A recently declassified CIA document prepared in 1983, and released on 20 January 2017, shows that the United States had at the time encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Syria, which would have led to a vicious conflict between the two countries, thus draining their resources.
The report, which was then prepared by CIA officer Graham Fuller, indicates that the US tried adamantly to convince Saddam to attack Syria under any pretense available, in order to get the two most powerful countries in the Arab East to destroy each other, turning their attention away from the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And since Saddam was already knee-deep in a bloody war against Iran, he needed to be incentivized and encouraged by American client states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, who offered to fund such a war in order to deal a deadly blow to the growing Syrian power in the region.
Hence, the US provided modern technology to Saddam in order to close the ring of threats around Syria, in addition to Jordan, Turkey, and Israel. The report expected that such pressures from three fronts, possibly more, would force Syria to give concessions in the struggle with Israel. And the report asserts that it was of utmost importance to convince Saddam to play along this scenario, because it would have divided the Arab line and distracted attention from the American-Israeli role in this scheme.
Therefore, the United States worked to achieve a substantial consensus among its client Arab states to support Saddam in such a move. Israeli policy at the time welcomed the idea of creating tensions along Syria’s borders with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, because Israel saw Syria as it biggest problem and not Saddam.
Three decades earlier, a colonial alliance was formed during the Cold War, the so-called Baghdad Pact, which included Turkey, the Shah’s Iran, and British-controlled Iraq, with support from the Gulf States. The alliance was geared against Jamal Abdul Nasser, and aimed at stopping the Nationalist wave sweeping Arab countries, and to also halt Egypt’s support for liberation movements in Africa and Asia. But the 1958 revolution in Iraq ended this alliance, and this was followed by Syria and Egypt merging into the United Arab Republic, which Iraq intended to join, but this tripartite unity never materialized.
It is noteworthy that Turkey was always an enemy of Arab Nationalism, especially in Syria and Iraq, and this tendency is still there until today, because Turkey never forgave the Arabs’ for their role in the collapse of the Ottoman empire, and never accepted the loss of its Arab colonies.
Reading through history, it also shows the naivety of Saudi and Gulf rulers in dealing with their issues, and their superficial reading of events.
If we go back to Nasser’s speeches in 1962 and 1963, in which he gave ample rebuttal against Arab reactionaries, especially its inability to stand up for Palestine, because they get their weapons from the same supplier as Israel, and therefore they were forced to stand alongside Israel and host American military bases.
The Gulf States, were in a real and established alliance with Israel, which was secret at first, before it became an open alliance today.
Juxtaposing this history with recent events, one can’t help but notice a clear pattern. Today, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are once more joining the US and Israel in an alliance to prolong the six-year-old ongoing war against Syria, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and the Arab Nations, in order to destroy their infrastructures, economies, armies, institutions, civilizational heritage, and cultural identity.
Under American pressure, Arab rulers either participate in secret or stand idly by during the Arab Spring War. Erdogan’s Ottoman Turkey is building a close alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, with American and Israeli support, in order to prolong the war against Syria under the pretense of isolating and weakening Iraq [Iran?].
But the real American-Israeli objective is destroying all Arabs, including those who walk the American line and finance American wars.
We can conclude that the tools used against Arabs since the 1950s remain the same. These tools are Arab States loyal to America and Israel, whether in secret or in public, and at every historical juncture, new schemes are contrived to destroy Arab civilization and drain Arab resources in order to weaken all Arabs, both resistors and collaborators. And even though the Arab reaction against the Baghdad Pact was good in theory, and led to a closer union between Syria and Egypt, the right mechanisms, however, were never put in place in order to ensure the viability and continuity of this union.
Arabs always lose time, they’ve been suffering for the past seventy years from reactionary forces’ loyalty to the Nation’s enemies, conspiring with them, hosting their military bases, and financing their wars against Arabs. Nonetheless, no opposing Arab movement that would construct an alternative to the Zionist-Turkish reactionary project has ever emerged. How many times do events have to prove that the West and Israel are implementing their schemes through operatives such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called oppositions?
Today, what is needed, is to establish a strong Arab alliance on solid foundations and modern mechanisms, which at times we have to learn from our enemies.
Today, Erdogan, Israel, and the US deplete Gulf money in order to finance the terrorist war against Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Egypt, in the same way the West and its Arab clients encouraged Saddam to continue the war against Iran, in what was then called “dual containment,” with the hope of weakening both Iraq and Iran.
The end result, however, was the destruction and later occupation of Iraq, while Iran became a nuclear [energy] power. Arabs, therefore, must stand side-by-side and prepare for a long war, the schemes of which might be revealed three decades from now, possibly more!
Dr Bouthaina Shaaban is a Political and Media Advisor to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Turkey has decided to pick up a quarrel with Iran. It all began with President Recep Erdogan’s sudden outburst on February 14 in the first leg of a regional tour of Gulf States – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — when he said, “Some people want both Iraq and Syria to be divided. There are some that are working hard to divide Iraq. There is a sectarian struggle, a Persian nationalism at work there. This Persian nationalism is trying to divide the country. We need to block this effort.”
Tehran hit back by accusing Turkey of supporting terrorist organizations “to destabilize neighbouring countries.” And there has been much back and forth in mutual recriminations since then. The spat makes a mockery of the “trilateral alliance” between Russia, Turkey and Iran that Moscow has been promoting at the recent Astana talks on Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry had announced as recently as February 16 that Russia, Turkey and Iran have formed a tripartite operational group to stabilize the ceasefire in Syria. The most puzzling aspect is that this is happening just when the Syrian peace talks began in Geneva today under UN auspices.
But then, there is always a method in Erdogan’s madness. Succinctly put, Erdogan’s outburst reflects an overall frustration that Iran has greatly outstripped its traditional rival Turkey in expanding its influence in both Iraq and Syria. The Iranian militia played a big role in taking Aleppo city and vanquishing the rebel groups supported by Turkey.
Turkey had fancied that it would play a similar lead role in wresting control of Mosul from the hands of the ISIS. But to its great consternation and anger, Iran has wrested that role too. The latest reports show that Iraqi forces have stormed Mosul airport. Iraq (and Iran) opposed any role for Turkey in the liberation of Mosul.
Conceivably, with an eye on the new US administration’s reported plan to create an anti-Iran alliance in the region, Turkey is repositioning itself. There are several developments pointing in this direction. The US and Turkey have been holding a series of top-level meetings through the past fortnight since President Donald Trump made his first phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan on February 7. The American visitors to Ankara since then included CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and US the senator who heads the Armed Services Committee John McCain.
Meanwhile, Erdogan has undertaken a tour of the GCC states, which aimed at harmonising the Turkish stance on Syria with that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (During Erdogan’s tour, Turkey and Saudi Arabia signed a defence agreement.) Ankara has noted that in the past fortnight there have been important visitors from the US to the Gulf region –CIA chief Pompeo, Senator John McCain and Defence Secretary James Mattis. Pompeo conferred on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz the CIA’s George Tenet Medal for his exceptional contributions in the fight against terrorism. It doesn’t take much ingenuity to figure out that the US is promoting a Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.
