قواعد الدور التركي في سورية تتراجع

مارس 6, 2019

د. وفيق إبراهيم

دخول الأزمة السورية، في مرحلة حاسمة من الصراع الأخير بين قواها الأساسية المتورّطة، يفرض على تركيا، اختيار فريق من محاورها المتناقضة.

وبذلك تختم فصلاً طويلاً مستمرّاً من المراوغات بين عثمانيتها البائدة وأطلسيتها المتذبذبة وروسيتها الطارئة.

راكمت تركيا قواعد دورها السوري من سنين سبع من التدخل العسكري والسياسي المكشوف في الأراضي السورية، رعت خلاله عملية الإشراف على دخول مئات آلاف الإرهابيين من حدودها الى عموم الجغرافيا السورية، فاستفاد دورها من خمسة مصادر للقوة، منحته إمكانات عدوانية واسعة، تكاد تكون الأولى بين الدول الأجنبية المتورّطة.

استفادت أولاً من جوارها الجغرافي المباشر لسورية المبنية على علاقات تاريخية واسعة، تتجلى في استعمار عثماني لها دام أربعة قرون، وتركت في بعض أنحاء سورية مئات الآلاف من ذوي الأصول التركمانية.

اما تنظيمات الإرهاب من داعش والقاعدة والنصرة والأحزاب الأخرى فتمكنت أنقرة من الإمساك بها إلى حدود التوجيه والقيادة ورسم الخطط وكلذ الأعمال اللوجستية بموافقة أطلسية ـ خليجية.

بالإضافة إلى أنّ إخوانية الدولة التركية حزب العدالة والتنمية أتاحت لها قيادة الاخوان المسلمين في العالم وإدارة فرقهم الإرهابية في الميدان السوري.

في هذا المجال، لا يمكن أيضاً تجاهل قوة الجيش التركي التي استخدمها لاحتلال منطقة سورية حدودية سرعان ما تمدّد منها إلى عفرين وإدلب، داعماً انتشاراً إرهابياً في أرياف حلب وحماة واللاذقية.

و»لتعريب» دورها العدواني، استعملت تركيا دولة قطر لإسقاط الدور العربي للدولة السورية. والدخول إلى المنطقة العربية من بوابة الفتنة السنية ـ الشيعية على خطى «إسرائيل» والأميركيين والخطاب الطائفي للإرهاب.

للتوضيح فقطر التركية ـ الأميركية والسعودية الأميركية، أصرّتا على طرد سورية من جامعة الدول العربية، وترفضان اليوم عودتها إليها بذريعة عدم تقدّم الحلّ السياسي.

لكن الحقيقة في مكان آخر، وتتعلق بضرورة استمرار الحصار على سورية لتحقيق أكبر قدر ممكن من المكاسب السياسية وفي مرحلة انتصار الدولة السورية وحلفائها، وذلك بالضغط الأميركي في شرق الفرات والشمال والدور التركي والجامعة العربية وإعادة الإعمار ومقاطعة الدولة السورية.

للتذكير فقط فإنّ إعلان الرئيس الأميركي ترامب عن بدء انسحاب قواته من سورية قبل شهرين، أدّى إلى عودة البحرين والإمارات والسودان وعمان والكويت إلى سورية، وكانت السعودية نفسها تتحضّر للعودة، لولا ولادة ضغط أميركي جديد أرغمها على التوقف.

وكادت تركيا تتضعضع في ذلك الوقت من احتمال عودة التضامن العربي، فرفعت وتيرة خطابها عن مقتل مئات آلاف «السنة» بيد «النظام العلوي»، وهو خطاب مستهلك لم يعد يصدّقه أحد، وبذلك يتساوى الدور التركي في إثارة الفتنة بين العرب مع الأميركيين و»الإسرائيليين».

ولهذا الدور مقوّمات أطلسية ويستفيد من التناقضات الروسية ـ الأميركية في الميدان السوري، فتركيا عضو أساسي في الحلف الاطلسي، أدّى دوراً في مواجهة لجم نفوذ الاتحاد السوفياتي من ناحية البحر الأسود لكنه تراجع بعد انهيار الاتحاد السوفياتي 1989 حتى انّ الاتحاد الأوروبي رفض انتسابها إليه.

لكن الأهمية التركية في الميدان السوري جعلت الأميركيين لا يقطعون معها على الرغم من اختلاف أهداف مشروعهم مع طموحاتها.

فيتناقضون معها تارة ويجهدون للعثور على قواسم مشتركة جديدة ومرة أخرى وهكذا دواليك.

اما النقطة الأخيرة الداعمة للدور التركي فهي الصراع الأميركي ـ الروسي الحادّ الذي يتصاعد مرتدياً شكل تحوّل الأحادية الأميركية المتسلطة على العالم إلى ثنائية روسية ـ أميركية أقلّ ضرراً.

هذا ما منح الترك أهمية إضافية، فارضاً إفساح الطريق لهم ليصبحوا جزءاً من حلف أستانة وسوتشي مع الروس والإيرانيين.

