The insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime began on March 15, 2015 in the framework of the Arab Springs – in that case designed to destabilize Saudi Arabia. Unlike what had happened in the Maghreb region and in Egypt, Saudi Arabia managed the issue by putting severe pressures on the United States – the global managers of the “Arab Springs” – but, above all, by harshly repressing every internal rebellion.
The war in Syria coincided with the end of the reckless US plan to extend the “Arab Springs” to the whole Greater Middle East.
Rather than understanding that it was one of their defeats, the United States passively supported the Sunni jihad in Syria – and we cannot currently understand which their real goal was.
Was it to help the Saudi friends? Excessive. Was it the idea of democratizing the Arab world by using jihadists? Pure madness.
Was it to spite Iran by closing it into a Sunni pocket? And why?
Hence the war remained in Syria and Saudi Arabia could support all the forces that opposed Bashar al-Assad’s regime – considered by Saudi Arabia, with some exaggeration, as a mere Iran’s emissary.
The self-proclaimed “Caliphate” or jihadists comically defined as “moderate”, everything was good to set the Middle East on fire.
And, we wonder again, why?
So far the Syrian war has caused over 300,000 casualties and 12 million displaced persons or migrants, thus also prompting the British Brexit and the European countries’ future nationalistic closed-minded attitudes.
Certainly you may think that destabilization throughout Europe – which now never notices anything – is an important strategic goal. However, who should contain Russia, according to the old Obama’s logic of the new cold war?
Talk about the heterogenesis of intents or the law of unintended consequences.
Furthermore, from the very beginning, Barack Obama has also supported the Saudi proxy war in Syria, by pushing the Russian Federation – which wanted to avoid being completely sealed up in the Mediterranean – to start its air raids on September 30, 2015, so as to support the Assads’ Alawite regime and oppose the network of Sunni jihadist groups backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
An alcoholic-style geopolitics.
Finally it is a mystery how it is possible for the United States to still think of supporting the jihadist gangs, in a fragmented and very unstable environment such as the Middle East.
The jihadists will not destabilize Russia – if this is what is sought. Putin got rid of them with two very harsh wars in Chechnya.
Finally Saudi Arabia wanted to close a vital strategic space for Iran, namely Syria; Erdogan’s Turkey wanted to extend its new caliphate to the Sunni majority in Syria and the United States wanted to support their Saudi and Qatari allies against Iran and its hegemonic ambitions on Shiite minorities throughout the Fertile Crescent.
However, can a superpower like the United States strategically think of destabilizing the whole Middle East, the region which has also built the US financial fortunes since the 1970s?
Hence, currently, the Syrian region highlights some objective factors: a) Obama’s policy of encircling Russia has failed definitively; b) Russia has succeeding in involving also Turkey – the second Atlantic Alliance’s power – in its Syrian project; c) the Sunni jihad supported by Saudi Arabia and its global and regional allies has lost its own challenge precisely on its ground.
On November 30, 2016 the jihadists were expelled from the suburbs of Damascus and from its aqueduct with an action of the Syrian Arab Army and Russia’s very effective air support.
Putin and Erdogan could reach their own agreement because Aleppo had been freed.
Moreover, the Russian agreements signed in Astana clearly state that all the various jihadist groups, adhering or not to the ceasefire of December 30, 2016, must immediately, and without exception, leave their positions in Syria.
As increasingly happens after acts of terrorism, with the brutal New Year’s attack in Istanbul, Turkey is bearing the brunt of its new pro-Russian stance.
A stance which, today, is already a strategic success.
A stance which is fully rational.
Erdogan wanted to conquer the whole Sunni Syria when Bashar al-Assad appeared to be weak, but currently he is satisfied with an Alawite regime not permitting the establishment of a “Kurdish state” between Syria and the Iraqi territory.
Therefore, also thanks to Barack Obama’s strategic foolishness, currently Russia gives the cards and controls the New Middle East game.
Hence if the United States want to rescue their power in the region, they shall avoid delegating their strategic interest in the Middle East to the Sunni powers.
Furthermore the United States must avoid unilateralism, thus accepting the fait accompli and creating their control areas, without hoping Saudi Arabia would do so on their behalf.
