Syrian War Report – February 23, 2018: Syrian Army Enters YPG-held Part Of Aleppo, Turkey Strikes Convoy Entering Afrin

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On February 22, units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) entered into and established a full control of the YPG-held neighborhoods of Aleppo city, according to pro-government sources. A representative of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) confirmed the SAA deployment to the Kurdish HAWAR news agency. According to the released statement, YPG units from the city of Aleppo had moved to the Afrin area to combat Turkish forces. However, some sources say that some YPG units will remain in the neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsuud.

On the same day in the morning, a third group of pro-government fighters entered the Afrin area. In the evening, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) struck another convoy, which was entering Afrin. According to the Turkish General Staff, the TAF attacked a convoy of 30-40 vehicles belonging to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and even to ISIS.

The claim that the convoy was in any way belonging to ISIS is nonsense. However, claims about some ISIS presence is common to almost all TAF statements on its Operation Olive Branch.

Separately, Kurdish sources released info that it was an aid convoy, which had been about to enter the Afrin area through the Ziyarah crossing. Some sources say that an unknown number of pro-government fighters had been embedded with the convoy.

Meanwhile, the Russian state-run news agency Sputnik, citing a YPG security source, reported that the YPG is going to hand over the town of Tell Rifaat to the SAA under a deal allegedly reached by the sides over Afrin. However, this report has not been yet confirmed.

The TAF and its proxies from the Free Syrian Army have captured the villages of Rahmanli, Sari Ushagi, Kurke Jerin, Kurke Jorin, Ali Raju and Miqdad from the YPG in Afrin. So far, a limited implementation of the SAA-YPG deal has no effect on the Turkish actions in the area.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and the so-called Syrian Liberation Front (SLF), a coalition of Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki, continued clashing with each other in what the mainstream media would call a democratic competition for southern Idlib and western Aleppo. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants have reportedly seized the villages of Kafr Nabl, Urum al-Jawz, Kafrshlaya and Kafrnaha. Meanwhile, the SLF has reported entered the villages of Ihsim, Iblin, Balyun, Bara, Jouzef, Marata, Arnaba, Ein Laruz, Mozra and Kansafra. Both sides claim that the so-called enemies of revolution have suffered major casualties.

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Stop confusing Kurdistans! Syria’s leftists must turn home to Assad

February 22, 2018

by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog

Stop confusing Kurdistans! Syria’s leftists must turn home to Assad

As Assad-backed troops enter Afrin to fight Turkish invaders, the Syrian conflict has entered its decisive crossroads:

Will Northern Syria cooperate with Damascus, or not? This is the key to Syrian peace and territorial unity.

It’s also the question which will make or break claims that a Northern Syrian enclave which refuses to help expel uninvited Americans can somehow be a “leftist project”.

(I say it is a leftist project…IF they return to full cooperation with the Syrian government. I will detail my analysis of the political structure of “Rojava” in an upcoming article – this article only deals with immediate political concerns.)

No question can be answered, however, until I clarify some key facts about Northern Syria. Indeed, reporting about Northern Syria in the West is rife with the most fundamental errors, and the most egregiously false claims.

Firstly, the Kurds in Syria have only ever asked for autonomy, not independence.

People assume all Kurds are like Iraqi Kurds – separatists – but the Kurds in Syria want to stay within the Syrian state. This disavowal of independence is an undisputed, long-standing (if underreported) fact. Indeed, the arrival of pro-government forces in Afrin was met with celebrations – the “Arab Socialist Baath Party” is a nationalist one, it seems to have been forgotten. The fact that such celebrations could possibly raise some eyebrows only shows how terrible the West’s mainstream reporting is in Syria.

The second most important point is this: “Rojava”, “Syrian Kurdistan”, “Northern Syria” or the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” – whatever it is called – is among the most interesting (and newest) leftist projects in the world today.

For that reason alone, nobody is reporting on it honestly.

After all, the Western mainstream media has no governmental or private mandate to support the 99%…much less in a Muslim country…still less in an anti-Zionist country like Syria!

Rojava’s governmental culture is based around ethnic equality, collective unity, local emancipation and undoubtedly socialist-and-not-capitalist inspired democratic & economic ideals. Therefore…the capitalist-imperialist West totally ignores all of that and solely focuses on identity politics: thus, it’s always reported as just “the Kurds”.

That leads to the third important issue: foolishly lumping all the Kurds across Southwest Asia together, thereby assuming that there are no regional differences: For Western media it is as if Kurds walk around all day in a special “Kurdish daze”, so enamored with being Kurdish that the countries and local neighborhoods where they live have absolutely no effect on them or their worldview. Their “Kurdishness” is all-consuming, it seems! The theory underpinning this is identity politics: if you are Kurdish, then you must all think alike.

So it makes no difference if you grew up/lived in Saddam’s Iraq, modern Iran, Baathist Syria, or Istanbul: You are a Kurd and – as a Kurd – you can only possibly see things via the lens of your Kurdishness. But only the West proffers this absurd, one-dimensional view of the Kurds – not the Middle Easterners who live alongside them.

A fourth problem – an even larger one for those in Syria – is that the Kurds in Syria are not even “Kurds”!

What I mean is: Kurds are around ½ of the population of Northern Syria, but only compose around 1/3rd in some of the biggest areas of Rojava, such as Membij. There are Assyrians and Chaldeans – they are Christian. There are Sunni Arabs. There are Turkmen, who are not allied to Turkey and are Syrian patriots despite their name. There are Circassians, Armenians, Yazidis, Chechens and others. Hard as it is for non-Muslims to believe: All these people like each other, live & work together, intermarry and have done so for more than a millennia. You cannot even say that all the fighters in this area are Kurds, either, because the Syrian Democratic Forces forces – who helped rout ISIL – are majority non-Kurd.

But they are all Syrian – and they want it to stay that way.

This IS the case…even though Kurds in Iraq aimed for independence…and despite the Western anti-Assad propaganda.

Clearly, a major overhaul on the idea of “Kurd” is needed for many….

The Kurdish ‘Bad Century’ is relative to where they live

Anyone can have a bad century and finish as winners…look at the Chicago Cubs.

So in Northern Syria the “Kurds” are not even Kurdish nearly half the time, LOL, but let’s be like the West and look at the “Kurds” across their 4 main nations.

If we accept that “Kurdishness” is not all-consuming , we can see how the experiences of “Kurds” in Iraq (which also compose Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, etc.) – who lived under Saddam Hussein’s wars, were massacred by the anti-Iranian MKO homicidal cult, lived in a country forced to endure material shortages caused by US sanctions from 1990-2003, and who are enduring US invasion and occupation – are fundamentally different than the experiences of “Kurds” in Syria…where these things did not happen.

The experience of “Kurds” in Syria – which is bordered by the menacing, illegitimate state of Israel, which had a different political conception & practice of Baathism than Iraq (which provoked more enmity than cooperation between the two since 1966), which was invaded not by a “coalition of the willing” but radical terrorists, which is on the cusp of benefitting from the extraordinary national unity which can only be created by victoriously defeating foreign invaders – are fundamentally different than the experiences of “Kurds” in Iraq.

“Kurdishness” in Turkey is an vastly larger issue than Syria, because there are vastly more of them than in anywhere else.

“Kurdishness” in Iran is totally different than in any of the four primary Kurdish countries: they are more accepted there than any other country.

