Trump Is Crude. But He’s Right About Saudi Arabia.

Portraits of Saudi King Salman (R) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) are displayed in Riyadh last month. (Credit - Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

There’s not much Republicans and Democrats agree on nowadays, but President Trump’s expression of support for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing managed to unite them. Democratic and Republican leaders declared that the president’s statement was dishonest, morally blinkered and strategically obtuse.

True, Mr. Trump’s sidestepping of reports that the C.I.A. believes that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing as “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” was jarring. But every president since Harry Truman has aligned with unsavory Middle Eastern rulers in the service of national interests. The difference here is that Mr. Trump seemed unapologetic about this state of affairs with only a passing nod to the affront to our values that Mr. Khashoggi’s murder represents.

Palestinians: We Cannot Accept Anything from Trump

by Khaled Abu Toameh for Gatestoneinstitute.org, November 22, 2018 -?

In a recent speech demonstrating the degree of anti-US sentiments, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the Trump administration "liars" and boasted that the Palestinians were the first to stand against and combat President Trump's "deal of the century." Pictured: Abbas delivers a speech at the United Nations on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

According to the reports, the White House "peace team," led by senior adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working on the plan for two years -- and President Trump wants it published between December 2018 and February 2019.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his representatives in Ramallah have radicalized their people against the Israeli government to a point where meeting or doing business with any Israeli official is tantamount to treason. This is why Abbas does not and cannot return to the negotiating table with Israel and also why Abbas cannot change his position toward the Trump administration.

Gideon Sa’ar: Window of opportunity for strike on Hezbollah is closing


Former minister and member of the Security Cabinet Gideon Sa'ar. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

?By Juliane Helmhold for jpost.com, November 21, 2018 -

"If Hezbollah will achieve precision strike capabilities, they will cause us very significant damage. This is a clear redline."

If an Israeli preemptive strike is not carried out in the near future, the window of opportunity for preventing Hezbollah’s precision strike capabilities will close, former education and interior minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem.

Despite the involvement in Syria’s civil war and the occasional Israeli strike on Hezbollah targets in Syria, Iranian effort through its proxy to develop a qualitative strike capability on Israel’s civilian infrastructures has significantly improved since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Sa’ar warned.

Saeb Erekat, Airbnb, and BDS


Airbnb co-founders

Airbnb co-founders (Airbnb press room)

In recent Tweets and statements, Palestinian chief negotiator, propagandist, and PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat has been celebrating a decision1 by the “Airbnb” international home-rental company to remove listings of vacation apartments in Israel’s West Bank towns, villages, and settlements that the company considers to be “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Airbnb decision is based upon a January 2016 letter sent by Erekat, in the name of “The State of Palestine,” to the CEO of Airbnb condemning “illegal colonization of Palestine” and the promoting of house rentals “in illegal settlements in the occupied State of Palestine.”

What We’re Thankful for This Year and (Hopefully) Next

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This Thanksgiving, Clarion Project takes a look at what we’re thankful for this year and what we’d like to see happen that we could be thankful for next year:

5 Things We’re Thankful for That Happened This Year

Trump Nixed the Iran Deal

Probably the worst deal of the century, President Trump took the bold move and got the United States out of a strategically and morally unfathomable agreement. The deal poured billions of dollars into the Islamic Republic to fund their international terror enterprise and gave no assurances that the ayatollahs weren’t steadily advancing toward nuclear capability.

Instead, Trump reinstituted crushing sanctions designed to bring Iran to its knees (so far, its economy is imploding).

Yom Kippur War: IDF chief ignored pre-warning about Egyptian artillery

“Everyone one of the forts on the [Suez] Canal, as far as potential from the enemy, could be hit easily with 5,000 shells per hour.”

Then-prime minister Golda Meir (R) accompanied by then-defense minister Moshe Dayan, meets with Israeli soldiers at a base on the Golan Heights after intense fighting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Former IDF chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev ignored warnings in 1972 that forts along the Sinai defense-line with Egypt could have been easily hit with 5,000 shells per hour. That’s according to classified material disclosed by the Defense Ministry on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. Those forts were later named after him.

The warnings came on May 29, 1972, from IDF Operations Command Maj.-Gen. Yisrael Tal, who said that, “every one of the forts on the [Suez] Canal, as far as potential from the enemy, could be hit easily with 5,000 shells per hour” by Egyptian forces.

He continued to say that, “it is not just a question about a given fort being destroyed. Rather, even if the fort is not destroyed, the people [soldiers] there will never fight again – because of the shock, the gas” and other harm from the attack.

