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Iran’s moves in Syria

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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A recent article published on the Russian Pravda, which is certainly not just the result of grey propaganda, namely that kind of “grey” communication operations mixing truth and falsehood, may be useful to clarify what has really happened in Syria since 2011, the fatal and terrible year of the so-called “Arab springs”.

And even year of destabilization – against Iran and the Russian Federation – of the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, it is worth clarifying that said “springs” had evidently been prepared on the basis of Gene Sharp’s techniques and his “non-violent revolution”, with the addition of “rebels” parachuted by others.

This was certainly seen with the young people of Tahrir Square in Egypt, as well as with the Head of Google in Cairo, who enabled the protest to overcome the Internet blocks organized by Mukarak’s regime, while even at that time the Muslim Brotherhood militia protected the crowd from the Rais police attacks.

Moreover, at that time Gene Sharp’s books were explicitly recommended on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website in Egypt.

Summarized in very simple terms, Sharp’s theories and the theories of his Einstein Institute envisaged a series of mass actions which raised the political temperature and progressively isolated “the Tyrant”.

The idea that there only existed a “tyrant” to be toppled speaks volumes about the naïvety of these models, but the US theorists never relinquish their myths of the “noble savage”, namely the people, who is supposed to be manipulated by a single “wicked person”.

Firstly, Sharp thought there was the “conversion” of the peripheral members of the regime, then the destruction – again with the techniques he recommended – of the whole power system of the usual “Tyrant”, especially with the peaceful destabilization of the infrastructural and organizational links which kept his power alive, mainly through communication and information, or rather “misinformation”.

In the case of Syria, as Sharp’s recipes were not enough, as was also the case with Libya, there was – as also in the first phase of the French-British actions in front of the Benghazi coast – the violent action of “rebels “, based on the formula: “military infiltration + psychological warfare.”

In fact, the protests of March 2011 soon spread to several Syrian cities, precisely due to the contagion of the “Arab springs” – and it was by no mere coincidence that the revolt started from Deraa, a city very close to the Jordanian border, where US, British and Saudi instructors already operated.

We all remember that the protests began with the demolition of the Hafez al-Assad statue, as the end of the Iraqi regime had started with the demolition – again by US psyops connected with some local “rebels” – of the Saddam Hussein statue.

Obviously the very harsh repression by the Syrian Baathist regime started while the grey operations created – as it would also be the case for the uprising in Libya – local personages, previously unknown, operating under the label of “human rights defenders”, a concept completely unknown to the Arab world, regardless of its being secular or religious.

The news about the victims of repression (it happened also in Italy during the so called “Years of Lead”, the years of socio-political turmoil marked by a wave of terrorism) were emphasized, while there was a mobilization of the Al Jazeera networks, owned by the family of the Qatar’s Emir, traditionally linked to the funding for Al Qaeda, and Al Arabija, the satellite network located in the Emirates but owned by Saudi Arabia.

As is always the case now, many NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – both accused by US sources of raising funds coming from Saudi Arabia – added to this clearly Sharp-styled “media bubble”.

As happened also in Libya, within the Syrian insurgency, there were already groups engaging in firefights artfully, as the US Field Manual 3-05.30 and the State Department’ manuals, with the Joint Publication 3-132, taught.

Moreover, King Abdullah of Jordan officially stated that the British operators of the Special Air Service (SAS) had got organized, on the Jordanian territory, to operate in Southern Syria with a mechanized battalion composed of unidentified “rebels”.

Again according to Pravda, at that juncture there was the need to “break up the militia group” to employ and then disperse Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

The Syrian Forces, however, were not at all suitable for the jihad asymmetrical war. Conversely they had been conceived for a “final” confrontation with Israel and hence they were easily put in trouble by the “rebels”, trained by the “Brown Berets” (the Turkish Special Forces), the Saudis, the British SAS and, finally, by the Americans of the Delta Force – exactly the force that a future Head of the Italian intelligence SISDE had encircled by our Carabinieri forces in the Sigonella base.

After this useful digression, let us revert to the Iranian operations, and especially the Pasdaran operations in Syria.

The Iranian envoys in Syria included not only the Pasdaran elite brigades, but also the Afghan “volunteers” and other Shiite groups not officially recorded and filed as combatant structures, in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

In this respect, it is worth recalling that the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif has always denied, but only to the irrelevant EU authorities, any kind of Iranian boots on the ground operations on the Syrian soil.

The Iranian “Revolutionary Guards” brigades operating in Syria, however, are the Saberin units and the best-known Al Quds Force, both belonging to the Pasdaran, the “Revolutionary Guards”.

The Saberin units are basically the Iranian equivalent of the aforementioned British SAS.

But many Saberin leaders have already been killed.

