The Saudi plan to send ground troops into Syria appears to be just a ruse. But this is precisely the kind of reckless saber-rattling that could ignite an all-out war, one that could embroil the United States and Russia.
Saudi rulers have reportedly amassed a 150,000-strong army to invade Syria on the alleged pretext “to fight against terrorism” and to defeat the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS/ISIL). Saudi officials told CNN that in addition to Saudi troops there are ground forces from Egypt, Turkey, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a categorical response, saying the move would be seen as an act of aggression and that any invasion force regardless of its stated reasons for entering Syria will be sent back in “wooden coffins”.
Nevertheless, US President Barack Obama has welcomed the Saudi plan to intervene in Syria.
Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is this week due to meet in Brussels with counterparts from the US-led so-called “anti-terror” coalition to make a decision on the whether to activate the Saudi plan. A Saudi military spokesman has already said that if the US-led coalition gives its consent then his country will proceed with the intervention.
In recent weeks, Carter and other senior US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have been calling for increased regional Arab military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Carter and Biden have also said the US is prepared to send in its own ground troops en masse if the Geneva peace talks collapse.
Now, those talks appear to be floundering. So, does that mean that a large-scale invasion of US-led foreign armies in Syria is on the way?
Let’s step back a moment and assess what is really going on. The Saudi warning – or more accurately “threat” – of military intervention in Syria is not the first time that this has been adverted to. Back in mid-December, when Riyadh announced the formation of a 34-Islamic nation alliance to “fight terrorism”, the Saudis said that the military alliance reserved the right to invade any country where there was deemed to be a terror threat – including Syria.
Another factor is that the House of Saud is not pleased with US-led diplomatic efforts on Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s bustling to organize the Geneva negotiations – supposedly to find a peace settlement to the five-year conflict – is seen by the Saudis as giving too many concessions to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and his foreign allies, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The Geneva talks – which came unstuck last week – can be arguably assessed as not a genuine internal Syria process to resolve the war – but rather they are a cynical political attempt by Washington and its allies to undermine the Syrian government for their long-held objective of regime change. The inclusion among the political opposition at Geneva of Al Qaeda-linked militants, Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, with Western backing, illustrates the ulterior purpose.
The Washington Post gave the game away when it reported at the weekend: “The Obama administration has found itself increasingly backed into a corner by Russian bombing in Syria that its diplomacy has so far appeared powerless to stop.”
In other words, the Geneva diplomacy, mounted in large part by Kerry, was really aimed at halting the blistering Russian aerial campaign. The four-month intervention ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned the tide of the entire Syrian war, allowing the Syrian Arab Army to win back strategically important terrain.
That the Russian military operations have not stopped, indeed have stepped up, has caused much consternation in Washington and its allies.
Russia and Syria can reasonably argue that the UN resolutions passed in November and December give them the prerogative to continue their campaign to defeat ISIS and all other Al Qaeda-linked terror groups. But it seems clear now that Kerry was counting on the Geneva talks as a way of stalling the Russian-Syrian assaults on the regime-change mercenaries.
Kerry told reporters over the weekend that he is making a last-gasp attempt to persuade Russia to call a ceasefire in Syria. Indicating the fraught nature of his discussions with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said: “The modalities of a ceasefire itself are also being discussed… But if it’s just talks for the sake of talks in order to continue the bombing, nobody is going to accept that, and we will know that in the course of the next days.”
Moscow last week was adamant that it would not stop its bombing operations until “all terrorists” in Syria have been defeated. Syria’s Foreign Minister al-Muallem reiterated this weekend that there would be no ceasefire while illegally armed groups remain in Syria.
What we can surmise is that because the US-led covert military means for regime change in Syria is being thwarted and at the same time the alternative political means for regime change are also not gaining any traction – due to Russia and Syria’s astuteness on the ulterior agenda – the Washington axis is now reacting out of frustration.
Part of this frustrated reaction are the threats from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional regimes – with US tacit approval – to go-ahead with a direct military intervention.