“We have not risked exploring this [scenario], and we cannot wait until the first test and only afterward evacuate the forts… my point of reference for nixing the forts is that it is an awful trap… And it can happen in one hour. And if it happens in one day to four or five forts, it would be a national disaster,” he added.
Tal’s opposition and that of then-Maj.-Gen. Ariel Sharon to the Bar Lev line, which served as the heart of Israel’s defense strategy against Egypt, had been known before the latest disclosures. At the time, both men were overruled anyway.

This is the first time that the Defense Ministry publicized portions of the May 29, 1972 and October 5, 1973 classified IDF High Command meetings. It is also the first commentary on Tal’s alternative strategy document and critique of the Bar Lev line from 1970.

Tal and Sharon’s warnings were eventually far more accurate than Bar Lev and the majority IDF High Command’s estimate that the defense line would hold long enough for them to have 24 to 48 hours to reinforce the line with reserves.

Investing so much faith in the Bar Lev defense line has been retrospectively uniformly judged a devastating intelligence failure, which led to the Egyptian rout of Israeli forces in the early days of the war.

He continued to say that, “it is not just a question about a given fort being destroyed. Rather, even if the fort is not destroyed, the people [soldiers] there will never fight again – because of the shock, the gas” and other harm from the attack.

“We have not risked exploring this [scenario], and we cannot wait until the first test and only afterward evacuate the forts… my point of reference for nixing the forts is that it is an awful trap… And it can happen in one hour. And if it happens in one day to four or five forts, it would be a national disaster,” he added.

That failure was later salvaged by a hugely successful Israeli counter-attack, but the lessons learned are what continue to pressure the IDF and Israeli intelligence through to the present day.

Regarding Tal’s 1970 alternative strategy document, he said that the Suez Canal should be patrolled day and night by two brigades of troop carriers and tanks in regular movement.

However, he rejected leaving command centers or extensive defense positions that would be stagnant in any area that might be within the range of Egypt’s artillery. Tal also held that the defense line of immovable forts should be defended more modestly.

IDF intelligence chief Eli Zeira was quoted talking about suspicious USSR troop movements during an October 5, 1973 IDF High Command meeting. In addition to updating the IDF High Command on aggressive military drills and troop movements by Egypt and Syria since September 5, 1973, he said that “the Russians have sent 11 transport aircrafts to Egypt and Syria.”

Elaborating, he said that it was unclear what the purpose of these transport planes were, but that it seemed to be an effort “to remove Russian personnel from those states. If so, the question is why and we have no clear explanation as to why.”

He added that, “most of the Soviet naval vessels have left Alexandria. This is also a very very rare thing.”

But at the end of the day, Zeira said that “all of these things do not change IDF intelligence’s basic estimate that the chances of Egypt and Syria initiating a war is still very low…even lower than low.”

Zeira has been criticized for ignoring troop movement signs (Russian evacuations could have signaled that they wanted their forces out of the area before an impending war) and other possible warnings of war.

Finally, IDF Logistics Command Maj. Gen. Nehemiah Kayin warned the meeting that there were insufficient food provisions for IDF forces in the event of a war.

Then-IDF chief-of-staff David Elazar (who had replaced Bar-Lev) responded, “If there are not enough war rations, then they will fast. At the end of the day, it is Yom Kippur. We fast.”

Also on Monday, the National Archives disclosed an actual Mossad cable from the then-Mossad Director Zvi Zamir to then Prime Minister Golda Meir suggesting that she weigh leaking to the media that Israel knew Egypt was about to start a war.

Zamir’s idea was that possibly leaking this to the media before the war started might give Egypt pause and avert the impending war that he had been told about by top secret Israeli spy Ashraf Marwan – the son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Humanitarian Concessions Will Not Reduce Hamas Violence. Here is the Evidence

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman appears to be accepting the argument that humanitarian gestures towards Hamas will buy quiet. The evidence provided by UN agencies in an effort to advocate for humanitarian gestures ironically proves that there is in fact no correlation between such gestures and a reduction in Hamas violence.

Politicians, commentators, diplomats, citizens, international fora, the Knesset, EU institutions, and – above all – Israel’s major media sites endlessly debate Gaza’s alleged humanitarian plight and the virtue of humanitarian gestures as a means to mitigate it.

Even Israel’s hardline Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, appears to be buying into this argument. The Kerem Shalom border crossing is to be reopened after having been closed in reaction to the launching by Hamas of nearly 200 missiles over the space of two days. The fishing rights of Gaza fishermen will be widened to 12 kilometers in the hope that Hamas will stop the launches. Hamas will be free to continue sending off incendiary balloon bombs and to violently challenge Israeli troops at the security fence every Friday. Needless to say, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar told the Egyptians brokering the deal that Hamas cannot possibly desist from these forms of “resistance.”

