Syrian opposition groups allied with Turkey and supported by Ankara’s forces, on Sunday drove Kurdish fighters from three settlements near the northern Syrian town of Jarabulus, a Kurdish source told Sputnik.
On Wednesday, Ankara announced that Turkish forces, backed by US-led coalition aircraft, had begun a military operation dubbed Euphrates Shield to clear Jarabulus of militants from the Islamic State jihadist group.
“Armed groups supported by Turkey have established control over the villages of Balaban, Amarna and Dabas, south of Jarabulus,” the source said.
The source added that Syrian opposition fighters supported by Ankara were fighting in the vicinity of the Bir Qusa village, with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the number of casualties already surpassing 40 people.
Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fighting a number of opposition factions and extremist groups.
Turkey has been shelling Kurdish militias in northern Syria along the Turkish border for months. Ankara has claimed that the Syrian Kurds have links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish authorities.
Syrian Kurdish forces have been among the bravest and most effective in the war against ISIS in Syria. However as things stand they may well also be on course to be the most treacherous.
Whether organized under the auspices of the PYD (People’s Protection Units) or SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) there is no doubting that the role played by the Kurds in northern Syria in first resisting and now taking the fight to ISIS will go down in history. But now as the Kurds continue their advance through Raqqa Province, closing in on Raqqa from the north, it is clear that with the backing of US military forces, they are intent on exploiting the chaos of the conflict to carve out their own autonomous territory of Rojava (Western Kurdistan) with Hasakah as its capital.
Syrian concerns over the Kurds’ intentions were initially raised in March, when at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan in Hasakah Province the Kurds and their allies unilaterally declared a northern autonomous federation, which understandably the Syrian government refused to accept or recognize. In January, two months prior to the declaration of said northern federation by the Kurds, US troops had taken control of an airfield just outside Rmeilan. It doesn’t take a genius to discern a connection between both.
Indeed there is something undeniably murky when it comes to the manner in which the Americans have developed a close military alliance with the Kurds over the past few months, even at the cost of incurring the extreme displeasure of their NATO ally Turkey. It suggests that in the Kurds and various other groups that make up the SDF, the Pentagon believes it has finally fastened onto the ‘third force’ it has been trying to cultivate within the conflict as a wedge between the Assad government and ISIS with an eye on asserting a military and geopolitical presence in the country beyond the current conflict.
In this respect, there is no reason to believe that regime change in Damascus is off Washington’s table, though as with Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1990-91 the willingness of the US to abandon the Kurds as and when it suits should give the Syrian Kurds pause for thought when it comes to trusting any promises or pledges of support that come gift-wrapped in an American accent now.
The Kurds, we know, are thanks to Sykes Picot the largest stateless people in the world, spread between four nations in the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, along with a wider Kurdish diaspora spread mostly across Europe. There is no accurate figure when it comes to the size of the Kurdish population, but it is thought to number anywhere between 20-30 million. That being said, it would be a mistake to consider them a homogenous group. How could they possibly be so after generations spent fragmented across different countries, regarded with suspicion and mistrust and experiencing regular bouts of repression in the process?
There are 2.5 million Kurds in Syria, predominately located in the north close to the border with Turkey, and in 2011 President Assad granted 300,000 of them citizenship, a gesture his opponents and detractors in the West dismissed as instrumentalist. Regardless, Syria remains a sovereign state and its people will not accept any of its territory being cleaved off in the context of a conflict in which over 60,000 Syrian soldiers and officers have lost their lives fighting to defend that sovereignty. Some of those Syrian soldiers and officers, as British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in February, were killed courtesy of the Kurds, when after the battle for the Mineq airbase in 2013 retreating Syrian soldiers and officers made it to Kurdish-held territory only to be handed over to the Nusra by the Kurds in exchange for Kurdish prisoners. The Syrian officers were separated from the soldiers and executed.
Though it has long ceased to matter in Washington, US ground forces operating in Syria without the prior consent of the country’s legitimate government constitutes a violation of the country’s sovereignty and does not bode well when it comes to trusting US motives going forward. Where Washington is concerned neither the Syrians or Iranians or Russians are under any illusions, of course, and will no doubt be prepared for any eventuality.
There is also the no small matter of Turkey’s determination to lump the Kurds in the same box with ISIS, thus adding another layer of intrigue to this unfolding drama. The notion that Ankara would stand by while something approximating to a Kurdish state is established on its border at any time, never mind at a time when it is engaged in a military campaign to crush the PKK, is delusional in the extreme.
It was the English poet William Blake who said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” The brave men and women of the YPG and SDF could do worse than bear the wisdom of those words in mind.
The Kurds throughout their history have revealed a proclivity for accepting the support of any imperial power to further their aims of a state of their own. This has been their mistake given that whatever imperialism gives with one hand it obliterates with the other.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1
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.
The US has pitted the Syrian Kurds against Damascus-led forces in the northeastern city of Hasakah in a bid not to lose regional influence should Turkey, Russia and Iran create an alliance to resolve the Syrian conflict, analyst and journalist Hüsnü Mahalli told Sputnik, adding that recent clashes are part of the West’s “geopolitical games.”
“Up until now Russia and Iran have helped to maintain cordial relations between the Syrian Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Damascus. The PYD made a mistake when it opted to cooperate with the US,” he said.
Kurdish militias, assisted by the US, have been trying to push radical groups, including Daesh and al-Nusra Front from northern Syria and secure the porous border with Turkey. At the same time, the Kurds have established a de-facto autonomy in the areas under their control.
