...Pakistan wants to maintain its relationship with the United States, but it's willing to suffer the cost of deteriorating ties. From Islamabad's perspective, supporting the Taliban follows a rational calculation to ensure post-conflict Afghanistan is friendly to Pakistani interests. Support for Taliban leaders is aimed at denying Pakistan's rival, India, a foothold in Afghanistan. Because of this, Mattis' visit probably won't convince Pakistan to change its behavior, especially considering the Trump administration's calls for India to play a greater economic role in Afghanistan.
Israel / Syria: Reported IDF strike on Syrian forces near Damascus. Times of Israel: 'According to the reports out of Syria, the strike targeted the Jamarya military facility and research center, northwest of the Syrian capital. ... The same site was reportedly targeted by Israeli jets in January 2013 targeting a convoy of Russian-made SA-17 missiles being transferred to the Hezbollah terror group, according to Western sources.' Debka:
Lebanese sources say Israel fired six missiles, three of which were intercepted by Syria’s air defense system. This would be the second Israeli air raid in three days of a military target in the Damascus area. Last Saturday, Israeli aircraft attacked a secret conference of pro-Iranian Shiite militia chiefs outside Al-Kiswah, 14km southwest of Damascus and 50km from Israel’s Golan border. Some Iranian and Hizballah officers were killed in that attack as well.Full article with map graphic at the link.
Saudi Arabia / Qatar: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the growing conflict. Ayaan Hirsi Ali at NYT:
The recently promoted heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as M.B.S., has pledged to modernize the country. His agenda includes diversifying the Saudi economy beyond oil, expanding trade, bolstering employment and loosening restrictions on entertainment. But at least two domestic factors complicate his ambitions, and we may see them play out on the world stage in 2018.
The first is the possibility of a challenge to M.B.S.’s ascendancy. Deposing his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef (M.B.N.), as crown prince and placing him under house arrest, then freezing his personal bank accounts in November, were daring moves, even by the standards of Arab dynastic politics. As the former head of the Saudi secret intelligence service, M.B.N. could prove to be a dangerous enemy.
Second, M.B.S.’s grand strategic reform plan — known as Vision 2030 — is a direct threat to the prestige and power of the established (and reactionary) Wahhabi clergy in Saudi Arabia. ...