In short, it’s a bluff aimed at pressuring Syria and Russia to accommodate the ceasefire demands, which in reality are to serve as a breathing space for the foreign-backed terrorist proxies.
From a military point of view, the Saudi troop invasion cannot be taken remotely serious as an effective deployment. We only have to look at how the Saudi regime has been battered in Yemen over the past 10 months – in the Arab region’s poorest country – to appreciate that the Saudis have not the capability of carrying out a campaign in Syria.
As American professor Colin Cavell noted to this author: “Saudi intervention in Syria will have as much success as its intervention in Yemen. History has clearly shown that mercenary forces will never fight external wars with any success or elan, and no Saudi soldier in his right mind truly supports the Saudi monarchy. Everyone in Saudi Arabia knows that the House of Saud has no legitimacy, is based solely on force and manipulation, propped up by the US and the UK, and – if it did not have so much money – is a joke, run by fools.”
Thus, while a military gambit is decidedly unrealistic, the real danger is that the Saudi rulers and their American patrons have become so unhinged from reality that they could miscalculate and go into Syria. That would be like a spark in a powder keg. It will be seen as an act of war on Syria and its allies, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The US would inevitably be drawn fully into the spiral of a world war.
History has illustrated that wars are often the result not of a single, willful decision – but instead as the result of an ever-quickening process of folly.
Syria is just one potential cataclysm.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
Russia says the United States and its western allies rejected Moscow’s proposal to form an advisory center in Jordan for coordinating actions in Syria.
“Our minister proposed holding a telephone conversation with (US Defense Secretary) Ashton Carter on Jan. 19, but we were given to understand that such a talk was not expedient,” Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by Interfax as saying on Friday.
Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg criticized Russia’s military campaign against terrorists in Syria, saying the air raids were “undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.”
The UN-brokered peace talks between delegates from the Syrian government and divided opposition were suspended on Wednesday only three days after their shaky start. The talks are not expected to resume until February 25.
The Geneva negotiations were halted after the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Saudi-backed anti-Damascus opposition group, failed to show up at a meeting.
The Syrian government delegation blamed the opposition for the failure of the peace talks, accusing it of pulling out because it was losing the fight on the ground.
The HNC’s pullout came as Syrian armed forces, backed by Russian air cover, made significant gains against Takfiri militant groups on several fronts. Moscow began pounding terror groups in Syria last September upon a request by Damascus.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow supports diplomatic measures to end the conflict in Syria while continuing its military assistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russia is consistently making efforts within the general international framework of seeking a peaceful and political settlement to the situation in Syria. At the same time, Russia is providing support to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic in its fight against terror,” he said.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are apparently ready to send ground forces to the Syrian battlefield, but although a direct invasion has not yet been launched, an indirect one is already happening, political scientist Yuri Pochta told Radio Sputnik.
“The fact of the matter is that the invasion is already taking place, but it is indirect. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are acting through rebel groups that are fighting against Damascus,” Pochta explained. “These militants have been less active since Russia launched its aerial campaign. They are losing in several regions.”
Indeed, the Syrian Arab Army, assisted by Russian warplanes and Hezbollah fighters, has managed to turn the tide of war in recent months and is currently on the offensive. This year, Damascus-led forces have scored major victories in Latakia and other provinces, while militants from Daesh and other terrorist groups are retreating. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have backed some of these rebels.
Ankara and Riyadh have “apparently decided to ‘save the day’: to launch a direct ground operation in Syria and overthrow President Bashar al-Assad,” he suggested.
Evidence, supporting this sentiment, has surfaced this week. On Thursday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that Ankara was “actively,” but covertly preparing to launch a military campaign in Syria. On the same day, Saudi Arabia confirmed its readiness to take part in a ground operation, if the US-led coalition would support one.
Pochta warned that Turkey and Saudi Arabia would further complicate the situation in Syria if they decide to send ground forces to an already overcrowded battlefield. Many experts have long pointed out that resolving Syrian crisis is a major challenge due to the sheer number of stakeholders involved.