Mahalli emphasized that any efforts on the part of the PYD and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to create an independent state will be a mistake that could not be undone.
“The Americans have repeatedly said that they have a Plan B for Syria. Perhaps, this is what they meant. I’m afraid that the US has decided to drag the Kurds into a large-scale bloodbath,” he added.
The standoff in Hasakah was sparked last week when the Kurdish forces tried to take the entire city under control, violating the ceasefire regime. The Kurds are reported to have captured large parts of government-held areas in Hasaka on Tuesday. The same day the YPG and Damascus-led forces agreed to halt fighting. The ceasefire came into force at 11:00 GMT.
The political analyst maintained that these events are part of a larger US plan for the region. “If the West is serious about its large-scale geopolitical games – and judging from what is happening in Hasakah, it is – then the situation is disturbing,” he said.
The clashes between the Kurdish militias and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took place at a time when a major stakeholder, Turkey, made a U-turn in its foreign policy.
Turkey recently improved relations with Russia and Iran. The two countries were swift in providing support to the Turkish authorities when a group of military officers tried to overthrow the government on July 15 despite the fact that they were on the opposing sides of the Syrian conflict. Ankara sponsored radical groups trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow and Tehran have tried to prevent Islamist from destroying the Arab country.
Turkish authorities are currently intent on repairing relations with Damascus.
The regional balance of power, according to Mahalli, will alter even further if the three nations decide to join their efforts to bring an end to the five years of violence in Syria. This will lead to what the analyst described as Washington’s “inevitable weakening.”
Mahalli further said that Turkey has found itself in the hot water. On the one hand, approximately 15-20 million Kurds live in Turkey. On the other hand, Ankara has become the target of Islamist terrorism even though the country supported radical groups fighting in Syria.
“The only right choice Turkey could make is to admit its mistakes and act decisively to overcome the deadlock. The Turkish leadership needs to act decisively. Should it wait for the outcome of the presidential election in the US, the implications could be hard to predict. My main concern is that Turkey will ultimately be shattered,” he noted.
In exceptionally assertive remarks on Saturday, Iranian Defence Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan said in Tehran that more numbers of Iranian military bases could be made available to Russia, depending on operational requirements, in addition to the use of the Hamadan air base by Russian bombers currently.
He added that there is no time limit set to the access given to Russian aircraft to operate out of Hamadan military base. Dehqan disclosed:
- Russian jets and bombers are free to undertake repairs and load ordnance in the Iranian base;
- Iran’s military cooperation with Russia in this respect is “strategic” in nature;
- The cooperation stems from a defence pact to upgrade military cooperation “so as to act in more harmony, particularly in the fight against terrorism”;
- The use of Iranian military bases by Russia is a topic that is beyond the purview of the Majlis (implying it is based on decision by the Supreme Leader);
- The Iran-Russia alliance aims to bring an early end to the Syrian conflict.
The big question will be whether an Iran-Russia mutual security alliance could be in the making – something akin to the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971.
A Moscow pundit Prof. Dmitry Yevstafyev tiptoed around the explosive theme in the weekend. He made the following key points in an opinion-piece that is presumably intended for the Western audience:
- There is “still no talk of a full-fledged military union” between Russia and Iran;
- However, the use of Hamadan is not a stand-alone event, either;
- Nor is it to be seen as a mere tactical tie-up with the narrow objective of liberating Aleppo;
- On the contrary, it rests on a solid foundation that has been laid carefully in political, military and economic terms in the Russian-Iranian relations through recent period, which in turn is predicated on a cool assessment by Moscow that the US-Iran ‘honeymoon’ has become a thing of the past;
- Russia and Iran have created together a “completely new context” in the region and aspire to be “decisive players”;
- Russia has signalled to Washington that: a) its partnership with Iran is a “strategic priority”; b) Moscow is no longer bound by US’ ‘red lines’ as regards strategic ties with Iran; c) if Hamadan tie-up is successful, “moves that will lead to an unprecedented convergence between Iran and Moscow are also possible in future”; and, d) Washington cannot stop Moscow in its tracks in the priority task of “destroying the Syrian opposition in Aleppo”;
- Russia’s tie-up with Iran has emboldened Beijing to shed its reticence and to move to “expand its assistance” to the Syrian regime with the intention to “participate in future political and economic processes”.
To my mind, the above is an accurate assessment of the trends that have surfaced. This can only mean that the balance of power in the Middle East is phenomenally shifting.
India needs to take serious note even as Minister of State MJ Akbar arrives today in Damascus on a rare visit by an Indian dignitary. (Where China goes, can India be far behind?)
To be sure, Moscow is moving speedily to create new facts on the ground before the next US president takes over the reins of the US’ Middle East policies. Moscow aims to bolster Iran’s defence capability to a point that a military strike on that country becomes a non-option for the US and/or Israel.
Conceivably, we cannot rule out that there would have been some discussions already between Moscow and Tehran regarding a mutual security alliance in the event of a military threat from a new US administration dominated by neoconservative ideologues (which could be the case in a Hillary Clinton presidency.)
Russia is speeding up the delivery of the S-300 missile system to Iran. Reports from Tehran say that the delivery will be completed within a month from now.
The Israeli military intelligence sources have been cited by Debka as claiming that Russia has deployed the formidable S-400 missile system as well in Hamadan. (Despite Iranian denials, this should not cause surprise since pictures show an unspecified number of Tu-22M3 strategic ‘Backfire’ bombers – capable of carrying nuclear missiles – and Su-34 strike fighters parked in the Hamadan air base; and it is inconceivable that a solid Russian air defence system is not deployed alongside.)