Equally, Ankara and Washington are edging toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of a discord that had set them apart in the recent past – the fate of Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. The Trump administration may act to curb Gulen’s activities, while Erdogan may no longer press for his outright extradition to Turkey.
However, one other contentious issue still remains unresolved – US military support for Syrian Kurds. This is a non-negotiable issue for Turkey, which considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be an affiliate of the separatist Kurdish group PKK. Turkey and the US are actively discussing at the moment the modalities of a Turkish military operation aimed at liberating Raqqa, the ‘capital’ of the Islamic State. The Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim discussed the Raqqa operation with the US Vice-President Mike Pence in the weekend at the Munich Security Conference. It will be a major military operation with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. Turkey seeks US Special Forces’ participation, which will also serve the purpose of deterring Russian intervention, apart from weakening the Syrian Kurds’ drive to create an entity in northern Syria.
Without doubt, the capture of Raqqa will be much more than a symbolic event. Raqqa determines how much of Syria will be under the control of the Syrian regime. Clearly, Erdogan hopes to project Turkish power right into Damascus and have a big say in Syria’s future. Yildirim sounded upbeat after meeting Pence. See a report in the pro-government Turkish daily Yeni Safak – PM Yildirim: Turkey, US turning over a new leaf.
Suffice to say, Erdogan seems confident that the Trump administration is viewing Ankara once again as a “strategic partner and a NATO ally” (as Trump indeed told him). Just another 5 days remain in the timeline given by the Trump administration to the Pentagon to prepare a comprehensive plan to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. But Turkey is already acting as if it had a preview of the Pentagon plan.
A lengthy dispatch from Damascus by Xinhua underscores that Turkey’s journey back to its American ally also coincides with the “re-emergence of the Gulf states as the backers of the rebels” and with a growing probability of US putting boots on the ground in Syria — all in all a “remilitarization” of the Syrian conflict. Read the insightful report titled Spotlight: Gloomy outlook shadows Syrian talks in Geneva.
The situation with peace talks on Syria is currently “more favorable” for things to really get better in the war-torn country, Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov has said. Obama’s team slowed down the process, but under Trump things might improve, according to the diplomat.
“We are currently in the situation… that is much more favorable to start working on a real settlement of the crisis. We were close to it in September last year, but the Americans failed to implement an agreement which had been coordinated with us earlier, which once more confirmed the Obama’s administration inability to negotiate on many issues,” Russia’s foreign minister said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV.
“They took an agreement, and then couldn’t do anything [within it],” Sergey Lavrov said, adding that “largely because of Obama’s reluctance to have an argument with some countries in the region,” a settlement through the UN’s participation “turned to [result in] zero progress.”
Moscow could no longer rely on such dragging partnerships, Russia’s top diplomat said, adding that a decision has been made to take action in other ways, such as through Russian-Turkish relations.
“We know that Turkey has influenced and continues to influence a very considerable number of field commanders,” Lavrov said, noting that Moscow’s cooperation with Ankara resulted in a ceasefire agreement in Syria in late December last year.
“I want to make it clear: we’ve already said on different levels that we are not trying to undermine UN’s efforts [in resolving the Syrian crisis]. Although our initiative was largely based on [others’] inaction, we understand that many more sides should be involved in peace talks than those currently working on Astana [negotiations],” Lavrov told NTV. There should be more participants both from Syria and “players from the outside,” he added.
Parallel to the Astana peace process, Moscow is preparing for talks under the auspices of the United Nations, the minister said, adding that so far such a meeting has been confirmed for February 20.
Talking of Moscow’s expectations of those talks, Lavrov said that the “whims” of some Syrian opposition groups’ leaders, “especially of those who have long been living outside Syria,” should not be taken into consideration. “If it once again becomes a hindrance to hold UN talks, then the organization’s reputation will be seriously damaged,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, Russia has been actively involved in meetings on Syria in Astana, where talks with the participation of Ankara and Tehran have recently finished. The sides have generally agreed details on cease fire monitoring, the minister said, adding that the agreements reached “will soon be implemented.” Efforts to summon more fighting groups in Syria to join in talks with the Syrian government are also in the works, he added.
Saying that US representatives were present at the first meeting in Astana as monitors, Lavrov confirmed that an invitation has been sent to Washington to take part in the talks once a new team on the Middle East and Syria is formed under the incoming Trump administration.
Moscow is fully aware that relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated with Trump’s arrival in the White House, Lavrov said, but added that Russia “stands for common sense.”
“If US President Trump’s main priority on the international arena is fighting terrorism, then it should be admitted that in Syria not only the Syrian army supported by Russian Air Force are fighting ISIL [Islamic State terrorist group, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also Hezbollah groups supported by Iran [are involved in the anti-terrorist fight],” Lavrov said. “There’s a choice of priorities here.”
The minister added that while Americans are known for their “pragmatic” policies, it “wouldn’t be pragmatic to just precariously exclude Iran from the anti-terrorist coalition.” Russia, on its side, “always treats any country’s stance with respect,” he said, having expressed Moscow’s willingness to discuss any ways to solve the crisis, “even those that absolutely contradict” Russia’s views.
“I am sure that Donald Trump is absolutely sincere when he every time confirms his determination to defeat IS. We are ready to cooperate with him,” Lavrov said, having expressed hopes that cooperation between the Russian and American military in Syria “will soon start to form again.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered snap drills to be held by the Aerospace Forces and other branches to evaluate its preparedness against potential aggression. The exercise started on February 7.
Some Western media have accused Moscow of preparing to start an aggression. In reality, the action is taken in response to NATO and Ukraine’s provocative activities in the Black Sea. 16 warships, a submarine and 10 warplanes along with some 2,800 troops from Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Canada, and the US are taking part in exercise ‘Sea Shield 2017’ scheduled to run between February 1 and 11 in the proximity of Russian borders.
HMS Diamond of the UK Royal Navy is sent to participate in the event. It’s a rather symbolic move. This is the first time since the Cold War that a British naval vessel entered the waters of the Black Sea. According to British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, this is the way that the British government confirms its support of Ukraine – a hostile act towards Russia. After the NATO exercise, the ship will visit Odessa to hold bilateral drills with Ukraine. The destroyer has 60 Special Boat Service and Royal Marine commandos on board. It’s logical to expect amphibious landing to be part of the exercise.
According to the Daily Mail, HMS Diamond will lead a NATO task force and help protect 650 British troops who are involved in secret exercises in Ukraine. There is ground to believe that something is cooking up.
NATO defense ministers will meet February 15-16 in Brussels to discuss a package of measures aimed at bolstering military presence in the Black Sea. The proposals on two basic elements for the maritime component – a strengthened training framework and a coordination body for the Black Sea that reports to the specialized NATO command – are expected to be submitted for consideration.