“Who will they be fighting against? Will it not turn into a real war, involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria? Then there is Russia… And Turkey is a member of NATO. The situation is increasingly exacerbated at a time when hundreds of different rebel groups take part in the fighting. Syria is being transformed into a gray zone. Local, regional and global players are all pursuing their own interests. The majority wants to destroy the Syrian state and society. This is tragic,” the analyst added.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last October said in a little noticed comment that the United States was ready to take “direct action on the ground” in Syria. Vice President Joe Biden said in Istanbul last month that if peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States was prepared for a “military solution” in that country.
The peace talks collapsed on Wednesday even before they began. A day later Saudi Arabia said it is ready to invade Syria while Turkey is building up forces at its Syrian border.
The U.N. aims to restart the talks on Feb. 25 but there is little hope they can begin in earnest as the Saudi-run opposition has set numerous conditions. The most important is that Russia stop its military operation in support of the Syrian government, which has been making serious gains on the ground.
A day after the talks collapsed, it was revealed that Turkey has begun preparations for an invasion of Syria, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. On Thursday, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “We have good reasons to believe that Turkey is actively preparing for a military invasion of a sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic. We’re detecting more and more signs of Turkish armed forces being engaged in covert preparations for direct military actions in Syria.” The U.N. and the State Department had no comment. But this intelligence was supported by a sound of alarm from Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Turkey, which has restarted its war against Kurdish PKK guerillas inside Turkey, is determined to crush the emergence of an independent Kurdish state inside Syria as well. Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan stopped the Syrian Kurds from attending the aborted Geneva talks.
A Turkish invasion would appear poised to attack the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, which is allied with the PKK. The Syrian (and Iraqi) Kurds, with the Syrian army, are the main ground forces fighting the Islamic State. Turkey is pretending to fight ISIS, all the while actually supporting its quest to overthrow Assad, also a Turkish goal.
Saudi Arabia then said on Thursday it was prepared to send its ground forces into Syria if asked. Carter welcomed it. Of course Biden, Erdogan, Carter and the Saudis are all saying a ground invasion would fight ISIS. But their war against ISIS has been half-hearted at best and they share ISIS’ same enemy: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the U.S. were serious about fighting ISIS it would have at least considered a proposal by Russia to join a coalition as the U.S. did against the Nazis.
The Prize of Aleppo
The excuse of the Geneva collapse is a ruse. There was little optimism the talks would succeed. The real reason for the coming showdown in Syria is the success of Russia’s military intervention in defense of the Syrian government against the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Many of these groups are supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States in pursuit of overthrowing Assad.
These three nations are all apparently poised for a ground invasion of Syria just as, by no coincidence, the Syrian Arab Army with Russian air cover is pushing to liberate perhaps the greatest prize in the Syrian civil war — Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital. The Russians and Syrians have already cut off Turkey’s supply lines to rebels in the city.
The U.S. cannot stand by and watch Russia win in Syria. At the very least it wants to be on the ground to meet them at a modern-day Elbe and influence the outcome.
But things could go wrong in a war in which the U.S. and Russia are not allies, as they were in World War II. Despite this, the U.S. and its allies see Syria as important enough to risk confrontation with Russia, with all that implies. It is not at all clear though what the U.S. interests are in Syria to take such a risk.
From the outset of Russia’s intervention the U.S. and its allies have wanted Moscow out of the Syrian theater. They seem to be only waiting for the right opportunity. That opportunity may be now — forced by events.
Former U.S. national security adviser and current Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said last October in the Financial Times that, “The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland. They could be ‘disarmed’ if they persist in provoking the U.S.”
Turkey’s downing in November of a Russian warplane that allegedly veered 17 seconds into Turkish territory appeared to be very much a provocation to draw Russia into a conflict to allow NATO to drive Moscow out of Syrian skies. But Russia was too smart for that and instead imposed sanctions on Turkey, while urging Russian tourists not to visit the country, which has hurt the Turkish economy.