فموسكو اعتقدت انّ «أستانة» من جهة وعلاقاتهم الاقتصادية مع أنقرة على قاعدة تصدير الغاز الروسي إليها عبر البحر الأسود فأوروبا مع تبادلات اقتصادية وسياحية اعتقدوا أنها عناصر كافية لجذب أنقرة نهائياً. لكن رفض تركيا تطبيق اتفاقيات خفض التوتر في إدلب وأرياف حماة واللاذقية وحلب، بذرائع ضعيفة، ترفع من مستوى تناقضها مع روسيا وإيران، هذا إلى جانب دعمها لهجمات تشنّها التنظيمات الإرهابية على الجيش السوري من خلال أرياف حماة وحلب إلى اللاذقية، تكشف عن محاولات تركية لتعقيد ما تخططه الدولة السورية لتحرير إدلب في وقت قريب وهي عمليات تشبه هجوماً كبيراً يريد بناء مواقع أمامية لصدّ الهجمات الوشيكة للجيش السوري على مواقع الإرهاب.

وهذا يضع تركيا في إطار محاولات أميركية مستجدة لإعادة نصب الأزمة السورية بآليات جديدة تجمع بين دعم أميركي للكرد في الشرق والشمال ورعاية تركية لمنظمات الإرهاب من النصرة إلى جيش العزة والتوحيد والتركمان ومنظمات الاخوان مع حضور مباشر للجيش التركي.

بالاضافة إلى قوات أميركية وأوروبية لها طابع معنوي، أما الأكثر خبثاً فهي تلك المحاولات الاميركية ـ السعودية لإضفاء طابع عربي على «قسد» التركية وذلك عبر ضخ كميات من أجنحة عشائر متورّطة بقيادة الجربا.

في المقابل، هناك تصميم من الدولة السورية على إنهاء إدلب أولاً ومواصلة التقدّم نحو كلّ متر من أراضيها، بتأييد مفتوح من حزب الله وروسيا وإيران، فإنهاء ما تبقى من إرهاب يقضي على معظم الدور التركي في سورية، فيصبح احتلال جيش أنقرة لمناطق حدودية وفي جهات عفرين مكشوفاً لا يمتلك وسائط حماية محلية ومتقدّمة، وكذلك من جهات الحدود.

انّ تحرير سورية بشكل كامل أصبح يتطلب إنهاء الدور التركي فيخسر الأميركيون ما تبقى من أوراقهم دافعاً الكرد نحو دولتهم السورية، الإطار الوحيد الضامن لحقوقهم.

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US Imperialism in Syria: Daesh, ‘SDF,’ White Phosphorus, Hostages

Source

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The one and only flag of the Syrian Arab Republic

US and allies have been busy accelerating their war crimes against Syria over the last two days. White phosphorus and “regular” bombings, ambushes and beheading, Syrian IDPs held hostage are not considered newsworthy by NATO media. More shameless, though, are ‘independent’ media increasingly normalizing geopolitical Newspeak.

On 2 March, the US – led fascist coalition, created by Obama and continued by Trump, again bombed al Baghouz — this time a farming village — in Deir Ezzor, with white phosphorus. Un-shockingly, AFP was (safely) on hand to take photos, while omitting the phosphorus bombs, and waxing poetic on the devastation.

Despite ”sanctions”-related telecommunications problems in Syria, AFP reporter claimed that family members in France had spoken with their French terrorist relatives in al Baghouz.
US Coalition doubles down on war crimes, again bombing al Baghouz with white phosphorus. Photo courtesy SANA.

On 3 March, US’s multi-billion dollar subsidized ally, Israel, bombed Quneitra, Syria.

Israeli media are under the fist of IDF censors, who prefer to first report on their military war crimes via reporting on reports of others.

Also on 3 March, rabid Erdogan continued to show his commitment to the [unilateral] ‘Idlib de-escalation zone’ agreement when his sponsored takfiri attacked Syrian Arab Army outposts.

Massive funeral services were held today, 4 March, for the martyred SAA soldiers slaughtered while defending their country from US-backed terrorists.

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The martyrs helped to repel al Qaeda killers from planned attacks against civilians in Hama and Lattakia.

The swine in the UN somehow are oblivious to the worth of Erdogan’s guarantees for the “Idlib de-escalation zone.”

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‘Erdoğan thinks he’s a Muslim Caliph’ President Assad

On 30 January, US acting ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Cook, threatened Syria that the US was ready to hold Syrian IDPs hostage, in Rukban camp, near al Tanf. This imperialist threat has been activated: Though Syria has opened two humanitarian corridors — Jalib and Jabal al Ghurab — illicit American troops refuse to allow convoys to transport out of the open-air jail. There are approximately 40,000 Syrian hostages in this camp.

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Photo & caption 13 January 2019. “EPA” is a photo agency founded by AFP and 6 other European news agencies.

Such heinous crimes against humanity against Syria, and there is no MSM reporting on any of them. Instead, a Google search has three smarmy propaganda pieces:

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Filthy anti-Syria propaganda offered by sewage media.

The ever-feculent BBC writes of British and Dutch human garbage in Syria as though reporting on a romantic honeymoon. Dutch takfiri Yago Riedijik is interviewed showing excellent telecommunications, despite US economic terrorism and US sponsored terrorists blowing up power plants, both of which make electricity and internet sporadic and undependable for ‘ordinary’ Syrians.

