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How stable are US-Turkey relations?

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It looks strange that an Islamic Turkey and essentially an anti-Islamic America have worked for years now notwithstanding serious differences even conflict between them. The fact that USA is not just a veto member and super power but also the strongest power that controls entire world by using most of the powers in the world, including Russia and China.

Turkey as a strong NATO member has been a useful asset for USA as well as all NATO and other anti-Islamic nations while United States and Israel have used the Islamist nation to their own advantages.

On positive side, USA and Turkey have maintained a closely knit relations for years since the Second World War and operated jointly to upset the Soviet efforts to make entire Europe and elsewhere anti-communist. They did achieve a great deal of success and by being the corner stone of NATO. However, that deep relationship looks shaking its foundations now.

In fact, the USA sought Turkey’s assistance for NATO and went on to sponsor Turkey’s successful bid for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The two countries then officially became allies. The alliance provided real political and security advantages to both parties, but it was certainly not to be free of frictions and tensions. The first occurred at the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Events of the past few weeks have precipitated a new crisis in American-Turkish relations, but it is certainly not the first one. In fact, it builds on a long history of bouts of mutual suspicion and antagonism over a period of more than 60 years. Last month, newspapers around the world featured pictures of US Vice-President Joe Biden shaking hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace in Ankara. The facial expressions of the two men eloquently illustrated the state of relations between their countries. Both seemed extremely wary of the other and this for good reason.

Past

The relationship between the USA and Turkey began to take shape in the years immediately following the Second World War. At the time, Turkey was coming under serious political and diplomatic pressure from the Soviet Union, which wanted to gain control of the Turkish Straits. Turkey appealed for help to the USA, which provided it with certain security guarantees under the terms of the Truman Doctrine. The United States went on to sponsor Turkey’s successful bid for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The two countries then officially became allies.

The NATO alliance provided real political and security advantages to both parties, but it was certainly not to be free of frictions and tensions. The first occurred at the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Although strongly denied at the time by the United States government, it was widely believed that the USA had concluded a deal with the Soviet Union whereby in exchange for its withdrawal of missiles from Cuba, the United States would withdraw the Jupiter missiles it had recently deployed in Turkey. When the Jupiter missiles were indeed removed in April 1963, it was generally believed in Turkey that this was a case of the United States protecting its own security interests at the expense of Turkey’s.

Even while employing Turkey for a collective “capitalist” response to Soviet threat, Washington also played havoc in containing Turkey. The long-running Cyprus issue was to create more frictions in the alliance. When the Turkish government was contemplating military action in Cyprus in 1963-64, it was the object of a blistering response by President Lyndon Johnson. When Turkey did, in fact, invade and occupy northern Cyprus in 1974, it was soundly condemned in Washington and the US Congress voted an embargo on all military assistance to Turkey.

Comprehending US hidden agenda, the Turkish government retaliated by suspending all American operations at military facilities in Turkey. These events convinced many Turks that the US government and Pentagon-CIA duo had little interest in protecting Turkey’s vital interests and that it was operating under the influence of the Greek-American community.

As super powers, USA and Soviet Russia had maintained secret deals and this concealed relationship continues even today and did not reveal that to Turkey which even was made to fear an attack by Moscow. For instance, although strongly denied at the time by the US government, it was widely believed that the USA had concluded a deal with the Soviet Union whereby in exchange for its withdrawal of missiles from Cuba, the USA would withdraw the Jupiter missiles it had recently deployed in Turkey, accelerating fears in Istanbul. When the Jupiter missiles were indeed removed in April 1963, it was generally believed in Turkey that this was a case of the US protecting its own security interests at the expense of Turkey’s.

Many other events also contributed to cooling the bilateral relationship. The three military coups that occurred in Turkey between 1960 and 1980 were greeted with dismay in Washington, giving the strategic community in Turkey speculation that USA systematically promotes troubles in Turkey which then had to revise its anti-Soviet policy towards a neutral one.

USA insists every NATO member and ally must do exactly what Washington tell them. Turkey’s rapprochement with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, therefore, was also the cause of serious concern. By the end of the decade, Turkey was receiving generous economic assistance from the Soviet Union, which created a major crisis in NATO. Turkey was benefitting enormously from its friendship with the one country the USA and NATO were dedicated to opposing and resisting.

Another significant irritant was to emerge in the 1990s: Turkey’s policies and actions regarding its Kurdish minority that sought independence with US backing. Successive In order keep Turkey under its control, Turkish governments mounted campaigns to repress secessionist movements among the Kurds. In the course of those campaigns, Turkish security forces committed massive human rights abuses, including the wholesale destruction of villages and the displacement of populations.

Along with the governments of many western European countries pursuing fake democracy and imperialism, the USA, seeking to control Turkish government, became increasingly critical of the ‘human rights violations’ and voted to block the sale of military equipment to Turkey. These criticisms and actions gave rise to profound resentment among Turks for whom the Kurdish question is a matter of national unity and territorial integrity. Those resentments were intensified when the USA gave its support to the Kurds of northern Iraq following the first Gulf War of 1991.

There was a further falling out between the USA and Turkey at the start of the new century when hawkish CIA boss turned US president George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq to remove President Saddam Hussein, destabilize Iraq and squander its vast energy resources and it did accomplish all with Turkey’s help. In the run-up to that war, the Bush regime put heavy pressure on the Turkish government to allow it to station forces in Turkey so as to be able to create a second front for the assault on Iraq (with a threat rider that if Turkey does not oblige, it would use Russia to create problems for Turkey).

However, despite offers of billions of dollars in American economic assistance, the Turkish parliament, reflecting Turkish public opinion, turned down the American request cum indirect threat. This forced the USA to make major last-minute changes to its military planning for the war and engendered considerable bitterness in Washington.