A Battleground of Empires
As a fertile crossroad between Asia and Africa backed by desert, Syrian territory has been fought over for centuries. Pharaoh Ramses II defeated the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh near Lake Homs in 1247 BCE. The Persians conquered Syria in 538 BCE. Alexander the Great took it 200 years later and the Romans grabbed Syria in 64 BCE.
Islam defeated the Byzantine Empire there at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636. In one of the first Shia-Sunni battles, Ali failed to defeat Muawiyah in 657 at Siffin along the Euphrates near the Iraq-Syria border. Damascus became the seat of the Caliphate until a coup in 750 moved it to Baghdad.
Waves of Crusaders next invaded Syria beginning in 1098. Egyptian Mamluks took the country in 1250 and the Ottoman Empire began in 1516 at its victory at Marj Dabik, 44 kilometers north of Aleppo — about where Turkish supplies are now being cut off. France double-crossed the Arabs and gained control of Syria in 1922 after the Ottoman collapse.
We may now be looking at an epic war with similar historical significance. All these previous battles, as momentous as they were, were regional in nature.
What we are potentially facing is a war that goes beyond the Soviet-U.S. proxy wars of the Cold War era, and beyond the proxy war that has so far taken place in the five-year Syrian civil war. Russia is already present in Syria. The entry of the United States and its allies would risk a direct confrontation between the two largest nuclear powers on earth.
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.
Citizens of the world are being asked to dig deep for humanitarian aid to Syria. After five years of war and millions displaced there is an urgent need for the world to lend a hand, we are told.
At a so-called “donor conference” in London this week, British prime minister David Cameron appealed to the rest of the world to stump up $8 billion to help war-torn Syria.
Among the 60 nations attending the confab were the US, France, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Senior figures from these countries were wringing their hands in anguish over the plight of Syrian refugees.
Washington’s top diplomat John Kerry told delegates: “With people reduced to eating grass and leaves and killing stray animals in order to survive on a day-to-day basis, that is something that should tear at the conscience of all civilized people and we all have a responsibility to respond to it.”
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon adjured nations to “take responsibility to end the crisis in Syria”.
Take responsibility for ending the crisis? How about taking responsibility for beginning it?
Cameron, Kerry and the rest of these charlatans should spare us the emotional blackmail. Most of the governments represented at the London conference are the very instigators and perpetrators of Syria’s destruction.
Why should the rest of the world pay for their crimes?
This is not to suggest that people should simply turn their backs on fellow humans in dire need. But let’s get some straight-thinking here.
Those governments and individual politicians who oversaw regime change in Syria should be paying for their violations, either through massive financial reparations or in jail time. And why not both.
The case is irrefutable. The US-led regime-change plot to subjugate Syria goes back several years, according to numerous sources, such as American diplomatic cables released by the whistleblowing site Wikileaks, former French foreign minister Roland Dumas and ex-NATO supreme commander US General Wesley Clark.
It is only largely due to the dutiful dissembling by the Western news media that such criminality might seem rather outlandish. But it is not outlandish. It is documented and provable. Western governments are culpable in a criminal scheme of regime change in Syria, as they have been in countless other unfortunate countries.
From the outbreak of violence in mid-March 2011, the Arab country has been a charnel house of covert war involving the most vile terrorist mercenaries. Those who take ultimate responsibility for the violence are the authors of the regime-change plot in Syria. Top of the list are Washington, London, Paris, as well as their regional client regimes.
With an estimated 250,000 dead and nearly half of the 23 million population turned into refugees, the total war damage to Syria has been estimated to be at least $100 billion. This is what Washington and its allies owe Syria — and no doubt far, far more — and yet these country-destroying rogue states are trying to wheedle money out of world citizens to pay for their criminal excesses, with the emotional plea of “humanitarian aid”.
Washington and its co-conspirators for covert war in Syria want the rest of the world to pay for their criminal scheming by cajoling the UN, the European Union and anyone else who will listen to fork out “humanitarian aid”. Make no mistake this will eventually translate into ordinary taxpayers, workers and families, paying the bill for their governments’ sanctimonious financial pledges.