The hope to buy off Hamas with humanitarian gestures is in vain.

There is overwhelming evidence that humanitarian gestures do not reduce Hamas-orchestrated violence. Ironically, the best evidence of the futility of the humanitarian argument is to be found in figures and graphs compiled by UN agencies and other pro-Palestinian fora that strenuously champion the humanitarian argument.

The exercise is simple. If humanitarian gestures had in fact led in the past 11 years to a reduction of violence, there should be a visible correlation between 1) a high number of trucks full of produce moving into Gaza, 2) a high number of trucks full of Gazan exports moving out, and 3) a high number of Gazans allowed to travel to Israel for business and health care to Israel and beyond with low levels of missile launchings. (Missile launchings are by far the most important index of Hamas violence. The lethality and destructive capacity of missiles dwarfs the effect of Hamas’s relatively infrequent attempts to penetrate Israel through tunnels and the small number of shootings at Israeli troops.)

Let us begin with a long-term analysis of the relationship between humanitarian gestures and violence. According to the humanitarian argument, one should see a reduction of, for example, trucks moving into Gaza in the month or two immediately preceding these bouts.

Take a good look at the following two graphs. The first shows the monthly rate of trucks into Gaza; the second shows missile launchings. There is no correlation between the two. In fact, the number of trucks dramatically increased in 2010 as Israel announced that it would considerably loosen restrictions on incoming produce (it lived up to its word). The number of trucks remained steady up to November 2012.

Table 1: Number of Trucks into Gaza Mid-2009 to end of July 2018

Source: Gisha, http://gisha.org/reports-and-data/graphs

Table 2: Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits

US District Judge grants 1993 World Trade Center bomber’s demand for halal meals

“The lawsuit said Ajaj considered vegetarian and Kosher meals inadequate.”

But the Qur’an says that “the food of the People of the Book is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them” (5:5), which means that Muslims can eat kosher foods and food prepared by Christians. That makes clear that Ahmad Ajaj’s lawsuit is just another exercise in Islamic supremacism, attempting to gain special privileges and accommodation for Muslims, in accord with their privileged status in Islamic law.

Also, imagine if Ahmad Ajaj were a Nazi, and had bombed the World Trade Center as a Nazi mission, and that Nazis had food laws. In that case, would U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson have been so quick to reinforce the ideology that landed Ajaj in prison in the first place?

“1993 World Trade Center bomber’s request for halal meals that conform to his Muslim beliefs is granted,” Dailymail.com, September 15, 2018 (thanks to the Geller Report):

A Muslim man serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing has been granted access to halal meals after he sued the prison for not accommodating his religious beliefs.

US District Judge R Brooke Jackson issued an order Friday requiring prison officials to continue providing Ahmad Ajaj with halal meals.

However, the judge denied Ajaj’s request for officials to provide him access to an imam in line with his specific religious beliefs, saying officials should not be expected to put in extra efforts to make that happen.

Ajaj started getting halal meals on the eve of his trial last month after he was transferred from a prison in Colorado to Terre Haute, Indiana.

He objected to attending classes with the Indiana prison’s imam because he believes the cleric is an adherent of Sufism, Islam’s mystical strain.

Jackson said it doesn’t violate Ajaj’s religious rights to meet with someone with different views and that he still could have phone or email contact with another imam.

Ajaj was sentenced in 1999 to more than 114 years in prison for his role in the blast in an underground parking garage on February 26, 1993, that killed six people, one of whom was pregnant.

It injured more than 1,000 and forced an estimated 50,000 to flee the trade center’s twin towers in a scene of smoke, fear and confusion that would be mirrored and magnified on September 11, 2001.

In late August Ajaj filed a lawsuit accusing federal prison officials, particularly staff at the Administrative Maximum, or ADX, facility in Florence, of failing to provide food meeting Ajaj’s belief that all animals used for food must be fed, raised and slaughtered according to Islamic law.

The lawsuit said Ajaj considered vegetarian and Kosher meals inadequate….

New Kavanaugh allegations NEW ALLEGATIONS DOES NOT change the fact that it’s all about politics


Brett Kavanaugh, Douglas Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas (Photos: Scott Applewhite/AP, Terry Ashe/LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images, Lee Corkran/Sygma via Getty Images)

In the day since Christine Blasey Ford stepped out of anonymity with her allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, two other names have also come back into the news: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his former subordinate Anita Hill, who accused him of sexual harassment in testimony at his confirmation hearing in 1991.