Dutch terrorist Yago Riedijik interviewed by rancid BBC, without a hiccough. This rabid dog is a captive in an American jail…in Syria.

Al Jazeera – owned by the Gulfie gas station toilet, Qatar, which has spent billions toward the final solution against Syria — spent most of its report pretending that the “SDF” is not a US-created international wetworkers militia, and normalizing an American colonel in Syria.

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al Khanzeera quoted American illegal/ military terrorist in Syria

ABC News won the Scum Award, for its description of foreign human garbage Mark Taylor, as “serving with the Islamic State group,” as though he were volunteering as diaper-changer for seniors in nursing homes. Every faction of al Qaeda in Syria — FSA, Nusra, ISIS — has been whitewashed by warmongering media whose countries have armed these savages.

New Zealand human garbage whined to ABC that he was “only” a guard for ISIS. Poor baby..

There is no such thing as a “Kurdish jail” in Syria. There are Syrian jails, or there are makeshift jails created by illegal American troops in Syria. This rabid New Zealander dog was freely interviewed in Qamishli, where, on 8 September 2018, “the traitorous and treacherous faction of Kurds” owned by the US, ambushed and slaughtered 13 members of the SAA military security.

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Imagine American soldiers slaughtered in the US, their bodies dumped & the world writing about “moderate American opposition.”
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Liters of blood of the Syrian martyrs….

Most appalling of vicious, separatist propaganda came from the too many ‘independent’ news sites that have been consistently pro-Syria, and consistently anti-NATO “regime change” obliteration. It is inexcusable for any of them to ever cite “SOHR” as credible. “SOHR” is one man, Abdul Rahman, funded by British intelligence.

While he freely admits he has not been in Syria since 2000, he leaves out the part about “fleeing” another trial involving fraud. Syria, after all, remains that paradoxical Utopia in which there is no crime, yet the jails runneth over.

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Worse, still, is the legitimization of the faux “Syrian Defense Forces.” This geopolitical scam was created under the Obama regime, which had planned to turn Syria into Libya, Part II, after FSA terroristsaccidentally bombed themselves with chemical weapons, in Ghouta, 2013, because

They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them.  When Saud Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people he must give them to those who know how to use them.”

The Syrian Arab Republic immediately joined the OPCW, forcing the US to switch gears: Several wetworkers — American, British, Japanese — masquerading as “humanitarians” and/or “journalists” were killed off by other foreign wetworkers as cover for the United States to launch a coalition of war criminals to bomb Syria, as the US never keeps its bargains (see “Cue the Illegal Orangettes,” here).

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President Obama, 10 September 2014, addressed the world, live, to announce the creation of international war criminals. Trump has continued the Nobel Laureate’s work.

The US created al Qaeda. The US created ISIS.

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US created “ISIS

The US created the “SDF,” because wetworkers cannot be killed as photo ops, indefinitely, lest the pool dry up. The above hyperlinked report includes multiple pictures of “SDF” members: Swedes, Brits, Irish, American (included in Americans was a former juvenile delinquent, alcoholic, druggie who bragged that he had “literally done nothing” “but jack off” before joining the US-SDF).

Consider that NATO forces have occupied Syria’s al Tabqa Dam, since February 2013. First it was occupied by NATO created and armed “FSA,” then came the utterly absurd story that US-ISIS chieftains had sought ‘sanctuary’ there, magically wresting control from FSA. In March 2017 came the psyop that the US-SDF had taken control from the US-ISIS which had taken control from the US-FSA.

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al Tabqa Dam.

That Syria has invited the world to take back its particles of human garbage dumped there, does not change the fact that only Syria has the legal authority to arrest criminals in its country. When the “SDF” announces that it has released 283 ISIS prisoners — because ‘they had no blood on their hands’ — this is actually the US admitting it abducts people in Syria, and that it still runs ISIS terrorists against the SAR.

It is an extension of its ongoing imperialist aggression in the Republic, no different than in 2017, when the US signed an agreement with the US for US troops in Syria.

Lest these facts intrude upon the impolite self-soothing of western serfs whose superiority complexes have them always supporting balkanization — under cover of ”rights” of various ethnic groups in othercountries — we chastise their silence when Sheikh al Bouti, of Kurdish origins, was martyred by US sponsored terrorists.

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Sheikh Muhammed Saeed Ramadan al Bouti.
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Sheikh al Bouti with President al Assad and Syria’s Grand Mufti.

We also paraphrase Hillel: That which is military aggression and terrorism in western countries, is also military aggression and terrorism in Syria.

 Miri Wood

NB: It has been noted that a certain social medium’s algorithms take umbrage at headlines with “US” and “ISIS,” censoring such reports and/or suspended accounts that have the temerity to share them.

 

The Curse of Free Elections

By Hussein Samawarchi

The US assumes it has the right to interfere in elections around the world, accepting results for some countries and refusing others. Any presidential nominee who leads a campaign on the grounds of true political sovereignty becomes the subject of hate speech on Fox News and that has proved to be the first step towards loading jet fighters with depleted uranium ordinance.