In other words, Western powers like the US, Britain and France together with their regional client regimes in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, unleash mass murder and mayhem on a once peaceful, sovereign country — and instead of being held to account under international law for their criminal aggression, these rogue states are getting the rest of the world to subsidize their evil enterprise.
The “donor conference” in London this week was the fifth in a series going back to 2012. Last year, the fundraiser fell well short of its appeals. This year, British leader David Cameron went out of his way to give the appeal added urgency.
Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Cameron said: “Sufficient funding to guarantee the basics of life that these refugees need must be the bare minimum expected of us.”
The British premier emphasized the need for more aid given to refugee centers in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where nearly five million Syrians have been displaced and are languishing in squalid camps.
Cameron’s apparent concern belies his real worry. He doesn’t want any more refugees streaming into Europe and towards Britain. That’s why the British leader is now calling for more international donations and for the cash to be thrown at Syria’s immediate neighbors in order to keep refugees there.
Going back to UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, he told the London conference:
“The situation in Syria is as close to hell as we are likely to find on this Earth.”
Syria is indeed a hell on Earth. Made by people like Cameron and Kerry with whom Ban Ki-Moon was rubbing shoulders with in London this week.
Turkey was represented by prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu who tried to blame the humanitarian crisis on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s military intervention. Davutoglu’s lies are particularly nauseating given Ankara’s role in acting as a conduit for terror brigades infiltrating Syria and his country’s ongoing threats of outright military invasion.
NATO member Turkey’s role in fueling Syria’s refugee crisis through its regime-change machinations is acutely reprehensible. And yet Ankara is to receive $3.4 billion from European Union taxpayers, allegedly to help with stemming the flow of refugees into Europe.
This is just one aspect of the general trend that Washington and its allies are establishing with breath-taking audacity. They have all but destroyed Syria with their covert war using terrorist proxies, and yet they are getting the rest of the world to pay for their crimes.
The cost of war and imperialist crimes was always offloaded on to ordinary people by their rulers. In that regard, nothing much has changed. Except that the scam has become even more brazen.
Ankara’s refusal to allow Russia to conduct an observation flight over Turkish territory under the Open Skies Treaty confirms Moscow’s concerns that Ankara is supporting the Daesh, which is prohibited in numerous countries including the United States and Russia, on the Turkish-Syrian border, a high-ranking source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Russian inspectors planned to conduct the observation flight on board an An-30B plane over Turkish territory on February 1-5, but they were refused permission to do so after they arrived in Turkey and announced the flight route.
“This case is of course outrageous because the Open Skies Treaty today is practically one of many mechanisms that continue to operate in the European space and this treaty is valid and allows for acquiring valid information on steps being taken or not being taken by one or another state,” the source told RIA Novosti.
He reminded that in 2015 the West actively accused Russia of illegal activity on the Ukrainian border and NATO member countries requested observation flights over Russian territory, the results of which fully reversed the rumors.
“This once again confirms those concerns that the Russian side has voiced several times on using the Turkish-Syrian border to support Daesh militants,” the source said.
And so the wheels of the Geneva talks came off in spectacular fashion, with all parties blaming each other for the breakdown in the so-called Syrian peace process.
The negotiations in the Swiss city were only into their second day –having opened on Monday, and that after a week-long delay –when UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that the talks would be adjourned until February 25. Take it as read: it’s over.
Washington and Paris immediately sought to blame the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies for “torpedoing” the Geneva talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Syria and its allies of seeking a military solution to the five-year-old conflict. With this background of ongoing air and ground assaults, the Geneva negotiations foundered, according to the US and its partners.
Kerry and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, are engaging in reality-inversion, ably assisted by the Western mainstream news media.
The fact is the Geneva talks failed because Washington and its terrorist surrogates fighting for regime change in Syria could not affect a semblance of diplomacy.
Yes, Syrian Arab Army military advances are proceeding apace with the support of Russian air power and ground forces from Iran and Hezbollah. The game-changer was Russian intervention nearly four months ago, which has enabled the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to recover huge swathes of territory occupied by foreign-backed mercenaries.