Coup

USA and Israel have every effectively used Turkey, for too long, to stop Moscow from coming into close contact with Arab world, Islamic nations. But that trend is facing rupture. USA, its Neocons strategists are now deeply disturbed by the emerging scenario of Russia and Turkey cementing their ties – seen as a devastating step that could harm US interests across the globe

In fact, as the EU opposes an Islamic Turkey from entering the essentially Christian European structures, USA feared Turkey if left out of EU would eventually join hands with Russia, eagerly wanting to take Istanbul into its own global fold. USA is eager to keep Turkey in perpetual tensions- neither within Europe nor inside West Asia. Now Russia is fast becoming a top ally of Turkey.

In recent times, especially after the Israeli-Turkish tensions over Gaza Strip, in which USA as usual took a pro-Israeli stand and later tensions with Russia over shooting down of a Russia war plane believable on US instructions and very recent anti-Islamist coup by the pro-US section of Turkish military Turkey got annoyed as USA refused to support the Turkish government or sympathize with President Erdogan, and indirectly supported the coup plotters hoping to dismantle the Erdogan government and replace it with a bogus democratic regime to promote US and Israeli interests blindly. However, the coup plot was put down and USA and Germany stood fully exposed of their anti-Islamic agenda for Turkey and Mideast.

To complicate matters, strong disagreements have emerged over the fate of a Muslim cleric by the name of Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in the United States for more than 15 years. From his base in Pennsylvania, Gulen runs a network of schools and charitable organizations in a number of Muslim countries, including Turkey. Once an ally of President Erdogan, they had a falling out in 2013, and since that time, Erdogan has accused Gulen of having infiltrated his supporters into the Turkish police, army and judiciary. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan claimed that Gulen had masterminded it and demanded his extradition from the United States to face justice in Turkey. The American government has taken a cautious approach to this demand of a NATO member for years, citing the doctrine of the separation of powers in the USA. It has said that it is willing to extradite Gulen if and when the Turkish government provided sufficient evidence to satisfy an American court that extradition is warranted. This response has generated yet more conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism in Turkey.

Two things are clear now. USA is basically anti-Islamic and it has fielded Gulen, among others in Turkey, to work for USA and NATO. Another important reality in this regard that harms Turkey’s genuine interests is joint operations by USA and Israel against Islamic world, including Turkey.

A major US ally Israel, on its part, manipulated US-Turkish relations to its own advantages against Arab nations.

USA uses Turkey only for advancing hidden agendas

As the most dreadful state terror nation whose military-intelligence networks are spread across the globe, USA could be instrumental in creating problems for the Erdogan government for its “disobedience” and terror attacks took place in cities, forcing the Turkish government to finally change its tune. It decided to allow the United States to use a major air base in Turkey for operations against the ISIS and to join in the aerial campaign against the ISIS, making Washington happy. This, however, proved to be a mixed blessing from the American perspective. Turkish air strikes were directed equally against ISIS targets and against Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Now these Kurdish forces are among America’s’ most valued allies in the war against the ISIS and Islam, and the Americans had invested heavily in training and equipping them. The United States and Turkey were once again operating at cross-purposes, to the dismay and annoyance of the Obama regime.

Matters have only gone from bad to worse in recent months. In mid-July, Turkey was the scene of a failed military coup, presumably ignited by USA, Germany and Israel, in the course of which some 300 people were killed and many more wounded. With vast displays of popular support, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was able to crush the coup attempt and reassert his authority. Erdogan then took advantage of the event to strengthen the nation by launching an overdue purge of all of anti-Islamist operators backed by USA. He arrested or dismissed approximately 80,000 policemen, judges, civil servants, teachers, academics and journalists, and closed down a number of media outlets that had been critical of his government and Islamic system. The coup forced Erdogan to put on full display his authoritarian tendencies.

Turkish aidship and coup have exposed anti-Islamic mindset of Turkey’s western Washington allies as Obama was fairly slow to condemn the coup attempt and express its support for the democratically elected government. In fact, within two days of the event, John Kerry was issuing warnings to the Turkish government to respect the human rights of its citizens. This infuriated the Turkish government and wide swaths of the Turkish population.

Western powers and Israel as its agent for many tasks, including arms sale to third world, have caused authoritarian tendencies in Turkey. The US-Germany move to destabilize the Islamist government and nation by enacting a coup has clearly spoiled the ties very badly.

However, US strategists think Turkey could be brought back to US obit by using Israel and Arab nations.

Being a party to destabilization move in Turkey, Washington was fairly slow to condemn the coup attempt or express its support for the democratically elected government. In fact, within two days of the event, John Kerry exposed the US complicity in the coup attempt, by issuing warnings to the Turkish government to “respect” the human rights of its citizens. This infuriated the Turkish government and wide swaths of the Turkish population. Public opinion polls suggest that a majority of Turks believe that the United States had something to do with it. Anti-American sentiment is now rife in Turkey.

When the Turkish government was contemplating military action in Cyprus in 1963-64, it was the object of a blistering response by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. When Turkey did, in fact, invade and occupy northern Cyprus in 1974, it was soundly condemned in Washington and the US Congress voted an embargo on all military assistance to Turkey. The Turkish government retaliated by suspending all American operations at military facilities in Turkey. These events convinced many Turks that the United States government had little interest in protecting Turkey’s vital interests and that it was operating under the influence of the Greek-American community.

Other events also contributed to cooling the bilateral relationship. The three military coups that occurred in Turkey between 1960 and 1980 were greeted with dismay in Washington. Turkey’s rapprochement with the Soviet Union in the 1970s was also the cause of serious concern. By the end of the decade, Turkey was receiving generous economic assistance from the Soviet Union, which created a major anomaly in NATO. Turkey was benefitting enormously from its friendship with the one country the United States and NATO were dedicated to opposing and resisting.