They did not like the popular vote in Iran that took the form of a spontaneous street movement about 40 years ago but the Persian nation is no easy game. In those four decades, neither did the subsequently elected governments show signs of subordination nor did the people who elected them show readiness to lose national pride. The Americans have been battering the Iranian people with one embargo after another, attempting to deprive them of medicine, food, electricity, clean water, defensive weapons, and anything else that could spark a popular movement against a political system that refuses to condone colonialism.

Syria has proved to be the master of its own politics. President Bashar al-Assad stood firmly by his people’s beliefs in independent choices regarding the rights of Arabs. He voiced out, as President Hafez did before him, the need to maintain the right to dignity regardless of which self-proclaimed superpower gets furious. And, furious it became.

After years of harsh embargos, rendered unsuccessful due to the resilience of the people, aimed at the Syrian society’s very basis, Washington gave its regional agents the green light to introduce terrorism with budgets in the billions. Qatar, alone, is said to have spent three billion dollars in arms and payoffs to those aiming mortar shells at morning markets, hospitals, and schools.

This was all because Syria held its own elections and refused foreign intervention in the people’s choice.

In January 2006, the Palestinian people chose Hamas representatives as majority seat holders in the parliament. That didn’t sit well with the American administration. A punishment was therefore administered to teach the children of Abraham a lesson in “democratic” elections. Not that they haven’t been subjected to the true meaning of the word Holocaust for the past 80 years or so, but now  their systematic annihilation is being supported by regional powers as well.

The majority in Bahrain dared to ask for proportionate representation in the government and the Saudi women began questioning their status quo. As a result, minors were executed and women were tortured. The governments who administered those crimes are not elected. The White House says those governments are friends. It seems that George Washington’s beliefs do not apply to the humans living on that side of Earth.

Nicaragua and Cuba are deemed to be in desperate need of American intervention in the people’s choice according to recent statements and last but not least, Venezuela.

The American government has finally decided that years of economic warfare against the Venezuelans are not yielding the desired results in controlling their freedom of choice when ballots are set. Last August, Former President Obama’s favorite toys were dispatched to get rid of their majority’s choice. When that did not work, they had a public figure go openly against the constitution and proclaim himself a president who could, with the help of Trump, relief the country from famine, medicine shortages, independence, and free elections.

So, despite Russian denial and lack of credible proof, President Putin interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections! The same media sources who are not letting us hear the end of this are glorifying pilots of US aerial refueling aircraft extending the range of Saudi bombers that target Yemeni civilians who chose a government out of free will.

What is the new world order going to look like if we give up our rights to form our own governments according to our social beliefs? Should we just send the voting booths to the US where Americans can do the voting for us? Perhaps, this way they can choose the puppets they have trained to govern us without cruise missiles armed with democracy warheads falling on our children.

Mr Bolton’s Long Game Against Iran – Pakistan Becomes Saudi Arabia’s New Client State

Mr Bolton’s Long Game Against Iran – Pakistan Becomes Saudi Arabia’s New Client State

Mr Bolton’s Long Game Against Iran – Pakistan Becomes Saudi Arabia’s New Client State

The Wall Street Journal has an article whose very title – Ambitions for an ‘Arab NATO’ Fade, Amid Discord – more or less, says it all. No surprise there at all. Even Antony Zinni, the retired Marine General who was to spearhead the project (but who has now resigned), said it was clear from early on that the idea of creating an “Arab NATO” was too ambitious. “There was no way that anybody was ready to jump into a NATO-type alliance,” he said. “One of the things I tried to do was kill that idea of a Gulf NATO or a Middle East NATO.” Instead, the planning has focused on ‘more realistic expectations’, the WSJ article concludes.

Apparently, “not all Middle Eastern nations working on the proposal, want to make Iran a central focus – a concern that has forced the US to frame the alliance as a broader coalition”, the WSJ recounts. No surprise there either: Gulf preoccupations have turned to a more direct anxiety – which is that Turkey intends to unloose (in association with Qatar) the Muslim Brotherhood – whose leadership is already gathering in Istanbul – against Turkey’s nemesis: Mohammad bin Zaid and the UAE (whom Turkish leadership believes, together with MbS, inspired the recent moves to surround the southern borders of Turkey with a cordon of hostile Kurdish statelets).

Even the Gulf leaders understand that if they want to ‘roll-back’ Turkish influence in the Levant, they cannot be explicitly anti-Iranian. It just not viable in the Levant.

So, Iran then is off the hook? Well, no. Absolutely not. MESA (Middle East Security Alliance) maybe the new bland vehicle for a seemingly gentler Arab NATO, but its covert sub-layer is, under Mr Bolton’s guidance, as fixated on Iran, as was ‘Arab NATO’ at the outset. How would it be otherwise (given Team Trump’s obsession with Iran)?