This is a result of the acceptance promoted by Iran’s modern, popular revolution of 1979 (by definition, you can’t have a “modern, popular revolution” based on racism/ethnic superiority). Indeed, Iran’s definitive cultural “female Iran-Iraq war experience” was the best-selling, award-winning story told by a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq to Iran – in the book“Da”, which means “mother” (not in Farsi). Such a thing could never happen in Turkey, obviously, nor Arab nationalist Syria and Iraq. This modern acceptance is why Iran is the only nation of the four where there is no chance of fomenting a Kurdish uprising in Iran: being Iranian and Kurdish is not any sort of contradiction – they are incorporated in the national self-conception about as much as any numeric minority can reasonably be, as the success of “Da” illustrates. And for this reason – which is called (Iranian Islamic socialist) “modern democracy” – there is no chance of any sort of a “Kurdish uprising” in Iran. Even amid this ongoing historical era of Kurdish militancy across the entire region, the PJAK Party (Iranian Kurdish separatists) gave up armed operations in Iran in 2011: it’s useless – Iran is different, and on the Kurdish question as well. Israel could spend a zillion usuriously-gained dollars on such a project and it would get nowhere…which is why they spend their time in the southeast (in Baluchestan with Jundallah).

And, to repeat, because this is so important: The people of Northern Syria have never, ever said they want anything but autonomy within Syria. This proves that Syrian “Kurds” are not Iraqi “Kurds”, where Barzani and their bid for independence have been neutralised…much to the dismay of the US & Israel.

An often ignored (or not known) point is that Iraqi “Kurds” had been wooed (or led astray) by the US for two decades via preferential economic, political, cultural and immigration policies. The US paid for a lot of goodwill over many years. In Syria – LOL, not at all. So, Syrian “Kurds” have not come into contact with the American ideology anywhere as much…and their ideology is necessarily different (despite the overpowering Kurdish daze they walk around in, LOL!)

Only by ignoring these realities can one assume the “Kurds” of both regions share the same political outlook in February 2018.

So, I hope we are bit less konfused on who the “Kurds” really are.

Now, because of the leftist nature of northern Syria, we must de-konfuse our notions of their political ideology.

But I’m going to postpone that to part two – let’s talk immediate politics.

A very interesting leftist political project…but not if they ally with the US

It was with great alarm that greeted the recent US declaration that they will keep 2,000 troops in Northern Syria – that news turned off many to the possibility that northern Syria could possibly be leftist.

And rightly so, but Washington’s plans are simply their desire – there has been no official political deal: Rojavan leaders insist their cooperation with the US is strictly military to fight ISIL. Indeed, they have grown up in Syria, which has been attacked by Israel…but now they are going to be allies?

Certainly, the downfall of Barzani in Iraq is a blow to US/Israeli imperialism – so…of course they are refocusing to Northern Syria. But that doesn’t mean they will get what they want!

Certainly, Northern Syria cannot allow a military base inside its borders. There can be no “Syrian Guantanamo” to permanently menace a newly-liberated Syria, like in Cuba.

Let’s keep a couple war realities in mind: It’s not as if Northern Syrians could have stopped the US from planting soldiers and using an airstrip – there has been a huge war, after all, with a well-heeled army called ISIL to stop.

Let’s also remember that the Northern Syrians work with everybody to fight ISIL in Northern Syria: Russia, the US, Damascus, Iran, Hezbollah – everyone but Turkey. (Obviously, the US both fights terrorism and supports it.)

Rojavans…it may be now or never to fight for Syrian unity

The invasion by Turkey means Northern Syrians have now reached the point of no return: to work with Turkey (and thus the US) is to betray the Syrian people which Rojavans have always claimed to want to be.

Therefore, Syria is on the verge of peace and total victory…or major civil war: It will be decided by inter-Syrian diplomacy. Negotiations have been ongoing between the two areas for years, of course, and they are no doubt in overdrive right now.

The fundamental problem is this:

Damascus has always rejected the idea of a federated state and autonomy for Northern Syria. Northern Syria has held their ground militarily, and Damascus has been too occupied with ISIL to demand cooperation…but it’s February 2018, and here we are.

So what will Damascus do, and what will Rojava do?

I am not a Syrian, and thus my opinion should be worth very little – the future of Syria is only for Syrians to decide – but to me it looks like this:

Rojavans may view siding with Damascus as a risk regarding the re-installation of some Arab Nationalist policies they dislike (Rojava has 3 official languages for a reason, for example)…but siding with the Americans is a guarantee of leftist betrayal, a guarantee of a failure and a guarantee of regional bloodshed for decades.

Maybe Rojava can expel ISIL on their own, but they cannot expel the US and Turkey without Damascus…and they must be expelled. How can these troops stay if Damascus and Rojavans cooperate? They cannot, whatever the Pentagon wants.

Therefore, at some point – a point quite soon – Rojavans will need to openly embrace Damascus, in the name of Syrian unity and in the realization of issues larger than their own interests and sacrifices.

On the other side, there is nothing stopping Damascus from making concessions to win over Rojava…and yet, one easily sees the government’s hesitance: Making major changes to Syria’s political structure seems to require the democratic approval of the entire nation via vote. The granting of wholesale structural changes for one-third of the country during wartime appears to lack democratic legitimacy.

Rojava is where most of Syria’s oil is located. Certainly, those funds cannot be made the complete “autonomous” property of Rojavans. One easily sees how “granting autonomy” is a major question that goes beyond just the decades-long elevation of Arab culture over the culture of Turkmen, Chaldeans, Kurds, etc.….

Of course, it should not be surprising that Assad’s view of Rojava never gets an airing…but given Rojava’s leftist bonafides, nobody ever talks about them at all either. “Keep ‘em konfused with just ‘Kurds’” is the media line….

To sum up my view of the immediate political situation: Unity requires faith – Northern Syrians need to trust their fellow citizens that their success has earned them good faith credit in Syria’s common future.

And, finally, what choice does Rojava have? Turkey will never accept them (this is the pretext for their invasion), nor Damascus, nor Iraq. The only ones who will are the US and Israel…and that is leftist?!?!

No…this is why I predict a reconciliation. The failure of Syrian-Syrian diplomacy at this juncture is…civil war.

And who wants that in Syria?

In an upcoming second article I will examine what is the “leftist ideology” of Rojava, and how these ideas might interact with Arab Socialist Baathism in a unified, free, victorious state of Syria.

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

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Putin’s Grand Bargain to Israel: Can Israel Digest It?

Putin’s Grand Bargain to Israel: Can Israel Digest It?

Putin’s Grand Bargain to Israel: Can Israel Digest It?

“Israel is climbing up a high horse,” Alex Fishman (the veteran Israeli Defence Correspondent) wrote in the Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, last month, “and is approaching with giant steps a ‘war of choice’: Without mincing words, it’s an initiated war in Lebanon.” In Fishman’s article, he notes: “Classical deterrence is when you threaten an enemy not to harm you in your territory, but here, Israel demands that the enemy refrain from doing something in its own territory, otherwise Israel will harm it. From a historical perspective and from the perspective of international legitimacy, the chances of this threat being accepted as valid, leading to the cessation of enemy activities in its own territory, are slim.”

Ben Caspit also wrote about a fair prospect of a “war of choice,” whilst a Haaretz editorial – explains Professor Idan Landau in an Israeli news blog – noted: “The Israeli government therefore owes Israeli citizens a precise, pertinent and persuasive explanation as to why a missile factory in Lebanon has changed the strategic balance to the extent that it requires going to war. It must present assessments to the Israeli public as to the expected number of casualties, damage to civilian infrastructure and the economic cost of going to war, as compared with the danger that construction of the missile factory constitutes.”

We live dangerous times in the Middle East today – both in the immediate present, and in the mid-term, too.