Another significant irritant was to emerge in the 1990s: Turkey’s policies and actions regarding its Kurdish minority. Successive Turkish governments mounted campaigns to repress secessionist movements among the Kurds. Along with the governments of many western European countries, the US Congress became increasingly critical of these human rights violations and voted to block the sale of military equipment to Turkey. These criticisms and actions gave rise to profound resentment among Turks for whom the Kurdish question is a matter of national unity and territorial integrity.

Those resentments were intensified when the United States gave its support to the Kurds of northern Iraq following the first Gulf War of 1991.

There was a further falling out between the United States and Turkey at the start of the new century when President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. In the run-up to that war, the Bush administration put heavy pressure on the Turkish government to allow it to station forces in Turkey so as to be able to create a second front for the assault on Iraq. Despite offers of billions of dollars in American economic assistance, the Turkish parliament, reflecting Turkish public opinion, turned down the American request. This forced the United States to make major last-minute changes to its military planning for the war and engendered considerable bitterness in Washington.

US double speak

US double speak does not require any elaboration and explanations as it has been hallmark of US practice in dealing with nations across the globe. Anything that suits Washington is good and other things are too bad for USA.

USA always seeks get its “wanted “people from foreign nations but it does not oblige Turkey by extraditing Gulen. Once an ally of President Erdogan, they had a falling out in 2013, and since that time, Erdogan has accused Gulen of having infiltrated his supporters into the Turkish police, army and judiciary. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan claimed that Gulen had masterminded it and demanded his extradition from the United States to face justice in Turkey.

Strong disagreements have emerged over the fate of a Muslim cleric by the name of Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in the United States for more than 15 years. From his base in Pennsylvania, Gulen runs a network of schools and charitable organizations in a number of Muslim countries, including Turkey. The American government has taken deliberately a cautious approach to this demand, citing the doctrine of the “separation of powers” in the USA. It has said that it would extradite Gulen if and when the Turkish government provided “sufficient evidence” to satisfy an American court that extradition is warranted.

This response has generated yet more conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism in Turkey. Starting in 2014, the Obama regime, advancing the Neocons “regime change” agenda to generate puppet governments in Asia, especially in West Asia (Mideast), except in Israel,   began to display ever more impatience with the Turkish government’s attitude toward the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. South Asia not a problem for USA as India and Pakistan are promoting US interests. The Turkish authorities initially saw the IS as a useful Sunni Muslim adversary of the Shia/Alawite Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad, whose overthrow had become a priority in Turkish policy. Not only did Turkey refuse to join the United States-led coalition fighting the IS, but it also allowed foreign fighters to transit its territory en route to join the ISIS extremists. This led the Obama administration to exert increasing pressure on Ankara to change its policy, but to no avail.

US leaders play chess with international affairs and get what they want form Turkey by promoting terror attacks. It was only when the IS began mounting terrorist attacks on Turkish cities and towns that the Turkish government finally changed its tune. It decided to allow the USA to use a major air base in Turkey for operations against the IS and to join in the aerial campaign against the IS. This, however, proved to be a mixed blessing from the American perspective. Turkish air strikes were directed equally against IS targets and against Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Now these Kurdish forces were among the USA most valued allies in the campaign against the ISIS, and the Americans had invested heavily in training and equipping them.

The United States and Turkey were once again operating at cross-purposes, to the dismay and annoyance of the Obama government. Starting in 2014, the Obama government began to display ever more “impatience” with the Turkish government’s independent attitude toward the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish authorities initially saw the ISIS as a useful Sunni Muslim adversary of the Shia/Alawite Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad, whose overthrow had become a priority in Turkish policy.

The Obama team exerted increasing pressure on Ankara to change its policy by toeing the US line of state terrorist action, but to no avail.

Observation

Relations between the USA and Turkey are now at very low ebb. The historical record suggests that the two countries have in the past been able to overcome and reconcile their differences. They should seek to do so again in their mutual interest. However, whether or not they will be able to reconcile this time is an open question with profound implications for these two countries, as well as for Europe and the Middle East.

USA does not allow equal status in NATO any nation, including UK. This obviously creates tensions. USA always used Muslim nations, including Arab nations and never come to defend or support them in any manner and Turkey is no different.

Turkey, like today’s UK which refused to cooperate with USA and Israel over UN vote on Palestine’s defacto statehood, has shown it can withstand pressure tactics of USA and other western powers operating under the NATO terror organization and take a firm decision with regard to its national interest without spoiling the relations badly.

Unfortunately, America is eager to see an anti-Islamic Turkey emerging by throwing away the Islamist Brotherhood government and when his predecessors failed, Obama also tried it but also failed. The Islamist government in Turkey is not what USA wants in Europe and is trying to dismantle that.

American leaders have never been totally reliable partners of Turkey and so Turkey is not happy that USA stood by Israel when the Zionist military attacked Turkey aidship bound for Gaza to breach Israeli-Egyptian terror blockades. USA has succeeded, however, in dividing Islamic world as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

It is against this background of frequently troubled relations that the current tensions can best be understood. They represent little more than another chapter in a history largely characterized by episodes of mutual distrust and antagonism. Many in USA would think their destabilization move for Turkey would only harm President Erdogan and his Islamist program, but America would too feel the pinch once Turkey chooses to leave American orbit and US company.

As usual, USA can exert pressure on Russia to let Turkey, a close ally of USA and NATO, take its own decisions and force Turkey to undertake the tasks assigned by the big boss- Uncle Sam. The former Ottoman Empire would be very cautious.

Even though Turkey has been an ally of USA and NATO, It has been the target of these entire anti-Islamic nations. Even while using Turkey for NATO operations against Islam and Islamic nations, the USA has been working against Islamist government to destabilize it and replace it with a puppet regime like in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. But turkey has woken up the western challenge but that alone won’t end hostility of its sworn enemies in democracy uniform.

Of course USA and Turkey now each other as allies for several decades of joint military operations, but the latest development shows the former needs the latter more than the opposite scenario.

America is bent upon advancing terror wars in Islamic world. US concern for peace is not genuine. Hence the tensions with Turkey!