So, what do we see? Until just recently, Pakistan was ‘on the ropes’ economically. It seemed that it would have to resort to the IMF (yet again), and that it was clear that the proximate IMF experience – if approved – would be extremely painful (Secretary Pompeo, in mid-last year, was saying that the US probably would not support an IMF programme, as some of the IMF grant might be used to repay earlier Chinese loans to Pakistan). The US too had punished Pakistan by severely cutting US financial assistance to the Pakistani military for combatting terrorism. Pakistan, in short, was sliding inevitably towards debt default – with only the Chinese as a possible saviour.

And then, unexpectedly, up pops ‘goldilocks’ in the shape of a visiting MbS, promising a $20 billion investment plan as “first phase” of a profound programme to resuscitate the Pakistani economy. And that is on top of a $3 billion cash bailout, and another $3 billion deferred payment facility for supply of Saudi oil. Fairy godmothers don’t come much better than that. And this benevolence comes in the wake of the $6.2 billion, promised last month, by UAE, to address Pakistan’s balance of payments difficulties.

The US wants something badly – It wants Pakistan urgently to deliver a Taliban ‘peace agreement’ in Afghanistan with the US which allows for US troops to be permanently based there (something that the Taliban not only has consistently refused, but rather, has always put the withdrawal of foreign forces as its top priority).

But two telling events have occurred: The first was on 13 February when a suicide attacker drove an explosives-laden vehicle into a bus that was transporting IRGC troops in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran. Iran’s parliamentary Speaker has said that the attack that killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was “planned and carried out, from inside Pakistan”. Of course, such a provocative disruption into Iran’s most ethnically sensitive province may mean ‘nothing’, but perhaps the renewed inflow of Gulf money, fertilizing a new crop of Wahhabi madrasa in Pakistan’s Baluch province, may be connected – as IRCG Commander, General Sulemani’s stark warning to Pakistan suggests.

In any event, reports suggest that Pakistan, indeed, is placing now intense pressure on the Afghan Taliban leaders to accede to Washington’s demand for permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

The US, it seems, after earlier chastising Pakistan (for not doing enough to curb the Taliban) has done a major U-turn: Washington is now embracing Pakistan (with Saudi Arabia and UAE writing the cheques). And Washington looks to Pakistan rather, not so much to contain and disrupt the Taliban, but to co-opt it through a ‘peace accord’ into accepting to be another US military ‘hub’ to match America’s revamped military ‘hub’ in Erbil (the Kurdish part of Iraq, which borders the Kurdish provinces of Iran). As a former Indian Ambassador, MK Bhadrakumar explains:

“What the Saudis and Emiratis are expecting as follow-up in the near future is a certain “rebooting” of the traditional Afghan-Islamist ideology of the Taliban and its quintessentially nationalistic “Afghan-centric” outlook with a significant dosage of Wahhabi indoctrination … [so as to] make it possible [to] integrate the Taliban into the global jihadi network and co-habitate it with extremist organisations such as the variants of Islamic State or al-Qaeda … so that geopolitical projects can be undertaken in regions such as Central Asia and the Caucasus or Iran from the Afghan soil, under a comprador Taliban leadership”.

General Votel, the head of Centcom told the US Senate Armed forces Committee on 11 February, “If Pakistan plays a positive role in achieving a settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the US will have opportunity and motive to help Pakistan fulfill that role, as peace in the region is the most important mutual priority for the US and Pakistan.” MESA is quietly proceeding, but under the table.

And what of that second, telling occurrence? It is that there are credible reports that ISIS fighters in the Deir a-Zoor area of Syria are being ‘facilitated’ to leave East Syria (reports suggest with significant qualities of gold and gemstones) in a move to Afghanistan.

Iran has long been vulnerable in its Sistan-Baluchistan province to ostensibly, secessionist factions (supported over the years by external states), but Iran is vulnerable, too, from neighbouring Afghanistan. Iran has relations with the Taliban, but it was Islamabad that firstly ‘invented’ (i.e. created) the Deobandi (an orientation of Wahhabism) Taliban, and which traditionally has exercised the primordial influence over this mainly Pashtoon grouping (whilst Iran’s influence rested more with the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan). Saudi Arabia of course, has had a decades long connection with the Pashtoon mujahidin of Afghanistan.

During the Afghan war of the 1980s and later, Afghanistan always was the path for Islamic fundamentalism to reach up into Central Asia. In other words, America’s anxiety to achieve a permanent presence in Afghanistan – plus the arrival of militants from Syria – may somehow link to suggest a second motive to US thinking: the potential to curb Russia and China’s evolution of a Central Asian trading sphere and supply corridor.

Putting this all together, what does this mean? Well, firstly, Mr Bolton was arguing for a US military ‘hub’ in Iraq – to put pressure on Iran – as early as 2003. Now, he has it. US Special Forces, (mostly) withdrawn from Syria, are deploying into this new Iraq military ‘hub’ in order, Trump said, to “watch Iran”. (Trump rather inadvertently ‘let the cat out of the bag’ with that comment).

The detail of the US ‘hub encirclement’ of Iran, however, rather gives the rest of Mr Bolton’s plan away: The ‘hubs’ are positioned precisely adjacent to Sunni, Kurdish, Baluch or other Iranian ethnic minorities (some with a history of insurgency). And why is it that US special forces are being assembled in the Iraqi hub? Well, these are the specialists of ‘train and assist’ programmes. These forces are attached to insurgent groups to ‘train and assist’ them to confront a sitting government. Eventually, such programmes end with safe-zone enclaves that protect American ‘companion forces’ (Bengahazi in Libya was one such example, al-Tanaf in Syria another).