The latest military gains this week in northwest Syria have put the Syrian Arab Army within reach of taking back the city of Aleppo, the country’s largest urban centre, second to the capital Damascus.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Russian operations in Syria will continue until all “terror groups”are destroyed. Lavrov mentioned Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and Daesh (also known as ISIL), but Russia’s scope also extends to a myriad of other militants groups who are integrated with the more well-known terrorist organizations.
These militants are falsely and risibly divided into “moderates”and “extremists” by Western governments and their dutiful corporate-controlled news media. What is moderate about chopping heads of civilians considered to be “infidels”? And this barbarity has been routinely practiced by the so-called moderate rebels of the “Free Syrian Army”. Notably, we don’t hear much about the much-lionized FSA these days. That’s because in reality they don’t exist.
Syrian state forces have every right to extirpate all illegally armed groups on the sovereign territory of Syria. While the Geneva negotiations were in process, the main foreign conduits of military supply to the mercenaries –Turkey and Saudi Arabia –had not desisted from their illegal interference in Syria. That was in flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions in November and December calling for a global clampdown on terrorist organizations.
Not only were Turkey and Saudi Arabia continuing to supply illegally armed groups inside Syria, these two Western allies had included terrorist organizations into the so-called “opposition”at the Geneva talks. The grandly named High Negotiating Committee demanded it would only continue participating on the condition that the Assad government eventually stands down. That’s the real, proximate reason for breakdown, no matter what John Kerry might say.
Can you believe it? A bunch of foreign-backed and exile-based terrorists dictating terms to the elected government of Syria. Their foot-soldiers are getting wiped out on the ground –after five years of inflicting destruction on Syria –and yet these impostors are attempting to write the “peace terms”.
Syria and Russia are having none of it. Both are determined to crush an existential threat to Syria from foreign-backed terror groups. And Assad and Vladimir Putin are not going to hand over a victory of regime change at the negotiating table either.
That’s why Kerry is in a fluster. The peace process charade has been upended. Washington and its partners expected Syria and Russia to call off the military pressure in order to give their mercenary proxies some breathing space so that they could relaunch their terror war at a more opportune time, while also issuing ultimatums in Geneva for de facto regime change.
Washington and its allies were never serious about finding a genuine peaceful settlement. Now that the wheels have come off this snake-oil bandwagon, the US and its partners are obliged to find some “explanation” to sell to world opinion.
Hence, blame the Syrian government and its Russian ally for blasting the Geneva talks. But the world is not fooled by such reality-inversion. The Western powers’ plans for regime change in Syria just rolled into another blind alley.
The real danger, however, is that Washington and its allies might now attempt a direct military intervention in Syria out of desperation.
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. For over 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.
Antonov An-30 © Wikipedia
Turkey has set “a dangerous precedent” by denying an observation flight over its territories bordering Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, vowing a “relevant reaction” to Ankara’s violation of its obligations under the international Open Skies Treaty.
The Treaty on Open Skies which came into force in 2002 allows unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its 34 signatories, which includes Turkey. However the Russian An-30B plane was banned from conducting its surveillance flight over Turkish territory which was scheduled for February 1-5, without any prior warning.
“After the arrival of the Russian mission to Turkey and the announcement of the desired itinerary, the Turkish military officials refused to allow the inspection flight citing an order from the Turkish Foreign Ministry,” the head of the ministry’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, Sergey Ryzhkov, said in a statement.
This is the first time that Turkey has refused a Russian observation flight over its territory. Since 2006 under the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia conducted approximately two observation flights a year. Turkey has flown over Russian airspace approximately four times a year.
But as tensions between Turkey and Russia intensified following the downing of the Russian jet in November, Ankara has refused the implementation of the treaty.
“The itinerary included the observation of areas adjacent to the Turkish border with Syria, as well as airfields that host NATO warplanes,” Ryzhkov pointed out. A previous statement, issued on February 1, specified that a Russian oversight flight would be conducted along an agreed route. Furthermore, Turkish monitors on board would have the opportunity to control the use of surveillance equipment.