USA cannot exploit Turkey for advancing its own national interest and also create tension and destabilization in Turkey.

An honest ally won’t do that! Dishonesty can destroy any US sponsored international alliance.

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Middle East

Russia and Syria: Nuances in Allied Relations

Aleksandr Aksenenok

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The foreign policy strategy of any state includes a certain set of means and ways to ensure the practical achievement of its goals. Searching for allies or temporary partners that will help serve a specific purpose has always been an essential part of this strategy. In the past, the belief was that this was primarily the concern of “smaller” states interested in forging an alliance with a strong patron. However, the sharp imbalance that has emerged in international relations in the decades since the collapse of the USSR has shown that large states that are engaged in global politics are just as interested in building various types of alliances and partnership as “smaller” states. Sometimes even more so. Recent diplomatic practice has demonstrated that keeping such relations on an even keel demands that the parties delicately balance their understanding of the limits to their mutual concessions and constantly check that they are “on the same page.” The latter is done to preserve confidence in rapidly changing circumstances that are often beyond their control and, most importantly, to ensure they do not present each other with an impossible choice, which is something that happened between the United States and Turkey within NATO, and quite recently in the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

Metamorphoses of U.S. politics from Clinton to Trump demonstrate how the benefits from allied relations may transform into a tarnished image. Having failed to adapt to a world in which it has lost its global dominance, the United States under Obama and particularly under Trump chose to neglect traditional diplomacy, which involves finding ways to align the possibly diverging interests of allies. In regard to Europe, this policy was encapsulated in the withdrawal from multilateral trade partnership agreements, the use of NATO to exert pressure on allies, the introduction of sanctions, and the employment of other methods of gaining unilateral economic and political advantages.

The Middle East is even more indicative in this respect. Within a very short period of time, U.S. foreign policy in the region has oscillated between extremes. America’s allies in the Gulf were alarmed when Obama, looking to be “on the right side of history,” rapidly withdrew support for Mubarak when the protests in Egypt broke out (in February 2011) and when the United States effectively gave in to Iran in the struggle for influence in Iraq. Trump’s demonstrative turn towards Saudi Arabia, coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and the subsequent policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Iran, negatively affected U.S.–EU relations, caused a split in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and failed to allay their concerns regarding the reliability of the United States as an ally. Finally, the concessions to Israel, which no U.S. President had dared make before (no matter how their Middle East policies zigged and zagged), added new wrinkles to the issue. As a result, the Trump administration approaches the 2020 presidential elections with an unprecedented burden of problems in its relations with its North Atlantic allies, in an almost complete isolation owing to its illegal actions in the UN Security Council concerning the lifting of the Iranian sanctions, and having generally lost its moral and political prestige.

In the same period of time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had failed to fit into the architecture of pan-European security and was faced with a choice: given NATO’s territorial expansion and the ineffectiveness of such collective mechanisms as the CIS and OSCE, what policy should it pursue moving forward? Does Russia see its future self as an independent centre of power with a free hand? Or does it want to be an influential actor within new alliances and integration unions? The answers to these questions are more or less clear today.

Russia is steering its own course in relations with the West, acting in its own interests, yet not shutting the door on an equal dialogue designed to search for points of contact on the most conflict-ridden problems. At the same time, Russia has made efforts to build a sub-system of inter-country alliances to counterbalance the NATO–EU pairing. These efforts have led to multilateral diplomacy guided by the principle of “going as far the other party is prepared to go.” These efforts have resulted in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the military–political arena, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) alliance in the geopolitical arena, and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Customs Union in the trade and economic arena. Compared with western alliances that entail transferring part of one’s sovereignty to supra-national bodies, members of these unions are more free in their commitments, although they share Russia’s stance on the key issues of global politics.

Following a brief hiatus in the 1990s, Russia returned to the Middle East, no longer shackled by ideological clichés. The very paradigm of Russian–Arab relations had changed. They were no longer characterized by unilaterality and were developing over a wide spectrum. Pride of place was given to such foreign political landmarks as the achievement of national security in the face of new threats emanating from the chronic instability in the region, the support for Russian businesses, and the measures to counteract external intervention aimed at regime change for the sake of political expediency (in extreme cases, this would be done by force, but mostly it would be done by establishing networks based on coinciding interests). These were the landmarks that Russia used to guide itself post-2011, when the Middle East entered a protracted era of reconstruction. This pragmatic approach was largely responsible for preserving business partnership relations with Egypt, Iraq and Algeria, all of which experienced regime changes, as well as for building coherent relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, where existing differences on conflict settlement do not get in the way of bilateral cooperation in trade and economy and coordinating policies on the global energy markets.

Russia gains certain benefits from its ability to maintain business partnership ties with all the regional and non-regional actors in the Middle Eastern conflicts, including Turkey, the Kurds, Hezbollah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza. At the same time, it is clear that this situation and, in particular, the widespread concept of Moscow as an “impartial mediator” or “honest broker,” is with increasing frequency being used for unseemly purposes, such as shifting the responsibility for the actions or inactions of other parties in the region or outside it onto Moscow. In today’s new multi-layered conflicts, no single actor is capable of holding all the settlement threads in its hands.

Russia and Syria: Questions of War and Peace

Russia and Syria have gradually become allies since the civil war broke out in the Middle East state in 2011. The leaders of both countries have said as much, and it is taken as a given in the West and the other countries in the region.

At the same time, the complicated entanglements of relations both in and around Syria have prompted certain questions from our colleagues and institutional partners in the Damascus Center for Research and Studies. Most of them are quite logical and do indeed need to be discussed at the expert level to begin with.