The covert element to the MESA programme, targeting Iran, is ambitious, but it will be supplemented in the next months with new rounds of economic squeeze intended to sever Iran’s oil sales (as waivers expire), and with diplomatic action, aimed at disrupting Iran’s links in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Will it succeed? It may not. The Taliban pointedly cancelled their last scheduled meeting with Pakistani officials at which renewed pressure was expected to be exerted on them to come to an agreement with Washington; the Taliban have a proud history of repulsing foreign occupiers; Iraq has no wish to become ‘pig-in-the middle’ of a new US-Iran struggle; the Iraqi government may withdraw ‘the invitation’ for American forces to remain in Iraq; and Russia (which has its own peace process with the Taliban), would not want to be forced into choosing sides in any escalating conflict between the US, Israel and Iran. Russia and China do not want to see this region disrupted.

More particularly, India will be disconcerted by the sight of the MESA ‘tipping’ toward Pakistan as its preferred ally – the more so as India, likely will view (rightly or wrongly), the 14 February, vehicle-borne, suicide attack in Jammu-Kashmir that resulted in the deaths of 40 Indian police, as signaling the Pakistan military recovering sufficiently confidence to pursue their historic territorial dispute with India over Jammu-Kashmir (perhaps the world’s most militarised zone, and the locus of three earlier wars between India and Pakistan). It would make sense now, for India to join with Iran, to avoid its isolation.

But these real political constraints notwithstanding, this patterning of events does suggest a US ‘mood for confrontation’ with Iran is crystalizing in Washington.

Photo: Flickr

The Pakistani general who tamed the Saudi crown prince

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Pakistan’s relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia is being reshaped by its army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman walk with Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Islamabad on 18 February (Handout/PMH/AFP)

Ever since arriving in office, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has made the UAE and Saudi Arabia central to the strategy that his government calls “economic diplomacy“.

Pakistan has been plagued by decades of endemic corruption and feudal dynastic politics, which have brought the country to the brink of economic ruin. So why is the recently concluded trip of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) being seen as a landmark visit with strategic implications not just for their bilateral relationship, but also for Pakistan’s role in the Middle East?

The answer lies with Pakistan Army chief of staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who has quietly reset the army’s relations with the Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

A brief history of Saudi-Pakistani ties

Riyadh has always been an active participant in Pakistan’s domestic affairs, according to Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs.

For decades, analysts and policymakers have written about the Saudi role in Pakistan, with a focus on their military partnership. The former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal, described their bilateral relationship as likely being one of the closest in the world “without any official treaty”.

Never before have the Saudis invested so heavily in Pakistan at the state level, without benefiting a specific politician or general

This is where the problem lay in the past: for too long, military and civilian leaders of Pakistan have benefited from Saudi largesse. Former President Pervez Musharraf admitted to receiving personal favours and financial rewards, and the Saudis have long been dismissive about the corruption of Pakistani leaders.

It is for this reason that the Saudis have always preferred military rule in Pakistan, while former generals have allegedly profited personally, rather than helping Pakistan’s cause. Musharraf has said that under Saudi pressure, he let former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif go, despite court action and question marks over his rule.

The appointment of former army chief General Raheel Sharif as head of the Saudi-funded “Muslim NATO” raised many eyebrows in Pakistan, given the biased nature of the alliance and the absence of key Muslim countries, including Indonesia, Iran, Algeria and Iraq.

Why was this visit different?

Much fanfare in Islamabad accompanied the recent trip by MBS, with a national holiday declared in the capital and the city in virtual shutdown over the arrival of the Saudi entourage. Never before have the Saudis invested so heavily in Pakistan at the state level, without benefiting a specific politician or general. 

The key aspect missing from previous visits was the term “strategic”. In this latest visit, Jubeir emphatically stated that none of the Saudi largesse was charity, but rather an investment. This business-minded, progressive approach marks a significant shift from previous relationships.

Khan and MBS ride in a carriage in Islamabad on 18 February (Bandar al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)
Khan and MBS ride in a carriage in Islamabad on 18 February (Bandar al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

Before the MBS visit, leading Saudi expert Mohammed al-Sulami led a delegation that for the first time included academics, former ambassadors, generals and Saudis with active experience concerning Pakistan. It was concluded that strategic ties would be established over personal ties.

Analyst Ibrahim al-Othaimin also wrote about this last year, arguing that Pakistani-Saudi ties were gradually moving out of the personal domain and into the strategic. One of the key reasons for this strategic push has been the defence diplomacy of Javed Bajwa, as highlighted by Sulami.

Changing the equation

Pakistan’s refusal in 2015 to take part in the Yemen conflict rang alarm bells in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UAE went so far as to say Pakistan would pay a “heavy price” for its “ambiguous stand”, and led a media campaign against Pakistan when Islamabad voted in favour of Turkey for Expo 2020.