The similarities are many — both women reluctantly came forward late in the confirmation process, accusing a powerful man of sexual misconduct in lurid detail. Both men denied the charges. Both women (both, coincidentally, professors) were met with vehement pushback from Republican supporters of the nominees.

But there is another name, cited less often, whose nomination brought accusation and furor, and whose story is just as relevant, but in different ways — Douglas H. Ginsburg, nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1987. Like Kavanaugh, he was accused of breaking the law decades earlier: As a college student during the ’60s and ’70s, he had smoked marijuana.

Past is always a prologue, and, taken together, the outcomes of both the Ginsburg and Thomas nominations tell us a lot about where we stand now. The questions asked and not completely answered back then reflect how we have changed as a society, and how we have not.

The first question in all three cases is “did he do it?” Learning that National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg was about to break the story, Ginsburg quickly admitted that he had smoked pot, then withdrew his name nine days after he was nominated.

Thomas vehemently insisted on his innocence, calling the hearings “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” ?And Kavanaugh, similarly, has denied the accusations, issuing an early-morning statement: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone.”

Is that the predictive takeaway? The guy who confesses doesn’t get to be a Supreme Court justice, whereas the ones who assert innocence are confirmed?

Things have changed since the Thomas hearings, starting with the very fact of those hearings. The way the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Hill — grilling her as though she were on trial, refusing to allow the testimony of a second woman with a similar story to tell — resulted in a voter backlash in the 1992 election that tripled the number of women in the Senate and sent a record number of women to the House.

Critics said that the entirely male committee was not trying to find the truth, but rather trying to protect the nominee, a charge that Ford’s lawyer is echoing now. Debra Katz told ABC News that although Ford is “willing to cooperate,” she is not willing “to be part of this bloodletting that happens in Washington.

Debra Katz, the attorney for Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, says her client is willing to speak out publicly. (Photo: Reuters Video)

Republicans in Congress have been “saying that they’re going to fight this tooth and nail, that they’re going to grill her,” Katz said. “That’s hardly an effort to get into a fair and thorough investigation of what has occurred. If we’re really trying to get at the truth, the hearings should not be used to weaponize against those who accuse powerful men.”

Another difference since Hill stepped forward is the #MeToo movement, with its message that for too long, powerful men have been allowed to use that power against women, and that women should and would be believed. That altered landscape would suggest that these latest charges would have far more traction than Hill’s did in 1991.

Yes and no. Dozens of high-profile men have lost their jobs, campaigns and reputations after being accused of varying levels of sexual misconduct in the past year. One stark and telling exception, however, is the president of the United States, who has been accused of similar behavior by at least 13 women.

Perhaps, then, the common denominator for those who pay a price is proof: the existence of recordings, a parade of accusers, contemporaneous accounts and payments in exchange for silence. In most of the cases where high-level CEOs, entertainers and politicians have faced consequences, there has been at least one of the above. (Not so, again, in the case of the president, for whom all those elements of proof exist.)

Is there such proof in the Kavanaugh case? — clearly not the kind we have begun to demand in this technological age where we assume that all encounters must have left some electronic trail. But in her intended-to-be confidential letter to the FBI, Ford names a potential witness — another teenager she says was in the room when Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her down and attempted to remove her clothing.

That man has identified himself as Mark Judge, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Preparatory School who told the Weekly Standard: “It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.”? Mother Jones, in turn, has pointed to two separate memoirs written by Judge, both of which describe his high school days as filled with blackout drinking, suggesting, writer Stephanie Mencimer says, “that his memory of those days may not be entirely reliable.”

Will this count as “proof,” one way or another, particularly with #MeToo as a backdrop? To answer that question requires first tackling another: Even if proven, should it matter? What weight should be given to a misdeed, even a crime, from 36 years ago?

That’s where Ginsburg comes in. At the time, his defenders called his marijuana use “a youthful indiscretion,” stressing that it happened decades earlier. But against the message of the times — a president who gave speeches condemning the culture for its “flippant and irresponsible attitude toward drug use” and a first lady whose slogan was “Just Say No,” it was enough to derail Ginsburg. Even the idea that everybody does it didn’t help Ginsburg;?two presidential candidates at the time, then-Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn., and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, made similar confessions, as did Newt Gingrich, then a Georgia Republican, and none of them paid a political price.

Anita Hill, a University of Oklahoma law professor, who testified that she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas. (Photo: AP)

Ah, so the message of the Ginsburg derailment is that as a nation, we have decided that the child is the measure of the man, and some jobs, Supreme Court justice, for instance, require such unimpeachable proof of character that even decades-old missteps still matter? And as such, Ginsburg’s inability to advance to the court is the best answer to the argument that no one should be punished for behavior, however appalling or illegal, that happened so long ago.