Israel is the real winner of this war: it sees all its historical enemies exhausted in a long and bloody war; it has an information exchange agreement with the Russian Federation and can control – better than in the past – the whole Golan Heights region, which is essential for its defense.
Finally, at political and legal levels, the restriction to Hezbollah and Iranian special forces’ operations in Syria – according to the Astana agreements – reflects Russia’s and Assad Syria’s willingness to expel all jihadist groups – and, hence, their supporters’ interests – from the territory.
Too much Iran’s involvement prompts and recalls Saudi Arabia and neither Syria nor Moscow have any interest in being involved in the final war between the two Islam’s schools of thought.
Therefore the Middle East is too important to be managed with proxy wars or with set-ups built only with words and for a very short lapse of time.
We must therefore change our conception of the whole region, which currently has the Syrian war at its core.
The Fertile Crescent is not only the channel between Europe and Asia, as in the British Empire’s days, but also an area acting as a buffer zone between two regions which will be crucial in the future: Central Asia and China.
It is also autonomous in its dynamics – for many years it has no longer been the Arab, Islamic or Jewish extension of the great powers’ interests.
Obviously the central point of this new set-up will be the Mediterranean, which will become the most important “regional sea” of the globe.
Just to paraphrase the old laws of British and American geopolitics, whoever dominates the Middle East controls the Heartland, but whoever is dominant in the “middle land” controls the Eurasian peninsula and the two oceans.
Thinking of the Fertile Crescent only in terms of oil or energy transits is certainly important but, by now, fully reductive and simplistic.
Nevertheless let us revert to clashes and fighting. To date, the local sources of the war in Syria give us some definite results: the jihadist groups have been expelled from Wadi Barada and Ghouta East with the Syrian Arab Army’s weapons and hence have broken off – out of spite – the negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The jihadist groups expelled from Wadi Barada and Ghouta East include also the Syrian Free Army – a coalition of “moderate” groups, according to the US State Department’s dangerous jargon – and the Army of Conquest, another coalition of small jihadist groups.
All groups and people who have always gone back and forth the self-proclaimed Daesh/Isis Caliphate and the so-called small jihadist groups.
In ever clearer terms, the truce of Astana is becoming the legal and military tool to quickly remove the jihadist pockets still remaining between the center of Syria and its Southeast.
Hence the truce will hold until the jihadists do not realize it is a powerful tool of war against them and – as claimed by multiple sources of the Syrian Sunni jihad – the “cease-fire” will end unilaterally, but with the jihadists out of all the strategic positions they held so far.
Without “America being able to do anything for us”, as one of the leaders of the Syrian jihad said.
Therefore the issue lies in definitely freeing Mosul – the Iraqi axis of the Syrian victory – where the elimination of the so-called “Islamic State” is entrusted to 50,000 units including Kurds, Iraqi intelligence services, Anbar Sunni tribes and paramilitary Iranian Shiites.
It is the real center of gravity of the war against the so-called “Caliphate”, which will be quick and effective when the various jihadist groups, adhering or not to the Astana Agreement, will get out of the way.
The other areas from which to currently expel jihadists are Maarat al Numan, Saraqeh and Sheikhoun near Idlib, Teir Maalah, north of Homs and Souha, east of Hama.
Hence, at strategic level, Russia and Syria are closing every escape route to the many Syrian jihadi groups, before launching – with the necessary forces – the attack on the so-called Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
Therefore, politically, we can envisage the following scenario.
Russia has no interest in making its Syrian hegemony unipolar: Putin has repeatedly stated that the “truce way” is also open to the United States and even to Saudi Arabia.
Russia does not want to bear the whole Middle East burden upon itself – and rightly so.
Those who hegemonized the Middle East before Russia created the conditions for their ruin and the subsequent Middle East disaster – see the United States which, with the Bush’s and Obama’s administrations, made their interest overlap with Saudi Arabia’s.
Politically, the alternative options will be either a smaller Syria under Bashar al-Assad, who has anyway won his war, or a “Greater Syria” with an Alawite leader who can also be liked by the United States and the Sunni powers in the region.
Bashar al-Assad, however, has won and he will not get out of the way so quickly or easily.