The organization plans to build NATO’s Black Sea presence on land around a Romanian-led multinational framework brigade in the process of formation. Nations who have pledged to contribute include Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United States. The unit is intended to facilitate the deployment of reinforcements. Georgia and Ukraine will be fully involved in the plans.
Romania calls for a regular trilateral format of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea, along with Turkey and Bulgaria, with the eventual participation of non-littoral NATO members.
The UK, Canada and Poland will send aircraft to be based in the Romanian southeastern Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are also expected to come forward with a plan to increase naval and air patrols. Romania and Bulgaria will host aircraft designed to carry out surveillance missions.
Last September, US and Bulgarian aircraft launched joint regular patrols in the Black Sea. The patrolling mission greatly increases the risk of an accident, especially with the Russian S-400 long range systems stationed in Crimea. Russian aircraft deployed in the Northern Caucasus and Rostov region are capable of controlling the whole Black Sea. President Putin has already warned NATO about the consequences such policy would lead to.
There has been a surge in airspace violations and instances where aircraft are scrambled to intercept foreign jets amid a sharp rise in tensions in the region. For instance, Sea Shield-2017 exercise started with an incident. Ukraine accused Russia of firing at its An-26 cargo aircraft on a training flight. The plane flew provocatively low over an oil rig. A security guard gave flash signals from a signal pistol to prevent the plane from crashing into the drilling tower.
Non-Black Sea NATO members cannot stay in the Black Sea more than 21 days, according to the Montreux Convention. NATO has three members with Black Sea ports in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as two more aspiring members in Ukraine and Georgia.
Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Georgian navies have limited capabilities. It brings to the fore the possibility of major NATO sea powers handing over some of their own warships to them. The ships could be reflagged to beef up permanent naval capabilities in the theater. US warships frequent the Black Sea to provide NATO with long-range first strike capability.
Romania hosts a ballistic missile defense (BMD) site believed to be capable of launching long-range surface-to-surface cruise missiles in what constitutes a violation of INF Treaty. Aegis Ashore uses the naval Mk-41 launching system capable of firing such weapons. Located near Caracal in south central Romania, Aegis Ashore is part of the second phase of the so-called «European Phased Adaptive Approach» (EPAA) to an overall NATO missile defense architecture.
Bulgaria also plays a prominent role in NATO’s plans to bolster the bloc’s military presence in the region. This year, Novo Selo, a US military base in Bulgaria, is expected to host more American and NATO troops. The first of three six-month rotations of about 150 US Marines, part of the Black Sea Rotational Force, is due at Novo Selo in September. US Army soldiers come to Bulgaria for training on a rotational basis. Under the 2006 defense cooperation agreement, the United States has access to three Bulgarian military bases.
The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo; the base can hold as many as 5,000 during joint-nation exercises with NATO allies. The facility’s construction is almost finished; the plans are on the way to upgrade the training ranges this year. The upgrade includes adding a helicopter landing zone and an air operations building. The base is expected to host US heavy tanks. A NATO maintenance support area is to be built in Sliven or Plovdiv.
For the US, the Black Sea is a remote region where it has no interest. It’s different for Bulgaria as 80 percent of Bulgarian exports and imports transit the Black Sea and tourism contributes heavily to the country’s economy, increased maritime militarization could have a widespread negative economic impact in case of accidents or clashes.
Nothing justifies the whipping up of tensions by NATO in the Black Sea region. Too provocative and too dangerous. An incident may spark a fire. The INCSEA agreement appears to be dead as the events in the Baltic Sea demonstrate.
While the Islamic State poses a threat to the very existence of NATO members, the alliance is engaged in provocations to intimidate Russia – its natural ally in the fight against the common enemy. Does it meet the interests of the alliance members? It would stand NATO defense chiefs in good stead if they asked themselves this question at the February 15-16 meeting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that Moscow has been mediating talks between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds to help maintain Syria’s sovereignty and statehood, in an interview with Russia’s Izvestia daily.
Russia “makes efforts to establish a common understanding between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds for the sake of a united Syria,” the minister told Izvestia in an interview he gave ahead of Diplomat’s Day, a Russian holiday celebrated on February 10.
Lavrov went on to say that four rounds of negotiations, brokered by Russia and including direct contact between the Damascus delegation and “representatives of the political and public structures of the Syrian Kurds,” had already taken place between June and December in 2016. In addition, the gatherings also involved indirect talks between the two sides.
The Russian foreign minister also confirmed that the Syrian government had held talks with the leaders of the Syrian Kurds’ armed militia units, the YPG.
“We believe that such intra-Syrian dialog is useful,” Lavrov said, stressing that there is “significant potential for reaching agreements” between Damascus and the Kurds, as the sides have found many areas of common interest and their negotiations are developing positively.
Lavrov emphasized that “the Kurdish issue” is one of the “key” factors in maintaining Syrian statehood and contributing to the stabilization of the situation in the entire Middle East. He also drew attention to the fact that Russia is continuing its efforts to find compromises between various ethnic and religious groups in Syria, as it is interested in restoring peace and stability in the warn-torn country and defeating international terrorist organizations entrenched in some areas there.
Regarding Syria’s potential federalization, Russia’s top diplomat neither denied nor confirmed that the issue was discussed during the talks between the Syrian government and the Kurds.
The minister’s statements come as Russia also seeks to launch a peace process between the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups together with Turkey and Iran.
In December 2016, a nationwide ceasefire came into force in Syria. It was brokered by Moscow and Ankara and endorsed by the UN Security Council. While in late January, negotiations took place between official representatives from Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as a delegation from the Syrian opposition in the Kazakh capital, Astana. However, the Syrian Kurds were not represented at the talks.
During the gathering, Russia submitted a draft document to serve as a “guide” for the Syrian constitution. The paper stressed that Syria’s territory is “inviolable and indivisible,” suggesting that restructuring of internal borders and proclaiming autonomous regions within Syria should be done only with respect to the country’s own laws. The rights of minorities were another key element of the draft.
In his interview with Izvestia, Lavrov also discussed other pressing issues in modern international politics. He once again criticized the NATO military buildup on Russian borders but expressed hope that Western politicians would eventually understand that Russia “poses no direct threat to NATO” and is a “peaceful country.”
Russia seeks “immediate de-escalation of the military and political situation in Europe” but is ready to defend its borders, Lavrov stressed.
He also went on to express his regret over the recent escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and urged Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements, noting that there is no other way to resolve the crisis.
Touching upon the issue of US-Russian relations, Lavrov again confirmed that Russia is ready to work with the administration of new US President Donald Trump on a broad range of issues, yet “on the basis of mutual respect.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has scrapped the previous administration’s plan to take Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group. The plan proposed a strategy of training Kurdish forces, providing them with new equipment, and helping them retake the city.
US-supplied armored vehicles have only been delivered to the Syrian Arab Coalition (a part of the Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF), which is made up of militants predominantly from local Arab areas. The Kurdish components of SDF have been denied the aid not to spoil the US relations with Turkey.