Last week saw the first ‘game changer’ that almost plunged the region into war: the downing of one of Israel’s most sophisticated aircraft – an F16i. But as Amos Harel notes, on this occasion: “Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria – and both sides accepted his decision … On Saturday afternoon, after the second wave of bombardments … senior Israeli officials were still taking a militant line, and it seemed as if Jerusalem was considering further military action. Discussion of that ended not long after a phone call between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” (emphasis added).

And that last statement represented the second ‘game changer’: In ‘good old days’, as Martin Indyk called it, it would have been to the US that Israel reflexively would have turned, but not this time. Israel asked President Putin to mediate. It seems that Israel believes that Mr Putin is now the ‘indispensable power’. And in terms of airspace in the north, he is. As Ronen Bergman wrote in the New York Times: “Israel will no longer be able to act in Syria without limitations”; and secondly, “if anyone was not yet aware of it, Russia is the dominant power in the region”.

So, what is all this about? Well for a start, it is not about a drone which may (or may not) have trespassed into what Israel calls Israel, or what Syria sees as ‘occupied Golan’. Let us ignore all that: or, think of it as ‘the butterfly wing effect’ in chaos theory, whose tiny wing changes ‘the world’, if you prefer. Ultimately however, these various warnings of impending war, precipitated out from the Syrian State’s success in defeating the jihadi insurgency mounted against it. This outcome has changed the regional balance of power – and we are witnessing states reacting to that strategic defeat.

Israel, having backed the losing side, wants to limit its losses. It fears the changes taking place across the northern tier of the region: Prime Minister Netanyahu has several times sought guarantees from President Putin that Iran and Hizbullah should not be allowed to gain any strategic advantage from Syria’s victory that might be to Israel’s disadvantage. But Putin, it seems clear, gave no guarantees. He told Netanyahu that whilst he recognised, and acknowledged Israel’s security interests, Russia had its interests, too – and also underlined that Iran was a “strategic partner” of Russia.

In practice, there is no effective Iranian or Hizbullah presence in any proximate vicinity to Israel (and indeed both Iran and Hizbullah have substantially pared their forces in Syria as a whole). But, it seems that Netanyahu wanted more: And to put leverage on Russia to guarantee a future Syria, free from any ‘Shi’a presence, Israel has been bombing Syria on almost a weekly basis, and issuing a series of war-like threats against Lebanon (on the pretext that Iran was constructing ‘sophisticated missile’ factories there), saying, in effect to President Putin, that if you do not give ironclad guarantees vis-à-vis a Syria free of Iran and Hizbullah, we will disrupt both countries.

Well, what happened is that Israel lost an F16: unexpectedly shot down by the Syrian air defences. The message is this: ‘Stability in Syria and Lebanon is a Russian interest. Whilst, we recognise Israel’s security interests, don’t mess with ours. If you want a war with Iran that is your business, and Russia will not be involved; but do not forget that Iran is, and remains our strategic partner’.

This is Putin’s Grand Bargain: Russia will assume a certain defined responsibility for Israel’s security, but not if Israel undertakes wars of choice against Iran and Hizbullah, or if it deliberately disrupts stability in the North (including Iraq). And no more gratuitous bombing raids in the north, intended to disrupt stability. But if Israel wants a war with Iran, then Russia will stand aloof.

Israel has now had a taste of President Putin’s ‘stick’: Your air superiority in the North has just been punctured by the Syrian air defences. You, Israel, will lose it completely were our Russian S400s air defences to be enabled: ‘Think it over’.

In case of doubt, consider this statement in 2017, by the Chief of Staff of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Major-General Sergey Meshcheryakov. He said: “Today, a unified, integrated air defense system has been set up in Syria. We have ensured the information and technical interlinkage of the Russian and Syrian air reconnaissance systems. All information on the situation in the air comes from Syrian radar stations to the control points of the Russian force grouping”.

Two things flow from this: First, that Russia knew exactly what was going on when the Israeli F16 met with a barrage of Syrian air defence missiles. As Alex Fishman, doyen of Israeli defence correspondents, noted (in Hebrew) Yediot Ahoronot on 11 February: “One of the [Israeli] planes was hit by the two barrages of 27 Syrian surface-to-air missiles… which is a huge achievement for the Syrian army, and embarrassing for the IAF, since the electronic warfare systems that envelope the plane were supposed to have provided protection from a barrage of missiles… The IAF is going to have to conduct an in-depth technical-intelligence inquiry to determine: are the Syrians in possession of systems that are capable of bypassing the Israeli warning and jamming systems? Have the Syrians developed a new technique that the IAF is unaware of? It was reported that the pilots did not radio in any alert that an enemy missile had locked onto their plane. In principle, they were supposed to report that. They might have been preoccupied. But there is also the more severe possibility that they were unaware of the missile that had locked onto them—which leads to the question of why they didn’t know, and only realized the severity of the damage after they had been hit and were forced to bail out.”

And the second: that subsequent Israeli claims that Syria was then punished by Israel through the destruction of 50% of her air defence system should be taken with a big pinch of salt. Recall what Meshcheryakov said: It was a fully integrated, unified Russian-Syrian system, which is to say it had a Russian flag flying over it. (And this initial Israeli claim has now been back-peddled by the IDF spokesman; see here).

Finally, Putin, in the wake of the F16 downing, told Israel to stop destabilising Syria. He said nothing about Syria’s drone patrolling the southern border (a regular Syrian practice for monitoring insurgent groups in the south).

The message is clear: Israel gets Russia’s limited security guarantees, but loses its freedom of action. Without air domination (which Russia already has seized), the assumed superiority over its neighbouring Arab states – which Israel long since has folded into its collective psyche – will see Israel’s wings clipped.

Can such a bargain be digested culturally in Israel? We must wait to see whether Israel’s leaders accept that they no longer enjoy air superiority over Lebanon or Syria; or whether, as the Israeli commentators warn in our introductory quotes, the Israeli political leadership will opt for a ‘war of choice’, in an attempt to pre-empt Israel’s final loss of its domination of the skies. There is, of course, a further option of running to Washington, in order to try to co-opt America into adopting the eviction of Iran from Syria – but our guess is that Putin has already quietly squared Trump with his plan beforehand. Who knows?

And would then a preventive war to try recuperate Israeli air superiority be feasible or realistic from the perspective of the Israeli Defence Forces? It’s a moot point. A third of Israelis are culturally, and ethnically, Russian, and many admire President Putin. Also, could Israel count, in such circumstances, on Russia not using its own highly sophisticated S400 air-defence missiles, stationed in Syria, in order to protect Russian servicemen stationed across Syria?

And the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese tensions, in themselves, do not bring an end to the present clutch of risks associated with Syria. On the same weekend, Turkey lost a helicopter and its two crew, brought down by Kurdish forces in Afrin. Sentiment in Turkey against the YPG and PKK is heating up; nationalism and New Ottomanism is spiking; and America is being angrily portrayed as Turkey’s “strategic enemy”. President Erdogan asserts forcefully that Turkish forces will clear all the YPG/PKK forces from Afrin to the Euphrates, but an American general says that American troops will not budge from blocking Erdogan’s route, midway – at Manbij. Who will blink first? And, can this escalation continue without a major rupture to Turkish-US relations? (Erdogan has already noted that America’s defense budget for 2019 includes an allocation of $550 million for the YPG. What exactly does Americamean by that provision?).