And the Alawite leader shall also be liked by Israel, if he does not create problems in the Golan Heights and does not allow militants and advanced weapons to pass through the Heights up to the Lebanese border or even the areas of the Gaza Strip.
Israel, too, is one of the winners of this new Syrian war and has the right to have many of its demands accepted.
Russia will involve the United States in the final agreement, with some strategic guarantees and especially stable cooperation between the two countries throughout the Middle East, in addition to the acceptance of Russia’s primary interest in the region.
Security of Russia’s military ports on the Mediterranean; the right to be consulted on all matters regarding the Mediterranean; Russia’s business expansion throughout the region.
Under these conditions, the United States can rest easy and avoid Saudi Arabia’s subsequent destabilization, the Lebanon’s final cantonization, which is in nobody’s interest, and finally Israel’s very dangerous encirclement.
Forget about Obama’s anti-Semitic hysteria: if America does not keep Israel it cannot afford any independent policy throughout the Middle East.
The Jewish State could have an international guarantee, with a “stabilization” force similar to UNIFIL II in the Lebanon, but on its Northern borders and, above all, in the strategic link between these areas and the border with Jordan.
In fact, the game played by some Israeli analysts is very dangerous: they favour the anti-Iranian and Assad’s enemy groups so as to avoid the integration of the Shiite forces in the Golan Heights and the Lebanon.
A US-borrowed strategy that will only cause disasters in the medium term.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which is essential for every geopolitical project in the Middle East, could be integrated with most of the Palestinian National Authority, a very dangerous failed state that is the offspring of the Cold War old logic.
Russia could be the reliable and credible broker for the Palestinians, with a view to settling the Arab-Palestinian issue, in connection with Israel.
At the end of Barack Obama’s two Presidential terms, the United States could reach an agreement with the Russian Federation for Syrian stabilization and for the final settlement of the Kurdish issue, by redesigning – together with Russia – the borders of a non-sovereign Kurdish area which, of course, cannot destabilize Turkey.
Turkey will be in a position to have what it has always wanted, namely a droit de regard on the Sunni majority in Syria and safe passage to Central Asian Turkmen areas.
Bashar al-Assad has won. He will not get out of the way easily and, moreover, we do not even understand why he should do so.
If he is politically smart and open-minded – as he has proved to be during the war against the Sunni jihad – he could avoid maintaining the aura of Alawite leader extended to all Syria and create, for himself, the image and project of leader for all Syrians.
Furthermore, Iran has gained what it wanted, namely the security of the Shiite areas on its Syrian border.
It will not want more than this, if there are those that will be able to deal with the tough but smart religious leaders of the Iranian Shi’a.
Who is the loser? Obviously the European Union.
It had proposed the previous two totally ineffective truces and it did not succeed in creating its own geopolitical autonomy between a flat reiteration of US slogans and its interest in curbing and controlling immigration, which was used as blackmail by Erdogan’s Turkey.
Currently, if the United States come back into the Middle East region, they can only do so as losers: accept the Russian conditions and start again from there, without being deceived by the siren songs of some of their allies’ Sunni jihad.
From this viewpoint, Trump’s signals are fully reasonable.
Israel can see all its enemies be exhausted and be content with it, or take control of the situation.
In the latter case, it will be in a position to involve the United States and Russia in the new negotiations between the Jewish and the Islamic States, outside all the Cold War old ideas: useless and dangerous territorial concessions; creation of strategically useless pockets southwards and eastwards; trade only on paper.
Old “cold war” junk that no longer serves anyone.
Either Russia will make peace prevail between the Jewish State and its historical opponents or the work made in Syria will melt away like snow in the sun.
Conversely, the new US President, Donald Trump, may rebuild the US hegemony over the Middle East, possibly by being the promoter of a military agreement between all parties that would mark the greatness, vision and far-sightedness of the new White House leader.
Meanwhile the European Union will stay idle faced with its demographic and strategic disaster, waiting for someone to solve problems on its behalf.
Turkey and the time bomb in Syria
The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.
Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.
The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.
Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.
It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.
Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.
The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.
Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa. One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.
In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.
European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.
Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.
Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.
There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.
The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.
In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.
Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.
From our partner Tehran Times
The Turkish Gambit
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
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
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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