According to the Washington Post, the officials said they were dismayed that there was no provision for coordinating operations with Russia and no clear political strategy to address Turkey, a country that would be angered by the US cooperation with the Kurds, and the lack of a plan B in case the Kurdish offensive failed. They also said the plan lacked specifics on the number of troops needed for the operation.
The operation Euphrates Anger was launched by US-backed SDF in November 2016. Obviously, President Trump sets much store by cooperation with Moscow in the fight against terrorists. He faces the problem of getting Turkey on board. Russia and the US could join together as intermediaries to facilitate talks between the Kurds and Turkey.
Turkey has excellent relations with the Iraqi Kurds who could also join in any mediation effort. If progress is achieved, Washington will not let down the Syrian Kurds, cooperating with Ankara. Since January 18, Russia and Turkey, a US NATO ally, have been engaged in a joint operation to retake Al Bab.
No success is achievable without sufficient ground forces. The Kurdish formations are not enough and there is a basis for joining together – the US and Turkey see eye to eye on the idea to create safe zones in Syria. Russia has agreed to discuss the issue in principle. It’s important that the Trump team is not as adamant as the previous administration about making Syrian President Assad resign.
Michael T. Flynn, Donald Trump’s new National Security Adviser, has always been critical of Obama’s Syria policy calling it inconsistent. He has supported the idea of the US and Russia cooperating in the fight against the IS. «We have to work constructively with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia made a decision to be there (in Syria) and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic», Flynn told Der Spiegel in an interview.
President Donald Trump has stated that regime change in Syria would only cause more instability in the region. He thinks that shoring up President Assad is the most efficient way to stem the spread of terrorism. According to Mr. Trump’s statements, he would weigh an alliance with Russia against Islamic State militants.
On January 28, the president ordered military leaders to give him a report in 30 days that outlines a new strategy for defeating the IS. The document is expected to include recommendations on changes to military actions, diplomacy, coalition partners, mechanisms to cut off or seize the group’s financial support and a way to pay for the strategy.
The president charged Defense Secretary James Mattis with developing a plan with the help of the secretaries of State, Treasury and Homeland Security, the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the assistant to the president for national security affairs and the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
The order was signed hours after speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone – the first call between the leaders since Donald Trump took office. Mr. Putin emphasized that «for over two centuries Russia has supported the United States, was its ally during the two world wars, and now sees the United States as a major partner in fighting international terrorism».
With Donald Trump in office, a deal on coordinating activities is reachable. Joint operations to retake Raqqa would be a good start. The zones of influence and mutual obligations could be defined. Russia is ready to cooperate with the US during the operation to retake Raqqa. Last October, it was reported that Moscow planned to discuss the issue with the US officials.
Joining together, the parties could gradually move forward within the framework of Astana process and the UN-brokered talks to be revived in Geneva this month. The cooperation between Russia and the US is key to achieving progress in the Syria’s crisis management. It could spread to other areas of the bilateral relationship.
Actually, an offensive to liberate Raqqa is impossible without coordinating activities with Moscow. Russia, the US and Turkey are the pivotal actors in the conflict. The operation to retake Raqqa must be conducted with the consent of Syria’s government. It is hard to imagine the US and Turkey discussing the issue with the government of Bashar Assad. Russia is perfectly suited to be a mediator.
And what comes next after Raqqa is retaken? Who and under what authority will govern? With the pertinent actors involved in the conflict holding different, even opposite, visions of the country’s future, there will have to be international presence and agreement on what to do next.
The cooperation between Russia, the US and Turkey during the battle for Raqqa could become a start of wider process with diplomacy given a chance. It could also become a start of Russia-US cooperation in Syria and other countries where the IS has presence.
It is important to clarify some of Russia’s approaches to the negotiations between representatives of the Syrian Government and armed opposition groups in Astana on January 23.
We believe that the best is to limit the number of foreign participants to representatives of the countries-guarantors of the ceasefire – Russia, Turkey and Iran. The new US administration has been invited too. We hope that Deputy Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General R.Ramzi will act as a mediator at the talks.
The meeting in Astana is not a substitute for the intra-Syrian talks, which begin on February 8 in Geneva. On the contrary, it will contribute to the further development of the negotiation process by inviting the representatives of the armed opposition, who have real influence “on the ground.” We hope that they will also agree to participate in the Geneva talks as an equal and permanent member of the united delegation of the Syrian opposition.
On the agenda – discussions on strengthening the ceasefire, delivering humanitarian aid, building confidence, ensuring free movement of citizens throughout the country except in areas controlled by the terrorists, who are not a party to any agreement and must be defeated as endorsed by the UNSC resolutions.
We hope that a substantive discussion of the modalities of the constitutional reform in Syria will be launched, including the creation of the Constitutional Commission to get the work on a new Constitution started. The members of this Commission will include representatives of both the government and the various political opposition groups, which is provided for in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We hope that the meeting in Astana will contribute to the peace process in Syria and strengthen counter-terrorism efforts.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
On Thursday, Moscow slipped in the formal invitation to Washington to attend the intra-Syria talks in Astana on coming Monday (January 23). It waited till the last ‘working day’ of the Barack Obama administration. A snub to the outgoing administration? But it could as well have been a pre-emptive measure to guard against any last-minute temper tantrum by the outgoing US administration.
No doubt, it is a thoughtful Russian move to engage the incoming Donald Trump administration on its very first day in the White House. Trump will now take the call. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said:
- We hope the new US administration will accept this invitation and will be represented at this meeting at any expert level it considers appropriate. This could be the first official contact during which we will be able to discuss a more effective way to fight terrorism in Syria… Russia and the United States created and are co-chairing the International Syria Support Group… It has two task forces – a Humanitarian Task Force and a Ceasefire Task Force. There is a good chance we can invigorate these mechanisms.
Lavrov’s optimism must be based on considered assessment regarding Trump’s disposition to work with President Vladimir Putin in the fight against terrorism in Syria and elsewhere.
A novel feature of the Astana talks is that the field commanders of the Syrian opposition groups have been brought to the forefront as the Syrian government’s interlocutors. Previously, politicians living in exile who were proxies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar used to represent these groups. They were vulnerable to outside manipulation. Evidently, Turkish and Russian intelligence acted together, pooling resources, to wean the field commanders away from the orbit of Saudi and Qatari influence and entice them to agree to a ceasefire and get them to jettison their previous aversion to dealing with the Syrian government.
Of course, the field commanders too have little room to maneuver after the capture of Aleppo by the government forces. Besides, Trump’s win effectively shuts the door on any future US support for these rebel groups. There is bitterness among the residual rebel groups who remain within the Saudi orbit, but losers cannot be choosers. A commentary by Fox News brings this out.
In the final analysis, Moscow has shown almost seamless patience to get as many rebel groups as possible on board – with the exception of Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. No ‘pre-conditions’ have been set except that the participants in the Astana talks must agree on ceasefire. What we see here is a total marginalization of regional states who played a negative role aimed at fragmenting Syria – principally, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel.
