The beginning of August marked a significant downturn in reported fatalities throughout the Middle East region, due in part to the effect of stalemates, diplomatic negotiations, and an end to the Syrian regime’s offensive in southeast Syria. Meanwhile, demonstrations continued in the region at a high rate throughout the month, however their numbers dipped during the period of Eid al-Adha.
August was the first month of cooling tensions in Israel and Palestine since the Great Return March began on March 30th. Since then, there has been sustained conflict along the border between Israel and Gaza. Much of the violence has also spilled over into the West Bank through clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces at demonstrations and increased settler violence against locals. In the first half of August, tensions continued to flare with an increase in rocket and incendiary attacks from Gaza and subsequent air strikes by Israeli forces into Gaza. Israeli sources reported that approximately 200 rockets and mortars were launched by Hamas toward Israel during the period between August 8-10 (Haaretz, 11 August 2018). However, since this flare-up, tensions have been slowly easing. While weekly Friday demonstrations continue throughout Palestine and are consistently met with a high degree of force from Israeli forces, it appears that a de facto ceasefire is in effect along the border.
Aside from its armed conflict with Gaza, there has been a spike in protests in Israel from minority groups due to the passing of the controversial “Nation State Bill,” which codifies Israel’s status as a Jewish State. Demonstrators from Israel’s Druze and Arab minorities say that this bill is entrenching their status as second-class citizens and some assert that Israel is becoming an apartheid state (CNN, 05 August 2018).
In Jordan, on August 10, an Islamist armed group targeted a music festival in Fuheis with an improvised explosive device (IED) which reportedly killed 2 police officers. The following day a shootout with the militants in Salt reportedly killed 4 police officers and 3 militants. Jordanian forces said the group was supportive of the Islamic State (IS), but not a part of it (Times of Israel, 13 August 2018). These types of attacks are rare in Jordan and have put Jordanian forces on high alert.
In Iran, labour group-led protests continued throughout the country as the Iranian rial continues to lose value due to re-imposed US sanctions. As before, groups such as transportation and factory workers have been at the forefront of the movement, demanding unpaid salaries and benefits. Renewed strikes have occurred in tandem with the demonstrations, notably by hundreds of workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Co. in Shush, Iranian National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz, and the Railway Services and Technical Construction Co. in Shahrud.
Protests and riots have also continued throughout Iraq, centred for the most part in the oil-rich Basrah governorate where they began in early July. While the general violence present in earlier demonstrations has mostly dissipated, one demonstrator was reportedly killed by security forces when a sit-in became violent and tried to storm the West Qurna 2 oilfield on August 14. Demonstrations have been at their highest in years throughout Iraq, prompted by economic and social grievances, as well as allegations of government corruption and election fraud. The latter prompted a recount of the May 2018 election, which was completed last month and yielded similar results (Al Jazeera, 10 August 2018).
Meanwhile, the continued role of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Nineveh governorate has caused tension in the area after they initially took control of regions disputed between the Iraqi central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). While a transfer of control has been taking place, an increase in Islamic State (IS) activity in Mosul district over the past month has led some people within the city to demonstrate in support of keeping the PMF in the area.
In Turkey, clashes between regime and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants intensified in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast, particularly in the province of Hakkari. Mid-month, PKK violence also appeared for the first time this year in Adiyaman province with an attack on a marble quarry in Komur town and subsequent ambushes on military forces in the area. The co-mayor of Komur was later arrested on the charge of aiding the PKK (Bianet, 21 August 2018).
Meanwhile, US sanctions imposed on Turkey as a result of the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson have caused increased tensions between the two countries and a plummeting Turkish lira. A half dozen anti-US protests occurred mid-month throughout the country, and in Ankara, unidentified persons fired shots at the US embassy from a moving car on August 20.
In Yemen, the battle lines have generally remained static across the Western front, with coalition-backed soldiers making slight advances into Durayhimi district of Hudayda. Intense clashes continue to be fought between the UAE-backed troops and Houthi militias in Hudayda governorate, with coalition warplanes launching daily airstrikes into the battle zone districts.
National troops loyal to the internationally-recognized president have managed to take control of several areas defended by Houthi militiamen over the past two weeks as they have pushed into the Al-Houthi stronghold of Jabal Marran, Sadah governorate. Meanwhile, erroneous Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have contributed to a number of civilian casualties, sparking anti-Saudi demonstrations across Houthi-controlled areas.
In the Southwest, fighters loyal to the Salafi Abu Al-Abbas militia partially evacuated Taiz city as part of a deal with the local administrators, only to return near the end of August and resume clashing with pro-Islah party police and military forces in the area. Tensions in the southern areas of Yemen have risen to high levels, with bombings and targeted assassinations occurring nearly every day and intermittent gunfights breaking out between pro-secessionist militias and government soldiers in Aden city.
In Syria, both regime and allied forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) and Global Coalition Against Daesh made significant advances against IS fighters in the Northeast and Southeast, respectively. In the Northeast, continuing their offensive against IS in Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Hasakeh, QSD and Coalition forces advanced to gain control over Baghuz and the Iraqi border area, closing in on IS in its remaining enclave of Hajin. In the Southeast, following IS’ deadly coordinated attacks across As-Sweida province at the end of July, regime forces, backed by allied militias and Russian airpower, began an offensive in early August and were able to push IS out of the province and into the Rural Damascus desert by the month’s end.
Regime fronts against rebels shifted significantly following their victory in the Southeastern provinces of Dar’a and Quneitra in July. Regime forces and allied militias carried out large-scale deployments to the front lines of the last-remaining rebel enclave in the Northeast as rebels in Idleb, Hama, and Aleppo provinces fortified their defenses and formed new alliances in preparation for a possible attack. Regime shelling increased on the enclave in early August, leading to speculation that a full-fledged regime offensive may begin. However, Russian and Turkish intermediaries managed to negotiate a mid-month ceasefire, seeking to convince their allies on the ground to reach a political, rather than military, solution over the enclave. As negotiations continued, civilians across the rebel enclave held demonstrations criticizing Russian support for the regime as well as the lack of international action to stop a possible offensive.
Finally, tensions with local populations escalated in the recently recaptured areas of Dar’a and Quneitra, where regime forces carried out arrests and forced conscription in violation of the negotiated surrender agreements. Further, in the former rebel stronghold of the Eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus, regime forces imposed tight travel restrictions on residents and arrested at least 450 individuals over a three-week period.
3 September 2018