Is an Israel-Iran War About to Break out in Syria?

Israel and Iran are inching closer to a full-on war in Syria. Israel claims that Iran sent a drone over the Syria-Israel border (Iran denies the claim), to which Israel responded by carrying out raids on Iranian targets in Syria. During the course of these raids, Syrian forces shot down an Israeli fighter jet, which crashed in Northern Israel.

The U.S. has reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself while Russia has urged Israel to act with restraint. Many are wondering if this latest flare-up of tensions is just another episode in Israel’s long history of preventing Iranian strongholds from forming in Syria, or if the downing of the jet is truly an unprecedented act of war.  More at BBC.

We’ve seen something like this before. Last September, Israeli jets attacked a Syrian military installation near the city of Masyaf that also allegedly produced chemical weapons and advanced missiles….

That said, what happened last September is nothing like Saturday’s events. This most recent flare-up could escalate simmering tensions between Israel, Syria, and Iran even further — something an already roiling Middle East can’t afford.

Even if the current round ends quickly, in the longer term the strategic situation has changed. Israel will be forced to address a nettling combination of circumstances: Iran’s willingness to act against it, the Assad regime’s growing self-confidence and, most worrying of all, partial Russian backing for the aggressive policy adopted by the other two members of the axis.

What we can say for sure: Israel is determined not to allow a consolidation of Iranian power on its border with Syria. The downing of a fighter jet yesterday is not going to change this.

What we can’t say for sure: How much Iran is determined, and how far it is willing to go to consolidate its power in Syria.

What we can’t say for sure: How Russia is going to respond to the recent escalation. Will it tame Iran’s advancement, or try to tame Israel’s assertiveness, or both?

What we can’t say for sure: Is the Trump administration still there? Does it have a dog in this fight?

What we can’t say for sure: Is this the beginning of a real war, or the continuation of the War of Attrition?

Battleground Syria: Who Are (and Aren’t) the Major Players?

The latest tensions between Israel, Iran, and Syria have highlighted the ways in which Syria has become a battleground crowded with struggles, war, and agendas from multiple players – some of which overlap and others of which do not. Iran is attempting to get a stronghold in Syria, and this is Israel’s chief concern. Russia has a vested interest in the region as well – but will it be able to mediate the Iranian issue? And furthermore, to what extent will the U.S. (currently engaged in other conflicts in Syria) be involved in Israel’s conflict with Iran?

The current violence is the first direct engagement between Iran and Israel, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.

“Before, it was done through proxies,” for example by the Syrian regime or the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Nader said. “The risk is a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran that will encompass Syria and Lebanon.”

…the proceedings in Sochi put paid to the notion that the Russian presence is sufficiently strong to offset the possibility of direct Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria, through the imposition of a Russian guiding hand on Iranian actions. No such guiding hand exists. So the matter will be decided, over the ruined soil of Syria, by Israel and Iran themselves.

Any American president no matter how brilliant would find the 8-way chess game underway in the ruins of Syria and Iraq an insuperable challenge. A president who is just learning the rules is almost certain to be outplayed before his turn even arrives.

How Does President Trump Handle a PR Nightmare?

Rob Porter and David Sorenson, two former aides to Donald Trump, were both accused of domestic abuse but found a seeming defender in the president who tweeted Saturday that “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”

While the tweet has offended many who see it as the president’s critique of the #MeToo movement, it has also raised questions about Trump’s confusing PR strategy.

Do Trump’s tweets get him into trouble he could have easily avoided? Or are they, as some suggest, a clever way to control every story? More at New York Times.

No one would argue that Friday’s tumult was planned or desirable. By most historical standards, it was monumentally embarrassing. But the way Trump operates, such days can be downright beneficial. The president learned at a very early age that what humiliates, damages, even destroys others can actually strengthen his image and therefore his bottom line.

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus indicated that he believed President Trump has the correct instincts when it comes to his social media habits, though he admitted he was initially resistant to the way the president tweeted as a candidate…

“One thing about the president that he could do better than anyone is take an issue on and put it to bed,” he said.

As of Friday morning, Trump had a reasonable claim to denying involvement in all this. His staffers kept him in the dark… That exculpatory narrative went right out the window on Friday when the president finally weighed in on the controversy…

The Porter scandal has officially become a Trump scandal.

Can Athletics Survive Politics at the Winter Olympics?

What has the main highlight been from the Winter Olympics? Is it the arrival of Kim Jong Un’s sister? Or is it Charlotte Kalla’s gold medal victory for Sweden? The Olympics are rarely a non-political event – but to what extent should politics dominate the conversation?

In an ideal world, the Olympics would be truly above politics. But we don’t live in an ideal world and it’s therefore incumbent on the spectator to remember that many nations don’t deserve a place of honor at the games.

…sports, and sport broadcasting, can never be apolitical. To argue that sports can transcend politics is to miss the obvious fact that politics often structure our shared experience of sports. The greatest moments in American sports history—like the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1938, and Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games run by Nazi racists—were all intensified by the political context in which they took place.

…the Olympics are one big political demonstration—but for the rulers of the respective countries, not their citizens. While leaders get to preen at sending delegations to compete, or hosting the games, they strip the athletes themselves from any political speech for the brief moment they appear on a global platform that millions of people around the world might see.

Did You Read These Stories?

In case you missed them…

Were there any Jewish wizards at Hogwarts? What’s the next step for Oprah Winfrey? And are we all musically trapped in the ninth grade?

Rowling’s is hardly the only fantasy world whose structural integrity can’t survive the inclusion of Jews, people of color, and other minorities. It’s a problem that has dogged fantasy since J.R.R. Tolkien invented the modern version of the genre with his explicit Anglo-Saxon prehistory of Middle Earth. Fantasy as a genre is often built on nostalgia, and nostalgia is rarely inclusive.

After her acceptance speech, a frenzy of speculation ensued about the possibility that she might run for office. “I think the Globes was a reminder of how much of an effect Oprah still has on the public at large,” says Oliveri. “Her podcasts, her books—it all still resonates. But my personal favorite is her Instagram account. Pictures of her picking vegetables in her garden. No makeup, no special lighting. Just Oprah, in real life, in her happy place.”

Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released. The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16.

What about women? On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.

…The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys. This also adds one more piece of evidence to the growing scientific consensus that we never really leave middle school and high school.

Today’s Hot Issues

Is an Israel-Iran War About to Break out in Syria? Battleground Syria: Who Are (and Aren’t) the Major Players? How Does President Trump Handle a PR Nightmare? Can Athletics Survive Politics at the Winter Olympics? Did You Read These Stories?