Russia and Syria have a long history of cooperation in many areas, and the countries were particularly close during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad, the outstanding statesman who enjoyed worldwide respect. A Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed back then, but it was more of a framework document that did not impose any specific international legal commitments on either party. These were relations of trust that withstood the test of the war with Israel in 1973 in the Golan Heights and the Civil War in Lebanon (1975–1989), where Syrian troops fought and Soviet military advisors participated indirectly. There were also disagreements on the situation in the Palestinian movement and the attitude to Yasser Arafat personally. Yet these differences were resolved through regular trust-based dialogue at the highest level and through close military-political consultations.

In the 1990s and the early 2000s when Russia, burdened by its domestic problems, “withdrew” from the Middle East, Russia–Syria relations were in decline. After being elected president, Bashar al-Assad steered a course for Europe, for Jacques Chirac’s France in particular, viewing it as a centre for containing the United States, which had accused Syria of supporting the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation [1]. Bashar Al-Assad’s first visit to Russia took place in 2005. The agreements achieved at the highest level covered a wide range of issues in military-technical and economic cooperation in the context of Syria fully settling its debt, and they gave a new impetus to developing bilateral relations in the changing geopolitical circumstances.

In 2011, the civil conflict in Syria transformed into an armed confrontation. Since then, Russia–Syria cooperation has been dominated by its military component. Russia directly intervened in the conflict at the request of President Bashar al-Assad, a fact that was accounted for by the intergovernmental agreements between the two countries, which, unlike the largely for-show agreements concluded with a number of Arab states in the past, set out specific commitments for both parties. The relations were thus given a new quality. All efforts were channelled into repelling the terrorist threat and saving Syria’s statehood. In the run-up to the decisive intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces, most military experts around the world agreed that the “terrorist international” had made it as far as the suburbs of Damascus, and that regime change was imminent, even though Iranian units and Lebanese Hezbollah were fighting in Syria.

Five years later, the military and administrative infrastructure of Islamic State has been destroyed, the armed opposition is weakened, and the remaining pockets of resistance no longer posit a real threat to the al-Assad regime [2].

Back then, the objectives were clear and, naturally, there were no questions as to what the Syrian people expected from Russia. Why did Moscow and Damascus experience an upsurge of information attacks along the lines of “who needs whom more”? What are the reasons for the “uncertainties” and “doubts” that Syrian political analysts ponder in a friendly manner, wondering whether or not Russia intends “to give up on Syria and leave the regime to deal with the increasing pressure” from the United States? What changes have happened now that the active phase of the conflict has ceased?

The official statements from the Russian side leave no doubts as to its principled stance. Keeping air force and naval bases in the Mediterranean is a strategic move, meaning that Russia does not have any “withdrawal scenarios.” According to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, materiel support for the Syrian operation does not exceed the funds budgeted for defence. It is flexible and generally tends to shrink as military action deescalates.

Legitimizing “entry” is another matter entirely, both from the point of view of legal documents concluded between Russia and Syria and on a broad international scale. And it is something that does not depend on Russia alone. Fundamentally, it should be in the interests of Damascus itself. That is, the two countries are effectively doomed to find a balance of power in the long term, both in a war that cannot last indefinitely, and during the post-war period. Our point here is clear: using political realism as a stepping stone, Russia and Syria need to properly balance common strategic goals and search for optimal ways to deal with possible tactical differences.

A Hierarchy of Priorities

It is noteworthy that, in his analytical article, my esteemed colleague Aqeel Mahfoud describes the current situation in Syria as a war with “no end in sight” and asks Russia such questions as: What is the “middle ground” between “‘high costs’ and ‘low returns’ … between ‘retreating’ from Syria and ‘continuing’ the course?” It is thus clear that certain “misunderstandings” have emerged, and in order to properly analyse the prospects, we need to jointly access the essence of the point in time we arrived at after five years of allied cooperation.

Our general assessments are essentially the same. The challenges and threats that Syria currently faces are economic, a destructive effect of the sanctions, and the U.S. “Caesar Act” in particular, with the coronavirus pandemic making the situation worse. The reality is that there are virtually no prerequisites for implementing major post-war reconstruction projects in Syria. Most Syrians are fighting for survival in the face of growing prices, food, power and fuel shortages and a destroyed living infrastructure. The Syrian government is mobilizing its limited financial resources to mitigate the socioeconomic consequences for the regime, focusing on supporting business activities and preserving the system of subsidies. At the same time, it is quite clear that resolving the problem of the economy’s uninterrupted functioning cannot be solved without urgent outside assistance. It is also obvious, however, that, unlike in the case of Lebanon, the sources of such assistance for Syria are very few.

The Russian government, in turn, is doing everything possible to provide real aid to the people of Syria (urgent deliveries of grain, pharmaceuticals and equipment in the form of grants or through contracts; reconstructing civil infrastructure facilities, communication lines; providing humanitarian aid, etc.). The government is encouraging Russian businesses to cooperate with Syrian companies more actively through public-private partnerships and by granting them most favoured nation status. It should be said, though, that the method of “giving commands” has little effect in the Russian economy compared with Soviet times. Russia expects the Syrian government to take further steps to set up both central and local governance systems that would ensure corruption is dealt with, offer preferences to foreign investors, make sure that laws are obeyed and that the “military economy” would give way to normal trade and economic relations as speedily as possible. President Bashar al-Assad’s address to the members of the newly formed government can be seen as a major step in this direction.

It should be noted in this connection that the article published by the Damascus Center for Research and Studies focuses on Russia, and most questions are addressed to Moscow as if it holds some kind of a “magic key” to resolving all the problems. At the same time, practical advice and friendly criticism are perceived as “pressure” and “interference.” As for the negative dynamics, what is Damascus’ attitude to the fact that after the active military phase was over, little changed aside from the strengthening of “psychological pressure” and tightening of the “economic noose” on Syria? And regarding the positive dynamics, what conclusions should the Syrians themselves draw concerning the balance of power and political steps that should be taken? These important aspects slid under the radar of our Syrian colleagues. We would like to understand what is meant by the phrase “returning to the ‘requirements’ of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254 […] would bring us back to March 2011.”