In the years before Bajwa came to office in November 2016, the UAE had drifted closer to India, even sending its troops to take part in an Indian military parade. The logic in the UAE and Saudi Arabia was that “we pay the Pakistanis, so we should get support”. This reflected decades of Pakistani subservience to Saudi rulers, which failed to put the interests of the state first.

Not cricket: As Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan is facing his greatest test

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In 2015, Saudi officials said that Pakistan failed to provide an adequate rationale for its Yemen decision. Bajwa subsequently embarked on a frantic diplomacy mission, explaining to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that Pakistan stood ready to help, but had strategic constraints.

He said that while Pakistan would aid the two Gulf countries in defence, it would not take sides in the proxy war with Iran or the Qatar blockade.

Under Bajwa, Qatar’s emir publicly thanked the Pakistan Army for strengthening the Qatari military and playing a positive role in regional issues. The emir was clearly talking about the Saudi-led blockade, as well as bilateral cooperation in Afghan peace talks.

A strategic and equal partner

In addition to taking on the role of mentor for several Gulf armies, Bajwa became the first Pakistan Army chief in decades to make an official visit to Iran, where he called for strategic defence ties. In diplomatic and military circles behind the scenes, and according to my sources, Bajwa has said that MBS needs time, and that he, Bajwa, would play a role in reducing Gulf tensions.

Unlike in the past, Riyadh is viewing Bajwa and Khan as its equals rather than its puppets

So, while the headlines have focused on Khan’s public embrace of MBS, on the sidelines, the man who has reset the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – and Pakistan and the UAE – has been Bajwa. He has made Pakistan a strategic and equal partner, rather than a proxy in a Middle East conflict.

Even as the Saudis denounced Iran from Islamabad, the message from Pakistan was one of cooperation with Tehran. Pakistani-Saudi ties are taking on a strategic dimension, yet without surrendering Pakistan’s relations with other states in the region. Unlike in the past, Riyadh is viewing Bajwa and Khan as its equals rather than its puppets.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Kamal Alam
Kamal Alam is a Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He specialises in contemporary military history of the Arab world and Pakistan, he is a Fellow for Syrian Affairs at The Institute for Statecraft, and is a visiting lecturer at several military staff colleges across the Middle East, Pakistan and the UK.

Russian President warns West that deploying missile launchers in Europe could ignite ‘tit for tat’ response

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February 23, 2019Russian President warns West that deploying missile launchers in Europe could ignite ‘tit for tat’ response

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

President Putin’s state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow this week was an extraordinary affair. While heavily focused on domestic social and economic development, Putin noted, predictably, the US decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and clearly outlined the red lines in regard to possible consequences of the move.

It would be naïve to believe that there would not be a serious counterpunch to the possibility of the US deploying launchers “suitable for using Tomahawk missiles” in Poland and Romania, only a 12-minute flight away from Russian territory.

Putin cut to the chase: “This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced – I want to emphasize this – forced to take tit-for-tat steps.”

Later that night, many hours after his address, Putin detailed what was construed in the US, once again, as a threat.

“Is there some hard ideological confrontation now similar to what was [going on] during the Cold War? There is none. We surely have mutual complaints, conflicting approaches to some issues, but that is no reason to escalate things to a stand-off on the level of the Caribbean crisis of the early 1960s”.

This was a direct reference to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when President Kennedy confronted USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev over missiles deployed off the US mainland.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has discreetly assured that conference calls with the Pentagon are proceeding as scheduled, every week, and that this bilateral dialogue is “working”.

In parallel, tests of state-of-the-art Russian weaponry such as the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile and the hypersonic Khinzal also proceed, alongside mass production of the hypersonic Avangard. The first regiment of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces will get the Avangard before the end of this year.

And then there’s the Tsircon, a hypersonic missile capable of reaching US command centers in a mere five minutes – leaving the whole range of NATO military assets exposed.

What Putin meant in his address about Russia targeting “centers for decision-making” was fundamentally related to NATO, not the American mainland.

And once again, it’s crucial to underline that none of these disturbing developments mean that Russia would engage in a pre-emptive strike against the deployment of US missiles in Eastern Europe. Putin was adamant that there’s no need for it. Moreover, Russian nuclear doctrine forbids any sort of pre-emptive strikes, not to mention a nuclear first strike.

House of the Rising (Nuclear) Sun

To allow this new paradigm to sink in, I went on a long walk across Zamoskvorechye – “behind the Moskva river” – stopping on the way back in front of the Biblioteka Lenina to pay my respects to the Grandmaster Dostoevsky. And then it hit me; this was entirely connected to what had happened the day before.

The day before Putin’s state of the union address I went to visit Alexander Dugin at his office in the deliciously Soviet, art nouveau building of the former Central Post Office. Dugin, a political analyst and strategist with a refined philosophical mind, is vilified in Washington as Putin’s ideologue. He has also been targeted by US sanctions.

I was greeted in the lobby by his multi-talented daughter Daria – active in everything from philosophy and music to geopolitics. Dugin was being interviewed by RAI correspondent Sergio Paini. After the wrap-up, the three of us immediately engaged in a discussion on populism, Salvini, the Italian politician, and the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests in France), in Italian. (Dugin is fluent in many languages).