Also, can a US military leadership, concerned to play-out a re-make of the Vietnam war – but with America winning this time (to show that the Vietnam outcome was a wholly unmerited defeat for the US forces) – accept to pull back from its aggressively imposed occupation of Syria, east of the Euphrates, and thus lose further credibility? Particularly when restoring US military credibility and leverage is the very mantra of the White House generals (and Trump)? Or, will the pursuit of US military ‘credibility’ degenerate into a game of ‘chicken’, mounted by US forces versus the Syrian Armed Forces – or even with Russia itself, which views the US occupation in Syria as inherently disturbing to the regional stability which Russia is trying to establish.

The ‘big picture’ competition between states for the future of Syria (and the region) – is open and visible. But who lay behind these other provocations, which could equally have led to escalation, and quite easily slipped the region towards conflict? Who provided the man portable surface-to-air missile that brought down the Russian SU25 fighter – and which ended, with the pilot, surrounded by jihadists, courageously preferring to kill himself with his own grenade, rather than be taken alive? Who ‘facilitated’ the insurgent group which fired the manpad? Who armed the Afrin Kurds with sophisticated anti-tank weapons (that have destroyed some twenty Turkish tanks)? Who provided the millions of dollars to engineer the tunnels and bunkers built by the Afrin Kurds, and who paid for the kitting out of its armed force?

And who was behind the swarm of drones, with explosives attached, sent to attack the main Russian airbase at Khmeimim? The drones were made to look outwardly like some simple home-made affair, which an insurgent force might cobble together, but since Russian electronic measures managed to take control and land six of them, the Russians were able to see that,internally, they were quite different: They contained sophisticated electronic counter-measures and GPS guidance systems within. In short, the rustic external was camouflage to its true sophistication, which likely represented the handiwork of a state agency. Who? Why? Was someone trying to set Russia and Turkey at each other’s throats?

We do not know. But it is plain enough that Syria is the crucible to powerful destructive forces which might advertently, or inadvertently, ignite Syria – and – potentially, the Middle East. And as the Israeli defence correspondent, Amos Harel, wrote, we have already this last weekend, “come a hair’s breadth from a slide into war”.

«إسرائيل» بين التوقيت السوري والتوقيت اللبناني


فبراير 8, 2018

ناصر قنديل

– من شرفة قصر بعبدا يطلّ لبنان للمرة الأولى على ملفي الجدار الإسمنتي «الإسرائيلي» المخالف لمفهوم الخط الأزرق الحدودي الوهمي ونقاط التحفّظ اللبنانية المسجّلة، والبلوك التاسع النفطي في مياه لبنان الجنوبية، معلناً بلسان الدولة اللبنانية للمرة الأولى الاستعداد للمواجهة العسكرية وعدم الاكتفاء بمخاطبة الأمم المتحدة والشكوى، إذا مضت «إسرائيل» بفرض أمر واقع من طرف واحد. وفي المقابل تطلّ سورية من جبهتي إدلب وعفرين، حيث يتقدّم الجيش السوري محرّراً في واحدة ويقترب من إنهاء الحرب على الإرهاب، وفي الثانية تدور الحرب غير المباشرة التي تخوضها الدولة السورية مع مشروع الانفصال الكردي والاحتلالين التركي والأميركي، ومن دمشق ومعارك الغوطة حيث يتجلى مشروع الحسم العسكري بوضوح هذه المرّة، ومع كلّ ذلك التصدي للصواريخ «الإسرائيلية» التي أطلقتها «إسرائيل» على مواقع سورية من الأجواء اللبنانية، فيرسم الجيش السوري قواعد الاشتباك في سلّم متصاعد يبطل محاولات «إسرائيل» التملّص من المتغيّرات التي فرضتها استعادة الدولة السورية لزمام المبادرة منذ انتصارها في حلب.

– بعض الذين يأخذهم الانفعال والحماس والغيرة الوطنية والقومية يرغبون برؤية الجيش السوري والمقاومة، يدخلان الحرب فوراً، يبدآن حرب مقاومة ضدّ احتلال همجي موصوف هو الاحتلال التركي في سورية، وحرباً أخرى ضدّ الاحتلال الأشدّ خطورة على مستقبل سورية وسيادتها هو الاحتلال الأميركي، وضدّ عدوان إسرائيلي يستهدف السيادة السورية، وضدّ مشروع الانفصال الكردي، والكانتون الحدودي الذي ينشئه الأتراك وراء جماعات مرتزقة تحت إمرتهم بأسماء سورية، ويريدون أن تبدأ المقاومة في لبنان بفتح النار على الجيش «الإسرائيلي»، سواء في نقاط البرّ التي يتخطى فيها الضوابط القانونية، وفي نقاط البحر التي يمارس البلطجة لوضعها تحت سيطرته أو حرمان لبنان من استثمارها على الأقلّ.

– معادلة الحرب لا تخاض طبعاً بهذه الطريقة. فالحق وثبوت وضوحه يمنحان المشروعية، لكن التوقيت والسياق والتصاعد في سلم المواجهة خيارات وخطوات تدرس وتحدّد وفقاً لمعادلات علمية تتصل بالقدرة على توزيع الموارد وتخصيصها وقراءة موازين القوة السياسية والعسكرية، والمناخات الدولية والإقليمية وعلاقتها بمنح فرص التوقيت المناسب فالأنسب، وللذين يقولون إنّ هذا التشريح تبرير للتخلي والضعف والتراجع، يجب القول، إنّ الحرب التي عرفتها سورية وخاضتها بجيشها ومعها المقاومة ومن ورائهما إيران وروسيا تقدّم خطاً بيانياً، يُسكت كلّ اتهام بالضعف والتراجع والتهرّب من المواجهة. فما تحقق خلال سنوات وكان عرضة للتشكيك قبلها، يثبت أنّ هناك قيادة عازمة على النصر وحازمة في رسم الخطط وتحديد القواعد وصعود سلّم المواجهة بخطتها وتوقيتها، وها هي الخطوط الحمر التي رسمها الأميركيون على الحدود السورية العراقية تتساقط، وها هي حلب عادت ودير الزور والبوكمال والبادية. وفي الحرب التي تشكّل أميركا و«إسرائيل» والسعودية وتركيا ومعها جميعاً تنظيما القاعدة وداعش حلفها، تقول السنوات التي مضت كيف انتقل زمام المبادرة لليد السورية مدعومة من حلفائها، وكيف توسّعت سيطرة الدولة السورية من ثلاثين في المئة إلى ثمانين في المئة من الجغرافيا السورية. وهذا يستدعي التسليم بأهلية وصدقية قيادة سورية ومحور المقاومة، ومنحها التفويض لمواصلة حربها وفقاً لخطتها وتوقيتها. وكم من مرة بُني على عدم الاستجابة للرغبة بتسريع روزنامة الحسم استنتاج ظالم بالضعف والتخاذل، إن لم يكن لسورية فلحلفائها بالتتابع، مرة المقاومة ومرة إيران ومرات روسيا، وجاءت الأيام تثبت بطلان هذه الاستنتاجات.

– نجحت سورية والمقاومة بوضع الأميركيين والأكراد في ضفة والأتراك وجماعاتهم في ضفة، وهما من رصيد وظف كلّ مقدراته ضدّهما، وها هم يستنزفون مقدرات بعضهم بعضاً في طريق مسدود لحرب لا منتصر فيها، ستؤول حالة الاستنزاف التي بدأت معها، لجعل الملاذ الوحيد لوقفها بالتراجع أمام مشروع الدولة السورية بالتراضي أو بالقوة، ولن تخضع سورية لتوقيت مستعجل يفهم سببه بالعاطفة، لتسريع تدخلها، بينما هي تدرك أنّ توقيتها لم يحِن بعد، وأنها ترسم قواعد اشتباك هناك وخطوطاً حمراً كلما بدا أنّ الموازين ستنقلب لصالح الاحتلال التركي، لكنها تطلب وضوحاً كردياً حاسماً في الموقف من الانفصال والاحتلال الأميركي لتضع عباءتها فوقهم كدولة وطنية تصدّ عدواناً على سيادتها، ولا تخوض حرب ترجيح كفّة احتلال على احتلال.