Russia’s position on the issue of the Syrian settlement, President Vladimir Putin has said on numerous occasions, proceeds from the premise that a military solution is impossible. At the talks held with Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Geir Pedersen in Moscow on September 3 (which took place only a few days after the session of the Constitutional Committee’s Drafting Commission in Geneva), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov confirmed that Russia supports Pedersen’s efforts to help the Syrian people come to an agreement themselves on constitutional reform in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as a sovereign state and one of the guarantors of the Astana process. This stance has been approved by the “Astana Troika,” it is known to the Syrian leadership and does not prompt open objections.

Some Russian political analysts that are in the know expect Syria, and probably President Bashar al-Assad himself, to spearhead some major initiatives that will jumpstart the Geneva process – not as a return to the 2011 status quo, but as a means of restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and bolstering the country’s statehood on the inclusive foundation of national accord. A flexible approach on the part of Damascus and a better understanding of its intentions would certainly help Russia, giving it more solid ground in its contacts with western and Arab partners. In the current reality, Syria can hardly be “rehabilitated” economically without coordinated international efforts. This is the kind of convergence of interests that would make it possible to bring together external aid and progress in the intra-Syrian dialogue into a single stabilization package.

Another important set of issues raised by our Damascus partners pertains to Russia being “an ally for Syria, Israel, Iran and Turkey” in the continuing conflict and to what the nature of Russia–U.S. contacts is.

It is no secret that the foreign political services of both countries have always maintained a working exchange of current information. This is particularly true of the current situation. My many years of experience in the diplomatic service (in Syria among other states) allow me to state confidently that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation regularly informs the Syrian leadership about its talks with its western and regional partners on issues that concern Syria. If there is any “uncertainty” within the Syrian public or the Syrian expert community about this fact, it might rather be explained by Russia being excessively guarded about sensitive information that concerns its relations with its allies, or by Russian media’s inability to demonstrate any kind of subtlety when it comes to foreign political steps in this area and properly explain Russia’s intentions to the world at large. Incidentally, Syria itself is far more guarded and “secretive” in its media coverage of its relations with Russia – and this coverage is often, quite frankly, far more tendentious.

Most Russian experts view Russia–Syria relations on the matters of war and peace as a relationship of “twins” connected by “kindred threads.” Their western colleagues share this point of view, indicating that the United States and Europe no longer tie compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 with Assad’s “removal.” Instead, they adopted the concept of constitutional reform and democratic elections under the UN’s supervision. It is natural for allies in protracted and convoluted conflicts to have some misunderstandings. Aqeel Mahfoud notes that “the Syrian people understand […] that Russia does not approach the issue from a Syrian perspective.” The main thing is that if strategic “constants” are in place, which is undoubtedly the case, then periodical tactical differences should be resolved in a timely manner, on the basis on openness and trust.

At the level of government and opposition forces, the Syrian people should take into account the fact that Russia has its own global interests that do not always coincide with those of the Middle East. Russia–Syria relations cannot be equated with relations with influential regional actors, which are based on different considerations. But one thing brings them together: a common history, coinciding interests in regions outside Syria and mutually beneficial cooperation, including in the military area. It is thus wrong to posit an “either/or” question.

On the other hand, a realist assessment of the situation “on the ground” reveals that the existence of particular situational arrangements with Israel and Turkey is something that benefits Syria itself. Let us take, for example, agreements on southern Syria, in which Israel unofficially participated. It was these agreements that allowed Syria to regain control of its southern provinces, provided that it complied with the terms that did not breach its sovereign rights. Russian officials did not hide the fact that it meant withdrawing Iranian and pro-Iranian military units from the 80-kilometre security zone and using national reconciliation principles to form local authorities. Russia is entitled to expect Syria to comply with these conditions.

Or let us take the agreements reached between the presidents of Russia and Turkey on March 4, 2020, concerning Idlib and which were achieved as part of the implementation of the de-escalation zone agreement developed by the “Astana Troika” with Syria’s participation. This development makes it possible to avoid the worst-case scenario, which would not have been in the interests of Syria, Russia and Turkey. In no way does it change the attitude towards the Idlib problem as part of the principled approach to restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and the joint fight against terrorism.

As for U.S.–Syria relations, Russia is pursuing a realistic policy here aimed at preventing incidents that could result in an armed clash, and at the same time is searching for opportunities to interact in those areas where the interests of Russia and the United States may coincide without detriment to the “strategic constants” of Russia’s relations with its Syrian ally. Recently, tensions in northeast Syria, where the U.S. military presence is concentrated, have increased noticeably, which makes further developments less predictable. Consequently, the parties focus specifically on the “de-conflicting channel” and simultaneously draw “red lines” that should not be overstepped. Politically, Russia endeavours to promote understanding between Damascus and the Kurds on their constitutional status, which increases the chances of restoring Syria’s territorial integrity as part of the post-conflict settlement.

Memories of the Future

They say that “it is difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future.” The issues outlined by our Syrian partners for the “strategic dialogue” are so broad that it is impossible to cover everything. In conclusion, I would like to make a few brief remarks.

The Syrian people are known to hold different views of the country’s situation and of Russia’s role in Syria’s affairs. Part of civil society is currently outside Syria, and they are by no means terrorists or Russophobes. Consequently, as it supports Bashar al-Assad, Russia emphasizes an intra-Syrian agreement on a model of Syria’s future state that would ensure the country against bloody civil wars. Clearly, there can be no return to 2011, and the Syrian people themselves should decide how to reform their state and society. During the protracted wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, the United States was engaged in social engineering and state-building, but these tasks proved too much for them. Russia also had its own regrettable experience in Afghanistan, since every war has its own logic that sooner or later outweighs politics.