Of course not. That would imply philosophical underpinnings that lead to consistency, and the Ginsburg nomination, along with the Thomas hearings and the current Kavanaugh standoff, illustrate exactly the opposite of that.

As?a society, we have not yet resolved the question of how responsible any one of us is for our past. It is a question raised not only by Supreme Court hearings but also by the role and purpose of prisons, the rights of former felons (including the right to vote) and whether minors can be sentenced to life without parole. Rather than a broad social consensus on where the line might be — at the statute of limitations? the age of majority at 18? the time the brain reaches full maturity, at around age 26? evidence that a person has changed? suspicion that they haven’t? — we should, as a society, decide all these things. They are, however, tough questions, and require both thought and compromise, meaning we are further from answers than we been in generations.

In the absences of moral lessons learned, our politicians, therefore, look to political ones.

Supreme Court Justice nominee, Douglas Ginsburg, at home. (Photo: Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Ginsburg withdrew not because his long-ago drug use made him unfit for the court, but because it made his nomination untenable for the sitting president. Thomas was approved in part because some senators feared being accused of racism by rejecting a black man more than the consequences of being accused of sexism by disbelieving a woman’s allegations of harassment.

And Kavanaugh? Whether he is confirmed to the court will probably have little to do with what he did or didn’t do in high school. It will not depend on whether senators believe him or his accuser, or whether they agree that an individual’s youthful behavior should or should not be held against him or her. It will be about each senator’s calculations — most particularly those of Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine — of the political cost of believing either of those things.

Which is more important, getting this conservative seat on the court or risking voter reprisal in November? Which lights up the switchboard more, the #MeToo message that women should be believed, or one that Politico attributed to an unidentified White House adviser:?“If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

It will be politics, not truth or bedrock questions of right and wrong, that will be the deciding factor. And the Senate will kick the philosophical can down the road so some form of the same questions can be asked of the next

Russia and Turkey to create buffer zone in Idlib, Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin said it would be 15km to 25km (9-15 miles) wide and come into force by 15 October.

Troops from Russia, an ally of Syria’s government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, will patrol the zone.

The UN had warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if the Syrian army launched an all-out assault to retake Idlib.

But after Monday’s meeting between Mr Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the deal meant there would be no such operation in the region.

What is the deal and what did Putin and Erdogan say?

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

?

“Radically-minded rebels”, including members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – a jihadist alliance linked to al-Qaeda that was once known as al-Nusra Front – would have to leave the zone, Mr Putin said.

It was not immediately clear if the zone included Idlib city, which would require some rebels to withdraw from it.

Mr Erdogan said: “We will prevent a humanitarian tragedy which could happen as a result of military action.”

He had earlier called for a ceasefire in northern Syria to prevent what he said would be a “bloodbath” and another major refugee crisis on Turkey’s southern border.Image copyrightAFPImage captionMembers of the National Liberation Front, one of many rebel groups in Idlib

Analysis by BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Any diplomatic arrangement that postpones a full-scale onslaught against Idlib will be welcomed by the international community.

Such an attack by the Assad government – backed by its Russian and Iranian allies – risked not just a humanitarian catastrophe, but also a direct military confrontation with Turkey.

Turkey has deployed troops at a number of locations in Idlib and has been reinforcing these over recent days. President Assad wants to reassert control over Idlib – the last province in rebel hands.

Both he and the Russians want to destroy rebel groups they call “terrorists”. It is hard to see exactly how a buffer zone arrangement involving Russia and Turkey can address these long-term problems. But averting an offensive for now may give breathing space for additional diplomatic moves.

Presentational grey line

What is Idlib and why does it matter?

Idlib province is the last major stronghold of rebel and jihadist groups which have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad for the past seven years, in a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people.

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Idlib, and adjoining areas of Hama and Aleppo, are home to an estimated 2.9 million people, including one million children.

A sharp increase in hostilities since the start of September and fears of further escalation have led to the displacement of tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands in Idlib live in dire, overcrowded conditions, with a lack of basic services.

Idlib is not controlled by a single group, but rather by a number of rival factions commanding up to an estimated 70,000 fighters. The dominant force is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist alliance linked to al-Qaeda.

Idlib is also strategically vital. It borders Turkey to the north and straddles major highways running south from Aleppo to Hama and the capital, Damascus, and west to the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia.

If Idlib is taken by the government, it would leave the rebels with a few pockets of territory scattered across the country and effectively signal their final defeat.