Then we picked up on what we had left behind, when I was in Moscow last December and talked extensively with Daria. Dugin was in Shanghai teaching an international relations course at Fudan University (see here and here), and gave lectures at Tsinghua and Peking University. He returned quite impressed by Chinese academia’s interest in populism, plus German philosopher Martin Heidegger and the Gilets Jaunes, as well as the evolving paths of Russia and China’s strategic partnership.

Eurasia debate

So inevitably we delved into Eurasianism – and strategies towards Eurasian integration. Dugin sees China applying a sort of remixed Spykman outlook to the “Road” component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is maritime, along the rimland. He privileges the “Belt” component, which is overland, with one of the main corridors going through Russia via the upgraded Trans-Siberian railway. I tend to view it as a mix of Halford Mackinder, the famed English academic, and the influential American political scientist Nicholas Spykman; China advancing on the West, simultaneously in the heartland and the rimland.

Dugin’s office has the atmosphere of a revolving think tank. I was trying to inform him on how Brazil – under the ‘leadership’ of Steve Bannon, who walks and talks like he runs the Bolsonaro presidential clan – has been dragged to the frontline in the US in contrast to the Eurasian integration chessboard. Suddenly, none other than Alastair Crooke drops in. Serendipity or synchronicity?

Alastair, with his consummate diplomatic flair, is, of course, one of the world’s foremost experts in the Middle East and Europe – and much else. He’s in Moscow as a guest for one of the Valdai Club’s famed discussions, on the Middle East, along with key figures from Syria and Iran.

Soon the three of us are engaged in an absorbing conversation on the soul of Islam, the purity of Sufism, the Muslim Brotherhood (those fabled friends of the Clinton machine), what President Erdogan and the Qataris are really up to, and the sterility – intellectual and spiritual – of the Wahhabi House of Saud and the Emirates.

We tend to agree that discussions like this, going on in Moscow – and in Tehran, Istanbul, Shanghai – would greatly profit from the presence of a progressive Steve Bannon, capable of organizing and promoting a running, non-ideological debate on multipolarity.

A day before Putin’s stark reminder against any slip towards nuclear Armageddon, we were also discussing the post-INF world, but with emphasis on post-Mackinder (and post-Brzezinski) Eurasian integration. And that includes Russian and Chinese intellectual elites acutely aware that they can’t afford to be isolated by American hyperpower.

I walked Alastair to his hotel, past a gloriously illuminated Bolshoi. I kept going, and as Lubyanka disappeared from view, a sidewalk busker was playing ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the Animals version. In Russian.

Hopefully, it will not feature a rising nuclear sun.

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – FEB. 19-20, 2019: TOP MILITANT COMMANDER IS IN COMA AFTER BLAST IN IDLIB

South Front

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leader Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani received a shell fragment wound to the head in an explosion in Idlib city on February 18 and was evacuated to a hospital in Antakya in the Turkish province of Hatay, Russian state media reported on February 19 citing a Turkish medical source. According to the report, the terrorist group’s leader is in a coma.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) has not commented on these claims so far. The terrorist organization is currently the most influential “opposition group” within the Idlib de-escalation zone. It controls about 80% of the area despite the fact that it’s formally excluded from the ceasefire regime.

If Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani is in fact severely injured, this may open an opportunity for Turkish proxies to reclaim at least a part of the area in the Idlib de-escalation zone from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Then, they would be able to continue pretending that there are still some moderate rebels in the area. This is in the interests of Ankara. Some experts already speculated that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization may have staged this incident in an attempt to bring the situation in Idlib under its control.

In the countryside of Damacsus, pro-government forces seized a large number of weapons and ammunition, including hundreds of Grad rockets and a large number of US made anti-tank missiles and Israeli 128 mm rockets, in the framework of the ongoing security operation in the area.

On February 19, Israel’s Image Sat International company released a fresh satellite image showing positions of the Syrian military’s S-300 system in the area of Masyaf. According to the provided image and the company’s assessment, three of four S-300 launchers are “probably” operational.

Previous satellite images of Masyaf were released by the same company on February 5. This was the first image showing S-300 launchers in an upright position. Therefore, it was suggested that the Russia-supplied system was becoming operational.

While the ISIS-held pocket in the Euphrates Valley is still not fully eliminated, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have already started preparations for a new round of Syria standoff. Recently, the group released a new statement in which it:

  • claimed that it will work to eliminate existing ISIS cells;
  • described Turkey as an occupier, but declared readiness to resolve the issues with Ankara via negotiations;
  • said that it’s ready for the establishment of a safe area in northeastern Syria under “international supervision”;
  • said that it’s ready for negotiations with Damascus, but that the Syrian government should take into account the SDF’s specificity and recognize the “self-declared and effective autonomy in the northeast”;
  • and in which it vowed to recapture Afrin.

The content and working of the statement shows that the SDF is no longer expecting a rapid and inevitable US forces withdrawal from the war-torn country. So, it has once again hardened its stance towards other key players and started speaking in the language of ultimatums.

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