As the summer 2021 presidential elections approach, a feeling of hopelessness and anxious expectation is engulfing the international community and Syrians of various political persuasions. Numerous scenarios, largely pessimistic, are being developed – as far as the “Balkanization” of Syria or even a clash between the United States and Russia or between Russia and Turkey on Syrian soil.

There is thus only one thing we can say: if compromise solutions are found, the settlement of the Syrian conflict could serve as a precedent for the global community and a key to undoing other conflict knots. Alternatively, if the right conclusions are not drawn from the lessons of 2011, Syrian settlement may turn into a time bomb for Syria’s sustainable domestic development.

 [1]Kleib, Sami. The Destruction of Syria or the Departure of Assad? Moscow: Biblos Konsulting Publ., 2018. pp. 66–70.

 [2]Islamic State (IS) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.

From our partner RIAC

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Iran- Turkey Partnership: A New Front in Libya

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There is strategic consensus among political elites currently ruling the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey states. Despite of few turmoil, both states want to retain cordial relations that can lead towards the support of each other’s national sovereignty and stability.

Eight years after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya continues to struggle to end its violent conflict and build state institutions. External actors have exacerbated Libya’s problems by funneling money and weapons to proxies that have put personal interests above Libyan people. Libya myriad armed militias led by general Haftar really hold and sway nominally backing two centers of political power in the east and west with parallel institutions. General Haftar is backed by NATO member states of France, Russia, Egypt, UAE and Saudi and on the other hand, Tripoli administration, the international recognized government, known as the government of national accord under the leadership of prime Minister fayaz AL Sarah is being backed by the United Nations, Turkey, Qatar and now Iran. The collaboration of Iran and Turkey in Libya is going to mark another hallmark in the historical relationships of two neighbor power.

From past to present, Iran and turkey have seen multiple strains in their relations. The history of relations between turkey and Iran can be dated back to the sixteenth century, when two competing imperial systems, the ottoman and the safavids, consolidated their rule ship over respective countries. Turkey and Iran were both imperial centers, and the modern states established in these two countries are considered to the successors to the ottoman and the safavid imperial rule that had dominated most parts of western Asia for centuries.

As the nearby an imperial system, territorial and political conflicts prevailed over the ottoman-safavid relations against interval periods of peace. The emergence of west oriented nation states in turkey and Iran in 1920, under the leadership of Kemal Turk and Raza Pehlevi facilitated further cooperation between two states.

By in the late 1970, when the Pehlevi monarchy was overthrown by the Islamic revolution, it was difficult to discern containing patterns of accord signed between political elites of both states. Parallel to the turkey’s “New” Middle East foreign policy started in the early 2000s, turkey – Iran relations have undergone through unprecedented periods of rapprochement. Ideological and security issues that dominated the relations between two neighbors have been gradually replaced by the pragmatic considerations on each side. Increasing volume of economic interaction, security and diplomatic cooperation on a number of issues and fulfillment of energy demand by turkey were the highlighted initiatives of that era. Ankara domestic exemption level of oil and gas had increased. To overcome this issue, turkey signed $23 billion agreement of worth oil for next 25 years. Overall, trade level between Iran and turkey increased by many time comparable to the past decade. The amount of trade increased from $1.2 billion to $4.3 billions between 2001 and 2010 and reached $10 billions in 2015.

The spread of Arab spring provided an other opportunity to both Iran and turkey to exploit the emerging New order in middle east. Both states attempted to launch their ideologies in the Arab states. Iran wanted to spread Muslim revolution although turkey wanted to spread democratic values to exert more influence in the Middle East.

Turkey’s role in the Iranian nuclear dossier has been often portrayed as that “facilitator “and bridge builder between Islamic Republic of Iran and the western camps of negotiations. Turkey has basically no interests in the Iran nuclear weapons but being a critical of international sanctions, turkey has always stressed the need of political solution of Iranian nuclear crisis. They don’t want to enter into the nuclear race with the Iran but support them to acquire nuclear weapons but for peaceful energy purposes under the guidance of NPT and IAEA.

Geographical proximity has always forced turkey to cooperate with Iran economically despite of divergence in political and ideological outlook. Common membership in regional organizations, however, provided a pragmatic bond of cooperation on issues of regional and neighbor countries. All the same, Turkey and Iran relations have been undergoing a deteriorating in the walk Syrian Civil War. Turkey supports the anti elements of president Bashar Al Assad’s who is the true state ally of Iran in the Middle East and provide safe path to support the Hezbollah in the Lebanon. Kurdish issue has also engaged the turkey who suspects of Syria and Iran of backing the Kurdistan worker party.

The Libya, a state situated in the north Africa region has become a new playing field for power and resource hunger states. After the overthrown of Qaddafi regime, multiple groups started to claim the legitimacy in the state. The authorities in the east led by the General Khalifa Haftar controls the most part of the state as it is claimed by his representatives since April 2020, he has been striving to control the capital. He has been supported by the Russia, Egypt, NATO member France, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia while Tripoli government recognized by the United nations is backed by the Turkey, Qatar and now Islamic Republic of Iran. The entry of Saudi and other anti Iran allies has invited the Islamic Republic of Iran to sway and evaluate its involvement in this crisis.

Iran has announced his support for the Turkish-backed Libyan government of national accord based in Tripoli. Javed zarif visited Istanbul and during a press conference and stated“We seek to have a political solution to the Libyan crisis and end the Civil War. We support the legitimate government and we have common views with the Turkish side on way to end the crisis in Libya and Yemen.”

Moreover, Gvusoglu,The Foreign minister of turkey reiterated Turkey’s opposition to US sanctions on Iran. He further added “Iran’s stability and peace is important for us”

Sarya ansar, the Shia backed Iraqi militia, also operating in the Syria has entered the Libya to support Turkey. Security and defense cooperation agreements have been signed between Turkey and Iran and following the information of International revolution guard coast an affiliated ship has delivered the weapons to the militias in Libya.