The import of the Russian-Iranian strategic congruence is sinking in regionally. Over the weekend, for the first time Syrian jets attacked Kurdish forces in northern Syria (which are protected by the US Special Forces) despite American warnings to stay clear. (Reuters )
Equally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu had a 5-hour meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in Tehran on August 18 to follow up on Zarif’s talks with the Turkish leadership in Ankara on August 12. Cavusoglu’s hurried trip to Tehran aimed at Turkish-Iranian coordination in the move against Kurds.
Ankara will be pleased with the prospect of Damascus taking on the Kurds, finally. In remarks Saturday in Ankara, Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim strongly hinted at Turkey moving on the ground to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan enclave in northern Syria (with tacit US backing). Turkey has shared interest in this regard with Tehran and Damascus.
If so, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus may find themselves on the same page sooner than one would have expected. Moscow cannot but be pleased with this prospect.(Sputnik )
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has lashed out at NATO, saying the alliance is not fully cooperating with Ankara. In an interview with Sputnik, he hinted that Turkey would consider military cooperation with Russia.
Cavusoglu says that Ankara has become alarmed at the lack of willingness shown by NATO to cooperate with Turkey, which is a member of the alliance.
“It seems to us that NATO members behave in an evasive fashion on issues such as the exchange of technology and joint investments. Turkey intends to develop its own defense industry and strengthen its defense system,” he said in an interview with Sputnik.
“In this sense, if Russia were to treat this with interest, we are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in this sector,” Cavusoglu said when asked about the possibility of working with Russia in the defense sphere.
It is Cavusoglu’s strongest rebuke of NATO to date. In an interview with the Anadolu news agency on August 10, he said that Turkey and Russia would look to establish a joint military, intelligence, and diplomatic mechanism, while adding that relations with NATO were not as satisfactory as he would have wished.
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” he said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO,” he told Anadolu.
Meanwhile, a week ago, the Turkish ambassador to Russia, Umit Yardim, said NATO has no right to dictate foreign policy to Ankara.
“In no way can NATO limit our contacts with other countries… It means NATO has no right to dictate its terms and tell us who we should or should not meet and communicate with,” Yardim said on August 11, as cited by RIA Novosti.
The warming of relations between Turkey and Russia, which were previously at a low after a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November, has led to apprehension in the West.
Cavusoglu also previously pointed out that there is growing resentment in Turkey due to a perception that the EU and US have only been giving mild support to Ankara in the wake of the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15.
Turkey has been incensed by the US’ refusal to hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes organized the attempted coup.
The Turkish government wants Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, to be extradited to face trial at home, but Washington has repeatedly refused. The US says it needs clear evidence that there was a link between Gulen and the attempted coup before it will consider complying with Turkey’s request.
Speaking to Sputnik, Cavusoglu accused the West of treating Turkey and Russia like “second class countries” simply because they did not see eye-to-eye.
“They consider Russia and Turkey to be second class countries, and they are outraged that these second class countries dare to criticize them… Therefore, faced with the straightforwardness and resilience of Erdogan and [President Vladimir] Putin, they feel very worried and anxious,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu’s criticism was not restricted to NATO, as he launched a broadside towards the West, saying it was largely responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
“Look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he told Sputnik. “They were always threatening the country and forcing it to make a choice between them and Russia. They were saying, ‘you will either be with us or with Russia.’ This course of action is futile. What is happening in Ukraine is a reflection of the main problems in the region.”
In contrast, the Turkish diplomat says that Ankara wants peace around the Black Sea region and does not want it to become an epicenter for tension. He called on all parties to try and find a peaceful resolution and said there needed to be greater dialogue between Russia and NATO.
“There should be no threats emerging in the region for anyone, for Turkey, for Russia or for anyone else,” Cavusoglu said.
According to the minister, the need for dialogue with Russia was apparent at the last NATO summit. “In my opinion, all existing issues should be overcome through establishing dialogue,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing to take a high-profile trip to Tehran next week in a move seen by mainstream Arab media as the official launchpad for kickstarting the Turkey-Iran-Russia coalition on Syria.
Erdogan made a half-a-day trip to Russia after the recent coup in Turkey to meet and hold negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg. Their talks were mainly focused on finding a way to end the war in Syria while both countries have set up a joint commission to implement the results of their talks.
“Given the reports claiming that Erdogan had come to Iran the night of coup and then returned to Turkey after its failure, the Turkish president’s visit to Tehran is highly important in establishing new relations between Tehran and Ankara,” Arabic language al-Hayat newspaper said in a report, according to Fars news agency.
Sources told al-Hayat daily that a trilateral meeting, consisting of the Iranian, Turkish and Russian officials, is due to be held to confer on ways to terminate the Syria war, adding that part of Erdogan’s trip to Tehran will be focused on this issue.
Also, the London-based al-Arab daily referred to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent visit to Turkey, and said the trip was made within the framework of the goals pursued by Erdogan during his visit to Moscow.
According to al-Arab, the triangle of Iran-Turkey-Russia is forming an international coalition to confront the West.
The daily underlined that Zarif’s trip showed that rapid and important developments are being formed in the region which will marginalize the Arab states.
Al-Arab quoted analysts as saying that the Arabs’ foreign policy, specially on Syria, has failed deeply.
