Frederic C. Hof

  • The Golan Heights: Avoiding an Unforced Error

    A July 17, 2018 hearing in the United States House of Representatives considered the possibility of Washington recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. The hearing took up this issue months after it was first tabled by Republican Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida. At least one cabinet member of Israel’s government is calling on President Trump to follow up on his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. If Mr. Trump takes this advice, he would inadvertently hand an unearned victory to Iran, the Assad regime, and Russia.

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  • What's Next After Helsinki?

    Whatever they may have discussed privately, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump did not announce a grand bargain over Syria at their joint press conference in Helsinki. They indicated agreement on several issues: Israel’s security, increased humanitarian assistance, the need to finish off ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State), and the soundness of Russian-American military deconfliction. They seemed to be leaving it to subordinates to try to flesh out a broad, operational agreement.

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  • Trump Picks Putin

    US President Donald J. Trump on July 16 appeared to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials over the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, saying he saw “no reason why” Moscow would have acted in that way.

    Speaking at a joint press conference following his first summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump said: “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today” on meddling.

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  • Helsinki: Why Not Win on Syria

    President Trump travels to Helsinki with impressive Syria-related leverage. If he chooses to use it in his meeting with his Russian counterpart, he can increase the chances for real Russian cooperation in ending the Syrian crisis on mutually acceptable terms. If he gives it up, his pockets will be emptied to the delight of Iran, the Assad regime, and the Kremlin. The negative national security consequences of a diplomatic debacle in Finland for Americans, Europeans, and Syria’s neighbors would be serious and long-lasting.

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  • Where Is the Opposition?

    With a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit looming, American policy toward Syria may be on the line. Specifically: in an effort to accommodate a Russian counterpart for whom he has high regard, President Trump may be tempted to short-circuit the American-led post-Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) stabilization of northeastern Syria. The silence of the Syrian opposition in the face of this disastrous possibility is deafening.

    A successfully stabilized, liberated northeast is the nightmare of Putin, Iran, and the Assad regime. In its most horrifying version it would produce, for the edification of all Syrians, a governance alternative to a murderous, kleptocratic regime. Putin counts on Trump to serve as doorman for Iran and Assad in northeastern Syria.

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  • Hof in The Atlantic: How Trump Could Sell Out Syria to Putin


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  • Raqqa: Amnesty International and Taking Responsibility

    On June 5, 2018 Amnesty International issued a report entitled “War of Annihilation:” Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria. A shockingly painful account of the experiences of four Syrian families during the June-October 2017 military campaign to oust ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State, IS) from its self-declared “capital” in Syria, the report (based largely on a February 2018 on-site investigation) alleges that the anti-ISIS Coalition took insufficient steps to protect civilians. Specifically:

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  • Russia and Iran: Splitting Over Syria?

    Recent reporting gives the impression that Moscow and Tehran are parting ways in Syria. The Kremlin has called on all foreign military forces—except for its own—to leave the country. Tehran has loudly and indignantly rejected the Russian invitation. American officials might be tempted to feel encouraged: a temptation that should, for the time being, be resisted. Moscow knows that without Iran and its Shia militias the Assad regime is bereft of ground combat forces. The point of this supposed contretemps may be to lull Washington into complacency; to consign Syria to Russia, to implement President Trump’s stated desire to leave quickly, and to secure Bashar al-Assad in his place indefinitely.

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  • Stabilization and the Syrian Opposition

    For seven years a chilly, arms-length relationship between the US government and the Syrian opposition has worked to the profound disadvantage of both. Washington has often deprived itself of timely information and informed advice at key junctures of the Syrian crisis, leaving it vulnerable to policy reversals and even disasters. And blindness has been contagious. The opposition—both inside and outside Syria—has typically been clueless about American intentions, as it has struggled with internal indecision, dissension, and disunity fed by the conflicting priorities of regional actors seeking to control the Revolution in the absence of American leadership.

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  • Killing the JCPOA: Opportunity Missed?

    As reported previously by this writer, senior Iranian former officials repeatedly told him and other Americans in unofficial, track II discussions preceding the nuclear deal, that Iran had no intention of weaponizing nuclear energy. The reason offered had nothing to do with Koranic proscriptions. To paraphrase one of the Iranian ex-officials, “Look at all we have been able to accomplish in the region—in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen—without nuclear weapons. Now imagine us going nuclear and provoking nuclear proliferation everywhere in the neighborhood. Do you think we want a nuclear war crisis every time we dispatch General Soleimani somewhere?” When the ex-official was asked “What then is the purpose of these negotiations?” he quickly replied, “We need relief from sanctions.”

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