Most of Libya’s vast territories and oil resources are much desired by the resource scarce Turkey. Further, Turkey under the leadership of President Erdogan wants to regain its old status and territories of ottoman empire. The formation of new Islamic block is being predicted which would be comprises of Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Pakistan Tunisia and Libya. Moreover, Turkey is striving to put more pressure on the Europe to award her a membership of European Union. The strategic position in the Persian Gulf, strait of harmuz and Ankara controls of the Bosporus strait are sole basis for energy cooperation between two neighbor powers. The support of Iran militias would provide strength to the Turkey in Libyan and will force the anti government elements to bow down head in front of government of national accord.

On the other hand, Iran has found an opportunity to spread Islamic revolution in sunni dominated state. It would help Iran to reorient the relations with Turkey. From the statements of foreign minister of Turkey, it is evident that they want more positive relations with Iran. Iran is the state who have second largest oil and gas reserves in Middle East. Turkey can provide a platform to raise the sanctions issues to Europe and United States of America. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Kurdistan issues could be resolved by taking joint actions of both states and through this way stable political and economical relations would be achieved. The identical stance on Israel issue would strengthen the relations in positive way. Despite of political differences, both states have defended the stronger Bilateral cooperation

To cut the long story short, Iran-Turkey relations have seen ups and down phases in the history but they are much significant for each other’s stability in the region to fight with common enemy. No doubt that Turkey wants to achieve its high ambitions in the Middle as well as in North Africa to be a main player but right now, Iran needs more economic strength and Turkey could provide her this opportunity. This cooperation can facilitate the shattered economy of Iran in broader perspective. Libya is a new front providing the opportunity to both states to come more close.

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Controversial Israeli soccer club may be litmus test for UAE soft power ploy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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An Emirati offer to invest in Israel’s most controversial soccer club could serve as a figurative litmus test of hopes that Arab recognition of the Jewish state may persuade it to be more empathetic towards Palestinian national aspirations.

It was not immediately clear whether the offer was to acquire or co-invest in Beitar Jerusalem, notorious for its links to the ruling Likud party and the Israeli far-right as well as racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments among an influential segment of its fan base.

Israeli sources suggested that the offer was made by a businessman with close ties to the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG).

ADUG, owned by UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a half-brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, has a majority stake in Football City Group that controls soccer clubs on four continents, including Manchester City FC.

Israeli media reports said that the offer was made to club owner Moshe Hogeg.

Mr. Hogeg has been struggling to confront La Familia, a militant hard right fan group that has stopped Beitar from hiring Israeli Palestinian players, denounced the contracting of Muslims, and regularly chants ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘Death to Muslims’ during matches.

Mr. Hogeg last year faced down La Familia who demanded that a new hire, Ali Mohamed, change his Muslim name, even though he is a Nigerian Christian.

UAE officials have argued that establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel stopped the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from annexing parts of the West Bank, occupied since Israel conquered it in the 1967 Middle East war.

Mr. Netanyahu said he had suspended, not cancelled his annexation plans.

A UAE stake in Beitar would take the Gulf state’s soft power ploy to an arena that is both the Likud’s heartland as well as football that evokes deep-seated passion in a soccer-crazy country.

Founded during the period of the British mandate in Palestine to create the ‘New Jew’ who would be able to build and defend the Jewish state, Beitar initially drew many of its players and fans from Irgun, an extreme nationalist, para-military Jewish underground group.

Among the club’s fans were throughout the years right-wing Israeli leaders. Today, they include Mr. Netanyahu and multiple members of his government.

In interviews with Israeli media, the Emirati businessmen hinted at the soft power aspect of the UAE initiative.

“Fanaticism is rooted in ignorance and fear of the other. If there is a spirit of tolerance, we can create  an atmosphere of pure friendship between us and others. Sports is an international language graced with the ability to promote tolerance and peace between nations and people,” Israeli tv channel Sports 5 quoted him as saying.

The businessman made no explicit reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his remarks appeared to refer to it.

Emiratis appear to hope that a UAE stake in Beitar will boost the club’s more moderate fans, weaken its more militant fan base, and help shape a public opinion that is more willing to compromise with the Palestinians.

They count on fans like Yitzhak Megamadov who told Al-Monitor in response to the UAE bid: “I tell our fans to open their hearts and minds and receive them with open arms. They are our cousins. They want real peace and solidarity. We have gotten used to knowing about Palestinian Arabs through terrorist attacks and war. … We need to educate ourselves and change our perspectives.”

It’s an approach that worked when Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008 in what critics described as a reputation laundering operation. The English club’s fans embraced its new cash-flush owners, rejecting human rights activists’ concerns about the UAE’s regular abuse of human rights.

Winning over fans is likely to prove a lot easier than changing Israeli policies, something  more powerful players like the United States and Europe have unsuccessfully tried.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted down an amendment that would have added equality for minorities to a controversial law defining Israel’s Jewish character just days after Israel signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain at the White House.

In other words, there is little reason to believe that the businessman and the UAE together with Bahrain can achieve what others did not.

Fact of the matter is that the carrot of recognition has not helped solve the Palestinian problem or fundamentally change Israeli policy in the 18 years since Saudi Arabia first unveiled an Arab peace plan that offered recognition in exchange for land.

Neither did the earlier peace treaties between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, two states that, unlike the UAE and Bahrain, had and still have a direct stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Nor did it stop US President Donald J. Trump from accepting the legitimacy of annexation of occupied Palestinian land. Mr. Trump has endorsed Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem as well as the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.

What an Emirati stake or acquisition in Beitar will do is enhance Israeli empathy for the UAE.

Without a tangible political fallout beneficial to Palestinians, It will also reinforce critics’ assertion that the UAE is using the Palestinian issue as a fig leaf for a move that serves Emirati issues with no Palestinian dividend.

The Emiratis may find that time does not work in their favour. They appear to be playing a long game on an unstable board that could prove incapable of sustaining it.

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