After the Turkish prime minister said it’s time for his country to improve ties with Damascus, top diplomats in Tehran said that Ankara is likely to initiate a major shift in policy on Syria and move to ally with Iran and Russia.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim suggested a three-pronged road map for a solution to the five-year-old war in Syria, which has not only affected neighboring countries but also many parts of the world with the flight of more than 4 million refugees.
Stating that he was optimistic that a solution was at hand due to the changing nature of Turkish foreign policy, in which Ankara aims to make more friends and decrease its number of enemies, Yildirim said the time had come for Turkey to mend relations with Syria.
He added that Turkey would overcome the Syrian problem together with the regional actors.
After his remarks, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hussein Jaberi Ansari said that Turkey will be invited to join Iran and Russia’s efforts to bring stability to Syria.
Addressing reporters in a press conference with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Bogdanov, Jaberi Ansari said that Turkey was an important country and influential in the Syrian crisis.
“The Iranian and Turkish officials agreed to continue talks in implementation of bilateral agreements in detail; we will soon send an invitation to Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Umit Yalcın and alternatively, I will pay a visit to Ankara to talk about the regional issues in detail,” he added.
Jaberi Ansari expressed the hope that new developments in the region would help the establishment of new grounds for Iran, Russia and Turkey to act in coordination to end the stalemate and humanitarian crisis in Syria, especially in Aleppo.
The Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif had earlier this month visited Turkey.
In remarks made upon his arrival in Ankara, Zarif said, “Iran, Russia, and Turkey are considered important players in the region, and they need to engage in dialogue and cooperation.”
Pointing to the failed coup bid in Turkey, Zarif said, “We believe that the era of bullying and coups is over and such things no longer have a place in our region. People’s choice and will cannot be suppressed by a military group.”
During his one-day visit to Ankara, Zarif also met with President Erdogan.
Also, Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation on Thursday discussed bilateral ties and the latest developments in Syria.
In the phone talks, the Iranian and Russian foreign ministers exchanged views on the latest developments in the region, specially Syria.
The two sides called for resolving the regional crises through political means.
The reported remarks Monday by Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim regarding a 3-step road map for ending the Syrian conflict would be the latest indication that Ankara is tiptoeing toward restoring Turkish-Syrian relations at the diplomatic and political level.
Yildirim’s road map envisages future Syria to be a unitary state that has an inclusive political system with constitutional safeguards that prevent domination by any sectarian, ethnic or regional groups. Its constructive ambiguity over the core issue of the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad is absolutely delightful. It abandons the pre-condition that President Assad should step down in any transition.
Yildirim instead leaves it to the Syrian electorate’s majority will to decide on Assad’s political future. He thinks Assad may not get a popular mandate, but then, he won’t deny Assad the right to seek one, either. Now, isn’t that a leap of faith? (Hurriyet )
To be sure, with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement in hand and a new-found rapport with Iran in the air, President Recep Erdogan is preparing to address the Syrian question, which is the root cause of the instability in Turkey. (See my recent articles in Asia Times Putin, Erdogan have a deal on Syria and Iran taps into Turkish-Russian reset.)
The road map suggested by Ildirim means that Turkey seeks convergence with the Russian and Iranian stance. Ildirim didn’t say so as many words, but implied that Turkey is abandoning the ‘regime change’ project in Syria. There are signs that Turkey is rolling back its support for the rebel groups fighting the Syrian government forces.
Unsurprisingly, there is a sense of urgency on the part of Turkey against the backdrop of the capture of Manjib from the control of the Islamic State in the weekend by the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) with the support of US Special Forces and air cover. (Associated Press )
Turkey had sought and obtained an assurance from the US in May that the Syrian Kurds will not be allowed to occupy Manjib and will be asked to leave the town after defeating the IS. However, much water has flown through the Bosphorous since then. US-Turkish relations have come under great stress following the coup of July 15. Suffice it to say, Turkey will be anxiously watching whether Washington will keep its word in the changed circumstances.
Indeed, the reports from Manjib should be highly worrisome for Turkey since the Syrian Kurds are now planning another military campaign to move further westward toward Al Bab, an important city in northern Syria, which will mean a significant expansion of their influence in the regions adjacent to the Turkish border. It would appear that the US is backing the Syrian Kurds in the new offensive on Al Bab. (VOA)
If so, Ankara’s worst fears seem to be coming true. A commentary by Deutsche Welle says that the Syrian Kurds are creating new “facts on the ground”. (German intelligence is active among Kurds.) The following excerpts suggest that the Syrian Kurds with US backing may be creating a fait accompli for Turkey:
- The SDF’s growing political and military clout is likely to further enrage neighboring Turkey, which views the YPG (Syrian Kurds) as a terrorist group because of its close relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly had its redlines crossed by the Syrian Kurds and the United States. The latest iteration is in Manbij, where first the SDF crossed the Euphrates, thereby crossing one “redline,” then again when the YPG led the recapture of the city. This appears to have broken a reported understanding between Ankara and Washington that Arab forces would take the lead in Manbij.
- The Syrian Kurds’ ultimate goal is to clear IS-controlled ground to the west of Manbij in order to unite their territories in the northeast, the so-called cantons of Kobani and Jazira, with Afrin… Uniting the cantons would give the Kurds an uninterrupted stretch of territory along the Turkish border, a prospect that the Syrian regime and Russia could welcome, as it would also weaken the rebel groups they are fighting. The question remains whether the United States will go along with an SDF offensive to unite the cantons and equally important, Turkey’s response to the prospect of a contiguous Kurdish mini state on its border and what that would mean for any future political solution in the country. (Deutche Welle )
Clearly, Yildirim’s accent on Turkey remaining a unitary state under any settlement needs to be put in the above perspective. Turkey will be dependent on Russia and Iran to prevent the emergence of a Kurdistan straddling its border regions with Syria.