Moscow would feel gratified that Turkey is using its clout with the rebel groups to persuade them to attend the Astana talks. In a dramatic turnaround, Russian jets are now providing air support for the Turkish ground operations in northern Syria, testifying to the phenomenal shift in the regional alignments over Syria. (Associated Press )
The bottom line is that the departure of the Obama administration has dramatically improved the prospects for a Syrian peace process taking off, finally. Moscow is pinning hopes that there will be a sea change in the US policies in Syria w.e.f January 20. Again, to quote Lavrov:
- When he (Trump) says that his key foreign policy priority will be the fight against terrorism, we are happy to welcome this intention. This is exactly what our American partners lacked before him. On paper, they (Obama administration) seemed to be cooperating with us…, but in fact, they were deceiving us… According to a recent leak about John Kerry’s meeting with Syrian opposition forces several years ago, the United States regarded ISIS as a suitable force for weakening Bashar al-Assad… What Donald Trump and his team are saying now shows that they have a different approach and will not apply double standards in the fight against terrorism in order to achieve unrelated goals.
The talks in Astana are expected to be substantial. Russia and Turkey hope to involve the field commanders in the drafting of a new constitution, holding of a referendum and fresh elections. Equally, a consolidation of the country-wide ceasefire can be expected as a tangible outcome of the Astana talks. (TASS )
Syrian deputy Foreign Ministry rejected on Wednesday the participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Astana peace talks on Syria next week, stressing that negotiations should not include every party that supports, arms and funds terrorism.
“Once Qatar and Saudi Arabia halt their support to terrorism, then we can discuss their participation in the talks,” he said.
Speaking to Al-Mayadeen TV, Moqdad said that Washington should prove its sincerity to deal with solutions for the Syrian crisis, prevent the support of armed terrorist groups, and exert pressure on Turkey to close its border with Syria.
On the participation of the United States in Astana negotiations, the Syrian official said “anyone who wants to work in good will to resolve the crisis in Syria can take part,” calling to “punish those who finance and arm terrorism, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
The oppressive, sectarian and violent nature of the Saudi state and its foreign policy is increasingly coming under the spotlight, even in mainstream Western media.
Yet the reality is not, as it is so often portrayed, that ‘civilized’ Britain is somehow sullying itself by ‘supporting’ the Saudi rogues. On the contrary, the Saudis are merely implementing a barbaric policy made in the West.
From Syria to Yemen, wherever there is bloodshed and massacre in the Middle East, Saudi money and guns are never far away. But behind the Saudis lies Anglo-American power. The deal today – as it has been for over a hundred years – is that, in exchange for a Western guarantee of their own security, the Al Sauds effectively cede control of their country’s foreign policy to the West. And the architect of that deal was the British state.
Before their alliance with the British, the Al Sauds were little more than murderous bandits, with little chance of achieving lasting power over any significant portion of the Arab peninsula.
Said Aburish, the biographer of the House of Saud, notes that whilst most Arabian tribes were settling or farming, Ibn Saud “was in the business of raiding other tribes to steal their camels, sheep and grain” – after which he typically “murdered all the men of the raided tribe to prevent future retaliation”.
As a result, the Al Sauds were reviled by most Arabs and Muslims, their leadership not even totally accepted amongst their own tribe, the Ennezza. This hostility between the Al Sauds and the other Arabs was deepened by their adherence to a particularly sectarian interpretation of Islam, Wahhabi’ism, which rejects as apostates pretty much every Muslim who does not subscribe to their medievalist philosophy.
Yet it was precisely this divisive quality which appealed to British imperialism. The British empire of the nineteenth century – guided by the philosophy of ‘divide and rule’ – was always on the lookout for groups lacking ‘native’ support to back, as they would be eternally dependent on British support and therefore could be reliably trusted to act as imperial agents. Furthermore, such groups would be utterly incapable of uniting their people into any kind of independent polity – always Britain’s worst fear within its colonial dominions.
From Syria to Yemen, wherever there is bloodshed and massacre in the Middle East, Saudi money and guns are never far away. But behind the Saudis lies Anglo-American power.
According to the leading historian of the developing Saudi-British relations in this period, Jacob Goldberg, the British elevated Ibn Saud above “people who were religiously, politically and strategically more important”. But this was, of course, the point. For the British, his relative unimportance was his greatest asset, for it left him utterly dependent on the British. Unlike his rivals, such as the Hashemites, he had no other source of power or authority beyond his alliance of convenience with the (Wahabbi’ist) Ikhwan fighters.
Thus, two years after Ibn Saud and his followers conquered Riyadh in 1902 – burning to death 1,200 of its inhabitants, and enslaving many of its women as trophies of their victory – the British began paying a stipend to Ibn Saud. The payment was greatly increased in 1911, with Ibn Saud using the money, says Aburish, to “expand and subsidize the loss-making colonies of soldier-saints of the Ikhwan, or ‘brothers’. [These] were fanatics of the Wahhabi sect to which Ibn Saud belonged, who were to provide the backbone of his conquering forces and whose savagery wreaked havoc across Arabia.”
Aburish noted that, “traditionally committed to individual freedom and achievement, the rest of the Muslims found the idea of the colonies and the fanaticism they produced totally unacceptable”.
Over the next few years – with British aid, arms and advisers – Ibn Saud and his warriors were able to defeat the rival Ibn Rasheeds and capture the Eastern Province of what is now Saudi Arabia. In 1915, Ibn Saud signed a treaty with the British which “elevated him to the role of a British-sponsored ruler of central and eastern Arabia”.
They knighted him the same year.
Ibn Saud’s conquests continued (although, as Aburish put it, “his conquests were no more than raids which, through British support, acquired a permanent nature”), and in 1925 his forces captured the Hijaz, where “as had been feared, Ibn Saud’s Ikhwan followers killed hundreds of males, including children, ransacked an untold number of houses, murdered non-Wahhabi religious leaders who opposed their brutal ways and destroyed whole towns”.
The region’s highly developed legal system was scrapped, and its institutions of representative government – complete with senate, cabinet, and party pluralism – were all abolished.
Instead, Ibn Saud appointed a council of advisers headed by the British Resident Harry St John Philby – and without a single native Saudi. The “feeling” noted by Sir Arthur Hirtel of the British India Office a year earlier – “that it would be good if Ibn Saud established himself in Mecca” – appeared to have been vindicated.
Two years later he had signed a new “friendship and cooperation treaty” with the British which ceded all control of external affairs to them. And he was clearly the right man for implementing ‘divide and rule’, creating border disputes with every one of his neighbors during the 1920s, including Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, the Yemen and the Trucial states (today’s UAE).
The depth of Ibn Saud’s loyalty to his imperial masters – and the shallowness of his religiosity – was subsequently revealed when in 1929 he turned on his Ikhwan enforcers. They had wanted to expand into Iraq and Kuwait (as their evangelism demanded), but Ibn Saud knew this would be frowned on by the British.
