Erdogan snubs Biden; NATO hits the rocks
With immaculate timing, Turkey unrolled its defiant ‘Plan B’ – billed as the Euphrates Shield operation – in northern Syria just as the US Vice President Joe Biden’s aircraft was about to land in Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
This must be one of the biggest diplomatic snubs that the US has suffered in a long while. And it is being administered by a NATO member country.
I had written yesterday in Asia Times that the US was making a monumental error of judgment by underestimating the grit of the Turkish mind to safeguard its supreme national interests at any cost. (See my article Turkey gets its act together on Syria.)
As I explained, the main purpose of the Euphrates Shield operation is to occupy the strategic border town of Jarablus in northern Syria and have a showdown with the Syrian Kurds (supported by US Special Forces and American air cover). The Kurdish militia had crossed the Euphrates river a few months ago and, contrary to American assurances, they are now moving westward to realise their dream of establishing a Kurdistan straddling Turkey’s border, stretching from Iraq to East Mediterranean coast. Turkey’s ‘red line’ has been breached.
A cat-and-mouse game has been going on between Turkey and the US. The latter was calculating that Turkey won’t act on the ground to confront the Syrian Kurds militarily, especially after the recent coup attempt of July 15, which weakened the military, plus the Russian presence in Syria.
President Recep Erdogan has decided to call the American bluff. In the early hours of the morning, Turkish artillery began pounding Jarablus (which is under the control of the Islamic State presently.) After about 2 hours of shelling, Special Forces crossed the border with F-16 jets providing air cover. The latest reports say a column of Turkish tanks is moving into Syrian territory. (Hurriyet )
The stunning part is that the Turkish incursion follows a tacit understanding with Iran (and Syria). Interestingly, Russian jets aren’t visible anywhere in the Syrian skies to stop the Turkish incursion, either. Surely, NATO is rocking, since it is highly improbable that Turkey took the US-led alliance into confidence over the Euphrates Shield operation, which, ironically, aims at destroying America’s best ally on the Syrian chessboard.
A team of Iranian intelligence officials had made a quick dash to Ankara yesterday morning to give the final touch to the concerted Euphrates Shield operation against the Syrian Kurds. The Iranian delegation presumably carried messages from Damascus for the Turkish side and returned to Tehran yesterday evening itself.
According to Iranian media reports, the deputy head of the Turkish intelligence had paid a secret visit to Damascus on Sunday. Prior to that, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a stopover in Tehran on Thursday for 5 hours to personally coordinate with the Iranians – avoiding phone conversations that could have been tapped by the American electronic intelligence system. Clearly, we are witnessing the first tangible signs of a super-secret deal between Turkey and Iran to further their common agenda of preventing the emergence of a Syrian Kurdistan backed by the US and Israel connecting the Kurdish homelands between the Iraqi Kurdistan and Eastern Mediterranean. (Asharq Al-Awsat )
Turkey fears that a Syrian Kurdistan will inexorably boost the separatist Kurdish insurgency on its territory. Iran fears that Kurdistan may turn out to be the playpen of American and Israeli intelligence for undertaking subversive activities against it. Equally, Iraq and Syria also stand to lose since the creation of a Kurdistan will be at the cost of their own national unity and territorial integrity. A convergence on the Kurdish problem brings together Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Indeed, for the first time in the Syrian civil war, government forces have begun attacking Kurds. Last week the US warned Damascus not to launch aerial attacks on the Syrian Kurdish militia on the specious plea that its Special Forces are ‘embedded’ with the Kurds. (Telegraph )
If Biden had hoped for a trade-off with Erdogan over the Turkish concerns regarding Kurds, the latter is literally showing the middle finger. The Euphrates Shield is a stark message to the US that Ankara no longer depends on American goodwill or help.
Erdogan is literally signalling to Biden, ‘No more waffling, Buddy, just send Fetullah Gulen back to us’. Now, that is putting Washington in a fix. Erdogan has repeatedly warned that he will take Gulen’s extradition as the litmus test of US intentions toward Turkey and the raison d’etre of the Turkish-American alliance itself. On the other hand, how can the US possibly allow the extradition of Gulen, who has been the CIA’s longstanding ‘strategic asset’ in Muslim countries?
Biden enjoys a fabulous reputation within America’s political class as wheeler dealer par excellence. His reputation faces an acid test through the coming 12 hours. He’s just about sitting down with the Sultan at Ak Saray (White Palace) — Erdogan’s 1000-room palace in the dark and lovely woods outside Ankara — for a ‘frank’ conversation.
Read today’s column by a dear old friend Ilnur Cevik, a noted Turkish editor, in the pro-government daily Sabah, entitled Welcome to the land of the brave, Mr. Biden.
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