On the other hand, Turkey also cannot antagonize Washington, since it is the US which is active on the ground in northern Syria and is equipping and helping the Syrian Kurds in their military campaign. Turkish Foreign Minister Mavlut Cavusoglu publicly demanded on Monday that the US should keep its word and have the Syrian Kurds vacate the regions to the west of Euphrates (which is Ankara’s ‘red line).
It is possible to see a degree of testiness in Cavusoglu’s words: “The U.S., even President [Barack] Obama, assured Turkey that the PYD (Syrian Kurds) would return to east of the Euphrates River after Manbij’s liberation. We expect them to keep their word.” (Anadolu )
Simply put, yet another fault line is appearing in US-Turkish relations in the run-up to the visit by US Vice-president Joe Biden to Ankara on August 24. Of course, Turkey holds a trump card insofar as the US operations in Syria are largely conducted from the Incirlik air base. But it will play the Incirlik card only if push comes to shove.
Russia and Turkey massively upgrade their cooperation – however, agree to differ over Syria.
As is frequently the case the most information about what Putin and Erdogan discussed and agreed with each other came out of their joint news conference. The Kremlin has provided a transcript.
Putin and Erdogan both said that they had not discussed Syria prior to the news conference and that their discussion about Syria would take place after.
This could be for any of various reasons: that restoring their bilateral relations was the bigger priority with the contentious issue of Syria being put off till later; that Putin and Erdogan did not want to spoil the mood at the press conference by revealing how far apart they still are on this issue; or that the discussions they were about to have on Syria touched on such sensitive topics that they did not want to be questioned and reveal information about them at the news conference. Probably all of these reasons were in play.
Both Putin and Erdogan did say at the press conference that their positions on Syria remain far apart. In an interview with TASS on the eve of the visit, Erdogan however showed no shift in his longstanding positions on the Syrian conflict. For example, he continued to insist that President Assad had to go: “We don’t want Syria’s disintegration, but the departure of Bashar Assad who is guilty for the deaths of 600,000 people. This is the condition for preventing this scenario. Syria’s unity cannot be kept with Assad. And we cannot support a murderer who has committed acts of state terror.”
In a point that will be particularly contentious for the Russians (and one presumes for some people in the U.S.), he even denied that Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation despite its connection to Al-Qaeda: “Considering that the al-Nusra front is also fighting against the Islamic State, it should not be considered as a terrorist organisation either. This is an incorrect approach.”
Other comments Erdogan made during the TASS interview strongly suggest that it was he who was ultimately behind the recent Jabhat Al-Nusra announcement that it was distancing itself from Al-Qaeda.
In a recent post, the Moon of Alabama expresses bafflement that despite the Turkish rapprochement with Russia that has taken place since the coup attempt, there is no evidence of any slackening of Turkish support for the rebels in Syria. On the contrary, it seems that in connection with the fighting in Aleppo that support has, if anything, been stepped up. The Moon of Alabama speculates implausibly that this is being done by the CIA on Turkish territory contrary to Erdogan’s wishes.
The true position is, as I have said previously, Erdogan has invested too much in supporting the rebellion in Syria over too long a time to make it possible for him to change course. Were he to try to do so, he would expose himself to criticism in Turkey from many of his own supporters that he was selling out to the Russians. He would also risk a violent reaction from the many Jihadist fighters currently in Turkey, which at a time when the Turkish security forces are at their most disorganised following the coup would be highly dangerous. Beyond that, there is the fact that Erdogan is almost certainly sincere about his Syrian policy. His comments to TASS suggest as much, as do his actions on the ground.
The truth is what I said before: what we are seeing between Turkey and Russia is a strictly limited rapprochement, not a fundamental realignment. The two countries have moved closer to each other and are developing their political and economic relations at a blistering pace. However, there will be no switch in alliances, and on the question of Syria they fundamentally differ and continue to support opposing camps. The leaderships of both countries understand this perfectly well but are not prepared to hold the improvement of their mutual relations hostage to the situation in Syria.
On one question related to Syria there may, however be progress. Erdogan’s interview with TASS shows that he is still seething at Russian allegations made earlier this year that members of his family were involved in illegal trading with ISIS:
I had earlier been told that these facts also pointed to Turkey. I asked for the relevant evidence to be demonstrated. However, no one could prove it to me. Nothing of this kind can be found with regard to Turkey. They also tried to entangle my family in this. I said, prove it, I’ll leave my post if you demonstrate the relevant evidence. I turned to those who conjured up these insinuations and asked them about whether they would leave their posts if no evidence was found. Silence followed.
His comments to TASS suggest that Erdogan might be prepared to work with the Russians to destroy ISIS. However, the extent of that cooperation is for the moment difficult to gauge. It is unlikely to involve Russian aircraft operating from Incirlik.
As anticipated, there does appear to have been some discussion during the summit of the Russians and the Turks working together on a joint plan to end the war in Syria. In his interview with TASS, Erdogan hinted as much, also confirming that against U.S. and Saudi opposition he is also prepared to involve Iran in this plan:
Russia is fundamentally the key and most important player in establishing peace in Syria. I believe it is necessary to solve this crisis with the help of mutual action by Russia and Turkey. If the talk is about widening the circle of participants, then I already told my dear friend Vladimir [Putin] earlier: if necessary, we’ll also involve Iran in the effort. We can invite Qatar, Saudi Arabia and America. In this regard, we can form a wide circle of participants. If not, then the Russian Federation and Turkey given our common 950-km border with Syria, can take some steps, without violating Syria’s sovereignty.
However, given the differences between the Russians and the Turks over the future of President Assad and the status of Jabhat Al-Nusra, it is difficult to see at the moment how they could agree a joint position on Syria that they would be able to take forward in order to achieve a settlement of the conflict there. Doubtless the discussions between Putin and Erdogan after the press conference touched on this question. However, given the size of the gap between the two sides, it will take a long time for any consensus on the way forward between them to emerge. Most probably, it will be the situation on the ground that will decide the issue first.
The Turkish coup
Both in the press conference and in his interview with TASS, Erdogan again went out of his way to accuse the Gulen movement of being behind the recent coup attempt. I have previously speculated that Erdogan’s constant references to the Gulen movement are intended to signal that the U.S. (where Gulen is based) was somehow implicated in the coup. Nothing Erdogan said in either the press conference or the TASS interview refutes that speculation. He notably failed to say that the U.S. was not involved in the coup, or that the U.S. is Turkey’s ally and friend. On the contrary, in the TASS interview he appeared to criticise the U.S. for its foot-dragging in handing over Gulen:
In reality, even though we have demanded this man’s extradition. They say if you regard this man as a terrorist, then send us the documents. We will study them first and then take measures in accordance with U.S. legislation. True, there are some documents we had sent them before. By now, we’ve sent 85 boxfuls of paperwork on this case. In the near future, the Turkish justice minister, foreign minister, special envoy and a number of prosecutors and judges who were in charge of this matter will go to the United States and brief the American authorities in person.
By contrast, Erdogan went out of his way to thank his “friend Putin” and Russia for their support during the coup. What is more than a little strange about this however is that Erdogan does not really explain what that support was. Instead, he constantly refers to a telephone call he had from Putin the day after the coup, which he says gave Turkey “psychological support”. By that point, however, the coup had visibly failed, making it difficult to see why Erdogan should attach so much importance to this call.
The true reason for Erdogan’s gratitude to Putin and Russia is probably touched on in his comments to TASS about the reports of a Russian tip-off to Turkish intelligence warning of the coup:
This is the first time that I have heard such a thing. Even if it had really been so, those concerned would have been obliged to inform me first thing. I received no such information, not from intelligence, nor through any other channels. We don’t know who said what and to whom. I believe that this is a groundless rumour.
As I have said before, the Russians will never confirm that there was a tip-off, even if there was one, and for that reason neither will the Turks. Note, however, that Erdogan’s comments about the tip-off to TASS are very far from a denial. Instead, we are asked to believe that Erdogan of all people “doesn’t know who said what to whom” and that “this is the first time that I have heard of such a thing” despite the story being all over the Middle East media for weeks. As I have discussed previously, this looks very much like an agreed position reached by the Russians and the Turks not to deny the tip-off but to pretend to no knowledge of it. That makes it a virtual certainty the report of the tip-off is true.
Turk Stream and South Stream gas pipelines, nuclear cooperation, etc
As I discussed previously, these proved the least contentious issues, allowing for rapid progress. There is also talk of the Russians granting the Turks visa free access or at least simplified visa access to Russia.
Two points can be made briefly. Firstly, it is clear that it is the Turks rather than the Russians who are the main drivers behind both Turk Stream and the nuclear power agreement. Putin confirmed that the Turks continued to do preparatory work on Turk Stream even during the crisis in relations following the SU24 shoot-down in November. Secondly, it is clear that contrary to some reports, the Russians are not prepared to revive South Stream and that their opposition to the EU’s Third Energy Package remains as strong as ever. On the contrary, Putin made it clear that the Russians will not participate in any pipeline project that could be construed as their agreeing to the EU’s Third Energy Package. Moreover, Putin made it quite clear that he sees the U.S. (whom he referred to as “a third party”) as being behind the Third Energy Package and all the problems that exist in relation to Russia’s EU pipeline projects:
We have never politicised economic cooperation. In proposing the South Stream project initially, we assumed that our gas would go directly to EU consumers in southern Europe. However, at first the European Parliament made a decision that prevented the implementation of this project and then the European Commission sent a letter to the Bulgarian Government demanding that preparations for it stop, and ultimately we did not receive the permission of the Bulgarian authorities to enter Bulgarian territory.
Yes, now we see that Bulgaria would like to resume this project, but we incurred some losses due to the refusal of our European partners to carry out this project. So now we will not settle for just intentions and need absolutely rock solid legal guarantees. They have not been forthcoming. Initially, we regarded the Turkish Stream not even as an alternative to the South Stream but as an opportunity to expand our gas cooperation both with Turkey and Europe as a whole. One part of the Turkish Stream was designed exclusively for Turkey’s domestic consumers, given the growing economy of the Republic of Turkey. This is how we discussed the issue today. This part is beyond any doubt and its implementation may be launched very soon.
The second part related to routing our energy to Europe depends, of course, on a third party [emphasis added]. We should work out these issues with European countries and the European Commission in Brussels. Together with our Turkish partners and friends, we are prepared to work toward this, but again we need to have an agreement with all the participants.