– في المواجهة مع «إسرائيل» فرضت سورية على «الإسرائيليين» التسليم بالامتناع كلياً عن انتهاك الأجواء السورية وتقليص مساحة الإرباك التي كان يفرضها الطيران «الإسرائيلي»، من كامل المساحة السورية إلى الشريط الحدودي الملاصق للمناطق المحتلة وللحدود اللبنانية، بعمق ستين كليومتراً، وهو مدى الصواريخ التي تطلقها الطائرات من خارج الأجواء السورية، وبعد هذا الإنجاز النوعي بدأت سورية تفرض معادلة نصف الردع، بإبطال مفاعيل الصواريخ واختبار قدرة التعامل معها وإسقاطها. وهذا تطوّر تقني وعملياتي يعرف «الإسرائيليون» معناه في أيّ حرب قادمة. لكن هذا التعديل الإضافي في المواجهة ليس نهاية المطاف. إنه الخطوة التي تسبق توضيع جدار دفاع جوّي يتيح استهداف الطائرات «الإسرائيلية» المغيرة وهي في الأجواء اللبنانية، وهو تطوّر لن يكون بعيداً، كما يقول سياق تنامي وتصاعد الخطة السورية التي تمنح الأولوية للحسم مع الجماعات الإرهابية في الغوطة ومحافظة إدلب، لمرحلة لن تتجاوز الشهور.

– بالتوازي مع التوقيت السوري ثمة توقيت لبناني، لا شك في أنه يفاجئ «الإسرائيليين» والأميركيين ومَن معهم، فالتحرّشات «الإسرائيلية» البرية والبحرية تقع في مجال سياسي واستراتيجي يمنح لبنان فرصة التلويح بالمبادرة لاستخدام القوة. وهذا معنى قرار المجلس الأعلى للدفاع المنعقد في قصر بعبدا تتويجاً لتفاهم سياسي بين الرؤساء الثلاثة وقفت المقاومة وسيدها وراء نسج خيوطه. والمهمّ فيه أنه إثبات لصدقية تموضع رئيس الجمهورية في خيار المقاومة، لكنه أيضاً تظهير لنوعية التحوّل الذي ترتب على أزمة العلاقة بين رئيس الحكومة والسعودية، وحسن التدبّر في إدارة هذه الأزمة لبنانياً، خصوصاً من المقاومة ورئاستي الجمهورية ومجلس النواب. فالتوقيت اللبناني لرفع درجة الحرارة براً وبحراً، ما كان ممكناً لولا هذا الموقف الحاسم لرئيس الجمهورية، ولولا هذا التبدّل الموضعي غير الممانع والمعطّل لرئيس الحكومة.

– الحروب فنّ التوقيت، وعلى «إسرائيل» أن تدرك أنها تضع نفسها في وضع لا تُحسَد عليه. فالمواجهة مع لبنان خطأ استراتيجي خطير لا تقدر «إسرائيل» على تحمّل نتائجه السياسية والعسكرية. فللمرة الأولى سيكون عليها تجرّع سمّ التراجع أو المضيّ لحرب قاتلة.

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“Who Lost Turkey?” – The U.S.-Kurdish Project In Syria Endangers NATO

By Moon Of Alabama

January 25, 2018 “Information Clearing House” –  Back in the 1950s the U.S. political sphere was poisoned by a groundless smear campaign against country-experts in the State Department  who were identified as those who lost China. If the Trump administration proceeds on its current course we may soon see similar accusations. The accused, those “who lost Turkey”, will again be the ones who warned of the possibility and not the real culprits.

The Turkish attack on the Kurd held Syrian canton of Afrin (Efrin) is not progressing as fast the Turks had hoped. The infantry component of the operation are Turkish proxy forces in Syria. These Chechen, Uighur, Turkestanis and other Takfiris are cannon fodder in the operations, not a well integrated component of an army.


The Kurds know their local mountainous territory, are well armed and willing to fight. They can holdout for a while. Politically they will still be the ones who will lose the most in the conflict. The above linked piece noted that the Kurdish YPG/PKK leaders had rejected the Syrian and Russiangovernment offer that would have prevented the Turkish attack. The offer still exists but the conditions will become less favorable as longer the Kurds hold out.

Elijah Magnier just published more details on that offer and analyses the strategic situation:

[T]he US is observing the performance of the Turkish army with interest and wishes to see Erdogan humiliated, broken on the rocks of the Kurds in Afrin. Indeed, the US has delivered anti-tank weapons, already effectively used by the Kurds against the Turkish army (many tanks damaged during the attack on Afrin).

The US can’t understand that Ankara is not ready to see a rich and well-armed Kurdish “state” on its borders, disregarding the US’s tempting and generous offer [of a “safe zone” (see below)]. Actually, the US is offering a territory that not only does not belong to the Americans but is actually occupied by the US forces in north east Syria.

The US is one of the losers in this battle, regardless of the results, because Turkey will continue its operations until the defeat of the Kurds, either by military means or if Afrin returns to [Syrian] central government’s control.

I am not convinced that the above prediction will hold. There is still a possibility that Turkey might again change sides and (again) join the U.S. “regime change” efforts in Syria.

This depends on the winner of a conflict within the U.S. military where opposing forces are pulling for the Turkish and respectively the Kurdish side. Should the pro-Turkish side win, Erdogan can be offered a new deal and might be induced to again change sides from his current pro-Russian (pro-Damascus?) position back towards a pro-NATO/U.S. stand. (There is also a tiny chance that Turkey already has a secret back deal with the U.S. administration but I see no indication for it.)

From the very beginning of the conflict in Syria Turkey worked with the U.S., NATO, the Saudis and Qataris, against the Syrian government. It supported the Saudi and U.S. position of “regime change”, let ten-thousands of terrorists pass through its borders and delivered ten-thousands of tons of weapons and supplies to the forces fighting the Syrian government. Finally Russia entered the picture, defeated the Takfiris, put harsh pressure on Turkey and offered new economic deals. At the same time the U.S. attempted “regime change” in Ankara and allied with the Kurdish YPG/PKK in Syria and Iraq.

Erdogan, though unwillingly, changed sides and now works with Russia (and Syria) to bring the war to a conclusion. “Regime change” in Damascus has become an unlikely scenario he no longer supports. At the same time he is still willing to invest money and forces to gain something for his failed investment in the war. Taking Afrin to later incorporate it into an enlarged Turkey is one of those plays. He is clearly still aiming for additional territory. The U.S. now offered him some in form of a safe zone in Syria:


Ilhan tanir @WashingtonPoint – 7:50 PM – 24 Jan 2018
This map being discussed all day on Turkish TVs as Turkey’s planned security zone/safe zone on Syria border.
Reportedly OK’ed by Sec.Tillerson though nobody on the American side confirms it

If the U.S. indeed made the “safe zone” offer – Tillerson did not deny today to have made such – it found a rather cold response:

Washington’s proposal for the creation of a “security zone” along Turkey’s 911-kilometer border with Syria has received a cool reply from Ankara, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu urging the U.S. to first take steps to “re-build trust” between the two allies before discussing such military matters.

“The U.S. needs to stop delivering weapons to the YPG. It needs to push the YPG to withdrawing from Manbij if it wants to re-build confidence with Turkey … We have to see all these commitments fulfilled,” Çavuşoğlu said.