Think of Farhad Hassounizadeh, killed in Southern Syria in 2015, or Abbas Abdollahi, killed in the Deraa Province in February 2015, or the over 300 Iranian soldiers who were killed – “several” soldiers, as the Iranian government said – in addition to the 13 “military advisers” to the Pasdaran who were killed, much more recently, in Khan Tuman, near Aleppo, by an alliance of jihadist groups linked to Jaish Al Nusra, the “front” which is the owner of Al-Qaeda in Syria, and Jaish Al Fatah, another Sunni jihadist organization acting as an “umbrella” organization for almost all the jihadist “rebels” operating around Aleppo.

A total of over 700 Iranian soldiers out of over 2,000 were killed in Syria, not to mention the Saberin units that formed the Iranian expeditionary force in the Syrian State.

Not to mention the old leader of the Hezbollah, Badreddine, killed earlier this May, an “assassination” for which the Iranians directly blamed the Israelis.

Furthermore, as many as 13 Shiite “militia groups” operate in Syria which, including the Pasdaran, total over 3,500 soldiers.

Therefore, over the last three years, 693 Iranians died in Syria, including the 13 ones killed in Aleppo recently.

Now, in all likelihood, after the Al Quds Brigade, it will be the turn of the Saberin, an IRGC brigade capable of carrying out OPFOR actions (OPposing FORce), as well as “hybrid” and asymmetric operations against the jihadists like those which led to the victory of the Russians in Crimea and in the part of Ukraine already de facto conquered by them.

With reference to the clash in Khan Touman, the battle of May 6 waged a few kilometers southwest of Aleppo on Road 5, the main highway to Damascus, this operation is likely to soon change the war in Syria.

Hence more Iranian soldiers in the region and maybe closer cooperation between Iran and Russia, but a probable victory for the jihadists which could cost Assad’ Syrian Arab Army exactly Aleppo, the “center of gravity” of the whole clash in the North.

And it is also the “gateway to Turkey”.

The available data points to an ambush organized against the Iranians (both Pasdaran and Hezbollah) by Jaysh Al Fatah, a group of Sunni “rebels” linked to the Al Nusra Front, which will probably conquer many of the ISIS positions, while the “Caliphate” is turning into an organization mainly operating outside the traditional borders of this war, namely Yemen, Sinai and, in the future, Jordan.

Due to the usual intelligence “gaps” on the ground, the leaders of the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah did not know that the Sunni “rebels” had acquired a supply of MILAN, the light anti-tank missiles manufactured in Europe, with a 2 kilometer range and a penetration rate of the armor of self-propelled units between 350 and 900 mm.

The MILAN missiles had been supplied by Turkey, but paid by Saudi Arabia.

Certainly it is a painful mystery how it is still possible to accept Turkey within NATO without President Erdogan being made accountable before the NATO Secretary-General for the Turkish operations in the Syrian war.

Clearly Turkey wages and fights a war against the Kurds, and sometimes not even by proxy, but the operations and the much-trumpeted “peace in Syria” are also in Turkey’s hands, faced with NATO’s empty gestures, as well as its all talk and no action.

Iran later admitted that 17 of their soldiers had been killed in the Khan Touman battle, and additional 22 soldiers had been injured, including 13 victims belonging to the 25th “Karbala” Division, usually stationed in Iran.

This was a clear sign of Iran’s overstretching.

Two brigade-Generals of the Iranian forces died.

Currently at least ten soldiers of the “Karbala” Division are prisoners of the Sunni jihadists.

Five of the seven soldiers were killed immediately, others – even though we do not know how many – were taken away from the clash region towards an unknown destination.

The Hezbollah also claimed that none of their soldiers was killed or emprisoned, but other sources revealed that at least 15 soldiers of the Lebanese “Party of God” were killed by the so-called “rebels”.

Other Iranian sources reveal that now the tension between the Iranian hierarchies for the material cost and human toll of their participation in the Syrian war is skyrocketing, with many leaders, even within the Pasdaran, who would like to limit the Iranian actions and involvement in Syria.

Moreover, it is not yet clear whether Rezaei, a historical leader of the Iranian IGRC, will replace or not General Qassam Soleimani, killed a few days ago, as Supreme Commander of Iran’s operations in Syria.

The fact is that the jihadist “rebels” receive significant amounts of advanced weapons from their regional Sunni allies, while the Pasdaran and the Hezbollah are forces better suited to guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency, rather than being prepared for a showdown and clash at high technological, materials and military levels.

Even the Head of the Hezbollah in Syria, Mustafa Badar ad-Din, was killed by a surface-to-surface missile near the Damascus International Airport, which proves again the penetration of the various rebel “fronts” in the military and political Syrian fabric.