So, with British support, he attacked their base in the village of Sabila and massacred them. If the Ikhwan had been his SA, this was his ‘Night of the Long Knives’. As Aburish put it, “Ibn Saud set his relationship with his sponsors above his connection with religious zealots for whom he no longer had any use”. By this time, Ibn Saud’s British stipend had reached £60,000 per year – equivalent to two-thirds of the country’s national income. Three years later, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – the only country in the world to be named after its ruling family – was officially founded.
As Aburish has concluded: “The simple, undeniable fact behind Ibn Saud’s rise to power was Britain’s interest in finding someone to deputize for it on the eve of the First World War… Ibn Saud, homeless and hungry, was there for the asking, cheap and willing to accommodate any sponsor”.
Indeed, Ibn Saud conceived of himself as an agent of the British from the very beginning. Like others before, he sought the sponsorship and protection of an imperial power, any imperial power, and following his rejection by the Ottomans, wrote this to the British resident in the Gulf: “May the eyes of the British government be fixed upon us and may we be considered as your proteges”.
Says Aburish, “Rather than acting as a unifier of the Arabs, Ibn Saud afforded an outside power, Britain, the comfort of keeping the Arabs and Muslims divided and protected its commercial and political interests, which opposed an Arab unifier at the helm.”
In the process, it is estimated that Britain’s protege had publicly executed 40,000 people and had the limbs amputated from another 350,000 during his campaign to subdue the peninsula – that is a total of 8 percent of the population either killed or mutilated in order to realize Britain’s desire that sectarian division should reign.
But for Britain – as, later, for the US – the choice of Ibn Saud as its Middle Eastern deputy has been a shrewd one, with the Saudis being the faithful enforcers of imperial skullduggery ever since.
From the very start, for example, the Saudis have been more than happy to throw the Palestinians under a bus to please the British. Throughout the 1930s, Ibn Saud ignored King Ghazi of Iraq’s call for a common Arab front against the colonization of Palestine, and then in 1936, when a 183 day Palestinian national strike was itself putting the British government under serious pressure, Ibn Saud persuaded the Palestinian Mufti to call the strike off, promising he would intercede with the British on the Palestinians’ behalf. British Foreign Office documents, however, show no record of this ‘intercession’ ever having taken place.
Three years later, in exchange for a £20 million payment, Ibn Saud accepted Britain’s proposal for a Jewish state on colonized Arab land. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Saudi Arabia not only refused to send forces to Palestine, but even tried to prevent fighters from traveling there voluntarily, and ordered its newspapers to tone down their reporting of Palestinian suffering.
Today, of course, whilst publicly opposing Israel, the Saudis are perfectly willing to host the enormous Dhahran airbase of Israeli’s biggest military supplier and ally, the US.
In the 1980s, the Saudis encouraged (and financed) the Iraqi attack on Iran, and then kept oil prices low in order to maximize the war’s destructive effect on both countries. When the Iraqis wanted to sue for peace in the mid-1980s, they asked the Saudis to restrict production in order to prod outside powers into bringing the war to an end. Of course, the Saudis refused.
Saddam Hussein’s adviser Sa’ad Al Bassas commented later that “We knew they wanted the war to continue, but we were too dependent on them for financial support to complain out loud. They were following an American policy which called for weakening both countries”. In fact, this was precisely the British policy formulated in 1915, which called for a “weak and divided” Arabia.
In recent decades, the Saudi state has developed an additional niche role in the implementation of Anglo-American imperialism. As revolutionary liberation movements began to threaten the West’s dominion over the third world, especially from the 1970s and 80s onward, Saudi Arabia became the bankroller and conduit for covert, often illegal, Western policies to terrorize such movements and governments into submission. From the contras in Nicaragua, to the UNITA rebels in Angola, to the fascist Phalangists of Lebanon, to the apartheid regime in South Africa, CIA-backed sectarian terror outfits the world over became the recipients of Saudi largess. But it was in Afghanistan where this policy reached its apogee.
The Afghan revolution of 1978 brought the socialist PDPA movement to power. The new government immediately implemented a series of popular reforms including land reform and the constitutional recognition of women’s rights for the first time. The US and Britain saw such a movement as a threat to their control and exploitation of the third world, and especially feared its alliance with the Soviet bloc as undermining their global hegemony.
Beginning in mid-1979, the CIA began providing weapons to ultra right wing terror groups, who used Islam to justify attacks on the new government, its supporters, and its social infrastructure, including an assassination campaign which killed hundreds of teachers and civil servants. This support was designed, admitted Jimmy Carter’s adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1996, not only to undermine the new government, but also to draw in the Soviet Union and bog them down in a demoralizing and costly conflict – that is, as he put it, to “give the USSR its Vietnam war”.
The US and Britain saw such a movement as a threat to their control and exploitation of the third world, and especially feared its alliance with the Soviet bloc as undermining their global hegemony.
The strategy worked. By 1980, the Soviet Union had sent troops to support the embattled Afghan government, but as the years went by – and US, British and Saudi support to the ‘rebels’ was stepped up – the Soviets were eventually unable to sustain the massive cost in both lives and wealth, and withdrew in 1989.
In just one three-year period during this time – from 1987 to 1989 – Saudi Arabia had provided $1.8 billion in financial support to the anti-government fighters in Afghanistan (around twice the amount it had given to the PLO in the previous 14 years), as well as providing thousands of fighters.
But what is intriguing is that this support was not, as is traditionally believed, premised on religious ideology, but was rather driven, once again, by fidelity to the Saudis’ imperial masters. In “Jihad in Saudi Arabia”, Thomas Hegghammer notes that this financial and military support “Clearly… was not an automatic response to the Soviet invasion, because Arabs had not volunteered for other conflict zones in the past and did not to Afghanistan in significant numbers until the mid-to late 1980s”.
Indeed, says Hegghammer, there were only 16 Saudi fighters in Afghanistan before 1985, whilst “the permanent Saudi contingent would not exceed 50 people until early 1987”. In fact, initial Saudi support for the insurgency was primarily diplomatic, political and humanitarian, rather than military. Indeed, it was only at the request of the US that the Saudis agreed, in 1981, to match US funding for the militia groups themselves – and it was therefore only when the US ramped up financial support to such groups – the so-called ‘mujahedin’ in the mid-1980s that the Saudis were obliged to do the same.
Furthermore, says Hegghammer, the main opposition to the encouragement of young men to fight in Afghanistan came precisely from the “religious establishment”: “A common misperception in the historiography of the period is to present the Wahhabi religious scholars as prime movers behind the mobilization to Afghanistan. In fact very few, if any, of the scholars in the religious establishment actively promoted the Afghan jihad as an individual duty for Saudis”.
Saudi support for the mujahedin, just like Ibn Saud’s violence 60 years earlier, was driven not by religious idealism, but by an undying commitment to facilitating Western foreign policy – regardless of the cost in human lives. The ongoing consequences of this Afghan policy – the creation of the worldwide Al Qaeda terror network and offshoots such as ISIS – are well known. But, as Brzezinski put it: who cares about “some stirred-up Muslims” when the policy helped bring about the destruction of the Soviet Union?