It is the U.S. supported founding of a Kurdish state-let in north-east Syria which is Ankara’s most serious security concern. No “safe zone” will help if the U.S. military continues to build and supplies a Kurdish “border force” that can penetrate Turkey’s south-eastern underbelly – now, tomorrow or in ten years. Unless the U.S. stops that project and retreats from the area Turkey will continue to push against it – if necessary by force.

The Turkish people support the fight against U.S. supported Kurds and are willing to pay the price for it. The Kurdish YPK leaders are delusional in their demands and overestimate their own political position. The U.S. can not have both, Turkey as an ally and a Kurdish proxy state-let. It has to decide.

Yesterday President Trump and Erdogan had a phonecall to discuss the situation. It did not help. The White House readout for the call includes some noticeably harsh language:

President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. President Trump relayed concerns that escalating violence in Afrin, Syria, risks undercutting our shared goals in Syria. He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.

President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under theprolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.

The Turkish side denied that such language and these issues were part of the talk:

The White House’s written statement differs from the truth discussed between the Turkish and U.S. Presidents’ phone conversation on Wednesday, according to Anadolu Agency sources.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, the sources said President Donald Trump did not discuss any concerns ‘of escalating violence in Afrin’ during the phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The sources also stressed that President Trump did not use the words “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey.”

They also said that there was no discussion of the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey.

It is very unusual to dispute the content of such readouts. Is Turkey obfuscating here or did someone in the White House put harsher language into the readout than was actually used in the call?

Trump had in general good relations with Erdogan and the readout language does not sound like him. The Turkish side also added this:

“In an answer to President Erdogan’s highlighting request from Washington to stop providing arms to the PYD/YPG terrorists in Syria within the scope of fighting against terrorism, President Trump said the United States are no longer providing PYD/YPG with weapons,” the sources added.

Already in November the Turks had said that Trump promised to stop the delivery of weapons to the YPG forces in east-Syria. But the White House was evasive on the issue and the U.S. military Central Command has acted contrary to that promise. If the Magnier report is correct CentCom also delivered anti-tank missiles to the Kurds in Afrin.

I have for some time presumed that are different opinions in the White House and especially in the Pentagon with regards to Turkey and the Kurds. The realist-hawks and NATO proponents are on Turkey’s side while the neoconservative “liberal” forces are on the Kurdish side. Yesterday the NYT noted the split:

The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The former director of the Council of Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, takes the pro-Kurdish position. Linking to the NYT piece above he says:

Richard N. Haass‏ @RichardHaass – 12:00 PM – 24 Jan 2018
Pentagon right; US should be working w Kurds in Syria for moral and strategic reasons alike. A break with Erdogan’s Turkey is inevitable, if not over this than over other differences. Time for DoD to come up with plan to substitute for Incirlik access.

It is not only the Incirlik air-base which is irreplaceable for NATO’s southern command. Turkey also controls the access to the Black Sea and has thereby a say over potential NATO operations against southern Russia and Crimea.

In a Bloomberg oped former U.S. Supreme Commander of NATO Stavridis takes a pro-Turkish position:

At the moment, Washington is trying to sail a narrow passage between supporting its erstwhile Kurdish combat partners and not blowing up the relationship with Turkey. But the room for maneuver is closing and a choice is looming. What should the U.S. do?

[W]e simply cannot afford to “lose” Turkey.

The Turks have a strong and diversified economy, a young and growing population, and have stood alongside the U.S. for much of the post-World War II era. Their importance both regionally and globally will continue to grow in the 21st century. Yes, U.S. officials can and should criticize Turkish actions where they violate international law or human rights — but in private, at least at this stage of the situation.

[T]he overall U.S. strategic interest lies in keeping Turkey aligned with NATO and the trans-Atlantic community. It would be a geopolitical mistake of near-epic proportions to see Turkey drift out of that orbit and end up aligned with Russia and Iran in the Levant.

It is unclear where in the Trump administration the split between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish positions actually is. (Or is it all around chaos?) On which side, for example, is Secretary of Defense Mattis and on which side is the National Security Advisor McMaster? This clip from the NYT piece above lets one assume that they pull in opposite directions:

For its part, the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed.

That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

But the Pentagon issued its own statement on Tuesday standing by its decision to create the Kurdish-led force.

Discussing NATO relations with Turkey, several western “experts” agree that the current situation damages NATO but not one of them expects that Turkey will leave the alliance:

NATO needs Turkey and cannot afford to push it further into Russia’s arms. Erdoğan also needs NATO. He has overplayed his hand in Syria and in his struggle with the Kurds, and is isolated in the EU. His relationship with Moscow is problematic and he does not want to face Putin without NATO membership. This is an alliance that remains based on real strategic interests and that will continue long after Erdoğan is gone.

Maybe. I am not so sure.

The last thing the EU now wants or needs is Turkish membership. The U.S. instigated a coup against Erdogan and its Kurdish project is threatening Turkey’s strategic interest. Trump’s continued push to take Jerusalem “off the table” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is an insult to all Muslims. An increasingly Islamic Turkey will not accept that. Turkey’s natural gas supplies depend on Russia and Iran. Russia builds nuclear power stations in Turkey and will deliver air defense systems that can defend against U.S. attacks. Russia, Iran, Central Asia and beyond that China are markets for Turkish products.

Putting myself into Erdogan’s shoes I would be very tempted to leave NATO and join an alliance with Russia, China and Iran. Unless the U.S. changes course and stops fooling around with the Kurds Turkey will continue to disentangle itself from the old alliance. The Turkish army has so far prevented a break with NATO but even staunch anti-Erdogan officers are now on his side.

If the U.S. makes a real offer to Turkey and adopts a new position it might be able to turn Turkey around and to put it back into its NATO fold. Is the Trump White House capable of defying the pro-Israel/pro-Kurdish voices and move back to that realist view?

If it can not do that the real answer to the question “Who lost Turkey?” will be obvious.

This article was originally published by Moon Of Alabama 

– See Also –

Erdogan has made his choice

To Erdogan, if he had to choose between the potential risks of losing Turkey’s NATO membership as against having a Kurdish state south of his border, he would choose the former.

Erdogan has made his choice

January 26, 2018

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

It seems that Erdogan has already made up his mind, but the speculations about what deals have been and haven’t been done seem muddied, to put it mildly.

In the Levant, the Kurds always lose in the end, and regardless of what alliances they make and with whom, they always end up getting stabbed in the back; or at least abandoned. But when they team up with parties like the USA, and even Israel, what else can they expect?

However, the Kurd’s obsession of having their statehood by any means, and the resistance they face and the unpreparedness of certain parties to work together to ensure that there will be no foreign intervention, they all have their adverse consequences. What we see happening in Syria’s north today is the direct outcome of this.

America had been looking for half an excuse to invade Syria for a very long time, and knowing that it wasn’t able to have a full-on presence that would allow it to carpet bomb the whole nation, it used the Kurdish excuse and the false pretext of creating a “security zone” in order to justify its presence on Syrian soil; against Syria’s wish.

But to do this, America needed allies on the ground, and instead of working together with its natural partner and NATO member Turkey (which happens to be a regional superpower) on common denominators, America’s inability to negotiate and give and take, even with its most ardent allies, repelled Turkey and America had to resort to an alliance with the YPG Kurds. What comes next is more sinister.

It is not clear what was Russia’s initial position on establishing any form of Kurdish autonomy in Syria. As a matter of fact, Syria’s FM Walid Mouallem hinted back in September 2017 that the Syrian Government was prepared to look into a limited Kurdish cultural autonomy (وزير-الخارجية-السوري-لـ-rt-الإدارة-الذاتية-سوريا-وهذا-أمر-قابل-للتفاوض-والحوار/), but this did not go very far. And long before Mouallem’s remark, President Assad himself hinted back in 2012 that the efforts of the people of Ain Al Arab (Kobani in Kurdish) will not be forgotten. But of course, this does not mean he was hinting at some form of autonomy. Was the Syrian Government pressured to not explore every possible avenue for reconciliation with its Kurdish population? And if so, by whom and why? Surely not by Russia because, Russia had always been sympathetic and understanding of Kurdish fears and aspirations. Who else could have stood in the way of reaching some form of pre-emptive reconciliation between the Syrian Government and Syrian Kurds before events reached the dangerous climax they are at today? Definitely not Iran or Turkey.

Arguably, it can be said that the way the YPG went to bed with America has led to its abandonment by the Syrian Government and all other potential allies outside the American circle of influence, and this cannot be more obvious given the recent history of the YPG. In all honesty however, we must in hindsight ask whether it was possible to avoid this impasse or at least mitigate it. We don’t know. Either way, it is probably already too late to “reconcile” and President Assad himself has recently referred to those Kurds who are under America’s beck-and-call as “traitors”.

Ironically, an ardent opposition of having any form of Kurdish autonomy in Syria was, and continues to be, Turkey’s Erdogan. He is concerned about the snow-ball effect and the possibility of similar Turkish-Kurdish aspirations. And Turkey is a multi-ethnic nation with vulnerabilities that cannot be ignored in this crazy era of human history.

Erdogan had told his American “allies” time and time again that they cannot be strategic allies of Turkey if they want to endorse any form of a formal Kurdish entity; even one that is only nominally cultural. Yet, Obama’s USA did not listen any more than Trump’s. They dug in their heels and continued to intimidate in their presence in Syria not only Syria, but also Russia and most ironically, their ally Turkey.

Syria wants America out of Syria.

Russia wants America out of Syria.

Iran wants America out of Syria.

Turkey doesn’t really care if America is in or out of Syria, but Turkey definitely wants the YPG and any other Kurdish military forces disabled in order to put a stop to any possible Kurdish entity from materializing.

But now that the wolf (aka America) is in, who is going to kick it out before it huffs and puffs and blows the whole region in?

The Syrian Army cannot engage directly against American troops, let alone militia supported by America, without risking a major direct military escalation with America itself. As a matter of fact, America perhaps wishes for this to happen as this will justify a bigger presence.

But hang on, let’s not forget that Russian troops are on the ground in Syria, and the Russians and Americans have thus far succeeded in avoiding direct confrontation for decades. Such indirect interaction is something that both super powers are familiar with, and they know how to do it. But this of course means that Russia cannot directly be engaged in ousting American troops from Syria. On the flip-side, America cannot engage with Russia either in an attempt to, say, oust President Assad.

How about Iran then? Well, Iran is already under American (and Israeli) threats, even without engaging directly against American troops. Iran may choose to engage against America or be drawn into such an engagement, but to do this willingly in order to protect Syrians Kurds is an unlikely scenario.

In reality therefore, only Turkish troops can do the job without creating much international havoc of far-reaching devastation.

Does this mean that there is a tacit approval on behalf of the Syrian Government for the Turkish so-called “Olive Branch” operation? Not at all, and in fact, most unlikely. Is there then perhaps an agreement between Turkey on one hand with Russia and Iran on the other hand on this? Also highly unlikely. However, Erdogan knows well that only he can engage in fighting American cohorts in Syria, and he is doing it with or without any need for support, not even tacit support, from either Russia, Iran or Syria.

Now let’s not forget that Turkey is a NATO member and that it houses the Incirlik airbase. However, unlike back in 1955 when Turkey was desperate to join NATO in fear of the “Communist peril”, America and NATO now need Turkey much more than Turkey needs NATO. To Erdogan, if he had to choose between the potential risks of losing Turkey’s NATO membership as against having a Kurdish state south of his border, he would choose the former.

But to Erdogan, his stand against America is not only religiously and nationalistically based, it is also personal. Apart from his doctrinal fundamentalist and nationalist attributes, he regards America as the nation that hosts and protects his political enemy and rival Gulen; who ironically still enjoys a huge level of support within Turkey, despite all the clampdowns on his supporters after the July 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan and Trump are now playing chicken with each other, each looking at his opponent to see who is going to back off first. Trump has no idea that Erdogan will not waver and that he will simply not allow a Kurdish state south of his border, even though it is not meant to be on Turkish territory. The truth of the matter is that America has never ever considered its allies as friends who may have common objectives with America, but also happen to have their own interests. America is used to dictating its terms and conditions on its allies without a second thought.

But Trump, like his predecessor before him, does not seem to realize that they have pushed Erdogan to the limit and that he is now taking America to task.

So apart from whether or not there are undisclosed deals between Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia, the fact that they all agree that none of them wants any form of Kurdish autonomy, lifts Erdogan up to the level of the one and only “hero” who can deal with it as he is the only one who doesn’t give a damn about what happens between him and America. He even seems to be reveling in the attention he is receiving at home by challenging America, as this is bolstering his popularity and further enabling him to target Gulen and America who is held responsible for his political survival by giving him asylum.

But in doing all of this, and to follow up on the previous article (, Erdogan has clearly made his choice as to which side on the Syrian ground he is going to support.

Erdogan seems to be distancing himself from Al-Nusra Front, or is he? Well, on the surface at least, he is pushing the card of the allegedly least radical of all militarized Syrian opposition groups; the so-called “Free Syria Army” (FSA). The original FSA members back in 2011 were mainly defectors of the Syrian Army. Back then, they were the only military force on the ground before all the Jihadis and mercenaries came in. No one can really tell with certainty what percentage of those fighters today are of Syrian Army origin, but what is pertinent here is that Erdogan is not going into Afrin together with Al-Nusra Front fighters, but rather with FSA fighters.

To a Syrian patriot, there is no real difference between the FSA and Al-Nusra Front. However, on the books as it were, the FSA is not a fundamentalist Jihadist organization. And as Astana/Geneva/Sochi talks will resume at some stage, lifting the profile of the FSA at one minute to midnight might give the elusive so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” a last minute mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; courtesy of Erdogan. After all, if push comes to shove, the Al-Nusra fighters that Erdogan wishes to protect can always shave their beards and wear FSA uniforms.

It’s a “clever”, or rather conniving, move by Erdogan, because by supporting and resurrecting the FSA, not only is he distancing himself from Al-Nusra Front, but he is bringing back the “moderate Syrian opposition” to the forefront and potentially giving it a place in the final negotiation process, and this fact, may also be used by him as an un-severed link with his American “allies”, because if he wanted to watch his back just in case he needed America in the near future, he can always argue that he did not send his troops into Syria to support President Assad, but rather to support the opposition.

Whichever way events move on from here, Russian diplomacy will be given the ultimate challenge. The time for muscle power in the skies for Russian bombers is over, at least for a while.

Playing ‘Kurdish Card’ in Syria Backfires on US As Turks Move In

Playing ‘Kurdish Card’ in Syria Backfires on US As Turks Move In

Playing ‘Kurdish Card’ in Syria Backfires on US As Turks Move In

What the result will be of Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria may not be clear for a while, but two things are already certain. Bad decisions in Washington provided the trigger, and Washington’s regional position will suffer as a result of Ankara’s Orwellian-named “Operation Olive Branch.”