Tensions deteriorated further last week, when neither Ankara nor its NATO allies offered any proof after accusing Russia’s Su-34 bomber of violating Turkish airspace. Moscow sees the latest development as a violation of the treaty and has warned that “relevant action” will occur in response.
“As a result of violations of the requirements of the Treaty and unconstructive actions on the part of Turkey, a dangerous precedent was created of an uncontrolled military activity of an Open Skies Treaty member state,” Ryzhkov said. “We are not going to leave without proper attention and relevant reaction violations of the Open Skies Treaty on the part of the Turkish Republic.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the upper house’s international affairs committee, said that the Turkish violation of the treaty further complicates Russian-Turkish relations.
“This is unfortunate and does not contribute to the exit from this crisis, in which Russian-Turkish relations are currently in. This is a clear violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies,” he told TASS.
In a separate development the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday that another group of Russian inspectors would visit Turkish army ranges and get briefed by the Turkish military command, as part of the framework of the 2011 Vienna document aimed at building confidence and security.
The governor’s office in Isparta, southwestern Turkey, has reportedly sent a request to all state institutions in the province instructing staff to report cases of “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other top officials straight to the police.
Insulting the president is considered a crime in Turkey and the punishment can be up to four years in jail.
“According to Articles 299 and 125 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK], an action must be taken for the posts [on social media] including insults against our president and other senior government officials, which have increased lately in direct proportion to the increase in terror activities in our country,” the notification, signed by Isparta Deputy Governor Fevzi Güneş on behalf of Isparta Governor Vahdettin Özkan, stated, Today’s Zaman reported.
The government began its crackdown on Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed by Ankara, last July. Turkey’s authorities maintain those killed during the security operation in the southeast were all PKK members. According to Turkish human rights groups, however, more than 160 civilians were killed during the government offensive.
President Erdogan has publicly vowed to continue the operation until the area is cleansed of Kurdish militants. Kurds have long been campaigning for the right to self-determination and greater autonomy in Turkey, where they are the largest ethnic minority.
In mid-Januray, Turkey arrested over a dozen academics for signing a declaration denouncing Ankara’s military operations against Kurdish militants. The move came after over 1,200 scholars were under investigation for criticizing the Turkish State. They were accused of allegedly participating in “terrorist propaganda” after signing a declaration condemning military operations against Kurdish rebels in the southeast. Erdogan described the group of academics as “poor excuses for intellectuals.” He insisted human rights violations in the southeast of the country were being carried out by referring to the Kurdish rebels, not by the state.
The day after Erdogan urged prosecutors to investigate academics, who signed the declaration criticizing military action in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), called the Turkish president “a dictator.”
In January, a local Turkish court dismissed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal against Kilicdaroglu. The Turkish president was seeking damages after the opposition party leader called him a “thief.” Erdogan’s lawyers demanded 200,000 Turkish lire ($66,000) in damages, saying this was an “attack on his personal rights.”
On Monday, an Ankara court sentenced another Turkish politician Hüseyin Aygün, a former deputy from the CHP party, to 14 months in prison for “publicly insulting” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Aygün rejected all accusations, Haber Turk reported.
The Republican People’s Party has repeatedly accused the government of using counter-terror laws to persecute journalists, saying 156 were arrested in 2015, with 484 legal actions launched against journalists and 774 fired during the year.
Aygün was sentenced to nine months in jail for “inciting people to enmity or hatred or denigration,” Müslim Sarı, another former CHP deputy, wrote on his Twitter.
“This ruling is clear evidence that there [is] no freedom of thought and expression in Turkey and judicial independence has ended too,” Sarı said in another tweet.
Late last month, a Turkish court sentenced a female teacher to almost a year in prison for making a rude gesture at Erdogan (when he was prime minister) at a political rally in 2014.
“The situation for freedom of expression is at an all-time low,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty’s Turkey researcher, told the Times. “Countless unfair criminal cases have been brought, including under defamation and anti-terrorism laws — even children have been remanded in pre-trial detention,” he said.
© Photo: Youtube/ Russian Defence Ministry
Turkish artillery on Monday shelled a small town in Syria’s northern Latakia province inflicting casualties among civilians, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier in the day, Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV channel reported that one Syrian serviceman was killed and five others were wounded in a shelling from the Turkish territory.
“The Turkish authorities are responsible for artillery shelling of the town of Jabal Oteira in northern Latakia, which caused casualties among peaceful civilians,” the ministry said in statement as quoted by official SANA news agency.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that it obtained video proof of Syrian civilian areas being shelled from Turkish border posts.The Russian Defence Ministry expects an explanation from NATO, Pentagon and Turkish Armed Forces on the incident. The corresponding statement was made on Monday by the Ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov.
According to the spokesman, the Ministry of Defense recently received the video footage from the Syrian General Staff which shows “self-propelled heavy artillery weapons deployed at the Turkish outpost in question.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Ankara to investigate reports that a number of unarmed people trying to attend to the injured victims of clashes in Turkey’s southeast in late January were themselves shot at.
Ten people were injured when their group, which included two opposition politicians, came under fire while trying to help people injured in earlier clashes in the southeastern town of Cizre in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast on January 20.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described as “extremely shocking” footage filmed of the incident, which purportedly shows what appear to be a man and woman holding white flags and pushing a cart – possibly carrying bodies – across a street before being shot.
“As they reach the other side, they are apparently cut down in a hail of gunfire,” Zeid said in a statement.
He also expressed concern that the cameraman, who was injured in the shooting, may face arrest under a “clampdown on media.”
Turkey has been engaged in a large-scale campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in its southern border region in the past few months. The Turkish military has also been conducting offensives against the positions of the group in northern Iraq.
The operations began in the wake of a deadly July bombing in the southern Turkish town of Suruc. More than 30 people died in the attack, which the Turkish government blamed on Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
After the bombing, the PKK militants, who accused the government in Ankara of supporting Daesh, engaged in a series of supposed reprisal attacks against Turkish police and security forces, in turn prompting the Turkish military operations.
For decades, America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been relying on its partner’s money in discrete and covert operations; the money of the Saudi oil-rich kingdom.
Citing several current and former US officials, the New York Times reported on Jan. 23 that from the very beginning of the US operations against the Assad government in Syria, Saudi money was largely the supporter.
The most recent example of this ‘close bond’ between the US and Saudi Arabia has came to light in the New York Times article, which reported that US President Barack Obama knew well the US could rely on Saudi money when, in 2013, he secretly gave the CIA the green light to arm militant groups in Syria that were fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Code-named Timber Sycamore, the deal stipulates that the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money and the CIA takes the lead in training the rebels on AK-47 assault rifles and tank-destroying missiles.
In 2012, the US repeatedly claimed that the Timber Sycamore program was designed to deliver what it claimed to be ‘non-lethal’ aid, yet months later, Obama gave his approval for the CIA to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance.
Also, the NY Times report noticeably underlines that such a long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme ideology Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups.
In the latest violation which brought uproar across the Muslim world in particular, Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, for challenging the oppression of the royal family and demanding human rights, yet the Obama administration did not publically condemn the action. Also, another form of Saudi human rights abuses to which the US has had no clear condemnation is its war on Yemen that has so far claimed the lives of more than 8,270 people including women and children.
The CIA covert operations in Syria began in 2013, in which more than 10,000 Wahhabi terrorists were armed, funded and trained. The trainings were taking place inside Jordan’s territories, and estimates have put the total cost of the ops at several billion dollars.
“They understand that they have to have us, and we understand that we have to have them,” said Mike Rogers, the former Republican congressman who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when the CIA operation began.
The operation was described as part of the so-called “counterterrorism” program. On this note, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State, William McCants points out “The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is. If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”
Even though the biggest contributor was Saudi Arabia, yet its allies also had their share in the game. According to the NY Times, when Obama signed off on arming the rebels in the spring of 2013, the Qataris, Turkish and Saudis had been funneling weapons into Syria for more than a year. The Qataris had even smuggled in shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired missiles over the border from Turkey.