Hegghammer summed up the various parties involved thus: “In Afghanistan… volunteerism [that is, the insertion of foreign fighters] was sanctioned by the USA, welcomed by the Afghans [fighting the government] and facilitated by the presence of a transit territory, namely Pakistan”.
This formula – the foreign fighters, financed by Saudi Arabia, and infiltrated through the willing collaboration of Pakistan – is precisely the one which has been used against Syria in recent years, with Turkey in the Pakistani role. Thus does the British-created Saudi state continue to fulfill the imperial role assigned to it over 100 years ago.
As Aburish put it, “Britain created Ibn Saud to protect its Middle East imperial interests and to eliminate those who threatened them… Without the West there would be no House of Saud. The Saudi people or their neighbors or a combination of both would bring about its end”.
Remember that next time a Boris Johnson or a Joe Biden feigns innocence about the role of the ‘dastardly’ Saudis. Everything they do, Boris, they do it for you.
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.
It came as a big surprise that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently labeled members of the US-led coalition as promise breakers and supporters of terrorists. According to the Turkish leader, this coalition provides support to various terrorist groups, including ISIS, YPG, PYD and Ankara has the evidence to back up that claim.
But what exactly offended Ankara so much? Over the past few days, Turkey has been suffering extremely painful defeats from the Islamic State in the Syrian city of Al-Bab. Previously the troops employed in the Euphrates Shield operation successfully taken western suburbs of Al-Bab were planning to occupy the heights overlooking the city. However, ten days ago the “shield” cracked, when ISIS units opposed Turkish troops in a frontal assault, inflicting heavy losses upon the Turkish army. Radical militants report that in just one Turkey lost up to 70 soldiers and three modern tank. Immediately after the announcement ISIS started spreading videos featuring the destruction of Turkish armored vehicles. The Turkish General Staff announced that it lost 14 servicemen, 10 German manufactured Leopard tanks, an M-60 main battle tank, personnel carriers and a Cobra armored vehicle. The pictures that can be found now on the Internet depict Turkish armored vehicles severely damaged by TOW missiles that in recent years have “suddenly” started appearing in the hands of ISIS radicals.
But nobody should be really surprised at this point, as Turkish media were reporting in late December that Washington was stepping up its weapons supply efforts to radicals via the Syrian Al-Hasakah Governorate. It’s been noted that as the US Ambassador to Ankara, John Bass kept persuading Turkish reporters that Washington was not supporting militants directly, the airfield in the Syrian city of Rumeylan saw an ever increasing number of US transport planes landing. The payload that they were carrying would soon be transported by US helicopters to different parts of the country. According to Turkish journalists, the last large delivery of weapons occurred on the evening of 27 December. It has also been noted that weapons are being delivered to Syria via hundreds of trucks, carrying their deadly cargo from the Iraqi city of Erbil to the areas controlled by the Syrian Kurds.
We have seen various commentators noting that under the guise of military assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Obama administration is actively assisting various extremist groups in Syria by secretly supplying them to with all sorts of weapons, along with the so-called “advisers” in a bid to topple the legitimate Syrian government.
It’s no coincidence that after the liberation of Aleppo, Syrian troops found stockpiles of weapons and explosives manufactured in the US, Germany and Bulgaria, including a large quantity of anti-tank missiles.
While the Aleppo operation has been a turning point in the Syrian armed conflict, the White House is still in a hurry to provide maximum support to the so-called “moderate opposition” in Syria, but now it’s clear for pretty much everyone that Washington is assisting ISIS. Last December alone Turkish bloggers spotted the passage of three large cargo ships through the Bosporus Strait, presumably carrying arms for the Syrian rebels. In particular, in mid-December a freighter Karina Danica left the Bulgarian shore, while heading to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with weapons on board, reports Bosphorus Observer on Twitter. This data is confirmed by a specialized tracking site known as MarineTraffic. It is a publicly known fact that the freighter Karina Danica is a Danish vessel, chartered by the American company Cherming, which is the official supplier of non-standard NATO weapons for the US “allies” in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. It’s curious that the Bulgarian Vazovski Machine-Building Plant that sells weapons to Cherming, increased its sales by 12 times in 2016, making a profit of 170 million dollars.
What makes this whole arms supplies story awkward is the scandal that broke out in 2015, when the Chairman of the Iraqi Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, Hakim Zamili asked PM Haider al-Abadi to intervene immediately to stop the 300 million dollar ammunition deal involving Romanian weapons being delivered to ISIS directly, while financed by one of the neighboring countries. In 2016, the director of the Conflict Armament Research, James Bevan stated that the weapons from Eastern Europe that were officially designated for the so-called “moderate opposition” are falling in extremist hands.
The decision to supply anti-government troops in Syria with all sorts of weapons, including MANPADS, that was signed by President Barack Obama on December 23, may lead to the further escalation of the Syrian conflict and new victims.
So there’s more than enough reason for Ankara’s resentment of the Obama administration, since it is directly responsible for every single Turkish soldier murdered by radical militants.
East Aleppo is liberated, and regime-change has lost its luster. It’s no surprise Syria’s foes are ready to promote the next big goal: partition. Like most Syrian conflict predictions, of which few have materialized, the ‘partition’ of Syria is not going to happen.
In February, when East Aleppo was still bulging with Western-trained, Al Qaeda-allied militants, Syrian President Bashar Assad was asked the question: “Do you think that you can regain control over all Syrian territory?”
Well, yes, said Assad: “This is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation. It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part.”
Western politicians were having none of that.
First up was US Secretary of State John Kerry who coyly informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration may have a Plan B up its sleeve for Syria: “it may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer.”
Next, James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Commander and head of the US European Command penned an article for Foreign Policy entitled It’s time to seriously consider partitioning Syria where he claimed: “Syria as a nation is increasingly a fiction.”
Then, CIA Director John Brennan joined the chorus: “There’s been so much blood spilled, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get back to [a unified Syria] in my lifetime.”
But now the stinging defeat of Western-backed militants in East Aleppo has turned up the dial on the idea of breaking up Syria. Frantic neocons and liberal interventionists are piling in on the ‘partition’ punditry – with nary a backward glance to their five failed years of “Assad will fall” prognostications.
But Assad understands something that Western analysts, journalists and politicians cannot seem to grasp. Syria’s allies in this war – Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq, Russia, China – have maintained only two hard red lines throughout the conflict:
The first is that Assad can only be removed from office in a national election, by a Syrian majority.
The second is that Syria must stay whole.
Their logic was simple. Regime-change, remapping of borders, mercenary proxy armies, divide-and-rule… the old tricks of Western hegemons needed to stop in Syria. Otherwise, they would aggressively find their way to Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.
In short, a new world order would need to emerge from the ashes of the Syrian conflict, and for that to happen, allies would need to thoroughly defeat NATO-GCC objectives and maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian state at all costs.