In summary, the Putin – Erdogan summit went much as predicted. There is now a strong rapprochement underway between the two countries. This goes well beyond a mere detente, which is a relaxation of tensions. On the contrary, the leaders of the two countries now publicly call each other “friends”. It is not, however, a reversal of alliances. Turkey remains a member of NATO and an ally of the U.S.
In my opinion, this actually suits the Russians much better, at least for the moment. They surely know that an outright attempt to detach Turkey from NATO is for the moment impossible and might actually cause Turkey to become destabilised, which is absolutely not in their interests. However, at a time of heightened East-West tensions, they now have the leader of a key NATO state with NATO’s second biggest army calling their leader a “friend”. Sometimes it is more useful to have a friend in the enemy’s camp than a doubtful and unstable ally in one’s own. That is the situation which through a combination of skill and good luck the Russians have now manoeuvred themselves into.
The meeting that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Saint Petersburg has literally attracted the same amount of media attention as the Rio Olympics.
Erdogan arrived to Saint Petersburg in the afternoon hours of August 9 and the initial talks were immediately followed by negotiations with various ministers and a press conference, after which the two leaders met with the representatives of Russian and Turkish business circles.
The meeting had more than 200 media people accredited that crowded the massive press center that was provided to them. Turkish media called it a “massive surprise” that Erdogan brought a number of ministers along with him, including Minister of Tourism and Culture of Turkey Nabi Avci, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Faruk Çelik, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Mehmet Simsek. Erdogan has also been accompanied by the head of National intelligence organization Hakan Fidan, whose presence in the delegation Turkish media sources described as “truly unexpected.”
However, even before Erdogan’s plane touchdowned in Saint Petersburg, various media sources rushed to provide their assessment of the meeting.
In Turkey, all newspapers and sites without exception emphasized the importance of this visit for the further development of the Turkish economy, that suffered a massive blow once Russia introduced travel and trading restrictions in the aftermath of the downing of Russia’s Su-24 over Syria. Journalists have been expressing the hopes of a stable union of the two states being reestablished along with the fruitful cooperation in regional security matters getting a new start, including the fight against terrorism, extremism and organized crime.
Certain analysts stressed the fact that the meeting between Erdogan and Putin is a new milestone in the struggle between the Atlantic and Eurasia. It is important not only in terms of the future of the Turkish-Russian relations, but also in terms of building the international system, the formation of a new world focused on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia. Those analysts are convinced that the West is terrified by the prospects of Turkey abandoning all cooperation with the US, the EU and NATO and becoming a part of another block of international players.
According to the German magazine Spiegel, what we’re witnessing is a stressful development for the West, since Erdogan has been criticizing Berlin, Vienna and Washington on the daily basis since the failed coup took place, but he’s been speaking highly of Moscow, while referring to Putin as “my dear friend Vladimir.”
The Turkish media source Haber7 has been pretty vocal in criticizing NATO and its states. It would note that NATO is a bag of snakes, a gang of bandits created in the name of protecting Washington’s interests. The North Atlantic Alliance has been used by the West to suppress weaker states of Asia, Africa, South America, in a bid to make obedient servants out of them. NATO is the main sponsor and mastermind behind revolutions and armed coups in Muslim countries and the countries of the third world. Haber7 notes that unless Turkey and the Islamic countries create their own defense organization, they would be unable to evade the pressure, the threats, and the meddling of NATO’s forces of evil. There is no Communist threat, no Soviet Union anymore, the media source argues, but what is the reason then for NATO’s existence?
The change of Turkey’s standing in its relations with the West has been noted by Tayyip Erdogan in his interview with the French Le Monde. Turkey’s President noted that instead of solidarity with Turkey, instead defending the democratic principles, the West chose to leave Ankara alone. He stated that Turkey is saddened by the fact that John Kerry arrived to Ankara 45 days after the failed coup, which means that Washington has abandoned its strategic ally.
The Financial Times, in its turn, would stress the fact that a few hours after the visit of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford to Turkey, Erdogan made the harsh statement that shocked the West, when he stated that there’s no way the US could be Turkey’s strategic partner, if it fails to extradite the man that is acting against Turkey’s interests.
The German Focus notes that the pact of friendship between Putin and Erdogan can seriously shift the balance of powers in the world. Should Turkey side with Russia on all matters, the West will be crashed. German journalists that the United States won’t be able to stomach this fact. For instance, the Wall Street Journal notes that the restoration of bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia, take Erdogan and Putin further away from the West.
Following the talks, the two president adopted a number of decisions aimed at facilitating the development of bilateral relations, in particular on the preparation of the medium-term program of economic, scientific and technical cooperation until 2019. The construction of the first string of the “Turkish stream” pipeline may begin in the near future too.
There’s no doubt that the meeting between Erdogan and Putin will bring the two states closer together, even though the West has been terrified by the possibility of this development all along. And the reason for that was the short-sighted Western policies of pursuing confrontation along with the neglect Washington has shown to both Turkey and Russia.
Deputy Chairman of the Center-Left Republican People’s Party (CHP) Namik Havutca argues that the base that stores 90 US tactical nuclear weapons “makes enemies of friendly countries and poses a threat to Turkey’s internal stability.
In the wake of the failed attempt to overthrow the Erdogan government on July 15 and the ensuing purge that has led to over 18,000 military servicemen and judges being rounded up and imprisoned on charges of treason, yet another Turkish leader has stepped forward calling on the country to step back from its alliance with NATO forces who top Erdogan regime officials accuse of being complicit in the botched coup.