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, however, firmly believes that Mustafa Bader al-Din was assassinated by the US Special Forces, and rather oddly, by the Russian ones.

The Party of God base near the Damascus Airport was top secret – hence, within the balance of factors between the various forces on the field, Russia is probably trying to favor only the Iranians at the Hezbollah expense.

Maybe an unwanted ally, but necessary for the quality and quantity of the Iranian engagement in Syria.

Moreover, no military tank, group of people or other entity can enter the airport in the Syrian capital without an explicit and careful recognition or permission by the Russian Special Forces, which initially did not report the fact to Assad’ Syrian Arab Army or to the Iranians, let alone the “Party of God”, which was informed by third parties.

It must also be added that, days earlier, the United States had deployed their Special Forces, with attack helicopters, in the Ramelan base, in Northern Syria, near the Kurdish city of Hasakah.

It is a choice that, probably in agreement with Russia, enables the US Central Command for Operations in the Middle East (CENTCOM) to strike anywhere in Syria.

Hence, is Moscow thinking of a backroom deal with the United States so as to soon finish the “work” in Syria, in exchange for the US guarantee that Alawistan, with their bases of Tartus and Latakia, will remain untouched?

Moreover, the leader of the Hezbollah in Syria attended the meetings with Bashar el Assad regularly, although – precisely for his final assignment in Syria, but as early as 2013 – he had been designated as “international terrorist” by the United States and the international organizations related to them.

Or, in his future plan of irrenounceable “Greater Syria” in the Lebanon, Bashar does not want to have particularly powerful Hezbollah, to whom to pay a price for their participation in the Syria’s “liberation” from the Sunni jihad?

The Head of the Lebanese “Party of God”, Hassan Nasrallah – who probably made the mistake of naïvety – viewed the base in the Damascus airport as absolutely top secret, but forgetting that at least three intelligence services cooperated with the Hezbollah and that, after some aerial reconnaissance, the United States – experts of Electronic Intelligence and other similar technologies – could easily identify the Hezbollah command.

Obviously the supreme leader of the “Party of God” knows all too well that hitting the Lebanese leader means also striking at the heart of Bashar el Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

Moreover the commander killed, Bader Ad-Din, had already planned to evacuate the Hezbollah militiamen from the various war fronts still open inside Syria, so as to concentrate them only on the Syrian-Lebanese front.

A threat which has obviously not been taken lightly by Assad, the ophthalmologist who was trained in London and is proving to be even more shrewder than his father Hafez.

Bader’s action, however, could not please Assad and it might have favored his assassination, regardless of who materially perpetrated it.

Furthermore there are unchecked reports whereby Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shiite leader, met secretly, shortly before the assassination of Ad-Din – and it is worth recalling that Muqtada controls, with the Iranian support, much of the “green Zone” in Baghdad and many of the militiamen who have recently become members of the Iraqi Parliament – the Iranians and the Shiite leaders in Beirut (especially Nasrallah himself) to send Hezbollah forces directly to Iraq and, hence, inevitably dismantle and strip the real Syrian front of its defenses.

At the funeral of the “Party of God” General, in Beirut, the signals to Iran (and to Russia) were clear in the sense that they could not try to get away with it, as usual, by accusing the United States.

Hence, on the pro-Alawi front, some cracks and difficulties of understanding are starting to appear, which make us realize that now everyone is waging and fighting “their” war in Syria.

Bashar still wants to reunite the country and Iran thinks it cannot bear some costs, even in relation to the expected advantages and benefits. Russia wants to take quick action, because it has other open fronts with the West and does not want to manage too many of them at the same time. Iran wants its Shiite universe and is not interested in Syria only; the United States want to fight together some “jihad”, support their Saudi allies in the region against Iran and contain Russia.

Moreover, after the funeral-rites, the “Party of God” maintained that (unidentified) Syrian “rebels” had killed Ad-Din, with a salvo of artillery.

A patently false motivation which, however, shows that, for the Hezbollah, there is no strategic reason to still remain in Syria.

Hence a war which will probably be destined to create a Sunni Syrian area, protected by Saudi Arabia, with a para-Shiite “buffer region” constituted by Bashar El Assad; a decidedly pro-Russian Alawistan in the Mediterranean; an Iran which, thanks to a reduced operational burden of its actions in Syria, builds the great Shiite empire along its borders; and finally the United States which, as usual, submit to the wishes (and money) of the Saudis, their only true ally in the region, precisely when they are obviously walking out of the Greater Middle East.

Europe, as usual, will stand by idly without even understanding what is happening.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.

Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.

But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.

The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.

The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.

It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.

The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.

It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.

Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK

Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.

Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.

The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.

If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.

The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.

The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.

The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”

The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.

Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”

Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.

The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey  to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.

A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.

The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.

In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.

Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.

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