The offensive is the latest twist from Turkey’s erratic and unpredictable leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Let’s recall that “Sultan” Erdogan was an early and active participant in what was supposed to have been a relatively easy regime change operation in Syria starting in 2011, on the pattern of NATO’s overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi that same year. Turkey, with its lengthy border with Syria, was (and to some extent still is) a major supporter of al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Syria, working with Saudi Arabia and Qatar under American guidance, with Israel as a silent partner. The appearance of ISIS (Daesh, ISIL) as an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq was a direct and foreseen consequence of that effort, as the Obama Administration was warned in 2012 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), then under the command of General Michael Flynn.

To the surprise of many, the Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad didn’t just roll up and die but displayed an unexpected tenacity in defending that country’s secular, multi-religious society against outside efforts to impose a Wahhabist sectarian state. The clincher came with Russia’s September 2015 intervention, a distinctly unwelcome development for the “Assad must go!” crowd.

Two months later a crisis erupted between NATO-member Turkey and Russia when Turkish planes shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter (ostensibly for crossing into Turkish airspace) and ethnic Turkish (also called Turkmen) fighters murdered one of the two Russian airmen who parachuted from the plane. Perhaps Erdogan thought he could give Moscow a bloody nose and, with NATO’s backing him up, the Russians would turn tail and run. That didn’t happen, giving Erdogan reason to feel hung out to dry.

Then came the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan, orchestrated, he claims, by his former ally businessman, educator, and cleric Fethullah Gülen, resident in the U.S. Despite the deep freeze in Russia-Turkey ties since the Su-24 shootdown, Russian covert assistance reportedly was critical to saving Erdogan’s regime and perhaps his life. At the same time, his U.S. ally – which denies involvement in the coup attempt – still refuses to hand over Gülen, whose supporters in Turkey have been repressed in a massive purge of real or imagined opposition to Erdogan’s consolidation of power.

Internationally, the upshot of the coup’s failure was a turnaround in ties between Ankara and Moscow. In December 2016, Erdogan joined Russia and Iran, the principal supporters of the Syrian government against terrorists armed by Turkey among others, in the Astana peace process.

Erdogan, if not completely breaking with the anti-Assad coalition, at least started to hedge his bets, for example not reacting to the Syrian liberation of Aleppo from Ankara’s al-Qaeda clients. When Syrian forces relieved the ISIS siege of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria in late 2017, and the Syrian army linked up with the Iraqi army (supported by the U.S. and Iran) at their common border, ISIS was almost finished as a territorial “caliphate.” This in turn has allowed Damascus to shift its focus elsewhere, notably to al-Qaeda-held Idlib. This wasn’t yet the end of the Syrian war but the end was coming into view.

Or so it seemed – which brings us back to U.S. policy.

In July 2017, Ankara had leaked the existence of U.S. bases in Kurdish-held northwestern Syria. Not that it matters to anyone in Washington, this presence is totally illegal under both U.S. law (there’s no Congressional authorization) and international law, which in U.S. politics counts for nothing (no UN Security Council authorization, no self-defense justification, and of course no invitation from the Syrian government). The U.S. presence with the Kurds is positioned on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, while the Russians and Syrians stay mainly on the western bank. Aside from some scary air incidents, it seems both sides seem to have been careful not to come into conflict.

If Washington had been content to leave it that, President Donald Trump – who had campaigned on a promise to “crush and destroy ISIS” – was in a great position to declare victory and get out. Keep in mind that despite ordering a demonstrative cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in April 2017 (in reprisal for a chemical attack that almost certainly was not the work of the Syrian government), he had not indicated an appetite for digging deeper into an involvement in a conflict where he had once praised Assad, Russia, and Iran for fighting ISIS. He even reportedly cut off CIA aid to “rebels,” i.e., al-Qaeda, in July.

That was then, this is now. The U.S. is not leaving Syria. The globalists, generals, and other Swamp-monsters, plus their Israeli and Saudi pals, have won and “America First!” has lost. Recently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a new “way forward” in Syria, which in effect is an old way backwards the Obama policy. There are five pillars:

  • Defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda. [The first is almost finished in Syria and Iraq, and regarding the second there seems to be some confusion about whose side we’ve been on for almost seven years];
  • Assad must go [Seriously; the fact that regime change in Syria would mean curtains for the Christians evidently is of no concern in Washington];
  • Block the Iranians [The “Shiite crescent” bogeyman is now a “northern arch”];
  • Return of refugees to their homes [Is that why the U.S. and the EU maintain sanctions on government-held areas?]; and
  • No weapons of mass destruction [Someone seems to have picked up by mistake the old talking points regarding Iraq, circa 2002].

The linchpin of this concept, if it can be called that, is using the Kurds as America’s boots on the ground. (It should be noted that when CIA assistance to its al-Qaeda clients was stopped last year, the Pentagon’s support for the Kurdish YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, “People’s Protection Units”) was maintained or stepped up; at the time the move seemed largely a bureaucratic tiff between Langley and DoD. Now however there are rumblings that the CIA aid spigot may be turned back on.) But for Erdogan, the icing on the cake was U.S. announcement of plans to create a 30,000 “Border Security Force.” For Turkey, this amounts to U.S. sponsorship, perhaps with partition of Syria in mind, of a Kurdish quasi-state comparable to Iraqi Kurdistan, in league with the Kurdish PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, “Kurdistan Workers Party”) – designated a terrorist group by the U.S., Turkey, and NATO. Hence Erdogan’s claim he is acting against a U.S.-armed “terror army,” which he vows to “strangle … before it’s even born.”

Perhaps U.S. officials thought they could manage Ankara’s response, or that the bombastic Erdogan was just bluffing. If so, they were mistaken. It now remains to be seen how far the Turks plan, or are able, to advance in Afrin. There is also speculation whether an assault may also be directed toward Manbij in the main, eastern Kurdish-held area known as Rojava, where some 2,000 or more American troops are present. In addition, Erdogan, who has progressively dismantled the Kemalist secular order in Turkey seems bent on whipping the offensive up as an Islamic ideological jihad in 90,000 mosques across the country.

Afrin, with its rough terrain, is a tough nut to crack. Manbij might be even harder and risk confrontation with the U.S. In either case the Kurds are fighting on their home turf against the Turkish army with their local Turkmen militia and al-Qaeda allies. Damascus reportedly has allowed Kurds from the main Rojava area they hold further east to cross government-held territory to reinforce Afrin. Meanwhile, the expectation of some Kurds that the United States would create a “no-fly zone” to defend them from America’s own NATO ally was comically unrealistic.

While it’s hard to say in the short term if the Turks or Kurds will come out ahead, there’s no doubt that strategically the big loser is the U.S. – and it’s a totally self-inflicted wound. If Trump had stuck to his original goal of just defeating ISIS, he could take credit for the efforts of the Syrian army and Russian air force and soon truthfully proclaim “Mission Accomplished” (in contrast to George W. Bush’s notorious Iraq declaration in 2003). But now, with the foolish adventure into which his generals (National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly) have led him, with Tillerson’s agreement or acquiescence, he now has on his hands a conflict between our de jure NATO ally Turkey and our de facto ally, the Kurds.

If the Kurds win, Turkey is in effect lost to NATO – we’re close to that already. If Turkey wins, the misguided U.S. plan to stay in Syria is finished – a likely outcome anyway.

As far as the impact within Syria, the Kurds are about to find out, as did the Iraqi Kurds following their abortive independence declaration last year, that they likewise have pressed their luck too far and were foolish to count on “friends” in Washington, for whom they are disposable. In the end, the Turkish attack is likely to accelerate the Kurds’ outreach to Damascus, with whom they have never entirely burned their bridges.

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