The Deputy Chairman of Turkey’s Center-Left Republican People’s Party has called for the immediate eviction of all foreign aircraft, tools and materials from the country and said that Incirlik Air Base should be shuttered.
“Incirlik Air Base has added nothing but instability and fragmentation to Turkey and the region,” said Havutca. The lawmaker went on to say that the NATO base failed to stand by the Turkish people at a time when their blood was being spilled and the nation was in tears.
The lawmaker said that Incirlik Air Base poses a threat to the country, both internally and externally calling it responsible for “multiplying our enemies and turning our friends into enemies of the state.”
The politician has pushed forward a proposal titled “Incirlik Get Out” and calls on his colleagues in the parliament to support the measure in order to put an end to the military facility that he calls a “virus” that eats away at the Middle East.
Finally, Havutca alleges that the NATO base “served the purpose of providing logical support to the organization in the coup attempt.”
The strong words mirror recent anti-American protests near the base including a demonstration one week ago where 5,000 protesters screaming “death to the US” were trailed by vehicles and demanded that Incirlik Air Base be shutdown.
The agitation of the Turkish people also comes amid numerous claims by the Erdogan regime that the CIA, FBI, and a top US General John F. Campbell were all really the masterminds of the coup whereas the regime’s nemesis-in-chief Fethullah Gulen was called nothing but a “pawn” by the Turkish President.
The reported statement by former Israeli minister Diaspora Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior that Saudi Arabia will open its doors to Israeli visitors “much sooner than you dream about” will not come as surprise. To be sure, a critical mass is developing in the secretive Saudi-Israeli intercourse.
The Saudi regime has been chary about links with Israel for fear of annoying the ‘Arab Street’, whereas, Israel has been all along eager to flaunt the breach in the Berlin Wall of Arab-Israeli conflict. But Saudis seem to estimate that the time has come to be open about the relationship.
The point is, if the raison d’etre of the dalliance is the ‘containment’ of Iran, it is resource-sharing. An open relationship is needed to optimally develop security and military cooperation. The Custodian of Holy Places seems to think the Muslim world will learn to live with his country’s strategic cooperation with Israel.
Well, the Palestine issue no longer poses hurdles, either. Arab Spring, conflicts in Syria and Iraq, military coup in Egypt, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, breakdown in Iran’s ties with Hamas, Islamic State – all these have relegated the Palestine issue to the backburner. Besides, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is on a tight American and Saudi leash. Abbas even received in Ramallah recently a Saudi delegation led by former general Anwar Majed Eshki who visited Jerusalem and met senior Israeli officials, including the head of the foreign ministry Dore Gold.
Again, Saudi Arabia’s keen interest in taking possession of two Red Sea islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – needs to be understood as a move to be Israel’s ‘neighbor’. Sanafir and Tiran sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access Red Sea. King Salman personally camped in Cairo in April to persuade Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to transfer the two islands in lieu of a seductive multi-billion dollar offer to Sisi.
Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are making haste to position themselves for a new phase of the Middle East’s politics in the post-Barack Obama era. They expect Hillary Clinton to pick up the threads where George W. Bush left them — a muscular regional policy involving switch back to containment of Iran and resuscitation of the pivotal relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is willing to reconcile with the Iran nuclear deal. They are doing everything possible, no matter what it takes, to see that the deal gets derailed. On Saturday, Israeli Defence Ministry issued a harshly-worded statement slamming Obama and comparing the Iran deal with the 1938 Munich agreement to appease Hitler. (Jerusalem Post )
Equally, Saudis and Israelis have convergent interests in regard to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq — supporting extremist Sunni groups, promoting the Kurdistan project, creation of ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian and Iraqi territory, and ultimately, entrapping Iran in a quagmire that will exhaust the regime.
The Saudi-Israeli strategic regional realignment is something that Washington historically encouraged. It is just the underpinning needed for creating a regional security architecture supported by the NATO’s network of partnerships with the GCC states under the canopy of a US missile shield.
Alas, Turkey too could have been a key partner in this enterprise, but for the failure of the July 15 coup. Israel looked distressed when it transpired that the coup failed. As for Saudi Arabia, it probably played a role in the failed coup. (Sputnik )
Without doubt, it is against a complex backdrop that the recent reports regarding Israel and Pakistan taking part in a major air exercise hosted by the US also needs to be viewed. Neither Islamabad nor Tel Avi has denied the reports. Of course, the US always encouraged a Pak-Israeli proximity. Now, the big question is: With Saudi Arabia establishing ties with Israel, can Pakistan be far behind? (Times of Israel )
From the Israeli, Saudi and American perspective, it is of utmost importance that Pakistan aligns with Saudi Arabia instead of remaining neutral in regard of Iran’s rise. Pakistan’s role is crucial to any major plans of destabilization of Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia pretended until recently that they have a special thing going with Moscow, too, with a view to create ‘strategic ambiguity’. Moscow played along, while making a strategic decision that Iran is its ‘natural ally’ in the Middle East. This is perfectly understandable, because in the ultimate analysis, Israel and Saudi Arabia are bit players only, while Iran (or Turkey for that matter) is an authentic regional power credited with a world view.
It is possible to see the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran trilateral summit in Baku on Monday as a strategic counter-move by Moscow and Tehran.
The proposed North-South Transport Corridor is admittedly an old idea with a pronounced economic dimension, but in the present context, an access route for Russia to the Persian Gulf and Middle East via Iran’s territory becomes a geopolitical event of far-reaching significance in the regional alignment that is under way. (See my blog China’s One Belt One Road isn’t only show in town.)