The prime minister said Israel is not an enemy of Arab countries but a partner, and he emphasized that Israel’s support for the current Saudi government, despite the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is critical to stability in the Middle East – and in the rest of the world. Russia has chimed in too, repeating calls to end the fighting in the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces are currently excavating and destroying tunnels along the border with Lebanon and in the Golan Heights to reduce Israel’s vulnerability to a surprise attack by Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.
- North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears to be still partly active, according to 38 North.
- Saudi Arabia took steps to establish an alliance with Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Jordan.
- Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and British Prime Minister Theresa May survived votes of no confidence.
- The European Parliament ratified a new trade agreement with Japan, which will take effect in February.
- A Russian official said Moscow is confident that it will reach mutually acceptable agreements on natural gas prices with Belarus for 2020.
- Italy responded to EU pressure over its 2019 budget by agreeing to lower its deficit. Details are in the works as talks continue.
- Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that Ukraine is planning attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk. Donetsk rebels also warned of upcoming Ukrainian attacks earlier this week.