A calculated shift in the balance of power
By 2013, one could already predict the formation of a new security-focused Mideast alliance to combat the jihadi threat raging in Syria and its neighborhood. (see map above)
It was clear by then that the irregular wars waged by jihadists and their powerful foreign backers were going to force four states – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran – to cooperate militarily and politically to defeat Wahhabi-influenced terror groups in their midst. A ‘Security Arc’ would thus form to protect the territorial integrity of these four countries, and with it, a converging worldview that would set the stage for a new Mideast security structure.
Today, Lebanon and Iran have secure borders flanking either side of Syria and Iraq. Fighters and military advisers, intelligence, weapons transfers from all four states are in play, with increased, successful coordination on the ground and in the skies.
Russia and China have provided ‘great power’ cover for this new development – whether at the UN Security Council or via military, financial or diplomatic initiatives. Furthermore, galvanized by the ferocity of the fight over Syria, Tehran, Moscow and Beijing have advanced the new multilateral order they seek – bolstering their own regional security, deepening global alliances, forging new ones, and crafting political, security and financial institutions to compete with Western-dominated ones.
As the Security Arc succeeded in beating back extremist groups, it would be necessary for three critical neighboring states to gravitate toward participation in this new regional security architecture – Egypt, Turkey and Jordan – each for different reasons.
But the new adherents would be drawn to the security zone primarily because of the realization that a weakened central government and the fragmentation of Syria would blow back into their states and create the same conditions there: chaos, instability, terrorism.
Egypt: Under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has drawn away from its Saudi patrons who have, alongside Qatar and Turkey, been major sponsors of extremism in both Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, Sisi began to pivot away from Egypt’s traditional Western and regional allies and opened the door to further political, military and economic engagement with Syria, Iran, Russia and China.
SAIS-Johns Hopkins University Fellow Dr. Christina Lin explains: “Unlike Washington, Sisi sees Assad as a secular bulwark against Islamic extremism in the Levant. If Assad falls, Lebanon and Jordan would be next, and Egypt does not want to end up like Libya with the Brotherhood and other Islamists carving up the country.”
In the past few months, Egypt has pursued a diplomatic thaw with Iran, military cooperation with Syria, and publicly squabbled with Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Sisi has been invited to sit at the Syrian peacemaking table by Iran and Russia, while in the background, China launches plans for a $60 billion infrastructure investment in cash-strapped Egypt.
Turkey: No state has been a bigger thorn in Damascus’ side than Turkey – financier, enabler, and mastermind of the militancy flowing across its southern border into war-torn Syria. But the Syrian conflict has crippled and exhausted Turkey, in turn, unleashing terror attacks in its cities, reviving its ‘Kurdish’ conflict, isolating its unpredictable President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, squeezing its economy, and triggering widespread domestic political strife.
So when the Russians reportedly tipped off Erdogan to an ill-fated coup attempt this summer – which Turks believe to be US-inspired – the Turkish president’s political orientation began to waver, and he began to inch toward a series of compromises with Iran and Russia on the Syrian conflict.
Erdogan’s first grand gesture to Tehran and Moscow was to peel away a layer of militants from embattled Aleppo, allowing the Syrian-allied forces to focus their military might on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups remaining in the eastern enclave. In the aftermath of Aleppo’s liberation, the Turks, Iranians and Russians met again to hammer out their next set of objectives, including a nationwide ceasefire – a move that sidelined Erdogan’s Western allies and highlighted the fact that nobody actually needs the US, UK or France at the Syrian negotiating table.
Jordan: For much of the Syrian conflict, Jordan’s interests were subverted by powerful patrons who turned the Hashemite Kingdom into a covert operations hub for Western special forces, GCC intel operatives and ‘rebel’ training centers. But in recent years, Jordan’s King Abdullah has been forced to disentangle his financially-strapped country from the consequences created by a huge influx of Syrian refugees and a terrifying surge in domestic radicalism. Consequently, Jordan has been quietly sharing intelligence with Syrian authorities to weaken the militancy in southern Syria and has effectively shut down their shared border.
The king himself has been engaging in some frenzied shuttle diplomacy with Russia and China to gain investment and political relevance, so Jordan is well-positioned to follow the lead of its larger neighbors when the regional balance of power shifts decisively in Syria’s favor.
Victors map the future, not the vanquished
The liberation of East Aleppo from Al-Qaeda-allied militants is a significant turning point in the war against Syria. All the major population/infrastructure areas that define the north-to-south western side of the country are now primarily in government hands.
Moreover, East Aleppo’s liberation serves as an important launching pad to cut off the vital Turkey-to-Mosul corridor that has funneled fighters, supplies and weapons to ISIS for years. Syrian troops and their allies will now be able to move east of the city to the Euphrates to sever this Turkish-ISIS lifeline.
With western Syrian hubs secured and militants severely crippled in the south, only the north-eastern areas present a challenge – but those are areas largely occupied by ISIS, where the final battles will be waged to rout the terror group.
So, what exactly do Americans want to partition – and why?
Recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya demonstrate clearly that a weak central authority only creates a political and security vacuum that extremists rush in to occupy. US President-Elect Donald Trump has himself said he prefers the rule of strongmen, rather than the instability that prevails with regime-change conflicts.
Any partition of Syria would, therefore, benefit ISIS and Al-Qaeda primarily – and all the parties know this.
The Security Arc states and their allies can ably eradicate the terrorism in their midst. Turkey and the United States still remain key irritants, each still vying, against their own security interests, to lay claim to north-eastern swathes of territory that hold some strategic interest.
Funnily enough, these interests pit the two NATO allies against each other. The US’ ‘Kurdish project’ has sent Erdogan fleeing toward the Iranians and Russians for help. It is ironic indeed that the West’s longtime efforts to sow discord between regional actors, sects, and ethnicities could now be reversed in one fell swoop by the US’ support for Kurdish nationalism. There is nothing more guaranteed to create common cause between Arabs, Iranians, and Turks than the unifying prospect of Kurdish statehood. Not even ISIS does that.
In the aftermath of the Aleppo victory, Assad once more addressed talk of partition: “This is the Western – with some regional countries – hope… If you look at the society today, the Syrian society is more unified than before the war… There’s no way that Syrians would accept that – I’m talking now about the vast majority of the Syrians… After nearly six years I can tell you the majority of the Syrians wouldn’t accept anything related to disintegration – on the contrary, as one Syria.”
He is right. For the more than 70 percent of Syrians living in government-controlled areas, the appetite for further conflict is nonexistent – and that’s what partition would mean: conflict. Furthermore, not just Syrians, but the whole of the Security Arc and their global allies are now hell bent on protecting themselves by destroying the terrorism that dwells in the remaining pockets of occupied territory. Like Assad – and much of Europe today – they know that you will never remove the security threat if you don’t rout them all and preserve the state.
In this security context, partition is out of the question. In the military context, a forced partition would require the commitment of troops stronger than the armies of Syria, Iran, Russia, Iraq, Egypt and Hezbollah combined – and that doesn’t exist. In the political context, the international appetite for an ‘imposed’ partition is nil.
So no, there will be no partition of Syria.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani